Sexists, Skeptics, Symbols, and Sepsis

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I feel as though I owe the disclaimer: I do not consider myself to be drunk while writing this, but others may actually do so. I’m not abdicating responsibility for my words so much as I am making an observation.

Please, Joss Whedon, stop telling me about words that I have known deep in my body since I was a child.

“I hate ‘feminist,'”says he, presumably understanding much more about the word as a sensual, tangible part of his experience far more than I, a mere female, a mere feminist, a mere person-whom-society-gathers-is-of-the-lady-persuasion can.

At least, he thinks he does.

Joss Whedon, sir, whose Avengers movie I enjoyed a great deal, I am sometimes what you could call a “writer.” I have written my fair share of words, although nowhere near what you have. I have studied the precise shades of words within contexts–of which they are never absent and can never be. I have had every syllable I’ve written carefully scrutinized by every eye to cross it, by partners who judged me inadequate, by commenters who judged me as insufficiently intellectually rigorous, by professors who took every possible care to ensure that I was careful in a way that no amount of precision can make me be despite a passion for rhetoric.

I can tell you about living inside the smallest part of every word, and the smallest part of an identity that makes you fit just that much better. I can tell you about mellifluousness, as a female Marine, as a former third-grader who wanted to be called “JEF,” because that’s what my initials spelled and I sensed it means something different, who waned to be a dude but knew that I never would be (because, despite whatever queerness was bursting underneath my skin, cis-ness was also innate to my identity). Please don’t tell me about what a word means when, despite your being nominally aware of what it means, it will never mean to you what it can mean to me.

“Fem. Is this promising? It’s nice, but it’s strong. It’s a porous letter.” Please tell me more. I will note here that I am a synesthete. (A gift from my father, if you must know.) I will also note that every color, every texture, is informed by my time existing as a person who is unbothered by my being female and perplexed by others’ vexation at said status. Please do. Tell me more about how F is porous, when F is the deepest blue of my deepest blue jeans, impermeable except through the deepest of compassion. “-ist,” because “tonally, it’s like watching a time-lapse video of fresh bread,” because heavens fucking forbid we have thoughts about a thing, heavens forbid we spend our lives developing into things like bread grows into things that are soft but sometimes hard to chew, that burst with flavor that we have to learn to love about ourselves. Don’t tell me about words. I can tell you about the textures and colors of words in ways that a vast majority of people’s senses are not prepared to take in. I can tell you more about what feminism means, academically *and* texturally *and* in the deep blue of “f” and the crimson of “e” and the purple of “m” and the white of “i” and the yellow of “s” and the green of the ending.

The word, altogether, is a bright red that burns my eyes and that hurts me and that always will because I just wanted to fit in before I realized that I wasn’t the only one who never would, and I didn’t want to in this fucking system, that I deserve better, that literally everyone deserve better. It is the red of the blood that my comrades-at-arms have shed in pursuit of privileges that are a part of my everyday life, that they continue to shed in pursuit of those same privileges (I am Texan) and more. It is a red that shames me in my failure to comprehend sacrifice beyond what I already know. “Feminist” tastes like the blood of my foremothers, like the blood of slaves in chains, like something that I will never quite grasp but will never have the sheer, unmitigated gall to say sounds ugly. Of course blood sounds ugly. That blood bought my vote, my right not to be raped by my husband, my right to join the military. That blood bought the rights of (some) women not to be sterilized for having the unmitigated gall of being mentally ill or non-neurotypical or just a shade too brown. Do not fucking impugn it if you do not understand the blood of your own rape flowing between your thighs, if you have never had a child taken from you, if you have never felt the horror of knowing that it is the twenty-first century and you are being punished for having children, or black and female, or of any number of things that may or may not apply to me because any feminism worth its name is not just for me.

I understand things about words and about the way that they feel on my tongue and inside of my eyes and on my skin that you cannot even begin to comprehend as a (presumably) neurotypical  male who has had the world handed to him on a platter because of his combination of white maleness and undeniable talent (which I will not deny, not being that self-defeating, even while I could never get into Firefly as a former waif who has always been mildly nauseated by the entire genre of waif-fu,).

Do not tell me about words. They live inside my body in a way that they don’t for most people because I feel them vibrate and see the colors and feel the constance of having been raped solely for the reason of having been female and okay with sex deep inside of my fucking skin. Please don’t tell me about feminism, please, Joss Whedon.

I knew feminism when I was twelve and read Anne of Green Gables, I knew feminism when I knew that I was Jo March at the age of ten, I knew feminism when I knew that I understood Laura Brown from “The Hours” when I was a pregnant nineteen-year-old (but you would know nothing about that), even when I knew that I was poor because I had the misfortune of getting pregnant before it was dignified to do so (while having the privilege of carrying the best kids ever). I knew feminism before I knew the word for it, and I read it to the fucking skies when I learned what it meant and I hope to cry it, through my pores when possible and through my words when not, because it is my duty to impart to everyone else what I have learned.

I am a person. I am whole. So are you. I deserve better. So do you, whoever you are, even Joss Whedon, with your ridiculous pretensions to understand a word that has been a vital part of my being since before I understood that I was not and could never be one of the boys around me. Lay claim to it or, if you can’t, don’t fucking presume to lecture me or anyone else who has felt the word vibrate in their skin as a manifestation of what they have always known to be wrong with the universe. If you do not understand then, no matter how much you write the guilty male fetishization of tiny women beating the shit out of big men, you need to get the fuck out of the way and let the grown-ups talk. Don’t presume to talk to me bout “genderism.” Give me a world where “genderism” is possible and then we’ll talk. Until then, I know how words, how sounds, how my experiences, feel in my skin, and I don’t need yet another white male in the creative class to lecture me on what it means to touch sounds and to know, from the very beginning, that something was wrong.

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I have a new post in the works, but I am going to wait to post it here until it goes up on a new group blog that I’m participating in (along with a wonderful bunch of other non-dude types). Go check it out, and you’ll be hearing from me soon (at some length)!

http://feministhivemind.com/

Why Skeptics?

This is actually more the first part of a two-part post, because “skeptics and symbols” are not that separable for my purposes. However, I don’t want to invoke my spirit animal–the Teal Deer–and so I will cut this into two. The next part should be up on Monday, since I’m going to be out of town this weekend and I’m not sure what I’m doing about weekends, anyway.

This is where it gets slightly more personal: I’m an atheist skeptic. That means both that I do not accept pseudoscientific or paranormal explanations about reality and that I do not believe in a God, gods, or supernatural explanations for reality. This framework works for me because, although I’m pretty damn smart, I’m also incredibly gullible, and I’ve had to discipline myself into not taking every claim at face value. Feminism helped set me on that path (rather than the reverse), and brought me to a place where I was unable to accept not only the supernatural claims of the conservative Christianity of my upbringing, but also the liberal neopaganism that I was assiduously not practicing by the time that my atheism caught me by surprise shortly before I began college in 2009.

Over the past few years, moving from a surprised atheism into a more knowledgeable skepticism, I have had to decide a) what skepticism means to me personally, b) what information I prioritize when it comes to being skeptical, and c) how to integrate skepticism with my overall orientation towards social justice. In the end, this has gone poorly, as I have watched a movement that seemed at first to offer a great deal of promise on the social justice front dissolve into infighting over whether issues of gender, sexuality, race, class, disability, or even religion, a darling chew-toy of many educated white men, qualify as being worth applying skepticism to.

Being primarily focused on social justice, I’ve had to force myself to ask whether atheism is, in and of itself, a vehicle towards a world that will be more inclined to listen to marginalized voices and, eventually, not to marginalize them at all. The answer, as far as I see it, is a resounding no, as the same battles over social justice rage among skeptics as they do in every religious community. Atheism as a means to the end of a more just world is a bad hypothesis. As a skeptic, I have rejected it based on the evidence that is right in front of me.

This leads me to conflict not only with those who fight against social justice in the atheist and skeptical communities (which are different but overlapping, as has become more apparent recently), but with those who fight for social justice in those communities since I may agree with their overarching goals, but not with their chosen vehicle. Let me be clear: I have no problem with the amazing work being done by bloggers and activists who have been at this far longer than I have been an atheist, and I am as supportive of their fight for a more just community for themselves as I am of religious people who wage the same battle in their own spheres. I simply find atheism to be extraneous to this conflict in the larger social arena, and the skeptical community is no longer mine. If a person is skeptical of the preassigned roles assigned to people on account of their various identities then I could not possibly care less whether they are also skeptical of deities, since belief in deities does not, in and of itself, do harm until it lapses into a refusal to acknowledge the roles of human beings in crafting the world that we live in. I understand arguments about slippery slopes. I also know enough good theists to have become intensely disinterested in those arguments.

This is not an atheist blog. It is a blog by an atheist. I believe that god-claims are subject to the same skepticism that applies to pseudoscience and paranormal claims (which I actually believe to do more harm than god-claims on the whole so long as the god-claims do not extend to support odious social norms), and that is why I remain an atheist. In that I agree with the atheist contingent that is still fighting for a seat at the table of the skeptical community. However, I disagree with the atheist contingent as to the importance of atheism. That leaves my position on this topic as: “meh.”

Why, then, skepticism? Why is skepticism still important to me, and important enough for me to discuss it here?

Well, I’m still a skeptic. I may not be a proper skeptic, ready to engage in blistering attacks upon the preferred targets of many skeptical atheists, but I am a skeptic nonetheless because this worldview functions for me. I think that skepticism is important to the dissection of larger issues within our society, and I do not think that it is possible to engage in social justice activism without at least some skeptical mode of operation. If we’re going to leech the wounds, we have to use our critical capacities to do so at every turn, refusing to accept ideas just because they are comfortable or seem right to us, just as we have done with the core identities that have been supplied to us by a hegemonic ideal of normalcy. We must wield the scalpel as eagerly as we would wield the sledgehammer, and this is a particular challenge to me.

This being the case, I must use my full faculties–my techne, if you will–to figure out what trained incapacities exist in (one of) my chosen ideology(ies). If I am going to approach issues on this blog from the perspective of a skeptical intersectional feminist–an ideologic (intersection of ideologies) that works well for me at the moment–then I have to know where its weak spots are. I think I’ve found one, although I’m willing to accept pushback on that because this is pretty much entirely, as far as I have noticed, my brainchild.

Skeptics, as they operate in our society, do not know what to do with symbols. They use them, sure enough, but uneasily, and I want to figure out how to reconcile this, both personally and on the movement level, because I think that this has implications beyond mere rhetorical weak spots. I leave you with that, and look forward to explaining more on Monday.


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