What I learned from going viral on Twitter

Content Advisory: Suicide, graphic images, harassment.

I don’t really tweet all that much. I’ve had my Twitter account for years, but it hasn’t been something I’ve been really interested in until very recently. And even recently, it’s not a huge priority to me. I tweet sporadically, contributing to hashtags or commiserating with friends on occasion. I don’t even have 300 followers as of this posting.

Ten days ago I posted the following to Twitter in an effort to support the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag. I posted other things to, but, as you can see, this one got just a little more attention.

Pretty much immediately after posting it, I was inundated with tweets from trolls and internet abusers. And I wasn’t the only person to receive abuse over this. The originator of the hashtag, Amelia Bonow, was forced to go into hiding after the hashtag went viral. Which I guess just goes to show that the “pro life” set really is more “pro-birth” than pro actual human life.

At any rate, the first abuse that I saw was an image of a man holding severed heads sent to me by Twitter user @TwerkingSpider [GRAPHIC original tweet behind hyperlink]. I immediately reported and blocked him. I have since been told by Twitter that his message was “not in violation of the Twitter Rules.” Which I just… don’t get. Their rules specifically say you cannot threaten people, and I’m not sure how sending someone a picture of decapitated heads does not constitute a “threat.” But maybe I’m just being over-sensitive, right? There’s such a thing as a friendly beheading, right? Right?

Of course, it didn’t end there. There were other tweets telling me I was basically an ugly dude and that I should kill myself. Which, coming from supposedly “pro-life” people was just… confusing and enraging.

There were loads more. Luckily, I went on vacation and missed a lot of it. I also had cool people around me who told me about how to block the majority of the yuckiness.

I learned a lot in the few days that my tweet exploded. I learned that people on the internet do not know how to use basic logic when it conflicts with their opinions. I learned that the ease of tweeting lends itself to all manner of repulsive insults and hurtful words being slung about. And I learned that answering those people with ridiculous questions and comments like “ARE YOU A RIDDLE?” and “LEARN LOGIC.” brought me no small measure of joy.

There were two big things that the people arguing with me seem to have trouble dealing with.

  1. Bodily autonomy: fetuses are not more valuable than adults.
    • I know it’s hard to grasp, but a fetus does not have a right to live at the expense of the body of another person any more than a fully grown human does. If I have cancer and the only thing that can save me is your bone marrow, you cannot be compelled to give it to me. No matter how sick I am.
      I think the fact that fetuses cannot speak for themselves is the thing that gets a lot of people with this one. And I get it, you want to speak for the silent masses of developing blastocysts or whatever. That’s fine. But the fact of the matter is, even if they could talk, they would not have any more of a right to life than I would, dying of cancer because you didn’t want to give me your bone marrow.
  2. Abortion has always existed. And will always exist. Because sex is fun.
    • Sex is super fun. It’s true. People have been banging for the fun of it for ages and ages. Hell, the Romans drove silphium to extinction with their need for birth control to manage family size. This isn’t new information. It’s not a shockingly revolutionary societal development like lolcats or something. Society didn’t wake up one day and become this loose moral ground where people can bang whoever they want. People have always banged whoever they want. Acting like it’s a surprise just makes you sound like a totally disconnected idealist who doesn’t get how the world works. Or, you know, genitals.
      Since sex for funsies has always existed, so has birth control, and so has abortion. The difference between abortion now and abortion at the beginning of human civilization is that, not unlike childbirth, women have a better chance of surviving it now.

For the most part, I don’t have many friends who will argue with the rightness of a woman’s right to choose for herself whether to continue with a pregnancy. But I’d like to take a moment for the one friend who I had before the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag went up that did, apparently, stand in the opposing camp.

She’s religious, of course. And she has an issue with abortion. The strange thing for me is that, years ago, before she got married, she and I had a conversation about abortion, the end result of which was her stating that she was, in fact, “pro-choice.” Because even if she wouldn’t get one herself, she wasn’t the sort of person to stand in front of the rights of other women to a safe and healthy medical procedure that was perfectly legal.

Now, though, things have changed. I don’t know if she was merely paying lip service to me before, or if being married to someone who works for the Archdiocese changed her viewpoints. I can’t say either way. Needless to say, we got into a long conversation about my tweet and her views on abortion. I’m going to take the main thrust of our discussion and spin it out here for you.

In my original tweet, I re-posted an image talking about bodily autonomy, which is my chief reasoning behind my stance as pro-choice, as well as one of my core principles generally. The reason I say that I “had” this friend before we had this debate is that, during it, she called the autonomy argument “silly.” I have a couple of problems with that. The first of which being that the right of everyone on this planet to control what happens to their body is at the core of my system of beliefs about the world. The second of which is that, legally, our bodily autonomy is very important. It’s one of the things that makes rape illegal. Or assault. Consent and all of it’s trappings are important and valuable components of our legal system.

All in all, the conversation did not go well. But it made me think. And it made me realize that, if you do not value the autonomy of others and their ability to make the medical choices that are right for them and follow through with them safely, I can’t really be friends with you. That’s a line in the sand that I am more than willing to draw. And one that will happily stand by.

So #ShoutYourAbortion, my loves. Shout because it is nothing you should be ashamed of. Shout because you made the right decision. Shout because one day, the act of you shouting will not be something to be frightened of.

On flibanserin: The story of how low desire is stigmatized.

The FDA has approved drug flibanserin for use combating women’s low sex drive. At first, this seems almost like a victory for women’s sexual health. After all, Viagra and drugs like it have been around for a long time. However, there have been serious concerns raised by the drug across the board.

The first glaring issue lies with the name that has been ascribed to it. “Female Viagra.” Flibanserin does not do what Viagra does for men. Viagra lets you get your dick hard. Flibanserin is actually an anti-depressant that is designed to treat women’s brains in order to help them enjoy sex. Specifically, it treats hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), also referred to as inhibited sexual desire (ISD). And honestly, I have to wonder why they did not go ahead and create a drug that has a more immediate sexual effect. Maybe something to help women who have gone through menopause to self-lubricate, for example?

But the real problem for me lies in the diagnosis of HSDD in itself. Millions of women are diagnosed with it every year in this country. HSDD is defined by the University of Maryland Medical Center as:

…a low level of sexual interest. A person with ISD will not start, or respond to their partner’s desire for, sexual activity.

ISD can be primary (in which the person has never felt much sexual desire or interest), or secondary (in which the person used to feel sexual desire, but no longer does).

ISD can also relate to the partner (the person with ISD is interested in other people, but not his or her partner), or it can be general ( the person with ISD isn’t sexually interested in anyone). In the extreme form of sexual aversion, the person not only lacks sexual desire, but may find sex repulsive.

So I have a problem with this on a couple of levels.

First of all, if someone has a low level of sexual desire, it’s not necessarily a problem that needs to be fixed. Just like some people sweat more than others or don’t like loud music in the mornings, some people just aren’t focused on or interested in sexual activity.

The fact that HSDD is included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) stigmatizes low sex drive and makes it seem as though people who don’t want to have as much sex as others are somehow dysfunctional. They’re not. And treating them as if they are perpetuates the myth of their stigma in their intimate sexual relationships and can lead to all kinds of issues inter-personally as well as within themselves.

Honestly, it seems to me that, by stigmatizing low sex drive, we are making it so that people perceive themselves as somehow not good enough for their partners, which leads to them seeking psychological help rather than accepting that they might not necessarily ever have a high sex drive and looking for a partner who doesn’t demand copious amounts of sex from them.

The cherry on top of this suck sunday? The side effects. Viagra’s side effects are, for the most part fairly minor, including such things as dizziness, headache, flushing, or stomach upset, the side-effects of flibanserin include low blood pressure, nausea, and fainting. And, unlike Viagra, which is taken only when needed, flibanserin is, at it’s root, an anti-depressant and must be taken daily.

So thanks, FDA, for pretending that you actually give a fuck about research into the sexual health of women. It’s clear that you don’t. I hope that no one takes this drug and it winds up banished to the annuls of history like the shitty, exploitative, damaging product that it truly is.

Boys Will be Boys: Masculinity and “Womens Issues”

I recently watched a brilliant TED talk by Jackson Katz on violence against women and how it’s a men’s issue.

mvp
Be an MVP. Hells yea.

Katz is a co-founder of a group called Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), an organization that works to enlist the help of men in the ongoing battle with domestic violence against women. So, basically, I had already decided that I liked him before I watched the video. When I watched it, though, I liked him even more. He’s this super down-to-earth, everyman-feeling kind of guy, and here he is talking about power and privilege and using his position as a powerful, priviliged man to expose the injustices in the world. Anyway, he encouraged me to write this blog post. I strongly encourage you to take the time to watch it, but if you don’t have the time, let me tell you what I took from it in a few highlights.

[W]hen we hear the word “race,” a lot of people think that means African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, South Asian, Pacific Islander… When [we] hear the word “sexual orientation” [and] think it means gay, lesbian, bisexual… [we] hear the word “gender,” [and] think it means women. In each case, the dominant group doesn’t get paid attention to  This is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves… the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance, because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege, the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us. And this is amazing how this works in domestic and sexual violence, how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.

The power behind that realization is potent. The fact if the matter is that the dominant group in the conversation about domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment is rarely challenged to think about it’s role.

I’m lucky in that I’m surrounded by awesome male allies as a female in the world today. I can still remember having a beer with my brother a little over two years ago. He leaned across the table and said to me:

“So… rape culture. What’s that like?”

What followed was a moment that I will always remember. He acknowledged his privilege and listened to my experiences as a woman. He didn’t bluster or get offended. He didn’t say things like “not all men are like that” or “well I would never do xyz.” He listened and he internalized and tried to understand.

And I know a bunch of guys like that. Self-described feminists and womens’ allies that rock my world when they engage in this conversation. But the fact of the matter is that victim blaming is a part of the conversation about so-called “women’s issues.” The first thing out of a lot of people’s mouths is a question about – or an accusation of – the woman.

Why was she out so late at night?
Why doesn’t she leave him?
What was she doing dressed like that?
She’s a tease.
She’s a slut.

The man is rarely a part of the conversation.

And I get that, actually. I understand where that comes from. It’s hard to think about what we do about men, just like it’s hard to think about what we do with any perpetrator. Perpetrators are scary because they are not a predictable element in our everyday lives. And violent domestic and sexual perpetrators are especially terrifying because they do their work right in front of our eyes, behind the closed doors of our neighbors and friends. But Katz is asking the right questions when he says, toward the middle of his talk, that:

You know, the perpetrators aren’t these monsters who crawl out of the swamp and come into town and do their nasty business and then retreat into the darkness. That’s a very naive notion, right? Perpetrators are much more normal than that, and everyday than that. So the question is, what are we doing here in our society and in the world? What are the roles of various institutions in helping to produce abusive men? What’s the role of religious belief systems, the sports culture, the pornography culture, the family structure, economics, and how that intersects, and race and ethnicity and how that intersects? How does all this work?

Like this awesome kid, right here.
Like this awesome kid, right here.

It’s absolutely true that perpetrators aren’t alien monsters. They’re somebody’s son. Somebody’s brother. And they are born and raised right alongside men who don’t beat and rape the people around them. And I think that’s what makes dealing with them so difficult and so terrifying. If every abuser were, say, bright purple or something, it would make it easy to avoid them. Just don’t go near that bright purple guy! Easy peasy. But that’s not the case, so the question becomes: What makes those men different?

I believe that Katz is right in his assertion that we have to trace those violent tendencies back to some kind of societal cause. I think it starts with socialization in childhood. Men are socialized to think that they need to be aggressive and big and dominant and powerful in order to be “real men.” I’m sure you’ve heard these lines before.*

Boys don’t cry.
Man up.
What are you, some kinda pussy?
You’re a little bitch.

In just those few examples, we can see some of archetypes that men are being called to fill. Not only are they expected to perform as men by being emotionally closed off and immune to pain and weakness, but those last two “insults” have always spoken to me – and a lot of other feminists. If you insult someone by calling them a pussy or a bitch, what are you really saying? You’re saying three things, and stick with me here:

  1. They’re a woman, or possess female genitalia, for one.
  2. You’re inferring, through that statement, that being female or having female sex organs makes a person inferior.
  3. You are teaching them, through those two correlations, that women are inferior beings.
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Something about the math here seems… off.

It’s not a straight leap, but if you are a boy and you hang out in enough schoolyards with enough other boys, you might come out of it scared of being seen as emotionally or physically weak and female, because those traits are traced back to femininity, and femininity is bad.

Katz asks over and over again in his talk “What’s going on with men?” And if you start back on that playground with that little boy being taught that his “feminine” qualities (and don’t even get me started on gender assignment and heteronormativity) make him inferior, it doesn’t seem too far a leap that the same little boy, once grown into a man, would find it hard to respect the women in his life.

And if that same little-boy-now-man finds himself still experiencing things like emotional and physical weakness, do you think he is likely to express those things? Of course not. Because “being a man” demands that he be a stoic warrior type with no emotional output. And what do you think happens when someone bottles down all of their emotional baggage for years and years out of fear? Will all of those seething emotions just go away? No. Will they come barreling to the surface like a freight train? Yes. And could that barreling stampede of pent up emotion translate into physical and sexual violence? Absolutely yes.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg. And I will get back to the issue of male gender roles in a later blog entry, because I think it’s super important to think about. The scary thing is how big that problem really is. How do you socialize men differently? How do you socialize boys so that they learn at a young age that the types of behavior classed as “feminine” are not shameful? How do you teach them that violence is wrong, particularly when it is enacted against those over which one holds power? Well, Katz has a solution to that.

Now, when it comes to men and male culture, the goal is to get men who are not abusive to challenge men who are. And when I say abusive, I don’t mean just men who are beating women.We’re not just saying a man whose friend is abusing his girlfriend needs to stop the guy at the moment of attack. That’s a naive way of creating a social change. It’s along a continuum, we’re trying to get men to interrupt each other. So, for example, if you’re a guy and you’re in a group of guys playing poker, talking, hanging out, no women present, and another guy says something sexist or degrading or harassing about women, instead of laughing along or pretending you didn’t hear it, we need men to say, ‘Hey, that’s not funny. You know, that could be my sister you’re talking about, and could you joke about something else? Or could you talk about something else?I don’t appreciate that kind of talk.'”

Wow, right? I mean, we can enact all kinds of social programs and educational initiatives in order to get some handle on how these boys turn into abusive adults, but Katz is calling for something much more immense. He wants societal change on an individual level to influence these young men and steer them towards healthy, loving relationships. It sounds both incredibly simple and immensely difficult at the same time.

Katz calls silence in the face of things we find objectionable a “sign of consent and complicity,” and I think he’s right on the money with that. In my previous entry on street harassment I didn’t quite get into talking about solutions for that issue. Mostly because I was ranting and didn’t feel like coming up with constructive thoughts. Because… rant! But the attitudes and actions that lead to domestic violence and sexual assault are very much present in the issue of street harassment.

When I talk about it with people, there are always all kinds of solutions offered to me on how to deal with street harassment and the men who do it. Here’s some examples:

Throw your dog’s poop bag at him!
Yell and curse at him and walk away.
Just ignore it.
Turn around and yell “Come and get it, sugar!”

And, my personal favorite:
Maybe you should just move out of the city if you don’t want to deal with that.

As entertaining and groan-inducing as some of these solutions are, none of them come close to solving the problem of street harassment as a whole. And that’s the goal of talking about these social issues, isn’t it? I mean, if I feel better after one incident, that’s great, but if we can eliminate street harassment as a prevalent big city issue in the U.S…. well, that’s the dream!

And that’s what Katz is talking about when he brings up what he calls the “bystander approach.” An approach that I think works for all forms of rape culture awareness and which I believe is the only surefire way to work the attitudes that contribute to rape culture out of our society. Katz says:

[T]he bystander approach is trying to give people tools to interrupt that process and to speak up and to create a peer culture climate where the abusive behavior will be seen as unacceptable, not just because it’s illegal, but because it’s wrong and unacceptable in the peer culture. And if we can get to the place where men who act out in sexist ways will lose status, young men and boys who act out in sexist and harassing ways towards girls and women, as well as towards other boys and men, will lose status as a result of it, guess what? We’ll see a radical diminution of the abuse.

Best traffic sign ever, right?
Best traffic sign ever, right?

All I could say when he said that was “Yes. Yes. That’s the only way this works.” Because if men are socially rewarded for being big, aggressive, rapey creeps, then they will continue in that pattern. But if they lose status every time they violate the safety of another person – be it with their words or their fists or their sex – then instances of domestic violence and abuse will be dramatically lessened in the general population.

I want to talk a lot more on this blog about men and men’s issues. I thought this was a good place to start, though. And I hope that I gave you all some food for thought.


*If you are interested in learning more about how we socialize American boys, please check out this short preview for the film The Mask You Live In. And be sure to follow the excellent work being done by The Representation Project.

On Street Harassment, Silence, and Social Change

  So, in case you didn’t notice, gentle reader, it’s street harassment season. Every year, when Spring arrives, women emerge from wool coats like butterflies from cocoons. They spread their wings, bare their legs, and gather, brightly colored, in squares and sunlight. But, like a dark cloud threatening on the horizon, these beautiful springtime revelations are […]