IMPACT Defense Against Multiple Assailants class

Good afternoon,!
My name is Katie, and I’m a white cisgendered female heterosexual able-bodied blogger.

Andrea gave me a Shrub login a few weeks ago so I could post ideas that I thought fit the thoughtful “breaking out of roles we’re supposed to have based upon our social categories” theme I often see here. I never did post the original piece I meant to, but it wasn’t critical. This is. Everyone should know how to defend his or her body to the maximum extent he or she can, and those who know owe it to those who don’t to responsibly pass on whatever they can by word of mouth.

Therefore I’m reposting here a summary of my experiences in IMPACT’s “Defense Against Multiple Assailants” course. (If you want more details about “defense against a single assailant,” click here.)

I look forward to hearing your comments and engaging with you here on for a long time to come!

     Fighting multiple unarmed assailants bore some similarities to fighting single unarmed assailants. Firstly, the premise of the attack was sexual assault or some other act that implied the assailants wanted you alive and aware of what they were doing until they felt that they had managed to perform this act. Therefore, assailants were more likely to grab and restrain us than to throw a deadly punch.

     As in Single Unarmed Assailants class, the presumption was that they were out to

  1. convince us to stop hitting them but not “fight” the way men fight each other and
  2. do sexual things we didn’t want them to do (or, as I said, something like that).

     This class is not adequate preparation for fighting multiple henchmen in a Jet Li movie whose only goal is to kill you as fast as possible.

Continue reading

Silent Hill Movie

Silent Hill MovieYou would think that a movie that has women as the main protagonists would be a progressive step forward in terms of the portrayal of women in film. With Silent Hill, you would be wrong.

I went into the movie with the skepticism of a fan who has seen many of her favourite video games (not to mention books) ripped to shreds when they reach the big screen. I had heard that the movie was pretty good, and I was cautiously optimistic over the female protagonist who didn’t seem to fit the “sexy woman who kicks ass” paradigm that seems to have become a requirement for female heroes. I was even more interested when it was shown that the other protagonist would be a cop who, it seemed, just happened to be female.

Despite the lack of the lead pipe (I know, how could someone say they were being true to the series and not give the lead pipe some airtime??), I remained cautiously optimistic as the storyline got going. The cinematography was excellent. It was fun to recognize the monsters populating the town. The plot was both close enough and far enough from Silent Hill 1 to bug me a bit, but I never got the chance to play through all of the game so I could take it.

But, then, near the middle I started getting a sinking feeling in my stomach when I saw the themes that were emerging. By the end of the movie I wanted to throw something at the screen. Spoilers and mild rape triggers follow! Continue reading

Baby, it's Cold Outside

[Crossposted to My Vox blog.]

Via Majikthise, Brad Hicks has a good analysis of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

There’s not much more I can say about the analysis, but the responses in comments are quite interesting, particularly in how the song is defended. It’s illustrative of the ways in which the status quo with respect to rape and consent gets defended.

Aesthetic Defense

And analysis destroys another great song.

Here the argument is that we shouldn’t engage in feminist analysis of popular culture, lest we lessen our enjoyment of or ability to participate in said culture. If we look to closely at our culture, the argument goes, all we’ll see is patriarchy. (In this way, it’s similar to the “we can’t complain about coercion or people wouldn’t get laid” argument).

Free Speech

Thus we must ban any song that may seem to have those sorts of connotations!


Occasionally the argument is not that the analysis will “spoil” the work for the critic, but that the critic has an agenda to “spoil” the song for everybody else through censorship. The effect of this argument is to silence criticism because nobody wants to sound like a censor. A related argument is that the critic is against sexuality in general rather than the problematic depiction being critiqued.


People shouldn’t be too uptight about music.

Also known as the “you have no sense of humor” or “it’s just a song” argument. Tekanji posted about this in “Debunking the Myth of Frivolity”, and it’s a better rebuttal than any I could give here.

Good Intentions

Both Frank Loesser and his wife have archived interviews regarding this song, its composition, and premiere at a party they gave for friends. Sorry, I don’t have URLs for them. Neither allude to anything that would lend credence to these darker interpretations of the lyrics.

This is a different kind of argument; it relies on the authority of the author (or someone closer to the author than the critic is) to say what a work is really about. That the author of the lyrics may have thought them playfully sexy and didn’t intend to describe a date rape doesn’t make them problematic; indeed, it’s a quite similar argument to the one that an actual rapist may make – that the understanding was that the encounter was fully consensual. While an artist’s interpretation of his own work can make for interesting conversation material, it doesn’t invalidate other interpretations, and it certainly doesn’t disqualify the work from being used as a springboard to talk about the culture in general.

Armchair Psychoanalysis

I think you have misinterpreted the lyrics according to your own ideas of right and wrong (obviously) and this has defined the result more than the song itself.

This is basically a way of deflecting the criticism back onto the critic, and ties into the argument from popularity: “Nobody else has a problem with it, why do you?” The effect is to get critics to stop talking about the work and focus more on themselves.

Rape Apologism

leaving verbal inflection aside she does a fair amount of dithering but assuming she has her own wheels and car keys the failure to get up and go combined with making *excuses* sounds a LOT like “convince me. I want to have my cake (being a good girl) and eat it too (not live like a nun)”.

In fact the whole point is that she is in the position to definitively say “no,” to leave, to forcefully reject her pursuer, but she specifically never does. In the end her response is always well “maybe.” I ought to say no. Well maybe one more drink. After all, it is cold outside.

“She really wanted it.” “She could have said no, or left.” I think these folks need to read Biting Beaver’s posts on coercive rape and playing hard to get, in order to see how problematic these statements really are.

It Was a Different Time

In a nutshell, she really wants to, but she can’t square that with societal mores.

Some good comments here, but also a lot of temporal imperialism.

It’s very easy to judge people in the past as naive, or stupid, or ignorant, or otherwise somehow shameful because they perceived things or conducted themselves differently from us. They weren’t, they simply lived in a different milieu.

I think these sorts of arguments are fundamentally misguided. “Temporal imperialism” is not the same thing as colonialism. The former is simply reinterpreting the data; the latter involves significant power differentials and the potential for exploitation. Both involve privileged perspectives, but the privilege of hindsight is by definition not exploitative; the past may not be able to answer for itself, but neither can it be altered.

In addition, the criticism of the song isn’t actually all that focused on the time the song was written, because it’s not one that establishes itself as belonging to its time period. These attitudes aren’t altogether gone, and that’s why it’s still important to point out that what’s described in the song is either a prelude to rape or indistinguishable therefrom.

Great Moments in Jurisprudence

[Crossposted to my Vox blog.]

Plenty of people have commented on the Missouri rape case where a judge decided that once penetration had been consented to, there really wasn’t any crime.

And as plenty of people have pointed out, this is a monumentally stupid ruling.

(Trigger warning.)

Reading the narrative, it’s pretty clear that what consent there was was very limited. The complainant had just been sexually assaulted and raped by the appellant’s friend, and then gave a very conditional consent to appellant (“If I say stop, you have to stop”) which was then withdrawn.

How twisted do you have to be to see that as a “green light”?

It’s interesting to note that the complainant and appellant’s stories differ at this point. The appellant says he stopped immediately; the complainant says he didn’t. I suspect this is because everyone involved, with the exception of the appeals judge, realized that this is an important distinction on which the charge hangs.

There’s another difference in the testimony, which refers to the extent in which the appellant participated in the prior sexual assaults. According to the complainant’s testimony, he was heavily involved, and would presumably know that consent had not been given; according to the appelant’s testimony, he was away from his friend.

The trial judge’s instructions also strike me as fucked up:

The amount of force necessary depends upon the circumstances, and no particular amount of force is required but it must be sufficient to overcome the resistance of the victim. You must be satisfied that the victim either resisted and that this resistance was overcome by force or threat of force or that the victim was prevented from resisting by force or threat of force. The victim must have resisted to the extent of her ability at the time unless her resistance or will to resist was overcome by force or fear that was reasonable under the circumstances. Finally, “consent” means actually agreeing to the sexual act rather than merely submitting as a result of force or threat of force.

Given that the last sentence negates pretty much everything that came before it, why do the instructions spend so much time focusing on how much the complainant resisted?

The appellate judge’s ruling is based primarily on (i) Battle v. State a 1980 case that did not actually hold that ignoring post-penetration withdrawal of consent constituted rape, but merely that a jury instruction was ambiguous, and (ii) old English common law. The judge goes on to cite (especially barbaric) “Biblical and Middle Assyrian” law on the subject, which treated rape as “trespass upon the property,” calling it “common law.” In fact, it is no such thing; both the old English jurisprudence and the Biblical-era laws had long been superseded by later statutes and understandings on the subject.

It’s always been one of my little legal rules of thumb that any opinion that relies on “tradition” rather than statute or case law is worthless and more likely than not wrongly decided. Bowers v. Hardwick did this (and thankfully, has been superseded by Lawrence v. Texas); U.S. v. Reynolds did as well.

Rape is a dicey issue in the criminal courts, because the typical lack of witnesses, the consent defense, and the standards of proof. It’s exacerbated by a societal view of sex that sees consent as mere acquiescence rather than as enthusiastic participation. It’s also dicey in the moral sphere, because the social consensus seens to be that anything which doesn’t meet the criminal standard of rape is acceptable. Not to get all Sapir-Whorf here, but I think the fact that we don’t have separate terms for “legal rape” and “moral rape,” the way we do for other crimes (e.g., “larceny” versus “stealing,” “murder” versus “killing”). There’s no term for someone who’s forcing sex on another in a way that doesn’t meet the legal requirements of a rape charge, which leads people to think it’s all right.

Once again, more at Pandagon.

Drinking and Choice

Doing my dishes, I remembered a conversation I had at a local bar and it gave me a “WTF??” moment in terms of how I thought of the idea that people who get so drunk they can’t remember are always responsible for it. I mean, we often hear about being careful around one’s drink due to date rape drugs being put in it. And, yeah, it means that if I’m out I only leave my drink with a friend I’d trust my life to. But I always had this assumption in the back of my mind that if it was just alcohol, that the person’s personal responsibility — even in the face of peer pressure — was paramount.

I’m not so sure anymore.

See, this is a story I heard — verified by one of the men involved calling up the one who had gotten drunk when I expressed concern over his health since no one had heard from him. I’ll call the drunk guy Peter (not his real name, in fact if I use any other names they will all be fake). According to the guys at the bar, Peter has health problems so he shouldn’t drink. The other night they decided to get him drunk — again, after expressing concern I was assured many times that Peter had expressed interest in drinking, though given their actions I’m skeptical in terms of what kind of pressure they put on him.

To his knowledge, he only had two beers. Maybe with his meds it would be enough to push him to the “I don’t remember anything from last night,” point, but maybe not. But, see, he didn’t really just have two beers. The second one was spiked by these friends of his — most of whom, if I understand correctly, have known him for over a year — with a shot of some really strong liquor. His drunken state was recorded on audio and has been passed around for laughs.

It really upset me to hear about this, though I don’t think I really connected with why until just now. This man was given a certain amount of alcohol without his knowledge for the express purpose of getting him drunk, it was potentially dangerous given his medical condition, and his subsequent behaviour was recorded and used to give the perpetrators of this act something to laugh about.

Thankfully it doesn’t seem that any longstanding harm was done, though I don’t know if he knows about the recording. He may or may not know about the extra alcohol he was given by now, and that may or may not bother him. But it bothers me. Because, even though he’s okay and even though nothing more “serious” happened to him aside from being humiliated by his “friends,” the implications of that kind of situation — and the possibilities for harm — are immense.

And this, of course, is all passed off as “good fun” by those who perpetrate it.

Catholic League Plays the Victim Blaming Card

The Catholic League in response to former congressman Mark Foley remarking that he was abused by a clergyman:

“As for the alleged abuse, it’s time to ask some tough questions. First, there is a huge difference between being groped and being raped, so which was it Mr. Foley? Second, why didn’t you just smack the clergyman in the face? After all, most 15-year-old teenage boys wouldn’t allow themselves to be molested. So why did you?”

Getting victim blamed for abuse and molestation ain’t just for the girls, apparently. Not exactly the kind of “gender parity” I’d like to see, though.

Via Darth Sidhe.

Ellison digs himself deeper into the hole

Aaaaaaand there’s more! Via , we have another response by Ellison regarding his groping of Connie Willis. And no, this isn’t him dropping all sarcasm and misguided attempts at humor in order to make a straightforward, sincere apology. (We can only dream.)

Since jfpbookworm did such a great job deconstructing the first “apology”, I think it’s only fitting that we subject Ellison’s newest offering to analysis as well. One, because he’s so spectacularly idiotic – but more importantly, because of the unexamined privilege that drips from his words alongside the expected arrogance. He may be a talented writer, but that skill does nothing to save him from his underlying sexist assumptions.

The format of Ellison’s message board makes it impossible to link to a specific post, but as of now you can see the message I’m referring to at the bottom of the first page. Ellison is responding to this post from “Mark”:

I could go on, but let me share how I have dealt with guys who grab boobs without permission. I’m an out gay man. Four times now I have been witness to “playful” unwanted boob grabs. Each time, I have “playfully” reached over and cupped the guy’s crotch. Each and every one–including the one gay guy–were horrified and offended–including two I’ve known for years. Familiarity has nothing to do with it. It’s an invasion. All you guys here who think it’s no big deal, please stop by so I can hold your balls. All you women here who think it’s blown out of proportion, get some self-respect.

Which, I’ve gotta say, I really like.

Anyway, let’s get started with Ellison’s response:

– Thursday, August 31 2006 21:21:38


Would you be slightly less self-righteous and chiding if I told you there was

NO grab…

there was

NO grope…

there was

NO fondle…

there was the slightest touch. A shtick, a gag between friends, absolutely NO sexual content.

Immediately, we have frantic backpedaling. In his original “apology” (see jfpbookworm’s post for the text), Ellison states that touching a woman’s breasts without her permission is “way over the line in terms of invasion of someone’s personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst.” But now he’s trying to introduce qualifiers, as if a “slight touch” is somehow less of a violation than grabbing with a cupped hand. (It might be a briefer contact, or less painful, but that has nothing to do with how much it qualifies as sexual harassment.)

Also, a “gag between friends” generally involves permission, explicit or implied. Ellison already admitted that he had none.

Would you, and the ten thousand maggots who have blown this up into a cause celebre […]

‘Nuff said. I think we know what his opinion is of those who would dare malign his character in public – never mind that he voluntarily performed the objectionable action in public.

[…] be even the least bit abashed to know that I apologized WAY BEYOND what the “crime” required, on the off chance that I HAD offended?

And there you go.

Ellison has gone from saying that the criticizers were “absolutely right” to putting “crime” in quotations marks, as if he doubts his behavior was even wrong. He even seems to think that being offended at his behavior was just an “off chance.” Clearly, those with rational capacities would conclude that he only might have done something wrong, and, in fact, probably didn’t.

Furthermore, he believes that his apology goes “way beyond” what was required. Certainly he used a lot of hyperbole; but are we to believe that this counts toward what actually matters, which is his true sincerity and remorse? I’ve seen far too many anti-feminists and MRAs couch their venom in pretty words to believe that politeness in speech means anything about your true intention. There has to be more to back it up.

Ellison then goes on to scold Mark for commenting on an incident that he didn’t witness. To some extent, he has a point – there’s always the risk of distortion in second-hand reporting. However, I (and everyone else I’ve discussed this with) is going off the simple fact that Ellison grabbed Willis’ breast without her permission. He admitted it. There were hundreds of witnesses at Worldcon. There was even photographic evidence, though this has since been hidden away (as described here). Those who are using this incident as a springboard for criticizing Ellison as a person are not my concern – and not the concern of those who are calling for an evaluation of the acceptance of misogyny by the SFF community.

Does not anyone READ WHAT I WROTE within fifteen minutes of learning of this?

Well, yes. That’s part of the problem.

Does not anyone wonder why, if it was such a piggish thing I did, as one of those jerkwad blogs calls it, Connie Willis hasn’t, after twenty-five years of “friendship,” not returned my call on Monday … or responded to the Fedex packet of my posting here on Monday, which Fedex advises me she received at 2:20 pm on Tuesday?

No, Mr. Ellison, it is not the responsibility of the victim to do something about the perpetrator. It is your responsibility to apologize and make amends as possible. Whether she chooses to accept your apology is her choice, and no one should blame her for it.

Can the voluble and charismatic Connie not even pick up a phone to tell the man whose work she “admires deeply” that he has gone a bridge too far? Is she so wracked by the Awfulness of it that she is incapable of saying to his face, you went too far?

The purpose of an apology is not, primarily, to appease the apologizer. “Making Harlan Ellison feel better” should not be the motivation behind Harlan Ellison’s apology. This reminds me of convicted criminals who suddenly come forth with heartfelt apologies at their sentencing trial.* If you really mean it, then you don’t care what benefit you get out of it; you’re more concerned with the person you’re apologizing to, and how much it helps him or her.

*Don’t worry, I’m not trying to equate Ellison with convicted criminals.

No one EVER asked her to “bell the cat.” She decided that was her role toward me, long ago. And I’ve put up with it for years.

Here we go shifting the blame to Willis. As if, had she not been concerned with moderating his behavior, she somehow wouldn’t have been bothered by the fact that he groped her.

Also, by saying “I’ve put up with it for years” in the middle of a paragraph about apologizing for what he did, he implies that their burdens are equal. That, since he’s had to tolerate her policing for so long, this is somehow comparable to the fact that he violated her personal space, and the trust she had for him, by touching a private area of her body against her will.

Reminds me of people who think the “burden” of having to be politically correct is somehow comparable to the oppression faced by those whom political correctness would protect.

Ellison then goes on to reference more of his history with Willis. As I am unfamiliar with their relationship, I can’t comment on the accuracy of his characterization. However, I will say that describing her faulty treatment of him implies that the grope was some sort of “revenge” – a justification that can become downright frightening when applied to other, more violent sexual actions.*

*I’m not trying to equate Ellison with rapists, okay? Chill.

am I even a leetle bit entitled to think that Connie likes to play, and geez ain’t it sad that as long as SHE sets the rules for play, and I’m the village idiot, she’s cool … but gawd forbid I change the rules and play MY way for a change

Playing? Fine. Joking performance? Fine. There are always boundaries to maintain. One of the things that happens as you get to know a person is that you become familiar with their boundaries; you learn if someone will allow things that would otherwise be unacceptable, such as insults, joking about one’s family – or sexual humor. Ellison can’t pretend to so socially inept as to not understand this. Unless he and Willis had established that they were okay using sexualized humor with each other – something I imagine he would have been eager to point out, if it were true – then she has every right to consider his action a violation.

Because it’s her body. Despite what a lot of people would have us believe, it is still a woman’s prerogative to “set the rules” for what happens to it.

I’ve sat here for four days, quietly, having done as much forelock-tugging and kneeling as I feel — as I — I — not you — not fan pinheads in far places who jumped and bayed and went after me in a second — but I –who is responsible for my behavior — as I feel is proper.

Misogyny, of which sexual harassment is only a part, is a public problem. It isn’t something that can be settled by Ellison himself, or even between Ellison and Willis – Willis can decide when and if she’ll forgive him, but his actions are open to scrutiny. As a public figure who made a sexist action in public, he affects us. Most especially, he affects the women who have come to expect and try to adapt to misogyny, especially within geek communities.

So when you commit an action that violates a woman’s body, in a place where she has rightly earned the highest respect, in front of hundreds of witnesses, and within a community – my community – that currently struggles with its treatment of women, and then act as if you are far more wounded than anyone else has the right to be – don’t you tell me that this is none of my concern.

And for four days I’ve waited for Deeply Outraged and Debased Connie Willis — an avowed friend and admirer of my work for more than a quarter century –to get up off her political correctness and take her pal off the gibbet.

Don’t pull that shit, Mr. Ellison. Don’t try to use that “If you cared about me” guilt-trip that so many men use in an attempt to weasel out of the anger they trigger through their sexist behavior. You made the mistake here. You owe her the apology. Connie Willis does not owe you anything.

Ellison is the one who committed the action, who has sunk to openly insulting her on a public forum. That, if anything, is a violation of their relationship. The fact that Willis is maintaining silence in the aftermath of his degenerate behavior, which shows no sign of alleviating? Hardly.

He acts as if she owes him – beyond a response, beyond an acceptance of his dubious apology – as if she owes him help. Not only is she obligated to withstand his self-serving attempts at reconciliation, she must actively defend him from the criticism he has rightly earned. He’s trying to shift the weight of obligation on her, so that the guilt and blame can leave him.

A sexist jerk gets called on his actions, and expects a (semi) apology to fix everything. Oh, and the victim of the action is the one who owes him the fixing. How many times have we seen that scenario? Of course, as we see here, he follows this up by acting offended that he hasn’t received forgiveness, or even praise for his apology, because by god that’s his right.

I spent more hours traveling this benighted country, for eight years, state after state after state, lecturing in defense of women’s rights and passage of the ERA than any of you have spent mouthing your sophomoric remonstrances.

If you’re the “support” that feminism’s got, then I think we ought to complain.

Seriously, he thinks he can fix this with his political credentials? Lots of people use pretty language about women’s rights and hide their underlying sexism. Lots of people actually mean what they say about women’s rights, but still screw up. The real feminists I know are the ones who admit that and work to improve, rather than indulging in misogyny and then trying to cover it up.

I’d also like to ask, what has he been doing since the 1970s, when the ERA had its heyday? Does he think that, since he put in his time, he’s earned carte blanche about the treatment of sexism? That he’s won the right to tell other women how they should feel about his sexist action?

My last word on this clusterfuck.

So we can hope. I won’t even say anything about his vulgar language – like I said, polite words can amount to a whole lot of nothing when it comes to what you’re really thinking. That sentence is quite possibly the least offensive thing he’s spewed thus far.

You know, I was prepared to shift the focus away from Ellison and turn my attention to the real problem, which is the response of the SFF community. (If we had evidence that the community didn’t tolerate this kind of behavior, it would have just been an isolated incident, objectionable but not cause for concern from the public.) I have the feeling that many people, especially those who weren’t previously familiar with Ellison and his behavior, felt similarly.

When I first saw mention of this additional message, I thought, maybe I should ignore this and focus on the real problem. But if the real problem is rampant male privilege and unchallenged misogyny, then Ellison, as a prominent and influential member of the SFF community, is a big part of that problem.

Remember, Mr. Ellison, you only brought this on yourself.

The Harlan Ellison Incident

A few days ago at the Hugo Awards ceremony at Worldcon, Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis on stage. The primary source of the news is Patrick Nielsen Hayden, though Ellison himself confirmed it in the (ostensible) apology on his message board. (Text provided here by Elizabeth Bear. Also see her post on the original incident.)

He wrote the “apology” yesterday, even though the event occurred a couple of days ago, because he had no idea that there was a problem until he saw the reaction online. In other words, he didn’t know it was wrong until someone else told him. This is the kind of behavior that you would expect out of children developing their sense of politeness and ethics, not a grown man (especially one with as inflated a sense of self as Ellison apparently has).

Connie Willis is one of the most respected science fiction authors writing today – certainly one of the most well-known women in the field. She did not invite the groping, nor did she give him permission. Ellison calls it “intendedly-childlike,” and supposedly it came as part of a comedic schtick. However, Willis was not previously informed about his intention, and since she immediately removed his hand and continued on without comment, it’s obvious that she didn’t feel inclined to join in on the “comedy.”

His behavior – the fact that he even thought that this was an acceptable action (or at least funny, maybe “cheeky little bastard,” but not reprehensibly sexist), and furthermore, had to be told that it wasn’t – speaks to a deep disrespect for women. A disrespect that, really, isn’t all that uncommon.

An opening caveat

First, let’s be clear about what I’m not saying:
-Ellison is the oppressor of all women
-Ellison is the personal cause of oppression for Willis
-all men are horribly sexist
-touching = the root of sexist oppression

So anyone freaking out about how I’m attacking Ellison/blowing the situation out of proportion/hating on teh menz can calm down. Okay? Okay.

The acceptance of sexual harassment

This is what Ellison did: he invaded a woman’s personal space, and furthermore, touched a private body part (at least, it’s private in Western society since we sexualize and obsessively cover up women’s breasts). He did something similar to another woman at the same convention. Groping Willis was not a freak incident, but an indication of his disregard for personal space – the personal space, it appears, of women.

I’m not saying that Ellison took a moment, thought, “Boy, I disrespect Connie Willis! Let me show her who’s boss!” and grabbed her breast out of malice. The point is he didn’t have to stop and think. He simply assumed that it would be all right to grab a woman’s private body part without her prior permission, on a stage in front of a massive audience.

That’s the whole point. That assumption. The general attitude that makes people believe, without consciously thinking about it, that it’s okay to touch a woman without asking. (See George Bush’s invasion of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal space at the G-8 Summit.) The assumption that goes along with that belief is that, somehow, women just don’t get as much say over what people do to their personal space. Over who touches their bodies.

How many times have you seen a man touch a woman without asking: pat her head, pet her hair, grab her arm, put a hand on her waist? How many times have you been that woman? Both men and women do it – both genders absorb the idea that it’s somehow okay to do it. Women are expected to put up with it – to speak up and refuse a touch would be considered rude, heaven forbid. We’re expected to allow our personal boundaries to be blurred on a normal basis. This is one of the reasons why it’s so goddamned hard to recognize and react to sexual harassment. You don’t want to be the rude/uppity/bitchy one who says no; you think this kind of behavior is normal; you don’t know where to draw the line, how to tell when someone is trying to mask sexual invasion under acceptable “polite” behavior.

On the other hand, you very rarely see men being the receiver of this kind of unwanted contact. Especially from other men. (“Oh, but that’s different!” people say. “That would be weird and gay.” Well, if men touching men without asking is a sexualized violation, what does that make men touching women without asking?)

People don’t actively think this, think “touching women is okay!” when they do it. Of course not. You don’t have to. It’s just assumed.

When good authors suck as people

One thing I’m (shallowly) glad of is that I never read any of Ellison’s work. It’s frustrating and disappointing when I find out that authors I like are actually jerks.

But, you know, it is possible. The seriousness of this incident doesn’t negate the fact that Ellison is a well-known author of many admired works. You can be a good writer and still a social jackass – I greatly admire Margaret Atwood’s writing, but I hear she’s a very unpleasant person (which I can neither confirm nor deny, not having met her, but I am open to the possibility). Despite the horror stories I hear about Anne McCaffrey’s treatment of fans, I still look back on her books with affectionate nostalgia. And Anne Rice – well, okay, Anne Rice apparently fails at both literary and social skills, but whatever. XD;;

Beyond his writing skills, these incidents don’t even negate the fact that Ellison could be an otherwise good person – as I like to emphasize, you can be a good person and still be sexist/racist/whatever. But in many ways, your goodness is irrelevant. You still have to own up to the *ist behavior. If you’re a good person who’s also sexist, you’re just as sexist as the irredeemable asshole who’s also sexist.

Which is why it pisses me off to see that Stephen Brust decided that now was the time to post a paean to Ellison’s virtues and discourage attention to the groping incident. Now? Before most people in the SFF community have even heard what happened? Before (to my knowledge) there has been any sort of official response? Before we’ve even heard from Willis herself?

It smacks of trying to wriggle out of dealing with the incident, of trying to calm the rocking boat without even seeing what huge-ass boulder fell into the water in the first place. It also strikes me as a small – very small – version of the “but he was always such a good boy” defense of rapists, in that the perpetrator’s previous good behavior is used in an attempt to gloss over the objectionable action. Brust isn’t trying to deny what happened – there’s a large audience of witnesses and Ellison’s own admission, all in addition to what Willis says – but he is trying to minimize the censure directed toward Ellison, to hurry us on ahead by (ironically) emphasizing Ellison’s past good deeds.

Easy for you to say, Stephen Brust, a man who’s never been a recipient of male-on-female sexual harassment within a society that largely normatizes the behavior. (Now, I’ve actually read his stuff – but only one novel, and I didn’t like it that much, so that makes me less disappointed.) Something tells me his reaction wouldn’t be quite so detached if circumstances were different – maybe he can’t ever be a woman who’s harassed by a man, but he could know one. What if Ellison’s victim had been a relation to Brust, his wife, mother, daughter, sister? Would he be saying the same thing? My guess is, even if he still didn’t abandon Ellison, at least he wouldn’t be saying, “Sure, this was bad, but let’s make sure we remember the good that Ellison has done.” Instead, it would be more like, “Sure, Ellison has done good, but let’s make sure we acknowledge how bad this was.” In other words, the emphasis wouldn’t be on sweeping the incident under the rug.

In conclusion: Ellison is not an evil man. But.

As I said, I don’t find that Ellison is an anomaly – his action might have been outrageous, but his attitude is one that’s largely accepted. I’m not going to call him an evil sexist monster any more that I would call every man (and woman) that who shares his attitude toward women’s personal space. The point of my criticism, of all feminist criticism, is not to point fingers and declare this or that person evil, or to target someone for attack. The point is to reveal sexist attitudes and beliefs – attitudes and beliefs that we all fall prey to, to some degree – so that people can refuse to accept them.

But Ellison’s actions do need to be recognized – and criticized. (Especially since I find his “apology” lacking; you can read it and judge for yourself, but I get the impression he’s more enamored of his literary cleverness and bad-boy image than what Willis feels.) A lack of response to this incident – by fans, authors, and perhaps officials from Worldcon itself – would only reinforce the “boys’ club” impression of SFF.

Immature side note

Now I’m doubly amused by his run-in with the Penny Arcade folks last year.

Reframing the Poly Debate

Four Legs Good, Six Legs BadPolygamy, polygyny, polyandry, polyamory, polyfidelity… By whatever label, using whatever configuration, the concept of poly is to involve more than two people in intimate relationships. In the Western world, this practice is mostly seen as immoral. The legal marriage of multiple partners is largely illegal, and the unquestionable “rightness” of this idea is used and abused by both sides when the concept of same-sex marriage comes up.

But I think that it’s time that we, as feminists, reframe this debate. We need to reach inside ourselves and ask why the idea of poly relationships feels wrong. What is it that makes the stereotype of polygamy objectionable? Is it the idea that monogamy isn’t the only healthy relationship style, or that the only example of poly relationships have been ones that traffic in women?

I. Challenging Deeply Held Beliefs

Like most Americans, I was brought up to believe that marriage was something that happened between a man and a woman. I don’t remember when the idea was challeged in terms of same-sex partnerships, but I distinctly remember when my belief that polygamy was inherently bad was called into question.

I was in high school at the time. Standing in my kitchen with someone — I forget if it was a family member or a friend — I think I was reading something about polygamy, but maybe it just came up randomly in conversation. I said something about polygamy being wrong. The person I was talking to countered with, “Why?”

I looked at them and blinked. Immediately I thought about the places in Utah where young girls are forced to marry older men. That’s what most of us think of first, isn’t it? But, a young girl being forced to marry a man is morally repugnant whether or not he’s done this to other women or not. And it is, for the most part, illegal whether it’s his first wife or fifth. Then… what? It just felt more wrong? Come on.

So I gave the only answer I could. I said, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s not.”

Since then, I’ve tried my best not to accept that something is one way just because that’s the way I’ve been taught it was. In the case of polygamy, the more I’ve learned about it, the more I realized that it was a lot more complex than the usual idea that it’s a bunch of old guys marrying underaged girls in Utah or the Middle East.

For instance, did you know that “polygamy” doesn’t actually mean that it’s a man with multiple wives (that would be polygyny), but can also be a woman with multiple husbands (polyandry)? Or that there’s a movement out there called polyamory (often referred to as “poly”)? A lot of people think that “polygamy” begins and ends with forced marriages of older men to younger women (not so different from traditional heterosexual marriage), and that therefore there is no other kind of configuration possible. But, if nothing else, polyamory tells a different story. There’s everything from Vs (one partner in the middle with two attached to hir), to triangles (all three partners connected to each other), to complex connections that end up forming a tight-knit community brought together by friendship, love, and sex.

II. Compulsory Monogamy

Good for the Goose, Good for the Gander?For some people, finding one person at a time to share their lives with is the only way to go. And, hey, if that’s your cup of tea, that’s great. But not everyone is like that. Just like not everyone is attracted to a different gender, or the same one, or any person at all, not everyone wants to be with just one person. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. And it’s no more fair to say that everyone should only love one person than it is to say that only people of the same gender, class, race, etc. can love each other.

How can we fight against mandatory gender roles, heterosexism, racism, ablism, etc. and then go on believing that a romantic relationship can only exist between two people? How can we go on promoting this idea — either by our vocal assent or our conspicuous silence — and then expect our arguments against having other people’s ideals imposed on us to be taken seriously? I don’t think that we can.

If a relationship is filled with loving, consenting adults then what business is it of ours what configuration makes them happy?

III. Refocusing Our Efforts

Which brings me back to what I think is obscured by the “immorality” argument of polygamy: human rights abuses. Putting aside the problems we have a society recognizing and dealing with abuse (as that is a whole series of posts in of itself), when abuse is recognized in a heterosexual monogamous relationship, the configuration of the relationship is rarely, if ever, seen as the important factor.

Let me use this case from 2001, reported by, as an example. The defendant was put on trial for bigamy and failure to pay child support. The article spends several paragraphs talking about Mormons and polygamy, and then ends the article with this:

The defense focused its efforts on parrying prosecution charges that Green married teenagers, divorced them and then collected their welfare payments as he continued living with them.

Green also faces a charge of first-degree felony rape of a 13-year-old girl with whom he allegedly had sex in 1986. He subsequently married the girl. The charge carries a prison term of five years to life, Reuters reported. A trial date is yet to be set.

What this article, and all the other ones like it that I’ve seen, have done is capitalize on the sensationalism of “Multiple! Wives! How Weird! And Thefore WRONG!” and either downplayed the way in which these women are used as chattel — taken, raped, and married as soon as they are biologically able to have children — or used them as a tool with which to strengthen the “wrongness” of mutiple marriage.

The suffering of these women should not be seen as evidence to support the case against polygamy, it should be treated as an important problem by itself. By making polygamy the main “evil” here, the focus is not on the actual harm being done but on the supposed immorality of non-monogamy. Furthermore, by using the abuse of women in a case against polygamy, it creates an idea that these kinds of things are unique to polygamy, instead of them being a greater narrative of traditional relationships of all kinds.

IV. Concusion

Love is... LoveAs feminists, I think that we can all agree that loving who we love is not wrong. I think that we can agree that people should be free to pursue happiness they way they need to as long as it doesn’t hurt others (a thorny subject, I know, but I think it’s a principle we can all get behind). I think we can agree that what happens between consenting adults is their business.

But, by allowing the debate about polygamy to be focused on mutliple-partnerships being morally wrong, all we’re doing is buying into the idea that one way — monogamy — is the best and only acceptable way. Not just that, but we’re also allowing the focus to be taken off the real atrocity: the trafficking of women. Traditional polygamy is no different than traditional marriage in this respect, and to allow oursleves to pretend it is is a disservice to the fight for women’s rights.