There was no sex in skepticism before the women showed up.
Forget Houdini's brooding eyes and dark curls. Forget his personal magnetism. Those were strictly incidental. Forget the amount of skin--well-muscled skin--that he showed in his escapes. That was only to demonstrate he wasn't hiding a key anywhere. Strictly utilitarian. Houdini's appeal to his audience was based entirely on the complexity of his tricks and the calm reasoning he showed when dealing with mediums and spiritualists, and it's a mere coincidence that many of the male faces of the skeptical movement since then have had similar stage experience and heaps of charisma.
When there were no female skeptics at skeptics' meetings and conventions, there was no sex at these gatherings. None of the men attending found any occasion to think about, discuss or have sex. Everything was focused entirely on skepticism and critical thinking, with partying saved for the meetings of lesser souls.
Ridiculous assertions? Yes, and I've deliberately presented them with all the seriousness they deserve. But that doesn't keep this idea from being the unexamined underpinning of one of the current arguments being made in skeptical circles. Stated in its most bald form, it is suggested that women are ruining skepticism by bringing "teh sexy."
Debra Haffner, minister, sexologist, and Executive Director of the Religious Institute, just wrote a post called "Adults are the problem with teen sexuality." I couldn't agree more. For very recent evidence she cites the fake prom in Mississippi, the threat by Wisconsin DA Scott Southworth to charge educators with crimes if they teach the state's sex ed curriculum, and the Catholic Church's ongoing inability to formulate a helpful response to the sex abuse scandal in its own ranks.
And then instead of focusing on the critical she turns it around and tells us what she wants teens to be able to expect from adults who are truly looking out for them:
What do I want teens (and the adults who care for them) to know? That forming a sexual identity is a developmental task of adolescents. That adults need to support the teen virgins and the teens who engage in sexual behaviors. That truth telling should be the hallmark of all of our programs. That adults will do everything they can to protect youth from abusive adults, regardless of profession. That young people have the right to ask questions and a right to have answers. That they deserve our respect and our support as they become adults.
Those are among the smartest words I've read about how we should be addressing the developmental needs of teens. At a time when others, guided by moral panic, are focused on keeping information away from teens Haffner understands what they really need: support, truth, trust and respect.
I'm glad there are people of faith out there who understand that sexuality is not an awful thing from which we need protection but rather a part of being human and something we need to cultivate and understand.
Sexual pleasure is a human right and I wholeheartedly support the providing of free surgery to those who need it and can't afford it. This is the case for many women who underwent the excision of their clitorises during ritual cutting (FGM/C). There is also no question in my mind that "Adopt a Clitoris" - the campaign rally of Clitoraid.org - is a deeply problematic slogan for a deeply problematic organization. If you're new to the Clitoraid story here's some background:
Several years ago the Raelians (a religious group that believes humans were created by intelligent designers from outer space) founded an organization, Clitoraid, to offer free clitoris reconstruction surgeries to women who had undergone clitoridectomy - one form of female circumcision or female genital mutliation/cutting (FGM/C) - so that they could have the pleasure of clitoral stimulation restored to them. Clitoraid uses language that reduces sexual pleasure to clitoral orgasms and that treats African women's bodies as objects that can be reduced to clitorises and adopted. That said, it is true that their mission is indeed to provide free surgery to women who need it. They do this by funding surgeries at a clinic in Trinidad Colorado, and also by using donations to build a hospital in Burkina Faso.
There are a number of problems with Clitoraid's work and I'm going to talk about only two. Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rotenberg raises questions about the connection between Good Vibes and Clitoraid (more on that below) and Dr. Petra Boynton raisies questions about Clitoraid from a medical and research ethics point of view. Please read their work. I've included a list of sources explaining the work already going on in Burkina Faso at the bottom of this post as well.
A few days ago a Wisconsin District Attorney made headlines by sending letters to all the school districts in the state warning their administrators and teachers that if they adopt the state's new sex education standards they risk being charged with crimes against minors.
How's that, you might ask? The new standards, which are now part of state education law, include teaching about the proper use of contraception. This, according to DA Scott Southworth, means encouraging kids to commit illegal acts. Encouraging someone to commit a crime is itself a crime. Thus teaching teens about the proper use of contraception is a crime. He equates this with teaching minors how to mix alcoholic drinks when they are too young to consume them or serve them.
This would not pass the critical thinking test in my Introduction to Sociology course. It fails on a few levels. Most obviously, teaching people about something is not the same as encouraging them to do it. I can teach about illegal drug use, the dangers of the same, the reasons people use the drugs, the routes that they follow to acquire the drugs, the different philosophies around addressing illegal drug use in communities, and the prevention strategies that work and that don't work. This does not mean I am encouraging my students to use illegal drugs.
According to The Advocate, and the young woman herself:
To avoid Constance McMillen bringing a female date to her prom, the teen was sent to a "fake prom" while the rest of her class partied at a secret location at an event organized by parents.
McMillen tells The Advocate that a parent-organized prom happened behind her back — she and her date were sent to a Friday night event at a country club in Fulton, Miss., that attracted only five other students. Her school principal and teachers served as chaperones, but clearly there wasn't much to keep an eye on.
This morning over breakfast I was reading the New York Times (ah, the delights of spring break!) when this headline caught my eye: Mississippi A.C.L.U. Rejects $20,000 for Alternate Prom.
You might remember that earlier this month I wrote a blog called Homophobia: Bad for Straight Kids discussing the decision of a Mississippi school board to cancel its prom because they could not otherwise prevent Constance McMillen and her partner from attending. (They also forbade her from attending in a tuxedo. This is not just about homophobia. This is also about gender expression.)
The ACLU and its Mississippi affiliate are representing Constance and a group called Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition (MSCC) is organizing an alternate prom for the community. The ACLU of Mississippi is apparently the fiscal sponsor for the MSSC. According to the New York Times article, the American Humanist Society offered a $20,000 gift to MSSC to help fund the alternate prom, and a fundraiser at the ACLU Mississippi rejected it, explaining via email that “Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word ‘atheist."
Talk about being imprisoned by stigma. Here the stigma attached to atheism potentially thwarts an attempt to fix a problem caused by the stigma attached to homosexuality.
A: Consider an unlikley strategy. Identify common goals and engage!
Margaret Brooks and Donna M. Hughes recently attacked Maymay, originator of the KinkForAll unconference model, in a bulletin published by their organization, Citizens Against Trafficking (CAT), which Maymay suggests is more suitably named Citizens Against Sexual Freedom and Discussion (CASFD). The bulletin  uses a technique typical of
CAT CASFD: Take out-of-context statements and blend them with factual inaccuracies to produce a piece of writing capable of creating (or sustaining) irrational moral panic on the part of those who read it.
Rather than responding similarly, Maymay invites Margaret Brooks and Donna Hughes to discuss with him the issues around the goals they share, namely, the creating and sustaining of communities that are sexually safe places. Of course I have my doubts. I suspect that while they agree on the importance of community - and sexual - safety they do not agree on the definition of safety (not as it relates to community nor as it relates to sexuality). While Maymay invites Hughes and Brooks to discuss ways to further enhance the safety of events like KinkForAll (which already provides safe space for inquiry and education around sexuality), I don't imagine Hughes and Brooks think that an event like KinkForAll can ever be safe. Still, I hope they accept the invitation and engage in the discussion. If we can identify areas of common interest we maximize our chances of successfully creating more inclusive and respectful communities, societies and cultures.
A lavishly illustrated presentation
Rebecca Chalker, Ph.D. author ofThe Clitoral Truth
You’ve taken a walking tour of literary New York, Renaissance Harlem and the financial district (watch out for falling facades!) Now it’s time to take a walking tour of women’s least understood, but dynamic anatomical location!
Dr. Chalker provides a surprising “inside” look at women’s genital anatomy, revealing that what is almost universally though of as a pea-sized nubbin is, in reality, a powerful, responsive organ system. Beginning at conception, we’ll learn that fetuses masturbate in utero. Then we’ll explore the visible parts of the clitoris, the parts that cannot be seen, but can be felt, and finally the parts that can’t be seen or felt, and discover how these complex structures work together to produce pleasure and orgasm and why, for some women, orgasm may be elusive.
Sunday, April 18, 3:30 – 5:00 at
Eve’s Garden (http://evesgarden.com)
119 E. 57th St., 12th floor
Between 6 and 7th Avenues
Subways:57t St. @ 7th Avenue:N, R, Q, W.
59th Street @ Lexington:4, 5, 6.
Reservations Online: Enter an order and pay $15 by credit card or Pay Pal in advance and save $5 or check off pay by check and pay $20 by cash or check at the door.
Reservations By Telephone: Call 212-757-8651 and we will reserve your seat.
Seating is Limited... Make reservations now! "For women and men escorted by a woman"
This is the second of at least two posts exploring the continued medicalization of sexuality as seen through the revisions of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). See part one here.
Imagine a person who is deeply conflicted about his sexuality. Instead of acknowledging his problem and working through it, this person lashes out at others, sending them confusing and judgmental messages about their own sexual behavior. He then tells them they are sick because they are confused. Imagine further that this person is a person of power and consequence and so the people around him start to feel ashamed of their own sexual desires and behaviors. They stop talking to each other about sex, and look to therapists and doctors to help them cope with their own shame and confusion. Hardly seems fair or right, does it? One person's conflicts get internalized by many, and the many all then think there is something wrong with them.
That is kind of like what's happened in the United States in terms of sexual diversity. We get so many confusing messages, and one outcome is that we simply don't talk about our own desires and behaviors and many of us end up feeling abnormal, ashamed, or ill. Meanwhile the American Psychiatric Association continues to supply new diagnostic categories for those of us who are made anxious or disturbed by our sexual urges.
Last night I was at a fundraiser for Madison Young's Femina Potens. The event was organized by Tied Up Events and all I can say is that if you have an event you need planning help with, you need to talk to them. They did a fabulous job.
I was exhausted and caught up in reconnecting with some dear friends and as a result I missed several important opportunities to meet people. Just now, chatting with Diva, I learned that one of those people was Cindy Gallop, whose work I first learned about from her site Make Love Not Porn. Her new project, If We Ran The World, is even more exciting. Please check them out.
Meanwhile, here's her 4 minute TED talk on Make Love Not Porn. I just watched it for the first time, and I think it's an important message: we need to be able to say what we like and what we don't like, and we need to refute at every opportunity the dominant idea that there is some kind of universal "right" way to have sex, and that mainstream porn is its guidebook.
It is beyond irksome that TED, whose tagline is "ideas worth spreading" has a policy that prevents this talk from being posted on its main site because subscribers "including children" would hear explicit language. Given that one of the main points of the talk is that kids need more and better information about sex it seems TED might decide these ideas are important to spread to young people!