Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stop comparing people to Nazis!

It annoys me (and, to a degree, even offends me) when people throw the word "Nazi" around. You know, like calling somebody who likes good spelling and grammar a spelling or grammar Nazi, calling a feminist a Feminazi or even that time in The X-Files when Morris-Fletcher-As-Mulder asks Scully to buy him a pack of cigarettes and, when she can't believe he's asking her to do that because Mulder doesn't smoke, he asks, "'re not going to be a Nazi about it, are you?"

No, Morris. I sincerely doubt that she intends to revamp Germany's economy, invade Poland, attempt to take over the world, wage a land war in Russia or create numerous concentration camps where people die of experimental surgery or starvation and hard labour or in "showers" where they get gassed to death just because you want a pack of Morleys.

You see, that's my biggest reason for disliking it when people call other people "Nazis". Authoritarianism, strict adherence to rules or even political, religious or social extremism are not things which were exclusive to the Nazis. Furthermore, to imply that just because someone has a thing about following rules doesn't mean that they're one step away from trying to re-create the Third Reich. Yes, I understand that it's meant to be an insult, but it's being thrown around so casually these days that it seems to have been stripped of any meaning that it might once have had. It cheapens the history it refers to; the Nazis did a lot of things that were a great deal more destructive than insisting on the correct spelling and use of words or following a few simple rules when ordering soup or believing that because women are people, we deserve to be treated as people and not as lesser beings compared with men. (The Nazis, in fact, would probably have completely disagreed with the last part of that statement. Women didn't generally figure very largely in their view of the world.) There's a reason why they were looked on as a threat. They weren't a joke based on extremely rigid rules and adherence to those rules. They were well-organized, they were powerful and they just might have won the Second World War if Hitler hadn't made one of the same mistakes that Napoleon did—he tried to wage a land war in Russia. If it hadn't been for that, the world might be very different today.

And you know, I also have a personal reason for disliking the comparison of non-Nazi people to Nazis. You see, one of my uncles was born in Austria in the late 30's. For a brief time when he was a child, he was an inmate in one of the Nazi labour camps (one of the Mauthausen-Gusen sub-camps, I think, but I'm not sure). He still doesn't like to talk about it. When I think about the things that the Nazis did to the people in those camps, even—or especially—the children, I think that nobody deserves to be compared to them. Not even the people who I consider to be among the most despicable human beings alive today deserve it. And it seems to me that when "Nazi" is thrown around as a casual insult, it also serves as an insult to the people they victimized; it equates their suffering with a relatively privileged person's distaste for another person's views. Feminism is not equal to Dr. Mengele's experiments on children. An insistence on proper spelling and grammar will not send human beings to Auschwitz I, II or III. Rules requiring you to choose the soup you want to order, have your money ready to pay for it and get out of the way are not expressions of fascism, and surprise at a previously non-smoking friend asking you to buy them cigarettes is not an expression of a desire to send large groups of people to labour camps where they'll probably drop dead of exhaustion or starvation.

Got it? I sure hope so.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why I Am Pro-Choice

Today is the 5th annual "Blog for Choice" day. Although I'm not officially involved—after all, abortion is legal where I live, and access to it is not generally impeded by financial considerations—I thought I'd offer my thoughts about why I'm pro-choice.

Because you know what? I am pro-choice, though not explicitly pro-abortion. I'm pro-choice because I believe that nobody has a right to define what a woman can and cannot do with her own body. I'm pro-choice because I believe that no woman should be forced to bear a child if she does not want to do so, whether her reasons are physical or mental. I'm pro-choice because I know that history shows that in times when abortions are illegal, women who want or even need them can and will find ways to have them anyway. The richer ones will simply travel to someplace where it is legal, if they can; the poorer ones will risk long-term damage or disease—or perhaps even death—and possible prosecution via a "back-alley abortion".

I'm pro-choice because I believe that women are capable of making logical, rational decisions about their own health and lives, and no anti-choice rhetoric about "abortion stops a beating heart", "your baby could grow up to be the next Great Leader of the World" or even the old favourite, "what if your mother had decided to abort you?" is going to change my mind. Even for women who can access good health care, pregnancy and childbirth are not without their dangers, particularly for women who have long-term illnesses or injuries. And the healing process after the birth, whether the baby was born vaginally or though a C-section, can be difficult—something which is no doubt exacerbated by the fact that maternity leave is inhumanely short in most places. No woman should be forced to go through pregnancy and childbirth if she doesn't want to. I trust women to be able to decide whether it's a good idea for them to have children.

I have always been pro-choice, even in the days when I was devoutly Catholic. It's one of the biggest beefs that I still have with my former Church, and part of one of the reasons why I left it all those years ago—their disrespectful and condescending attitude towards women. It's not up to anyone to make a woman's health care decisions for her unless she is incapable of doing so herself, and I believe that reproductive health care is no exception to this. Furthermore, I believe that anyone who seeks to rob women of the right to make their own decisions about whether or not to have an abortion is barely a step away from deciding that women are incapable of making other logical and rational decisions—just look at the case of Samantha Burton, a Florida woman who was forced into bed rest when she showed signs of miscarriage. Although she had to hold down a job and take care of two toddlers, she was confined to a hospital bed and ordered by the state courts (acting on a tip from her doctor, who notified them before she had a chance to seek a second opinion) to submit to any and all treatments ordered by her doctor, who claimed to be acting on the fetus' best interests. They even refused to let her move to another hospital. The only thing that saved her from being stuck there for fifteen weeks was that three days later she had to have an emergency C-section; when they performed it, they found that the fetus was dead.

I am not explicitly pro-abortion, because I don't think that I would ever have one myself unless my life was in some way endangered by pregnancy—say, for example, that implantation took place in one of my fallopian tubes rather than in my uterus. Ectopic pregnancies can be deadly. But though I probably wouldn't have an abortion myself, I do not believe that other women should be forced by law to make the same decision that I would make should I find myself (very) unexpectedly pregnant. I believe that no choices should be forced—forced choices aren't really choices at all. I believe that women have the right to decide whether or not to have children. I believe that women should have control over what happens to our own bodies.

I believe in trusting women to make the right choice—and in the concept that "the right choice" in this matter will not always be the same for every woman. This is why I am pro-choice, and why I doubt I'll ever cease to be. Women, by and large, are not stupid creatures who need to be led down "the right path" by other people who think they know what's best for us.

In Virginia, people can order specialty license plates that say "Trust Women, Trust Choice." These aren't empty words; they are the best possible advice that one could hear in any debate about abortion. Trust women. We're the ones who have to live with our bodies and what goes on in them. Trust choice. Most women are actually pretty smart, and most of us are capable of making logical and rational decisions, despite society's opinion that we're a slave to our hormones and our emotions. The possibility that we might regret it later on is not an adequate reason to deny us the choice in the first place; for most people, life is full of choices. Some are good, some are bad, most are in between; we don't even always get to know the result of the choices we've made right away. That's the nature of choice, and the risk that we take when we make any choice. Abortion, in my mind, is no different except that it's been blown up to such a ridiculously large scale. But I trust women, and I trust in our ability to make choices.

And in the end, that is why I'm pro-choice.

Monday, January 18, 2010

On Rebuilding a Community

Last week, a minor disaster struck.

I'm not downplaying what happened in Haiti; I'd certainly never call it a "minor" disaster and I'm still trying to sort out my thoughts about that, particularly because it turns out that some people I know and care about have a very personal connection to the earthquake, having lost a young relative to it. Perhaps I'll write about that at another time, but for now, I'm going to be talking about something that occurred in my personal life early last week.

Without getting into too many personally-identifying details, last week a message board I posted at regularly was destroyed by somebody, apparently in (as Inspector Clouseau once said) "a rit of fealous jage". Whether or not the jealousy was justified, I cannot say—I don't think it's really any of my business, anyhow—but because the person who destroyed the board had access to an administrator's name and password, the end result was the obliteration of nearly two years' worth of memories, fun and even some creative work. At first glance, it seems a bit odd to be calling the end of an online community a "disaster"; after all, very few of us have ever met in real life. But, as much as I can say this of people I've met online and don't expect to ever see face-to-face, I have considered them to be friends. The destruction of our little online "home" was met with shock and anger—not at the people whose alleged behaviour was the excuse for doing this, but at the vindictive little twerp who decided that because we were part of the same community as these people, we deserved to be punished as well.

I know this because many of us had added each other as friends on Facebook, and because (rather fortunately) the owner of the boards that were destroyed had never given up her admin privileges and was able to put up a couple of messages to us, give us a place to vent about what happened and a place to decide where to go from there. She wasn't interested in rebuilding her own board, but many of us felt that a new board would be a welcome thing. So because nobody else actually seemed to be putting a board together, I did it; I had a lot of spare time that day. It's been slow taking off—I think a lot of us are probably still in a minor state of shock over our old discussion board being gone—but somehow, I think it'll be all right. We have this place for discussion when we want it, and most of us are in touch in other places.

So here we are, almost a week later; besides occasional minor moments of faint panic because I know practically nothing about being a board administrator, I've often found myself thinking about our response to what happened. The people who were accused of a certain type of bad behaviour have been relatively silent; one has said very little to any of us, and the other has left a message with someone who did make the move to the new board saying that they weren't going to join and that they feel very bad about what happened. Some people were disappointed by these two; one even said that she felt betrayed somehow. My own opinion is that they really should have known better if it's true, but in the end, it's really all the fault of the person who decided to punish all of us for the transgressions of only two people. It really is amazing at how durable online friendships can be if they're nurtured in the right way. When I saw the destruction of the board, my first thought wasn't for the discussions we'd lost. It was for the potential breaking of our little community. It started with discussions on another site about a mutual favourite TV show; when the rules over at the first site became too rigid to allow real conversation, somebody set up our board, where off-topic discussions were frequent but always ended up straying back to the original point somehow. Sometimes we'd come to each other with our problems and complaints, and even when no solutions were offered, sympathy was always forthcoming. We had fun teasing each other, and overall, it was a friendly, safe community. When the board was destroyed, I was afraid that the community would be, too. But most of the regulars seem interested in keeping in touch, and in the past week I've come to have faith that because many of the people who were at the old board are now at the new one, we'll be able to build something like it there, if we put the time and effort in.

I'm not sure where I want to go with this reflection. Mostly I'm surprised—and pleased—that we're not going to give up our community without an effort to keep it together. That asshole destroyed our old forum. But however hard they tried, they couldn't destroy the community, and I think that the best revenge that we could possibly have is to keep in touch and not let that nasty little louse tear us all apart.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Sudden Burst of Insight

As you might guess from looking at the link lists on the side of this page, I spend a lot of time reading (and sometimes speaking up) in the world of feminist blogging. You may even have found this blog through clicking on my name at Feministing, perhaps out of an urge to see what sort of verbal and philosophical train wrecks I cause in my own space. ;) Anyway, every so often there's a discussion of the most recent rectal haberdashery* perpetrated by various Christians, whether it's protests outside of a clinic that provides abortions, a sexual abuse scandal, more misogynistic tripe from the Vatican or the latest hate-mongering by the Phelps crew. A lot of these discussions tend to involve people who are atheists or members of other faiths, some (many?) of whom are ex-Christians. A lot of the time, they express anger towards Christians and Christianity in general. (I can understand this. I was angry at Christianity for several years myself—in fact, for some reasons, I still am.) And sometimes when an openly-Christian member of these communities comments on these discussion threads and they indicate that what's happened has upset them too, and that the anger that the non-Christians are expressing towards Christianity is hurting them as well, they're told to check their privilege and listen to the people who've really been hurt by whatever these Christians have done.

Just to be clear, I don't think it's done in bad faith; I think it's an understandable reaction by members of a less-privileged group to a perceived display of privilege by members of a privileged group. But although I've long understood the importance of checking one's privilege, this has bothered me for a long time. I wasn't sure why until this afternoon, but then suddenly it came to me.

It bothers me because when those Christians do hurtful things, they hurt me, too, and the Christian privilege I have from being Christo-Pagan doesn't shield me from it, and not just because of the Pagan part of my spirituality. Yet because of the Christian part of my spiritual identity and the privilege it entails—even if it's not as pronounced for Canadians as it is for our Neighbours-Mostly-to-the-South—if I say anything at all, I have to be very careful not to be one of those people whose posts, however phrased, mean something like "Oh, but we're not all like that, most of us are good people and I don't see why you're being so mean to all of us Good Christian Believers". That isn't what bothers me, though; there's nothing wrong with watching what you say in order to not offend people and make yourself into some sort of "wounded saint" who delights in seeing yourself as being persecuted. What bothers me is that acknowledging that Christians—or, in my case, Christo-Pagans—can also be hurt by the destructive actions of other Christians is too easily interpreted as a privileged person making the discussion "all about them" instead of discussing the thing that's happened. The line between authentic hurt and revealed privilege is sometimes very difficult to see.

The thing is, the world isn't divided into categories named "Christians" and "People Hurt By Christians". Hatred of LGBTQ (etc.) people, when expressed by Christians, hurts me—and several of my friends, some of whom come from various Christian denominations themselves—because we belong to one or more of the groups in the short or long acronym. Because I'm a woman, anti-abortion activists hurt me although I don't think I'd have an abortion unless my life was threatened by a pregnancy I doubt I'll ever have in the first place; they hurt me because they want to control what I can and cannot do with my own body.

And to be told that we're not among the people hurt by these Christians is, quite frankly, a slap in the face when we need support as much as any other person hurt by those people's actions. Far be it for me to suggest that we're being silenced—I can't believe that because the Christian perspective on most things is as easily found, even in Canada, as the male perspective is—but by treating us as nothing more than unthinking (and easily-offended) pieces of a monolithic and atrociously malicious whole, nobody's best interests are being served.

When it's necessary, remind us to check our privilege, by all means. Even the best intentions are often obscured by the filter of privilege, even if the person who has it has examined it and is trying not to let it get in the way of them being a decent person. Privilege is one of the worst excuses in the world for being an asshole. But don't assume that just because we've got something significant in common with the people who've hurt you, that means we haven't been hurt by them too.

Incidentally, just for fun, try switching the word "Christian" for the name of any other privileged group and many of my points here will probably stand.

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*I don't recall who first used this phrase, but I suspect that it might be someone from Shakesville.