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So Richard Dawkins said something stupid again:

Tweet from @RichardDawkins: "Of course Malala is religious now but give her time, she's only 17 & getting the education she fought for on behalf of girls like her"

Dawkins Being Dawkins

Of course, lots of atheists are going to cheer this on, because of course, as soon as someone gets an education, they instantly go from being ignorant and stupid to being wise and intelligent, and in the process, they give up all of their religious belief in favor of good, proper, rational, correct atheism.

(That was sarcasm.)

Because the way things work in the real world is that there is a modest correlation between someone becoming educated and someone losing their faith, but there are certainly well-educated and intelligent people who are religious, and there are absolutely uneducated and unintelligent people who are atheists. Dawkins here is falling into the same trap that so many (primarily) white, (primarily) well-to-do atheists from Western countries fall into that all religious people are ignorant, and that if only religious people were educated, they would become atheists. That this is problematic might not be immediately apparent, so let me break down the issues – with regard to both how much of an asshole he’s being here, and also just how logically unsound his argument is. I am coming from the perspective of someone who has done some research into worldwide education in general (and plans to become an educator one day), and who has some experience with the structural problems of the economies of developing nations specifically, so I do have at least some idea of the truth here.

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My friend Miri recently expounded on why rape and robbery are two different things. Her article is excellent and I highly recommended it, but it made me think a bit about why some people automatically go to theft when talking about an analogy for rape. And I think I’ve figured out why.

Rape is a violation – an entry without consent. In this way, perhaps an analogy to breaking and entering might be somewhat relevant, although similarly imperfect. So why do so many people talking about this go to theft? Not only does theft involve a violation, something has been taken.

For those of us who have experienced rape, something has indeed been taken – innocence, perhaps, or a sense of self-control/self-determination. But I don’t think that’s what people who talk about rape-as-robbery have in mind.

These tend to be the same people who think in terms of ideal rape victims – of pretty young women who are drugged and attacked by lust-filled men who need a sexual outlet. It’s not too far of a stretch, then, to imagine that what they imagine has been taken is the victim’s virginity.

I feel this is why so much of the discourse about rape in our society is centered around the idea of taking, and why so many people view it as something that makes someone impure. And what’s frustrating is that rape does involve taking – but it’s never the thing that people imagine has been taken. Virginity is a meaningless concept. A man who is anally raped by another man imagines that his “manhood” has been taken from him or harmed in some way. Rape doesn’t take any of these things away in a meaningful sense.

Rape takes away self-determination, peace of mind, and in sadly too many cases, innocence. But these aren’t the things our society values. These are the things that rape steals from its victims. Which is essentially why the rape-as-robbery analogy falls flat for many of us. How does one protect against their self-determination or innocence being stolen from them? By definition, the very protection against that act means we are already robbed of our self-determination.

Put another way: the existence of rape in and of itself is part of the robbery that rape is supposed to represent. Theft, robbery, or whatever other property crime one might want to substitute does not, to my mind, invoke a similar threat to one’s personhood. Thus why I say that rape is not robbery. It is far, far worse.

I want to start this out explaining who I am. I am cisgender, white, male, and queer (mostly in the “gay” area of the queer space, but I do not like that identity). I represent a pretty privileged position in society, which does of course color my viewpoint on anything I say.

Elaine Stritch died today. This hurt me at my core: she represents the epitome of a particular kind of woman I have always held as a role model: brassy, bawdy, outspoken, talented, and fabulous. In her time she might have even been called “ballsy”. When I was a little closeted gay kid in the 90’s who had to keep silent for fear of getting beaten up, I sought comfort in women like her, especially the female leads of rock groups like Garbage, Veruca Salt, and Hole. For me, these women who subverted society’s expectations of them were role models for me. They were loud, abrasive, and in-your-face. After I left high school and started becoming more confident in my identity, I felt a similar affinity for drag queens: transgressive and loud, these gender illusionists gave me life. Knowing that it was possible to say “fuck you!” to society and still come out okay on the other side… that was powerful stuff.

Realizing that women like Elaine are one of the reasons why I am so outspoken today got me thinking about cultural appropriation. Well, that’s not quite accurate. What got me thinking about it was this article a few days ago by a black woman telling white gay men to stop pretending they’re black women, and then this monumentally idiotic response from a white gay man telling black women to get over themselves and let gay white men do what they will, lest gay white men run home crying because they got their feelings hurt. (In case you can’t tell, I think the latter argument is so monumentally stupid that I didn’t even link to the original article, but to a rebuttal of it.)

But really, even *that* isn’t what got me thinking about cultural appropriation. What planted that seed firmly in my head was a conversation I had with my friend Ashton nearly a month ago, when she asked me what I thought about Iggy Azalea. I honestly wasn’t certain; I had heard just enough to know I wasn’t interested, but I hadn’t really paid attention. Ashton proceeded to play me a little bit of “Fancy“, and I admitted that it was catchy as hell. Ashton said “yeah, but I really have a problem that she’s white.” And all of a sudden, I did too. I mean, it just sounded wrong – a white girl from rural Australia sounding like she had lived her entire life in College Park… it seemed wrong. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it beyond a simple “cultural appropriation is bad, mmmkay?”

But today, reflecting on the conversation going on surrounding what is and isn’t okay to appropriate and who’s allowed to do what, and reflecting on the things I have appropriated from my female/trans/POC friends, it hit me.

It’s not the simple act of appropriation that makes this stuff offensive. It’s the fact that it’s fake as fuck.

Iggy Azalea is putting on a character. She doesn’t write her own shit, she doesn’t come up with her own beats, and that voice she raps with was taught to her by her producers. If she had been a white girl growing up in College Park within that culture, and that were natural to her, I guarantee nobody would be hating on her the way they do. But as it is, she’s basically doing a blackface routine, making music that resembles music made by black people. And she’s gotten really successful doing so, which has the added effect of crowding out legitimate black talent. (Oh, and then there was that time she dissed Eve in the most tone-deaf way possible, and basically she just needs to go away.)

Mister Whitey McICanPretendToBeBlackIfIWantTo is in the same boat here. He’s playacting. Rather than taking inspiration from the struggles of oppressed people and using it to find his own voice, he simply imitates someone else’s voice, and poorly at that. And I feel that ultimately, that’s what makes it so offensive. When Vampire Weekend first came on to the indie scene back in the mid 00’s, they faced some criticism for appropriating West African rhythms into their music. However, they were upfront about where it came from, and ultimately the music they created was clearly not an imitation of African music – nobody would ever think a song like “Oxford Comma” came from anything other than a bunch of rich white kids, for example. They are inspired by someone else and used that inspiration to find their own voice. More troubling might be Major Lazer, who are also highly original, but appropriate in ways that seem more like imitation. (Plus there’s this downright racist and misogynistic and hella problematic bullshit that nevertheless has a beat that won’t leave your brain for days.)

The bottom line to me is this: expose yourself to other cultures. If another culture does something you like, learn more about it. Know what it’s all about. If it’s relevant to your experience, pay respect to it and maybe even use it yourself. But if you just like it and you feel like you want to imitate it even though it has nothing to do with you, don’t be surprised when you get accused of cultural appropriation. The truth hurts. Deal with it.

Fifty years ago today, Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War On Poverty in his State of The Union address.

It’s a war that we will never win, of course: there will always be those people who slip through the cracks of society for any number of reasons, whether through personal fault, societal oppression, or happenstance.

But it would be ludicrous to say that because we can’t eradicate it entirely, we shouldn’t try. Poverty is a horrible thing. It’s endemic to our society. It’s often invisible – how many of you, honestly, spend any amount of time in neighborhoods where every other house is boarded up, falling apart, condemned, or some combination of the above?

In the decade following LBJ’s declaration, the percentage of people in poverty fell from over 1/4 of the American population to less than 1/8. And it has been on the uptick ever since.

Our standard of living has improved since then. It is true that many people who live in poverty have color televisions and cars (that old canard that Republicans love to trot out). But these people are also often not food-secure, and they use their cars to get to jobs that don’t quite make ends meet. Color televisions are cheap these days. Food is not. And it is the height of intellectual dishonesty to claim that our standard of living is higher across the board when more people live in poverty now than did during the recession of the 1970s. Sure it’s true on paper. It’s most assuredly not true in the eyes of the elderly woman who gets her one meal a day from a charity and eats that meal in front of the color television she bought 20 years ago.

The War On Poverty can never be won. Not ever. But we can win battle after battle after battle in an effort to make life just a little bit better for our fellow humans.

Trigger Warning/Author’s note: this post contains a discussion of rape and underage sexual activity. It is also a very personal post.

The subject of rape has been in the news again recently, specifically in regard to Serena Williams’s recent remarks about the Steubenville victim.

Of course, any time the subject of rape appears in the news, there is invariably a chorus of people talking about how victim X shouldn’t have been doing such and such, and if the wanton trollop had just covered up her tits and not drunk to abandon, she wouldn’t have been raped.

Every time I see someone saying this, I counter with the standard litany that we can’t blame the victim, that it’s the rapist’s fault and theirs alone, that women already know they need to be safe and they don’t need to be informed of it again by someone who wasn’t there.

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of repeating myself over and over only to be told that it’s okay to say the victim’s behavior was incorrect even if it’s ultimately the rapist’s fault. Rape is not about some woman wearing something too revealing and getting some guy so aroused that he just can’t help himself. Rape is about power. If you have been raped, you know this. If you haven’t been raped, you only know this if you’ve listened to people who have been.

I’m going to tell you a story. I was eight years old. It was a typical school day. There was a break between classes and I stopped in the bathroom to relieve myself. I finished, and as I was turning around, an older boy entered the room. I didn’t know him; I think he was in sixth grade. I just know he was a lot bigger than me. He grabbed me, and I thought I was in for another round of bullying. But this was different. He pushed me into a stall. He came in with me and shut the stall door behind him. He was blocking it with his body.

He told me to kneel. I still had no idea what was going on, but I had started to cry by this point. And then he pulled it out. I looked up at him and he said “suck it.”


“Put it in your mouth.”

And I did. I don’t remember the next few moments at all. I do remember him eventually pulling out and laughing at me. “If you tell anyone, I will kick your ass.” Then I remember him hauling ass from the bathroom as he finished zipping himself back up.

It was my first sexual experience of any kind. I was lucky that my father had already explained what my sex organs were, and I wasn’t ashamed of them. I still felt shamed by the assault I had just faced, however. It wasn’t because I had put another boy’s cock in my mouth, either. I actually didn’t mind that part, and maybe part of me even liked that part. But I was ashamed because had been degraded and abused. My dignity had been completely taken away from me in that moment. I didn’t really know the words for what happened, but I knew how it made me feel. I got up off my knees, still crying, wiped my face, washed my hands, and left the bathroom to go on to class.

I really have no idea what made him do it. I never will. But having experienced it, I understand one thing. Rape is not about sex. It is not about arousal. It is not about being horny. It is about dominance and power. Any sexual component of the rape is entirely separated from the shame and humiliation that results. By extension, any arousal that leads a rapist to initiate a rape is entirely separated from the rapist’s desire to control and dominate the victim. And someone who rapes is not doing so because the victim was too enticing. They do it because they can, and they know they can, and something in them makes them think it’s okay, and society validates that feeling that it’s okay by pretending the victim’s behavior was somehow the cause.

I was raped in an elementary school bathroom because I happened to be in the presence of a predator. The girl in Steubenville was raped because she happened to be in the presence of multiple predators. Maybe if she hadn’t gone to that party, she wouldn’t have been raped. By that logic, maybe if I’d held it in until I got home that day, I wouldn’t have been raped.

Don’t talk to me about rape unless you’ve been raped. If you haven’t gone through it, I guarantee I know more about it than you do.