Friday, August 7, 2015

Pipelined

When I was a little kid my family told me, go to college. You're smart. You're driven. You can do anything you want, if you put your mind to it.

When I was in 8th grade, my social studies teacher told me, go to college. Go even if you don't have the money. This is an investment in your future, a future full of possibilities. You can do anything you want, if you put your mind to it.

When I graduated my school counselor said, go to college. You graduated with honors, took AP classes. You can do anything you want, if you put your mind to it.

So I took out the loans and sent my applications, and as a child not-left-behind you best believe I went into STEM. Double major in neuroscience and psychology with a minor in chemistry to cap it off. Doesn't that sound nice? Rolls right off the tongue. I could do anything with that if I put my mind to it.

It wasn't until graduate school when cracks began to appear in the ivory edifice of the scholastic institution that I had staked so much of my self-worth on.

CRACK - when colleagues paid more attention to my appearance than to the questions I asked

CRACK - when my term paper on obesity ended in an uninvited lecture about my weight

CRACK - seeing my overqualified female colleagues' hands slowly come down as they realize that the professor isn't going to interrupt a loud white man derailing our class time with their need to hold the floor by force

CRACK - when I asked my faculty advisor for feedback and he told me he wasn't here to hold my hand like I was a child at the mall and not a grown adult asking him to do his job as a FAC UL TY AD VI SOR

CRACK - when a PROFESSOR in the PSYCHOLOGY DEPARTMENT tells me that maybe depression is a sign I shouldn't be here

I feel I should have noticed the ground becoming unstable under my feet.
But I could do anything if I put my mind to it... right?

My patch of ivory crumbled the week after I defended my master's thesis. My advisor phoned it in - both my defense, and the bad news.

You see, even if your grades are good. Even if you're meeting all of your degree requirements - even if you live every day by the rules written in the Student Handbook - the advisors and administrators can "decline to continue working with you".

And what that means, is they can kick you out.

Of course there are loopholes - you could find another advisor, make another plea to the administrators, go on academic leave to give yourself more time. I know people who've done it. I can count five people off the top of my head who've successfully switched advisors and stayed in the program. Five... men.

Not that I'll even know for sure if things would have been different as a boy, whether my advisor would have stooped to "hold my hand" by reading my first first-draft.

Or whether my depression ruined my chances of getting another advisor. Taking someone else's broken down student is risky. I might give out on you after another few months. Best to wait for a newer model.

In fact my advisor took on a new student the year I left. I'm told he takes a more hands-on approach now, that he's learned from his mistakes.

If I was brave enough to stand in front of my advisor, if my spine were strong and my voice were steady and my agoraphobia-inducing anxiety would loosen its grip on me just enough to tell him one thing, it'd be this:

Before I met you, I thought I could do anything I put my mind to.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

This is rape culture.

When a major newspaper conflates rape with sex, asking "why someone who has seemingly easy access to sex resorts to drugging."

Emphasis mine, because holy fucking shit, what even is this bullshit assumption that it is a normal thing for men to rape someone in order to be sexually satisfied.

RAPE.
IS.
NOT.
SEX.

The idea that sexual celibacy is "a reason" to drug partners - that normal folks who don't have consent from the people they want to sleep with will find it fucking reasonable to drug and rape those people - is fucking toxic and it needs to fucking stop.

Contact the New York Times at nytnews@nytimes.com
Article: "When a Rapist’s Weapon Is a Drug" By BENEDICT CAREY

Monday, November 10, 2014

Scienceblogging and Leaky Pipelines: This Time, It's Personal

I originally started this blog to talk about science, back when I was a wee baby undergrad.

You may have noticed that I haven't really talked about science recently. And by "recently" I mean, "any time in the last two years". Check the tags if you don't believe me.

This is because two years ago, I got the news that my grad school career was over.

It was, to put it very succintly, traumatic.

As you can see, I've been working hard to try and fill the blog with other things, but it's really hard to come here and do the blogging equivalent of changing the subject. This blog was, at its heart, a science blog. And then suddenly, it wasn't.

I want to write more about this, but I'm not sure how or when that will happen. For now, I just want to get it out into the open, because it's in my head every time I go to update this blog.

I was kicked out of grad school, even though my grades were good and I was meeting all of my degree requirements.

When you talk about "leaky pipelines"... you're talking about me.

This post, I think, is the first step to me really processing that.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Alex Day and The "Past"

I posted an open letter to Alex Day yesterday. Today, I'd like to talk to everyone else.

First, you should know I'm not linking to the video. It's monetized, and I don't want to support that bullshit. I recommend you check out a transcript instead (original version via nerdswillwin, plain text version).

I have very little to say about it that wasn't already covered by neafcy in better detail and in a nicer way than I would be able to muster:


Despite having little of substance to add, if you would like to see my live comments (which I typed into Notepad as the video was running), I have included it under the fold, with only minor edits for style and clarity.

Warning: Capslocked stream-of-consciousness rant to follow.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dear Alex Day

I want you to know, first, that I believe you. I don't think you're intentionally trying to deceive or manipulate. I watched your video with good faith, and I hope you read this in good faith.

You said in your video that you can't find any "objective morality," and I have no desire to argue philosophy with you. However, if you do have any moral obligation in this situation, your moral obligation is to the people you hurt.

I think you agree with me there, because you sound like you regret that you caused other people pain. And I believe you when you say that you don't want to hurt anyone else. Specifically, you say that your goal is to never pressure someone into sex (or sexual things) again, and again, I believe you. But I think you still have a lot of things to learn if you want to achieve this goal.

For example, you said that you don't understand what you could have done to make girls feel pressured into sex with you. That is a Really Big Thing you need to learn, if you really want to make sure you never pressure someone into sex in the future - and a really basic thing.* If you can't recognize it, how will you make sure it never happens again?

If you want to learn how to avoid hurting people, the best way to do it is to listen to the women and girls who have been through it. Don't dismiss what your critics say as angry Tumblr rants or endless complaining. Those people are sharing something with you. You could learn a lot from listening to them.

You say you want to help the community move forward in a productive way, and I believe you. But, given that you are still learning how to avoid hurting people, you are not a person who should be guiding the community right now. I'm not saying you should shut up and go away; I'm saying that when you rebuild you should start at the bottom, not the top. Reconnecting to the community is more important than reclaiming a place at the center of that community.

You say that internet celebrity doesn't mean much to you. If that's the case, it shouldn't be hard to listen and learn, instead of trying to lead. If you're willing to center the experiences of people who've been pressured into sex, and decenter your own interests, it will go a long way towards rebuilding the community's trust in you.


Hopefully,

Muse



*There are a lot of internet resources that can help you with building a personal system of strong affirmative consent. A relevant selection:

  • How to avoid making people feel uncomfortable / tell when you have made someone uncomfortable / stop making people feel uncomfortable - John Scalzi
  • How to build good habits around enthusiastic consent in all things - Cliff Pervocracy
  • How to talk about consent without sounding like a robot lawyer - Cliff Pervocracy
  • An example of how not to be (TW) - Captain Awkward
  • Another example of how not to be (TW) - Captain Awkward

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Anita Sarkeesian on misogynist harassment

Anita is one of my personal heroes, still speaking out about the organized harassment campaign against her, despite... the organized harassment campaign against her.


I believe women when they tell me what happens to them. 

I spose it helps that I see women as people.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Girls like wedding dresses, right?

This ad was made by a bunch of white dads. I can feel it in my bones:


Really?

This is how you try to connect with young female voters?

Really?

Based on that commercial, if Rick Scott really was a wedding dress, he'd look more like this:


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dawkins jumps the shark

TW: Rape apologia, particularly rape-by-intoxication

This post has been edited to add context and an additional screenshot.

Below the cut is a screenshot of some reprehensible shit that Dawkins said today on Twitter, saved for posterity in case he deletes them:

Monday, June 23, 2014

3 Overly Defensive Reactions To 'Check Your Privilege'

Cracked just published a piece by Gladstone called 3 Ways 'Checking Your Privilege' Never Fixed Anything. While Gladstone claims that "this is NOT an article about poor white men feeling like they're under attack"... it reads exactly like an article written by a white dude feeling like he's under attack.

It's pretty obvious that someone told him to check his privilege, and it's equally obvious that it didn't go down very well. (Gladstone has a minor track record of turning "an argument I had with one person" into "EVERYONE ON THE INTERNET IS WRONG".)

Because Gladstone says he'd like to encourage people to share information, out of the kindness of my heart I will gladly explain, point-by-point, why the problem is not with the concept of "checking privilege," but instead with the way people respond to being told to check their privilege. And by "people" I mean "Gladstone".


“Check your privilege” makes assumptions… but nice ones. 

“OK, let's say you're arguing over one of the many things people love to fight about and your adversary has expressed an opinion directly opposite to what you believe to be true.”
Like something racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or some other dehumanizing bullshit?

Dude, that’s not shit we like to fight about.

The phrase “check your privilege” is only ever brought out when someone thinks you’re not just wrong, but that you’re actively being an asshole. Or at least that you did or said something that makes you seem like an asshole, to someone who has seen a lot of assholery over the course of their life.
“What does 'check your privilege' say? It says you believe the root of the disagreement is your adversary's background. He or she feels this way because they're white, because they're straight, because they're rich.”
And that’s a really nice assumption to make.

Step back a second and think about it. There’s two big reasons why people sound like bigoted assholes. The main reason, of course, is that they are bigoted assholes. They’ve carefully studied the issue and made the conscious decision that the minority group under discussion is, in fact, a lesser tier of human being. And we can all agree that those people suck.


You know who you are, and you suck so much.

On the other hand, some people who sound like bigoted assholes are more or less doing it accidentally. They’re not really thinking about what they’re saying, and they haven’t considered that it might be hurtful. Maybe they’ve never really talked to anyone that’s been bothered by it before. They’re lucky enough – one might even say privileged enough – to never be personally affected by that sort of bigotry, to the point that they might not even notice that it’s bigotry.

That’s the assumption behind “check your privilege”. Given that you already engaged in some fuckery (from their perspective), they're assuming that you’re being the oblivious sort of asshole instead of deliberately choosing to be an asshole.

“Check your privilege” is cynical… if you don’t understand how empathy works.

“Now you've pointed out he grew up richer, straighter, whiter than you? And?”
In the best case scenario, he reflects on what it would be like to experience things from a different viewpoint, giving him a new perspective on why that thing he said might have sounded assholish.

Or pretty much exactly what you said here:
"Ideally, the 'check your privilege' movement is about encouraging others to understand how their own backgrounds might blind them to larger issues…”
YES! EXACTLY!
“…but I see no evidence of that.”
Ugh.

Okay. And some creationists can honestly say that they see no evidence of evolution. It might be true that you, personally, have seen no evidence, but in that case you need to look a little bit harder. What do you think “check your privilege” means, if not “use your empathy to think about how you sound to someone who’s not you”?
“You're not like me, and therefore you're incapable of empathy."


If we thought you were incapable of empathy, no one would bother talking to you. Instead we’d either ignore you entirely, or at the most we’d keep a wary eye on you from a safe distance. No one tries to argue with Stormfront.

It’s true that “check your privilege” points out that you aren’t currently using your empathy. But the good-guy response to that is to start using your empathy. If instead you whinge about how cynical it is to point out your lack of empathy… that does not actually make you sound very empathetic.

“Who would want to overlook our common humanity?”

Stormfront, for one.
These fuckers.

It’s not the people asking you to check your privilege who are overlooking our common humanity. It’s the people who spout intolerant bullshit who fail to see their targets as fully human. “Check your privilege” is a reminder to see other people as fully human despite the differences between you – specifically, to treat other people’s experiences as if they were just as valid as your own. (Because they are.)


“Check your privilege” ends conversations… if you’re willfully ignorant.

“I've had friends explain that to me -- "check your privilege" is only trying to start a dialogue. That's almost the equivalent of saying that "check my cock for your wife's lipstick" would start a dialogue about the state of one's marriage. The phrase is insulting.”
Even leaving aside the whole “fucking your wife as a personal insult” thing (that’s what Fetlife is for), Gladstone thinks being told to consider a thing from a different perspective is a grave insult.

… That explains a lot, actually.


“[‘Check your privilege’ is] a shortcut allowing you to dismiss the opposing views of your adversary. It does absolutely nothing to illuminate.”
Only if you actually ignore what the imperative statement “check your privilege” actually means. If I wanted to tell you you’re wrong and leave it at that, I’d say “you’re wrong” and then leave it at that. (I’m simple that way.)

Being told to check your privilege is literally receiving instructions on how to be less wrong. It's like being told to take a biology class during an argument about evolution. Even if you don't take their advice, you should know there’s a high probability that you fucked something up along the way.
"[I]f those behind 'check your privilege' really want to foster a better world of mutual respect and understanding, I'd encourage them to share information with those they view as their oppressors. Share and explain your identity instead of merely tearing down others."
This is better known as the If you don't teach me, how will I learn? argument, and better writers than me have dealt with this in much more eloquent ways. But the tl;dr is this: So now I'm responsible for teaching you how and why not to be an asshole? You want me, a person who has been through shitty things, to tell you, the person who has already said something that I found ignorant and shitty, about the most vulnerable parts of my life?
Believe you me, lots of us have tried leading that horse to the water, wasted eons of time trying to get that fucker to drink, and got a kick in the stomach for our troubles. And we've found through experience that the horses who are actually thirsty will get a damn drink themselves, if they know where the lake is. "Check your privilege" is us pointing towards the lake. Go and drink, or don't, but either way stop blaming us for your choices.

You can't learn anything new if you already think you know all the answers. If you really do want to respect and understand the perspectives of marginalized people, you can start by putting aside your preconceived ideas, suppressing your tendency to get defensive, and actually listening to what marginalized people have to say.

Or, in other words: check your privilege.