All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

How to Be An Ally

Fear of being wrong is one of the main factors that prevents people from being even halfway decent allies, they're just so overwhelmed with the fact that they may be called out for not being perfect that they don't even bother to help their fellow humans. I will freely admit that being an ally - to any group - is tough because it forces you to examine your own privilege. You are an Ally because you are a member of the privileged class who has decided to stand up for the marginalized. That means that you benefit from privilege. Even if you are a member of one marginalized group, no person exists in a vacuum. I'm an asexual, disabled woman and yeah the last part is hard for me to admit, but I'm also white and from an affluent family which makes me pretty damn privileged despite the non-hetero, disabled portion of my existence. I benefit from "benevolent sexism" all the damn time because of my whiteness and cisgendered-ness. Just because benevolent sexism is also sexist behavior, that doesn't mean I don't benefit from it.

So, I'm an ally to people of color, to the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, to people with less wealth than me, but I'm also an ally to other women, to other aces, to other disabled persons. Being a member of a marginalized group does not mean you get to speak for everyone else in that group.  As a woman, as an asexual person, as a disabled person, it is my responsibility to speak up about the discrimination I feel and see, but it is also my responsibility to listen to my fellow women (and that includes trans women), aces, disabled persons and help give strength to their voices. Which is what an ally does.

That doesn't mean all women are good allies to the LGBTQ+ community, or that all feminists are good allies to people of color. Women aren't always good feminists, because being a part of a marginalized group doesn't mean you are automatically an ally of that group. Allyship is hard. There is no manual that gets handed out, and its a process of trial and error. As an ally, you will screw up. Everyone screws up, its kind of inevitable. The key is to not let your personal embarrassment and shame get in the way of being an ally.

Perhaps the most important thing to not about being an ally is that you voice is not the important one.

This is probably the hardest lesson for an ally to learn, because we all approach problems from our own perspective. However, as an ally, it isn't your perspective that matters. As a male feminist ally, your opinion on street harassment has no bearing because you don't have the experience to make any kind of thoughtful comment. Anything you say will end up reeking of defensiveness because you are reacting as a man and not as a feminist ally. As a white ally to people of color, your voice as a white person is pretty moot when it comes to race issues as they do not negatively impact you.

That doesn't mean allies are voiceless. The job of an ally is to help boost the opinions of the oppressed group from your position of privilege, to support the group you are an ally of, and to call out prejudice when you see it. So, as a white ally to people of color, my job is to support people of color, to help their voices reach new ears, and to call out racism when I see other people perpetuating that kind of hate.

That can be as simple as just sharing blog posts from other activists, or by going out to Black Lives Matter protests and helping to physically show support.

There are some simple "dos and donts" of allyship, for people who need that kind of thing explicitly outlined. Being an ally means that you don't say "...but not all white people" because you recognize that the conversation is not about you personally, but about the racists within the white community. Being an ally means that you don't question the opinions and realities of people within the groups you are an ally to. You don't ask for proof when a woman says she was raped by a man, because you know that false accusations are unfairly reported and make up less than 2% of all rape accusations according to the very loose FBI standards for a "false" rape accusation. Being an ally means you aren't speaking FOR the oppressed group, you're helping spread awareness of the issues as THEY see them. Being an ally means calling out sexism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, and ableism when you see it. It also means calling out the system of financial inequality, the school to prison pipeline, the mass incarceration of people of color, trans erasure in pop culture, the erasure of black women in conventional "white" feminism, and the "edginess" of using a wheelchair as a metaphor for being limited by your own fame.

Being an ally should not be easy. Its a continuous process that requires a lot of self-examination and self-awareness. Being an ally forces us to confront our own privilege and none of us like to do that, but that's the point.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is The Purple-Red Scale A Better Way To Come Out?

In honor of National Coming Out Day I thought I'd write about a new method thats been surging around the internet for identifying your sexual orientation. For anyone who is even remotely familiar with the study of sexuality, the name "Kinsey" should ring a bell. For anyone unfamiliar with it, Alfred Kinsey is credited with being one of the first people to study human sexuality and create a scale to measure it. After conducting countless interviews, he came up with what is now called the Kinsey scale. Although, originally the scale only applied to sexual experiences and not desires, it was easily adapted to allow people to plot their orientation on a number scale going from 0 to 6 with 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual.

This is an example though asexual wasn't really used in Kinsey's original scale
On first glance, this might seem to be a good measurement system. However there are some concerns when dealing with it. For one, there is always the criticism that the Kinsey scale was supposed to measure sexual behavior and not desire. Secondly, it places sexuality on this hetero/homo binary - making it seem as if these are the only options and anything else is just another version of those categories. Third, it doesn't address what counts as homo- or heterosexual in the first place. It doesn't deal with the complexities that arise from the inclusion of those who don't necessarily fit within a binary conception of sexual orientation and gender. Nor does it any notion of asexuality. And these are only just a few of the flaws in the Kinsey scale.

A new scale has been making the rounds on the internet lately with many claiming it to be a solution to the Kinsey problem. The scale, seemingly originating on reddit, is called the purple-red scale and looks as follows:


Right away you can notice this scale is more complex than the Kinsey scale above. It sheds more light on the diversity that exists within asexuality - particularly showing that there are aromantic aces and romantic aces. On top of that, it also gives attention to those who are hypersexual - a group often either considered ill (similar to asexuals) or at the very least deviant.

There's certainly value in this type of scale. It shows some real growth in how people have come to understand sexuality. The mere fact that its getting attention is quite exciting! Not too long ago asexuals were still struggling to be recognized as an actual sexual orientation (not that they aren't still fighting for this recognition).

That being said, its not enough to just praise and focus on some improvements. As a feminist, a queer activist, and someone who understands what it is like to be disadvantaged; I can't just sit by when things are still leaving out or misrepresenting entire groups of people and sadly this scale is almost as inadequate as the Kinsey scale. It's always important to remain vigilant and critical.

The new purple-red scale has added in level of sexual attraction. In more colloquial terms it basically just added how big your sex drive is into the scale (though again, it isn't really that simple). Again, a great improvement, but not at all enough. The distinction between romantic and aromantic asexuals is important but the scale misrepresents others in the asexual community - demisexuals.

Demisexual people are those who often experience sexual attraction, but only after developing a strong emotional connection of some sort to their partner(s). In the purple-red scale this is somewhat encompassed by 'D' but not entirely in the best way. Though often the case, demisexuals are not limited to being sexually attracted to only romantic partners, and so, while attempting to be inclusive this scale kind of misses the mark.

This is of course not the only flaw in the scale. Let's be honest, the 'sexual attraction' side is the only new bit - it's really just a Kinsey Scale 2.0. Nothing else has really been changed.

That instantly raises a big red flag to me. Just like with everything else we have had to deal with, we seem to still be trying to stuff and limit our identities into teeny tiny boxes. Guys, it didn't work for gender and it's not gonna work for sexuality. We really should get over this whole need to box everything up. We've already started recognizing that humans are not simple creatures. Rather than just trying to make bigger boxes; why even bother to confine ourselves?

Speaking of gender - look at that Kinsey scale on the right. In most modern discourses sexual orientation is described as what gender a person is attracted to. Not sex. I've talked about the distinction a little bit in my intro post to sexuality and while not a huge deal...it certainly is a bit odd. Particularly, this chart fails to account for how sexuality is affected by the gender of our partners. It ignores trans experiences, completely erasing them from the picture. It erases all nonconforming gender identies. Agender, genderfluid, genderqueer, there are innumerable genders out there and their experiences of sexuality are not reflected here.

Even accepting sex as their basis of attraction the scale is still erasing identities and experiences. What about people who don't fit in our narrow definitions of 'male' and 'female'? Intersex people are often left out of LGBTQ+ discourse and this is just another example of that. Seriously, if you can make the effort to get an understanding about an often-erased group such as asexual people, is it really so much to ask that you learn about other erased groups?

And what about the nonsense of saying 'of the opposite sex'? That reeks of heteronormativity and sexism. Why are male and female considered opposites? Accepting another binary is completely ridiculous. They aren't opposite, just different. Saying they are opposite implies (or at least plays into) a whole plethora of assumptions that we make not just about sex but also gender and we can really just do without all that. Its not something I need to be reminded of when trying to illustrate my sexual identity.

Another problem with using the Kinsey scale as presented above as part of this chart is that it doesn't accurately represent bisexuals (and following from my point above about the infinite gender variations, it also inaccurately represents pansexuality). An important criticism pointed out by the bisexual community is that this scale makes them out to not be their own sexual orientation, but rather a mixture of two absolutes. Bisexual people are not half-heterosexual and half-homosexual. This idea that bisexual people need to quantify how attracted, or how often, they are to each gender (or sex) is ridiculous. It isn't about how much, because for bisexuals the people they enter relationships with are those they are attracted to. Period. They are fully attracted to the people they have relationships with. Measurements like this tend to give the idea that they are less attracted to someone because of their gender/sex.

Really, criticisms of the Kinsey scale are wide and varying. Thats why many academics, scientists, and even the person who created the purple-red scale (whoever they may be) have tried creating new scales. This is just another step in the process, but the purple-red scale - while a a step in the right direction in some aspects - just isn't very revolutionary or even that exciting for me.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Mental Health Awareness Day

Today is mental health awareness day. Having struggled all day to find what to say I'd like to share some thoughts as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, activist, and student representative.

Mental health is often something that is ignored most of the time. We only really talk about mental health when tragedy happens - like mass shootings or the recent shootings in the US (though this is disproportionately applied to white attackers). Even then this is only done to stigmatize mental health, leaving the impression that those with mental health problems are shameful and dangerous.

This is extremely harmful for us all. It makes people not want to talk about their mental problems. Oftentimes it stops many from seeking help and acknowledging that there is a problem at all. I know from experience how harmful this culture is. Having gone through a period of extreme depression, and having lasting social anxiety I know what it is like to think that you are broken, that your mind is working against you and feeling like you have nobody to talk to. I have watched others who feel like they can't talk to anybody suffer in silence.

Mental health is a huge issue for marginalized groups. In general 1 in 6 people in the UK experience mental health issues, but LGBT+ people are 3x more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders and 6x more likely to suffer from depression than heterosexuals? This is especially true for LGBT+ youth (including those in University) and even more so for trans people in particular.

This is a problem that effects everybody though. Everyone has their ups and downs. Especially when dealing with our complex societies stress and anxieties come and go. Some may experience more than others but what is wrong with having support dealing with these changes in mental states? We already have it for physical health.

Physical health is central to how we view the world. From a young age physical health is drilled into us. We are taught about brushing our teeth, washing our hands, watching our step, what we can and can't eat or touch. Really the list goes on and on.  We require physical checks to go to school, university, do sports, all sorts of things. This centrality and exposure lends itself to thinking that talking about and dealing with physical health is 'normal' and acceptable. We need to extend this thinking to mental health for all our sakes.

This mental health awareness day I encourage everyone to try to be just a little bit more open about mental health issues. Remind friends that you are there to talk to, make sure you all know about the support options that are available (at most universities there are counselors of all sorts to help). Stop yourself and others when using ableist language (like "crazy", and "retard(ed)").

Let's work toward building a society where taking care of our minds is viewed just as normal as taking care of our bodies. If we can do that we will all benefit and be better for it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Why not Polygamy?

By now the news has spread everywhere about the United States Supreme Court's ruling on same sex marriage. The dust is starting to settle, but I want to kick it up again. What now? Not only for gay rights, but what now for marriage? Is marriage now a beacon of equality or is it still an exclusive club only for some, only now same-sex couples have entrance? Specifically, what about polygamy?

It's interesting that many liberals have been ecstatic about same-sex marriage being passed; but if I were to ask them about polygamy, they would instantly turn around and condemn opening up marriage to such relationships. This is not to say that gay marriage and polygamy are the same. They are different and there are different considerations required for each. Yet, even liberals use the same arguments used to oppose gay marriage against polygamy as if they would somehow be successful for one and not the other.

Why not polygamy? The arguments against it are pretty standard, but let's go through them one at a time. 

1. Children: Just as with same-sex marriage and inter-racial marriage, one of the key starting points for arguing against polygamy is that it's harmful to children. Well, there are several rebuttals to this: not the least of which being that it has been thoroughly established that marriage is not about children. Children can and do exist outside of marriage and there are plenty of marriages that never add children to the family. 

Those who use children as a means of arguing against polygamy not only misunderstand the role children play in marriage (none), but also the role that marriage plays in children's lives. Many studies have shown that children who have two married parents are often better off than those of single parents. However, the question is why. Most studies have concluded that it is stability which is the most important factor to childrens' development and wellbeing- not the number of parents. 

Think about it a different way. There are many children who already have 3 parents. Divorce and remarriage has been legal for quite some time and many children have step-parents. Many kids have as many as four ! I haven't heard of anybody saying that these children are somehow worse off than others. The reality is that having multiple primary caretakers is not a new concept and is actually not as uncommon as we like to pretend. But I'll repeat for good measure - marriage is not about children. 

2. Stability: Now as soon as I mentioned stability I could almost hear the tapping of keyboards with people waiting to say "but multiple partnered relationships are inherently unstable!" Please tell that to the many polyamorous lovers who have been together 30, 50+ years. Can they be unstable? Sure. So are many monogamous couples. Relationships come and go. That's how they work, but marriage (supposedly) is for those that aren't so fleeting. That's why we have enshrined an institution which makes it harder for those involved to separate. But just in case the anecdotal evidence wasn't enough: Elisabeth Sheff has done a study on polyamorous relationships and found a high level of support and stability for children in who are being raised by poly parents - not to mention that children raised in such arrangements seem to turn out well

I always find it interesting when people talk about stability and children as reasons against marriage. Surely if stability and children's wellbeing are your position you should therefore approve of allowing more kinds of marriage. Study after study after study can be found to demonstrate that marriage does benefit children. If stability and children's wellbeing is your main concern, legalizing polygamy is better than not.

The irony of using an argument about stability though, is that it assumes that monogamous marriages are somehow more stable than poly ones would be. While divorce rates aren't as high as widely believed those who do divorce often remarry, which obviously requires dating again. Sometimes adults get divorced and remarried multiple times. Children can have many 'parents' over the course of their lifetime. So why is that somehow more stable than a polygamous marriage with multiple partners who may come and go as well?

3. Oppression: Another common argument against polygamy is that it is an oppressive relationship structure. This is an important point to make as we can all agree that nobody wants to endorse or encourage abusive or oppressive relationships. However, it is important to distinguish that it is certain polygamous relationships that are oppressive rather than the actual structure of polygamy being inherently oppressive. 

For example, the vast majority of polygamous relationships that have been practiced throughout history have been polygynous ones. Many were in societies where marriage was extremely patriarchal and not at all like the institution of today. Women were in no way considered equals of men and were treated as property. But this was true of all marriages, not just polygamist ones. This history is hardly justification for restricting the rights of one group but not the other. 

Some may argue that polygamy is often times no better today than it was then. That it enables a power dynamic that is inherently unequal and will be all too often abused. However, once again these arguments often center on things that aren't just applicable to polygamy but also to monogamous marriage. Many of these arguments are also heterocentric and completely ignore same sex polygamy as an option (not that I would advocate that one is acceptable and the other not). 

Thom Brooks, an academic, argues that because women are already at a cultural disadvantage, they are more likely to be taken advantage of (perhaps not even able to give full consent!), especially in polygamous relationships. Not only does this completely ignore same-sex polygamy, but there is no reason why this would be the case.

Certainly polyamorous relationships offer a good example of how that could not be the case. Polyamory is all about having full informed consent, and treating all partners as equals. This often leads to many conversations about how everyone is feeling about how they are treated and their place in the relationship. Open discussions, respect, and -perhaps most importantly- relinquishing assumptions  are all key aspects of successful polyamory. This is true regardless of the form the relationship takes (such as a "V", or triad, or an open relationship, etc.).

Formalizing a relationship doesn't change any of those already existing qualities. Rather one could argue that marriage can offer many protections to women from such circumstances. Rights, security, stability, but also power to end the relationship with a no-fault divorce. Divorce and enforcing rights is often not simple and can be arduous. If your issue with polygamy is that women aren't protected enough or that marriage doesn't protect women enough, then advocate for expanding protections because thats what you really take issue with. Not polygamy.

4. Logistics: Probably one of the weakest arguments against polygamy is that our current system couldn't handle it. "What happens in the event of divorce?" Or a question about taxes and whatnot - reminiscent of those who complained that there would have to be a change in the forms if same-sex marriage was legalized.

On the surface this might be enough to give people pause. Because to many, logistics acts as a reality check. Non-monogamous people, no matter how much of a right they might have to marriage, simply don't fit and that's that. But why? If we can accept that there is a right to marriage how can logistics really be enough to stop people from fulfilling this right?

We've seen these kinds of arguments before and they clearly didn't stand up to the test of time and reason. With other rights we have dealt with serious logistical issues and come out the better for it. From liberating slaves all the way through to fully ensuring their right to vote (which we are still working on) and even all the efforts that went into ensuring women had a fully respected right to vote we have made significant logistical changes as has been necessary to our system. These required changes in law, and tax codes, and inheritance and divorce and many more things. Recognizing rights is often difficult and requires that we as society and our governments put in effort, monumental at times, to ensure their protection - it's an ongoing process and one we should never stop. That's what makes rights so special and dear.

Are there serious questions that need to be answered? Sure. How exactly should we structure taxes? How would divorce work? What about custody of children? Should there be limits on the number of people? All important questions. Logistics plays a role but it plays a role in deciding how we enact things not in deciding not too. Will it be complicated? Probably. Messy? Maybe. But everyone who has multiple partners should have the option to marry their partners just like monogamous people do.

5. Need: Many people question whether polygamy is truly necessary and whether or not marriage is something poly people truly want. You don't see or hear many polygamy advocates on TV or even around the mainstream internet. So why should we even consider it when it's not something they really seem to want? The answer is simple really. Because we value equality. On the principle of equality whether there is a large group or even just one person who wants a legally recognized polygamous marriage, then they should have the option and ability to have one. The question shouldn't be why should be advocate or care about this if we don't. That is the completely the wrong question. The real question to ask is why should we allow this inequality to exist. Should the 'gay marriage' movement only have gotten support when there was sufficient LGBT support of the issue? No. We should be supporting issues not because of the number of people who want them but because they are the right things to do. Because they are the right way to treat people.

The bottom line comes down to this: We as a society value people making free choices of their own accord and don't want anyone interfering with that ability. We make exceptions when the decision goes against a specific state interest (and this must be a particularly strong interest) or if it is a harmful decision. Does the state have an interest in preventing polygamy? Not specifically and certainly not under an ancillary interest such as protecting minors or women etc. What about causing harm? Who does it harm to allow people who freely love multiple people to choose to marry? To use an adage from the same-sex marriage debate: if you don't like polygamy then only marry one person. Nobody is forcing anything on anyone. It would simply be available for those who want it. So really - Why not polygamy?


Trans* Issues are Feminist Issues

This is a guest post I wrote on an amazing blog as part of their Feminist Friday series. It originally appeared on Looking for Caroline Marie.

Trans* issues are inherently feminist issues. Yet somehow, this is a controversial statement. It bewilders me to think that other feminists disagree. When people are calling Caitlyn Jenner a man, refusing to include trans* individuals in popular media, or beating and killing trans women of color: how can we as feminists stand by and do nothing? How can we separate our trans* friends and families from our movement?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Finally Some Good Trans Exposure - Or is it?

With the recent unveiling of Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover there has been an overwhelming amount of media coverage about Jenner and trans issues as a whole; and I don't know about you, but they have evoked A LOT of feels in me - many of which are in conflict. Breaking down and understanding these responses is important if we are to truly appreciate the situation.

Let me start of by stating very clearly that I am happy beyond expression that there is some kind of trans visibility. The fact that Caitlyn feels secure enough to be her 'true self' is a great accomplishment in itself. Seeing that trans women can not only be recognized but celebrated is sure to help at least some trans people around the globe. And the continuing defense of Caitlyn being respected is encouraging to say the least. But this fixation is not all its cracked up to be.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Unpacking Your Own Bias

In Social Justice circles, we talk a lot about examining your own privilege and understanding your own biases, but we don't talk about HOW people are supposed to go about these things. We only tell them to do it. We don't even offer any kind of support system because unpacking your own internalized bias is the sort of process you're never really done with. There are all sorts of biases that are thrust upon us as children and take a long time to exorcise from our brains and even then, nothing really ever goes away. Essentially, society is a cult and we are all child inductees. In order to fully illustrate the messy process of understanding your own hangups, I've detailed my own attempt at self-actualization here. This is going to get personal, so, consider yourselves warned.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Outside Looking In: Baltimore

I've been thinking about making this post for the past few days now. While there is no shortage of the topics I could write about - SCOTUS hearing same-sex marriage, Norther Ireland's same-sex marriage vote, Nepal, Bali Nine - I keep coming back to Baltimore. This may stem from my own background as an American, and a part of me is very sorry that I don't have the same drive to address more international issues, but I do honestly believe that this is extremely important.

Some disclaimers before I begin: I want to recognize and draw attention to the fact that my interpretation of events comes from an especially privileged background. I am a white, (mostly) cis man, from an upper-middle-class background. While I am gay and do have some limited understanding of the perspective, I don't pretend to compare my understanding of sexual and gender oppression to racial oppression. And as such, everything I say is limited in that respect. For a fuller understanding, listen to those who are the oppressed. My purpose here is not to try to overshadow those voices, but use the platform I am afforded to promote theirs.

It's hard to know where to start when talking about a topic that is so pervasive it feels impossible to break down. Ultimately, the starting point has to be one of recognizing that there is oppression. Racial oppression is real, and we can't go anywhere in this conversation without recognizing that. If you think that race is no longer an issue in society, please take my advice from earlier and go talk to those you think are your equals. Listen and absorb their lived experiences. Look at our system and how it disproportionately effects Black Americans: profiling, arrests, convictions, sentencing - and those are only criminal issues! The system is rigged and it's definitely not rigged against White Americans.

This is the easiest part for people to accept. Granted, this is due to the fairly liberal circles that I've put myself in so it's not necessarily the easiest for everyone; but, once we accept the fact (yes it is a fact) that racial oppression is still an issue in America, then things start to get complicated and divided even amongst otherwise amiable liberals.

The worst way this manifests is when a dialogue about oppression moves from directly addressing the issue to skirting around it by talking about how people should deal with their oppression. And from this we are bombarded, from all sides, with images and messages of peace; of understanding; complacency. When we look at successful civil rights movements, we see those who enacted peaceful protests; we see images of marches full of smiling people holding signs often claiming equality in the name of sameness.

Look at one of today's most successful campaigns: same-sex marriage. How did it grow? What message does it send? It grew through peaceful, political campaigns. Activists working day and night lobbying legislators, talking to the public, and doing all of this with a smile to their target group's face: promoting the idea that same-sex couples aren't changing anything, that they are the same as heterosexuals, that we "gays" aren't angry and radical. I don't want to knock the lobbying and campaigning. There is a huge value in grassroots movements which I've learned from being a part of them. But they aren't immune to criticism and putting forward an image of assimilation, which is problematic.

What does this message of assimilation do? It humanizes the oppressed. They are transformed from this radical monster to something familiar and relatable. Assimilation is what informs these conversations around Baltimore and civil disobedience. Seeing the oppressed Black Americans, who are rioting and angry and desperate, we remove the humanity from them. Calling these people "animals" or "thugs" or talking about controlling their actions denies their humanity. When we look at them through that kind of lens we deny them their right to feel and to be affected by their oppression - sending the message that their feelings are invalid and that they should only be upset in a way that is deemed "acceptable" by their oppressors.

While stripping these people of their humanity in the name of civil obedience, consider too that we are also valuing their group's experiences and lives as lesser than the property that they are damaging. When we say that riots are "not ok" because of the destruction they cause, we communicate that our property matters more to us than they do. Think about that. Our cars and our windows are being placed on a higher priority than the lives of human beings.

This isn't fair or right for us to do to our fellow persons. We can condemn the violence without stripping people of their dignity and humanity. To do this, we must start by recognizing where the violence stems from. Riots- of the political nature- are born out of desperation. They are a symptom of a system that isn't working. A system which is not just leaving behind an entire group of people, but actively fighting against them. Riots are the result of struggles which have been tireless and endless and don't seem to be getting any better. When the oppressed raise their voices and are drowned out by their oppressors or their pleas fall on deaf ears; that is when violence happens.

Recognizing this context is essential to not invalidating people when they react violently to their oppression. It's the difference between chastising the mentally ill and showing compassion. Allowing for empathy with their plight and keeping this empathy at the forefront of our discussions insures that the respect these people deserve as humans is maintained but still allows us to be critical of their actions. This is where the now viral (partial) quote by Martin Luther King Jr. gets its force.
"...I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I'm absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity."
King, the most prominent beacon of non-violent protest, demonstrates beautifully the power we can give those who are rioting while still actively being ideologically opposed to their actions. I hesitate to use this example but the expression "condemn the sin not the sinner" comes to mind.

But, even when talking about MLK and the non-violence movement, it is important to remember the context of it all. Part of the reason why King was so praised and given the attention he got was because of the backdrop of the very riots he condemned. This is still true today, perfectly exemplified by the situation in Baltimore. How much media attention did the protest (that went on for six days) get? Next to none. If there hadn't been any violence, how many people do you think would have even been aware a protest happened? It probably would have gotten some attention in a few local papers, maybe a few bloggers, and thats it. Another gathering of voices into the void. And this has been the case for the majority of movements throughout history (if not all of them). Civil rights? Look at Malcom X and the Black Panthers movements. The LGBT movement? Stonewall.

These cataclysmic violent reactions to oppression are the catalysts of social justice movements. Why? Because thats what the media feeds off of. The media doesn't like to report on the quiet (or loud), peaceful protests. Those are "boring". They don't bring in the same number of viewers as a murder or a riot. And this is true of media on all sides of the political spectrum. The only time we start to hear the voices of the protesters is after the violence has permeated the airways, which makes riots almost necessary to any movements' beginnings. This culture of only paying attention when there is violence allows the media to brand the oppressed as 'less than' and unprincipled, turning us against the oppressed rather than the oppression.

But the violence serves as a call to arms, raising awareness that you are not alone in your discontent, showing that people are willing to fight for their dignity, and gives people platforms to speak out on. What statements were we getting from officials and politicians about the problems of Black Americans before this exposure? Even now the leaders of the protest, which served as the backdrop to the Baltimore riots, gain exposure because of the attention garnered from the riots and by condemning the violence which ensued. The sad truth is that, while we condemn violence, it has a very identifiable purpose as a political tool and we need to recognize the historical and political importance it has by listening to and learning from the narrative that rioting tells.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

NUS Controversy - Clearing the Air (Part 2/2) - "Dear White Gay Men"

This is a continuation from another post, and is meant to address the other 'big issue' that the media has picked up on (read: blowing out of proportion) from the NUS conferences. Because, again, having represented my university at the LGBT+ conference and being the LGBT+ equality representative elect for my SU, I feel that it's important that you- whether you're a student or just a general member of the concerned public- know the facts.

NUS Controversy - Clearing the Air (Part 1/2) - The 'Drag Ban'

It's time to set something straight (well hopefully not). By now, many people have probably come across the 'controversy' surrounding the NUS (National Union of Students) LGBT+ and Women's conferences. This controversy is being completely fabricated by the media coverage.

Now, whether this is intentional or due to genuine misunderstandings I don't know, but in either case it is extremely problematic. Having represented my university at the LGBT+ conference and being the LGBT+ equality representative elect for my SU, I feel that it's important that you- whether you're a student or just a general member of the concerned public- know the facts.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Feminism isn't Just for Women - Really!

If you have engaged in any way with Feminism in the last decade you've likely come across the term intersectionality. As a huge part of the newest wave of Feminism, intersectionality takes on the reality that no issue occurs in a vacuum. Nobody has only one identity and they all interact and overlap, but this idea still has many who are less involved in Feminism baffled. Thus, all too often you hear claims from MRAs that Feminism only cares about women. The recent Russell Tovey controversy presents an opportune moment to debunk this defeatist attitude.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Biggest Problem With Men's Rights Is The Men's Rights Movement

The words "Men's Rights Activist" have become a shorthand for the stereotype of a fedora-wearing misogynist who spends most of his days trolling websites, shouting the word "femi-nazis," and man-splaining all over the place. Unfortunately for these staunch supporters of Men's Rights, they've gone and completely destroyed whatever credibility the Men's Rights movement may have had. There are certainly issues that men face which are not given main stream attention, however, most of these stem from our patriarchal society's insistence on strict gender roles. Toxic masculinity is a symptom of the patriarchy, which we feminist have been harping on about for a few generations now.