Athena transgressing gender expectations

Please join me in a moment of celebration: I’m now an Initiate of the Order of the White Moon! OWM is a women’s spirituality group that I’ve been studying with since about Samhain. For each level, a final project on a particular goddess is required, and for mine, I chose the goddess Athena as she is represented in the Homeric epics. One of the things I found most fascinating was the way Athena defied the gender expectations of her time.

The overall image of Athena that emerges is composed of a mass of contradictions: she is a virgin who appears and acts in masculine ways, an extremely powerful warrior who disdains fighting for fighting’s sake, and a patroness of cunning who renders judgment based on her own sense of justice, being willing to face down the Furies and deny them vengeance in the process. She is, most of all, a figure of extreme practicality, willing to use appearances to get what she wants, but cutting through what she regards as irrelevant to pursue her own goals with single-minded focus.

Although the Homeric epics do not depict women calling on Athena for their own purposes, she is a figure to whom many women can appeal today, faced as they are with shifting gender boundaries and conflicting messages about appearance and behavior. A woman could call on Athena when she needs to borrow the goddess’ talent for disguise, when she has to cross boundaries and pursue her own goals, and most of all when she is unwilling to be bound by external strictures or expectations about her behavior as a woman.

As I explored Athena’s role in the original sources, I kept being surprised by what I found in stories I thought I knew. Seeing how Athena was incredibly masculine in her roles only reinforces my conviction that gender essentialism should not be part of Wicca, and that women who are trying to imagine some kind of safe space for themselves by emphasizing biology and rejecting trans women are actually building a space that restricts them and denies them the full range of what it can mean to be a woman.

I’ll write a little bit more in the coming week about what OWM’s Level 1 has been like, but for now I’m happy, tired, and can’t wait to start Level 2, so I’d better get going.

Trans inclusion

A very necessary conversation is starting to take place in Pagan and Wiccan communities because of an unfortunate incident of exclusion and prejudice at the most recent Pantheacon: trans women were excluded from a ritual for women. The Wild Hunt is covering the story and the resultant discussion. I’d just like to point out that this is why I wrote that gender essentialism has no place in Wicca.

Worst of all, for a religion that tells the myth of creation through the act of divine love and sexuality between God and Goddess, to say that each gender has only one kind of sexuality which is the same for everyone is to deny the beauty and wonder of what brought creation into being and breathes life into it at every moment. The relationship of God and Goddess is complex, ever-changing yet always present, and is worked out in myriad roles and situations. Claiming to have the whole truth of that mystery, and expecting others to adhere to your narrowness, is a kind of denial that verges on deliberate spiritual blindness.

As this incident demonstrates, that narrowness and the claim that you get to define other people’s identities is also painful, harmful to them, and wrong on every level from secular to sacred.

Possibly the worst comment of all was made by someone claiming to be Dianic Wiccan elder Z. Budapest, including the following: “But if you claim to be one of us, you have to have sometimes in your life a womb, and overies and MOON bleed and not die.”(sic)

CAYA coven has issued an apology and clarification; it seems that the specific sub-group of CAYA that held the ritual was focusing on menstrual mysteries. At least one leader of CAYA and the clergy leading the ritual has expressed that she was willing to include trans women, and that her major failing was not communicating clearly with Pantheacon organizers and attendees about the proposed limits on participation. From their statement, it seems that the sub-group is specifically focused on women’s mysteries centering on menstruation. The implication is that they want to create a safe space shared by people who menstruate (or will in the future, or have in the past?). But even this is not as simple as it seems, or as the essentialist screed above makes it sound.

What about women who have had hysterectomies? What about women who don’t menstruate, because they’re athletes, or are on continuous birth control that suppresses their periods, or have other medical reasons? What about women like me, who have had tubal ligations, and who know that their monthly blood will never be linked to birthing a child?

I understand wanting to have safe spaces. I study with a women’s spirituality group, and I have benefited tremendously from having safe spaces to explore my sex, gender, and sexuality. But it is all too easy for the claim to safe space to become a cover for unexamined assumptions. Suppose there was a women’s ritual about motherhood; because I am cisgendered, I doubt anyone would think to exclude me. But as I’ve said, I’ve never given birth, and I never will. I can and do approach the mystery of motherhood through metaphors that are valid within my own life and spirituality, but I’m not physically going to have that experience. Saying that it was technically possible for me is mincing words and drawing a fine line about medical conditions, and part of the experience of being disabled is the sure knowledge that medical conditions and my body can inform but don’t define my identity.

If a group wants to have a safe space, they need to be explicit about what it is they’re being safe from. Doing the hard work of examining what it is that is scary, difficult, and oppressive is how you figure out what it is you need to exclude, and as a result, how inclusive you can be. Saying that a ritual is for women is using an identity word, and the claim to self-defined identity, especially gender identity, is one of the hidden things wrapped up in that, and you have to be willing to unpack it to even begin to claim that you have a right to define and defend your safe space.


Creeps and Shariah

A perfect and perfectly horrifying example has emerged of what I was talking about when I said that the American Religious Right is in favor of their own version of the religious laws they pretend to defend us against. CBS journalist Lara Logan was assaulted in Egypt, and a lot of the response is about her looks and whether she should be a journalist, especially in dangerous places. It’s truly evil.

Let’s have just a quick refresher, shall we?

You show me a Christian Dominionist and I’ll show you the American Taliban.

Gender essentialism has no place in Wicca

Since Wicca tends to view the divine through the lens of dual deities, one masculine, one feminine, one of the unfortunate tendencies in some oversimplified approaches to Wicca exaggerates that dualism and applies it to everything in the world. Whole lists get made of dualisms, with each pair having a “God-associated” and a “Goddess-associated” member. You know: rationality is masculine, emotion is feminine; deduction is masculine, intuition is feminine; aggression is masculine, passivity is feminine; and so on, until the whole world has little pink-or-blue tags attached to it. This isn’t an understanding of the world consonant with the relationship of God and Goddess; it’s denying the complex realities of sex, and gender, and sexuality, and divinity, and the world itself. The God has his passivity, and the Goddess can be ruthless; the God has deep emotions, and the Goddess can be as aggressive as you can imagine – and then some.

Worst of all, for a religion that tells the myth of creation through the act of divine love and sexuality between God and Goddess, to say that each gender has only one kind of sexuality which is the same for everyone is to deny the beauty and wonder of what brought creation into being and breathes life into it at every moment. The relationship of God and Goddess is complex, ever-changing yet always present, and is worked out in myriad roles and situations. Claiming to have the whole truth of that mystery, and expecting others to adhere to your narrowness, is a kind of denial that verges on deliberate spiritual blindness, within Wicca.

Porn is like fast food: an analogy

Porn is a lot like fast food, when you think about it. As some wag observed, “fast food” is neither “fast” nor “food.” It’s sort of like food, except taken down to the lowest common denominator, commoditized into unrecognizability, ridiculously cheap and available on demand, so available that it’s starting to replace a significant amount of “real” food for a number of people. Fast food’s race to the bottom, driven by capitalism, all too often feeds on exploiting its employees. And fast food, in its own little niche, thrives on creating experiences that tap directly in to our tastes and preferences, then exaggerate those preferences to the point of ridiculousness, creating experiences that are so hyper-palatable that they can never be satisfying, and are always begging to be repeated, to the point where nothing other than fast food can repeat that experience and satisfy the artificially-created craving. But fast food tells us nothing about what food is, ought to be, or can be. Porn tells us nothing about what sex is, ought to be, or can be. Porn is like fast food.

In an article for The Atlantic called “Hard Core: The new world of porn is revealing eternal truths about men and women,” writer Natasha Vargas-Cooper surveys porn today and concludes that “While sexual aggression and the desire to debase women may not be what arouse all men, they are certainly an animating force of male sexuality.” Vargas-Cooper derides feminist approaches to sex:

“This is an intellectual swindle that leads women to misjudge male sexuality, which they do at their own emotional and physical peril. Male desire is not a malleable entity that can be constructed through politics, language, or media. Sexuality is not neutral. A warring dynamic based on power and subjugation has always existed between men and women, and the egalitarian view of sex, with its utopian pretensions, offers little insight into the typical male psyche. Internet porn, on the other hand, shows us an unvarnished (albeit partial) view of male sexuality as an often dark force streaked with aggression. The Internet has created a perfect market of buyers and sellers (with the sellers increasingly proffering their goods gratis) that provides what people—overwhelmingly males (who make up two-thirds of all porn viewers)—want to see or do.”

Throughout the article, Vargas-Cooper returns to the theme of anal sex, including an encounter of hers where the man admitted that he wanted anal sex “because it’s the only thing that will make you uncomfortable.” This is Vargas-Cooper’s example of the essence of male sexuality: men want to take women, and they want to debase them in the process. She caricatures feminists for thinking that Internet porn is what’s preventing us from achieving a “utopia of sexual equality,” when, in her words, “But equality in sex can’t be achieved. Internet porn exposes that reality; it may even intensify that reality; it doesn’t create it.”

Vargas-Cooper misunderstands feminist complaints about Internet porn. I say that what’s keeping us away from a utopia of sexual equality isn’t Internet porn, it’s people like Vargas-Cooper. It’s attitudes like Vargas-Cooper’s genteel, haute couture rape apologism, boys will be boys, girls, don’t get in cars with them, you know what men are like, that’s keeping us from making progress towards greater sexual equality. It’s everyone who subscribes to these ridiculous gender-essentialist scripts and won’t do the hard work of challenging the scripts, changing the scripts, throwing the damn scripts away and discovering who they are without a fracking script.

To return to my comparison: Having anal sex is like deep-frying food. It’s a messy process that, if done wrong, can be extremely painful. Done right, the results are delicious. So delicious, in fact, that it can be kind of addictive, and definitely worth all the effort you put into preparing, doing everything just right, and cleaning up afterward. At home, the effort of preparation, having the right equipment, being prepared to cope with the pain as you learn to do it right (ask any cook about splashing hot oil), and the sheer amount of time and effort that go into doing it well, all of those things serve to limit how much you deep-fry food. But with fast food, deep-frying has become de rigeur. Fast food takes all the effort and difficulty away, so that all we have to do is pay our $3 and savor the crunchiness of the fries or the crispness of the wontons. It’s hard to imagine a fast food joint without its deep fryer. But none of that means that deep-fried food is normal, is part of what food is, or has to be, or ought to be.

Saying that men want anal sex and want it to be aggressive and make women uncomfortable, and that porn doesn’t create that reality, just reflects it, is like saying that people want deep-fried food and want it to have salt and lots and lots of fat, and that fast food doesn’t create that reality, just reflects it.

The more we learn about food the more we recognize just how much a parody fast food is; it’s not unhealthy in and of itself, in small doses. But what’s dangerous about it is that it is so hyper-palatable, and so effort-free, that it trains us to think that’s the way food is or ought to be. And we don’t know what we’re getting; the amounts of salt and fat are ridiculously high, but all we know is that it tastes good, because it has taken what might or might not be a “natural” inclination, driven it to the furthest extremes our bodies can handle, and then some. Michael Pollan argues that some things, especially deep frying, are labor-intensive enough that they’re self-limiting. Nobody would eat french fries every day, twice or three times a day sometimes, if they had to do all the work of preparing them at home. They’d eat them occasionally, and enjoy them as a treat, but not the staple of the diet.

Let me clarify a few things: I don’t believe that anal sex is bad or dangerous; in this society we’ve gotten so moralistic about our food (especially fat) that people might misread me as saying that anal sex is just as bad, as intrinsically wrong, as artery-clogging cholesterol. No, no, and again, no. I don’t think in those moralistic terms about my food, and even less so about my sex. Fat isn’t bad, in and of itself, in moderate amounts as part of a balanced diet. On the other hand, if it works for you and your partner(s) to have anal sex three times a day, go for it. (The exercise will probably keep you in great shape, too.) There’s no reason that anal sex has to cause physiological or psychological problems if you have “too much” of it. The context for sex is as part of a relationship, even just your relationship with yourself. If you take sufficient time for self-care, for being honest about your attitudes about sex, and your enjoyment of it, and pay sufficient attention to creating the right situations for you to engage in anal sex, then you’re getting the sexual equivalent of a balanced diet, and whatever you’re doing is in moderate amounts for you. We have a lot more flexibility in our sex lives than in our nutrition.

The other reason I hesitate to make the comparison between, say, aggression and salt, is that as far as we can tell, humans are pretty hardwired to think that salt tastes good. This might lead someone to think that I’m actually agreeing with Vargas-Cooper that aggression, like salt, is a hard-wired trait that we can’t eradicate but must adapt to. Far from it. Again, the context of sex is psychological, not physiological. For every “pink brain, blue brain” study that purports to show men and women are physiologically determined to act differently, there’s a wealth of uncertainty that says we simply don’t know enough to say so. We don’t know nearly enough about how our physiology affects our psychology to determine a one-way causal relationship like that. And we definitely don’t know enough to eliminate the roles of cultural and social conditioning in shaping not just our psychology but even our physiology in related ways. On the evidence so far, it looks like human psychology is incredibly malleable. So the idea that aggression turns men on in ways similar to how salt tastes good to us doesn’t reveal any “eternal truths” about men; it means, at most, that in this culture, men’s psychology often gets shaped so that aggression is related to sexuality.

And that’s the problem. In this culture. Because the more Vargas-Cooper claims to have discovered “eternal truths,” the more she’s reinforcing and continuing to perpetuate the environment in which men are aggressive bastards who want to demean women during sex. I’ve got news for you: like it or not, you’re participating in creating your own reality. Anybody trying to tell you or sell you “eternal truths” is relying on your willingness to believe that things can’t be changed. Some religions believe that, but not mine. And I’m not buying in to Vargas-Cooper’s 1950s-flavored cult of the aggressive male, either.

As my husband said, “If I want my meat to go from frozen to done in three minutes, deep-frying is the way to go.” But my husband is also a very good cook, who delights in the effort and process of creating delicious meals at home. The results can’t be equalled by any commercially-produced substitute. That’s not because the home kitchen is some kind of utopia, but because it’s reality. The commercialized substitute is a cheap knock-off, a distorted reflection of reality. Honey, give me that real fresh, hot home cookin’ any day.

Concentration and combat

As we come down to the wire on possible DADT repeal, the commandant of the Marine Corps has reportedly said that the “distraction” of gays in combat could cause troops to die or be maimed.

If you are so distracted by gays, then that says more about you than it does about gay people.

I honestly can’t imagine what would cause a distraction significant enough to pull someone’s attention away from the life-or-death issues of combat. What is it that he thinks will be so distracting? The irresistible sexual appeal? (Um, you might be having more issues with the “don’t tell” part than you’d like to admit.) The utter hatred and revulsion caused by being within three feet of someone who might be gay? (Wow, you must not get out much.) The way your teammate brilliantly accessorized his BDUs with a pink feather boa and put rhinestones all over his M-16? (Okay, that would cause a problem. But I’m pretty sure we already have regs addressing those sorts of situations.)

News flash: Ending DADT will be a non-event

Fox News uses “Fair and Balanced” as its tagline. What Fox really means by that is “Since all the media except us have a liberal bias, we need to be extremely conservative in order to balance them out. It’s only fair!” In keeping with that policy, Fox has declined to sell ad time to show the following ad:

Transcript below the fold.

Read more

Medal of Honor winner

I’d like to note that today saw the first Medal of Honor bestowed on a living recipient since the Vietnam War. SSG Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor for acts which included rescuing a comrade being carried away by the Taliban.

But this isn’t good enough for AFA’s Bryan Fischer. No, this is part of the trend of “feminizing” the Medal of Honor, because according to one reporter’s account, none of the Medals of Honor awarded in these conflicts have been for killing the enemy. Now, that’s a matter of some debate, since it’s not like a Medal of Honor citation comes with a box score, but I always thought that we awarded the Medal of Honor for, you know, honorable actions. Like, say, Sergeant York, who notably captured – not killed! – 132 Germans. Or maybe like Colonel Bud Day, who did amazing things enduring captivity as a POW. Or maybe like SFC Randy Shugart and MSG Gary Gordon, who were decorated posthumously for sacrificing themselves trying to save the crew of the downed helicopter, as told in the book Black Hawk Down.

Fischer goes on to say that dying to save others isn’t good enough because it’s not what Jesus did. According to Fischer, “Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice would ultimately have been meaningless – yes, meaningless – if he had not inflicted a mortal wound on the enemy while giving up his own life.” I grew up the daughter of a Christian theologian, and have read a bit of theology myself, and I’ve never come across this theory of grace. Heck, the guy manages to describe the Crucifixion without ever using the word grace. Fischer is trying to say that Jesus’ supreme act of self-sacrifice, submitting himself to a death decreed by someone who had no authority over him, a death as a common criminal, a death full of shame and torture, that this act was Jesus’ triumphant way of killing the Devil? Whatever Jesus was doing at the Crucifixion, I’m pretty sure that being a terrifying commanding general killing other beings wasn’t it. Notably, Shugart and Gordon were honored for going into a situation that was certain death for them where they still might not have been able to protect the air crew.

As far as the military side goes, Fischer quotes Patton about getting the other guy to die for his cause, which is all good, but Patton wasn’t running the kind of war we’re facing in Afghanistan today. Particularly in situations where one is trying to defeat an insurgency, killing the enemy just creates more of them. More people get radicalized because they’re angry that their cousin died, and those people go to work and fight for the Taliban. If you manage not to kill their cousin, they might work with the Americans, or even join the Afghan army and work on keeping the peace and suppressing the Taliban. It’s not that simple, of course, but my point here is that Fischer seems to think that saving lives isn’t good enough for the Medal of Honor. On the contrary, killing isn’t good enough for the Medal of Honor just because it’s killing – in this war, killing might be a strategic mistake.

On a side note, my husband recounted to me the time that a Medal of Honor winner from Vietnam came to speak at the Air Force Academy. He held up his medal and said, “You only get the opportunity to get one of these because somebody already really f***ed up.” That was the message he wanted to impress on these future officers: if you do your job well, nobody in your unit will have to put himself in mortal danger above and beyond the call of duty, as the citation goes. Nobody will have to die to save others, and that’s an ideal they should strive for as leaders. That makes it pretty clear that the military itself doesn’t think the goal is to get out there and kill lots of the enemy and win medals and honors for killing.

More importantly, killing isn’t honorable just because it’s killing. I think that people who struggle with trying to embody a warrior ethic, especially those who follow a path like Asatru, would argue this even more strenuously than I do. If I recall correctly, in the myths, what gets somebody entrance to Valhalla isn’t how many enemy he killed, but the way he himself died. Oh, and about feminizing – let’s just take note of Freya, the leader of the Valkyries, here, shall we? Or Scathach, for those who prefer Celtic myths. Anybody who lives up to the standards of those goddesses has my full respect as a warrior, regardless of their biological plumbing. I’d like to see Fischer try to explain to Scathach how “feminine” means “not as good a warrior.”

In fact, I would argue that if we valorize killing for its own sake, we contribute to the kind of culture that produces sick people like the accused leaders of a group of soldiers who are facing charges of murdering Afghan civilians. If those men did what they’re accused of, the leaders clearly have several things wrong with them, but just the idea that they could get other people to go along with them speaks to the lack of a warrior ethos centered on honor. The kind of honor we ought to be praising and highlighting is the kind that kills when necessary, yes, but only when necessary. And the kind that saves when possible. Like SSG Giunta. Thank you, Sergeant Giunta, and I honor you, and your comrades, because you deserve it.

Theaology of the body

The Wild Hunt was one of the first places I heard about the new TSA pat-down procedures which are being introduced just as full body imagers (or “pornoscanners,” for those rhetorically inclined) are becoming common in US airports. Specifically, the Wild Hunt reposted an interview with a Minnesota Pagan who was traumatized by the new pat-down procedure because it triggered her memories of sexual assault.

There are lots of good reasons that these changes in airport security shouldn’t be happening. There are health concerns. There’s a Constitutional argument to be made about unwarranted search. Even if simply flying is considered “consent” to such an invasive, warrantless search, there’s a strong argument that these “improvements” are actually security theater. We’re increasing the difficulty, cutting down on people’s rights, by a huge amount, in order to get a very, very small amount of possibly increased security. To use economic language, the marginal benefit in security is tiny, compared to the marginal cost of the invasion of privacy. That kind of cost-benefit analysis ought to appeal to even the most conservative Tea Partiers.

But more than that, as a Witch, and as a Pagan, I oppose these measures on religious grounds. The theaology of Paganism and especially Witchcraft puts great emphasis on the body. My body is not merely a piece of meat, and it is most certainly not part of the public sphere unless I choose to make it so. My body is holy to me; it is one of the primary places I experience the divine. It is not something separate from me, as if I can temporarily pretend I’m not there, it’s just my body being examined, not me, as a person. I as a person am inextricably wrapped up in my body, and when you invade my body, you invade me.

As a feminist, I am all too aware of the ways that women’s bodies tend to be treated as male property or even public property – something to be objectified, something to be legislated, something that the public has access to and influence over. For me, part of respecting the divine feminine is about treating women’s bodies as valuable and holy and private to the woman herself, just as men’s bodies have historically been respected. Yes, the TSA is supposedly staffed by professionals, and they are working for the government, but given their track record with these devices, I don’t feel very comfortable with that. For example, if I felt this uncomfortable about how my body was being viewed or exposed in the doctor’s office, I would certainly object and would expect the staff and the medical institution to work with me to assure my privacy.

For those who would make an argument about the Charge of the Goddess saying that we shall be “free,” I would say very simply that I am not in a situation of “perfect love and perfect trust” with TSA agents. In fact, the more they invade my privacy, the more they damage my ability to make meaningful choices and to be free in my own body. As my husband likes to say, there’s both freedom from and freedom to something. I want to exercise my freedom in the Goddess from invasion of my own body and my own privacy. If TSA agents can see me effectively unclothed and/or touch my genitals any time I fly, does that affect what it means when I choose to be nude with my husband, or when my husband touches me? If others are taking away the choice about how much of my body to reveal, then it’s less meaningful when I do choose to reveal or share myself. When freedom from that invasion is guaranteed, then it will be easier for me to have the freedom to be open and caring with others.

Why Weirdoes Keep Witches’ Wits in a Wad

Yes, I’m an unapologetic fan of alliteration. But actually, this is the kind of post – and headline – that just seems to write itself. I popped open my feed reader, and right next to each other in my list of new “Pagan” posts were two fascinating pieces from vastly different viewpoints. vsebastianpage at Pagan+Politics writes about “Witless Witches” who object to the label of a beer (named Witch’s Wit) that shows an image of a woman being burned at the stake. Meanwhile, Echidne of the Snakes covers the writing of an extremely conservative Christian woman who says that women shouldn’t vote.

As far as the Witch’s Wit controversy goes, I was trying to stay out of it, and in fact to poke fun at it with my review of another beer that plays off of Pagan themes over the weekend. I didn’t raise any fuss about the all-too-common stereotypical image of a green-faced, warty witch with a big nose and pointy black hat on the label of the beer I reviewed precisely because I thought it was amusing but irrelevant. (And really, who doesn’t love an awesome hat from time to time?) I’m not getting my panties in a twist over green faces and warts because I think that stereotype is a very small barrier to actual Wiccan acceptance or any other issues I care about. Nobody is getting me confused with a green-faced, warty witch who cackles a lot, or an Orion slave girl, or any other green-skinned critter. In fact, I love making jokes about things like this, precisely because it’s not a danger to me.

And I am normally the first person to agree with vsebastianpage’s call for accurate history and denunciation of “more-victimized-than-thou” syndrome. But. There’s a big but here, and that’s where the second post comes in.

Feminism is something I care about. And I am in danger of being perceived as a woman – because I am, in fact, a woman, and an uppity woman at that, who does things like vote, and cast spells, and leave my house in a skirt that (gasp!) shows off my knees. In other words, I am doing the kinds of things that extremely conservative (and just run-of-the-mill conservative) Christians don’t think I ought to be doing. Moreover, they think I shouldn’t be doing those things in large part because I am a woman. This is what the point of view that Echidne is reporting on is all about: women shouldn’t…well, they just shouldn’t, when you get right down to it. And there are people with that point of view in the States today, plenty of them. Look up Christian Dominionists or Christian Reconstructionists. These are people with seriously dangerous views about women, including, for example, the view that an abused woman can’t divorce her abuser. No, none of these people are trying to burn me at the stake, but they are trying to limit my life, and they and the ideas and policies they support do cause a lot of harm to a lot of women – physically, as well as psychologically.

I think what Cynthia Eller is saying, and what I’m trying to say, is that misogyny is a seamless garment. Apparently harmless examples of denigrating women support misogyny and misogynists. I will laugh at the joke implied by the label of Witch’s Wit when misogyny is no longer dangerous to me. When women aren’t blamed for being rape victims. When women aren’t seen as sex objects for men’s use and pleasure. When I’m not afraid any more, that joke will be funny. Until then, I’m not saying you can’t make that joke, and I’m not saying that it’s a hate crime or that it ought to be illegal. I’m saying that it’s not funny, and that I wouldn’t buy it, and I wouldn’t want my husband to buy it, or my friends, and I’d rather the company picked something else, so that we can get to that imaginary hopeful future just a little bit sooner.

Another example came up recently in a discussion with my husband. He heard about the objections raised to a recent GQ photo shoot with female cast members of Glee in provocative poses that played up the sexy-schoolgirl trope. (I’m deliberately not going to link to the relevant images.) He thought the objections were dumb – after all, none of those actresses is under 18, they can do what they want with their bodies, right? My response was that my objection to those photos isn’t about blame. My objection is that photos like that support photos like others that photographer has taken that are treading a fine line into child porn, or like American Eagle ads that have had many, many issues raised about inappropriate use of photos of partially clothed underaged teens. If photoshoots like the GQ/Glee cover stopped happening, it would put us one step closer to a world where no one makes the circular argument that “men like to look at photos of hot teens because…well, see, it’s always been done, it sells magazines, it’s just what men like, okay?” I’m not trying to make it illegal. I’m not trying to apportion blame. I’m trying to create an alternative. Heck, I’m trying to imagine an alternative, because it doesn’t widely exist yet.

I’m not high from taking offense too many times. I’m not pretending to be a victim of something I’m not, or complaining about other people’s bad morals so that I look better in comparison. I’m saying, calmly, and, I hope, reasonably, that the joke’s not funny, and in fact, it’s the kind of joke that supports a culture that hurts people.