Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On the Road Again...

This summer has been surprisingly (and slightly thankfully) devoid of travel for me. I have, aside from one trip to visit family in mid June, stayed fairly well-put. I have been working, recharging my creative juices for the semester ahead. This is atypical for me, as I am accustomed to running about like a maniac during the summer months.

However, tomorrow I will be hitting the road, once again visiting family to the south, and then doubling back to attend the Secular Student Alliance's Annual Conference! This will be my third consecutive year attending, and I think I have been this nervous since my first year attending. I'm a fairly shy person around large groups of strangers. And the recent fallout of "ElevatorGate," as it has been dubbed, has left me slightly worried. Normally, the comments of strangers on the internet do not phase me all that much, as they are nameless, faceless strangers that I will more than likely never meet in person.

The problem is this: these people, the ones crying foul on Rebecca Watson for speaking up on unwanted approaches, the ones telling women (ironically) that they are "too dumb to recognize true sexism," and saying that all this hooplah is due to women being hysterical and irrational as usual.. they attend conferences. They attend gatherings. They go to groups and meet-ups and hang-outs and so on. I have interacted with these people in the past, under the assumption that my presence was respected as an equal at these gatherings, because I was surrounded by generally enlightened, well-educated, and rational people who knew better than to assume my only purpose to them was as a sexual receptacle.

Now, I am not so sure.

I was thrilled to attend the SSA's conference before the whole ElevatorGate debacle. Now, I am slightly nervous. How do I know that even if they do not approach me, my peers do not view me as an intellectual equal; rather, as simply a conquest to be made due to my mere presence and my being a member of the sex in which they are interested? In the past, I did not worry about such things at gatherings such as the SSA conference or Skepticon, because I was not approached in any unwanted manner. But now? Having seen people that I know attend conferences spout, through the courteous protection of the internet, truly worrisome and degrading opinions of women and how women out to be treated at such events? I think twice.

Recent comments made by an individual within my own student group also worried me. Prior to this, I had hoped that the majority of such outright sexism was more prevalent among the older generations. Now I find my views changing. And I worry. As a survivor of assault and abuse, having been subjected to unwanted grabbing and groping by complete strangers (including in, yes, elevators), I worry that my discomfort, my trauma triggers, are of no concern to (in particular) men who approach me in a sexual manner. This is not to say I dislike being hit on. Despite being off the market (I am very happy with Significant Other), I do find it flattering when a guy (or woman) shows interest in me... but only when done in a non-predatory manner. If nothing else, it makes for great stories later on.

Just the other night, while leaving work, I had an extremely uncomfortable encounter while leaving work. Two men, athletes judging by their attire, approached me in a slightly blocked off area. I do not presume they did this on purpose. However, one of them did make a pass at flirting with me in a very creepy manner (staring, unwavering off-putting smile). The encounter was brief, and nothing physical came of it. However, it was 2:30am, I was outside in a slightly blocked off area (building behind me, obstacles on either side of me), in a poorly lit area, alone, with two strange men approaching me fairly closely without introducing themselves. This encounter was enough to send me bolting back to my office and wait to walk out to my car with a coworker. It was enough to keep in a state of panic for several hours afterward.

I'm sure they meant me no harm, and the one that hit on me just found me attractive. However, their approach and complete disregard for the environment I was in was unsettling. I was gripping my self-defense tool for dear life should one of them get any closer. I know what happens when situations like that do turn sour, all too well.

I am hopeful that the conference will be as much fun as it normally is and will go off without any uncomfortable encounters or comments. And should something turn sour, I know the guys I am attending the conference with will have my back.

I am excited. I am nervous. I am pumped to show off a kick-ass dress I bought for the bar night (seriously, I could kill and get away with it in this thing). I get to see and hang out with people I only really get to see at these events. I get to hang out with the guys from the student group I attend. I'm hoping people learn from the mistakes of ElevatorGate and make the best of it all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Doctors Need to Do Their Jobs

Hexy over at Feministe has an article about a survey that was done on British medical students regarding refusal of treatment. Of 700 students, the survey found that roughly half of them felt that they had a right, as doctors, to refuse to carry out certain procedures or provide certain care. These included abortions, intimate examinations of the opposite sex, prescribing birth control, and treating intoxicated patients (whether it be drugs or alcohol). One-fifth of them cited religious reasons.

As Hexy and many commentors point out, there are several problems with this. The first that comes to my mind being that, particularly with religious beliefs, if you have certain factors in your life that prevent you from doing your job, you probably should not be in that line of work. It isn't as though you are not aware that there are certain things that doctors do on a regular basis. If you have a problem with these things, being a doctor probably isn't the line of work for you. Maybe medical research would be better suited for you if you are going to be making judgements about peoples' worthiness of receiving medical care.

Secondly, this brings up the whole "drug seeking" issue, as well as M√ľnchausen's labels and how that can stigmatize patients in future medical treatments. People that visit doctors offices often or hop from physician to physician run the risk of being labeled with one or both of these detrimental labels. A patient can run this risk particularly when they become familiar with medical processes.

Using myself as an example, in my latest round of doctor's visits, I complimented the phlebotomist on her ability to draw blood, and that it was most painless and stress free blood draw I'd ever had done. I'm also able to inform my doctor of every pain medication I have ever been on, the precise amount, and what has and has not worked. Luckily, my current physician understands that because I have been seeing so many doctors for so many years, trying to figure my illness out, I have had to immerse myself in the lingo and I have refined my relaying of information. Precision in informing him what I'm on, what has worked, what hasn't (opiates have no effect on my pain), quantities, placement, type and severity of symptoms, all in a way that is concurrent with how doctors use that information, makes it easier on everyone.

I'm lucky. My current doctor gets it. However, I have encountered plenty of doctors that have suggested I was just looking for painkillers (which is partially true: the right painkillers would relieve my pain), or seeking attention, or had some sort of psychiatric condition. Because of these (false) conclusions, they shuffle me away and refuse to treat me. I have also had pharmacists refuse to dispense my birth control, whether it be for religious reasons or the hippy woman who told me I was going to upset my feminine energy by only having 4 periods a year (seriously, wtf?). Religious beliefs, spiritual beliefs, socio-economic beliefs, ableist beliefs, and so on that are strongly held to and over-rule professional judgement are a problem.

I have never understood why people would go into professions where they have religious or moral issues with some of the fundamental tasks performed by that profession. Doctors write scripts and perform examinations and surgeries on all types of people. Pharmacists dispense scripts. Bus drivers drive buses that have ads on them. If you have some major factor in your life (such as religious beliefs) that will more than likely affect your ability to perform your job, find another job. If you can not separate certain beliefs you have from your professional capabilities and responsibilities, that is on you; not the person you are denying your services.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It Never Ends

Trigger Warning: Many links here lead to comment threads full of triggering material. I've had a hard navigating it all, while trying to keep from being triggered.

Well, the saga of ElevatorGuyGate continues. I've only been keeping a vague thumb on the pulse of it. It seems that every post the movers and shakers put up to try and calm people down and clarify the situation, just end up riling people up all over again. Jen and PZ have both posted in hopes of settling things down, but people really aren't getting it.

Which is unfortunate. The original video and comments weren't that big of a deal. But the blowback came hard and fast, which caused a domino effect that we're still seeing. Luckily, there have been some calm, reasonable responses to this whole thing that clearly and plainly lay out the underlying issues at play here.

There has also been a letter, addressed to Richard Dawkins for his obtuseness, that is signed by women in the atheist/skeptical communities that have experienced sexual assault/rape. The comments are extremely triggering, but I think they are necessary for those who have been asking through this whole debacle, "Is rape really that common?" As I said in my last post on this, yes it is. The fact that there are terrible atrocities committed against women in the middle east does not mean that women here have it easy.

A woman stating a situation made her uncomfortable revealed a plethora of views that believe she doesn't have a right to be uncomfortable. Which is ridiculous. Normally, I am known for raging at things like this. But I'm not angry. I'm not rageful. I'm sad. It saddens me that the culture of "shut up and be nice" towards women is so pervasive that even the atheist and skeptic communities can not escape it. At least, they haven't yet.

Admittedly, this reaction to Rebecca's video has made me wary of attending larger conferences. As a survivor, knowing that people think it is okay to proposition me in enclosed spaces is a worrisome thought. Jen jokingly posted about the sticker code at a Mensa gathering, but I honestly think it isn't a bad idea. People have weird idiosyncrasies that can put undue stress on social interaction. Having some sort of visual code could be handy for easing things along (mine would be "no sexual advances" and "no touching unless I know you").

I hope all of this blows over soon, and that people actually learn something from this mess.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It Is No Wonder Women Are Scarce Here

I've been watching the Atheist/ Skeptical corner of the internet blow up over the weekend, watching this whole little spectacle unfold. Now that it seems to have died down a bit, and some (truly shocking) opinions have brought themselves forward, I feel I can comment on it.

For those that hare unaware of the spat going on across several sites, here's the gist: Rebecca Watson of Skepchick made this video about a conference she had recently spoken at. At about 4:30 into the video, she discusses a situation she encountered at the conference. A man she did not know got into an elevator with her at 4am and asked her to come back to his room with him for coffee, after she had expressed her desire to go to bed. She explains in the video that this approach came across as exceedingly creepy and she discusses how such behavior can/should be avoided in order to not make women feel objectified and more welcome at conferences.

Several other tangential issues came up (including a naming of names at another conference about conflating opinions), but the result was an internet shit-storm. Said storm included Hemant of Friendly posting this, PZ Myers posting this (which brought Richard Dawkins out of the woodwork with some atrocious comments); this was followed by Jen McCreightPZAmanda Marcott, and Phil Plait (whose post lays out the situation spectacularly and calmly) all commenting on why this otherwise not-all-that-significant video became the catalyst for something I've found to be actually a pretty big deal. Even if you do not read any of the other posts, Phil's is a must-read.

The overwhelming negative response has made it quite clear exactly why we have a serious lacking of women in our communities. If a generally well-respected woman who calls out a guy for creepy behavior can expect this sort of negative blow-back, it should be of no surprise if other women feel they would not be welcome.

Whether right or wrong, we live in a society that loves to blame the victim, especially women and girls. Whether right or wrong, this society has taught women and girls to fear for their safety everywhere they go and to be on the look-out for possible predators at all times. Whether right or wrong, society has placed it as the responsibility of those women and girls to not become victims. As much as many women and men would love to change this and work tirelessly to do so, it is still the society in which we live.

That society, that conditioning, is the context in which this encounter took place. A comment on Skepchick asked if rape and sexual assault was really so prevalent that men should keep in mind whether or not they are behaving in potentially threatening ways towards women: The answer is yes, yes it is. Men approaching women can never known if she has been previously attacked. Conversely, women can never know whether the men approaching them mean to harm them. Add to this an enclosed space like an elevator, a sparsely populated hour such as 4am, and yes, such a proposition as coffee can seem creepy or potentially ill-willed.

And the guys (and many women) who act as though these things should not be factors when hitting on someone just don't get it. They don't get that the context of someone hitting on you can be incredibly disconcerting. Richard Dawkins himself equated such an approach to being no more than someone annoyingly chewing gum next to you, which is vastly out of touch. He also asked how one could possibly feel trapped in an elevator. That's like asking how someone can feel trapped in the backseat of a car. The door is right there, you can go ahead and grab the handle... unless there is someone that threatens you and prevents escape.

While the original situation and video really weren't all that significant aside from saying "hey, this behavior is creepy, and you should probably not do that," the fallout is very significant. It has brought many people out of the woodwork and shed light on some truly disturbing mindsets. The reaction to Rebecca's video shows that there is much progress to be made in helping people understand that how you approach someone and the context in which they are approached can make them feel threatened or uncomfortable, regardless of your intentions.

The idea of a woman calling a guy out on being creepy and suggesting men do otherwise should not cause this sort of reaction. It should not have the reaction of "So are we not supposed to hit on women?" and "How dare you get upset at me hitting on you! I should be able to do so, any time and place I please!" It's ridiculous. Her video said nothing of the sort. But keeping in mind the sensitivities of the person you are interested in has less to do with gender equality, and more to do with just being polite and considerate.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Goodbye Reproductive Freedom, It was Nice Knowing You

Some have been sending news and links my way regarding the Ohio House of Representatives passing three anti-abortion bills earlier this week, in hopes of igniting my rage. I've been busy, so I haven't been able to give this the appropriate attention it deserves. Jen McCreight over at Blag Hag also raged over this, and rightfully so. Thus, I give what the public demands...

Are you fucking shitting me? Seriously? Are you people (referring to both the Republicans AND Democrats in my state House that supported these) so completely out of touch with reality that this is fucking OKAY?
The three bills are as such:

-The first would ban insurance coverage of abortion under the health care reform act within the state, with no exceptions to rape, incest, or the mental health of the mother.

-The second would ban abortion after doctor determined viability, starting at 20 weeks. No exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormality, or the mental health of the mother.

-The third would ban abortion after a heartbeat could be heard via ultrasound. No except for rape, incest, or the mental health of the mother.

Here are the primary issues I have with these three bills:

1- Not having exceptions in any of the bills for rape, incest, or the mental health of the mother, which is downright inhumane. Yes, lets force women to be incubators of the result of an assault against them, so that they get to have that assault perpetrated against them for another 9 months after the initial incident. That seems like a great idea. (Clarification: Yes I am saying that being forced to play host to a fetus that was created against your will is assault. Or at least it should be considered as such.) To not allow exceptions for rape or incest makes these laws more restrictive than many other laws in similarly restrictive states. To also lack exception for mental health makes the statement that a woman's mental well-being is not any of their concern, even though mental health can have a great influence on physical health. Women should just have to deal with the extra stress, in addition to whatever mental illnesses they may have or develop.

2- The banning of abortion coverage under the health care reform acts is hypocritical; especially for Republicans. It is also restricting abortion access to those that can afford it (leaving the poor high and dry). The GOP has had, as a party line for a long time now, a belief that government should have little to no say in the operations of private business. They have shown that they firmly believe that government should leave private enterprise the fuck alone. Which is why I have issues with this. To some degree, I agree that government should not be able to dictate what services a private business can/can not provide (within reason, but that is for another time). So for the Republicans, the "Get government out of business" party, to sit and tell private insurance providers that they can not cover abortion in any plans in the state of Ohio under health reform, is so blatantly hypocritical that it drives me insane.

Additionally, by preventing insurance providers from covering abortion in Ohio, it means that the poor are fucked. The poor, the low-income, single parent (typically mothers) homes, who utilize abortion services the most, would be fucked. Abortion is expensive. It is painful. It can have a recovery period that may involve missing work (aside from missing work for the informational and procedural appointments, which must be at least 24 hours apart in Ohio). By removing that little bit of financial cushioning insurance coverage provides, it make the difference between whether a woman is able to get an abortion, or have 9 months (at minimum) worth of additional expenses.

3- The "Heartbeat Bill," as it has been dubbed, would ban abortion after a heartbeat can be detected. Oh, the heartbeat bill... My friend Dan Sprockett has an excellent post on why heartbeat bill is bad science. In short, heart cells have this weird little habit: they beat on their own. You can take a bunch of live heart cells, put them a petri dish, and they will pulse together. While this little aspect is cool, it is bad news for women under this new bill. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as 5 weeks due to this phenomena (often before the heart is even fully developed). Many women do not even know they are pregnant at this point. This bill is bad science all over.

The bill is also arbitrary in its restrictions. Why is the heartbeat important? Why is it the existence of a clump a pulsing cells that somehow determines this fetus, barely the size of a peanut, is now more important that the already living woman it inhabits? Keep in mind, this bill also lacks exception for rape and incest. There was this lovely little gem during some of the proceedings:

Some women, he said, who are raped and become pregnant, view carrying the child to be a "triumph" over their rapists. A number of women in the hearing room gasped after he said this. Several wiped away tears. - Walter M. Weber 
The creators and backers of this bill give no real reason as to why the cutoff point should be when a heartbeat is detected. None. They make references to Romeo and Juliet, which is a work of fiction, not reality. There is no reasoning behind this, other than to try and essentially eliminate abortion in Ohio.

There is a slight silver lining to all of this. The heartbeat bill will not pass constitutional review, as it is in direct violation of Roe v Wade by setting the cutoff prior to a doctor's determined viability outside the womb. This leads to more hypocrisy on the Republicans' parts, as for all their talk of fiscal responsibility, they are going to waste tax-payer money on defending an unconstitutional law that restricts women's reproductive rights. The insurance bill might be challenged on oversight grounds. As for the exceptions to rape and incest, who knows. I have no idea why these bills have gotten this far without someone in the legislature standing up and saying "Hey, this is a little harsh and should be removed".The other bill, a ban on abortions after viability, is slightly redundant to a federal law saying the same thing (but starting at 24 weeks), but is different in that it does make exceptions for fetal abnormalities or the mental health of the mother. Because we all know health just refers to you body, and your brain is clearly not part of your body.

I didn't vote for these people. I didn't ask for my reproductive rights to be threatened to be all but stripped from me. But that is what these people are doing. I am honestly worried about these bills. They are an unprecedented attack on women's reproductive health in this state. Should these bills be passed into law, should they pass constitutional review, they would practically eliminate abortion access in this state. Which is a worrisome thing indeed.