Author Archives: Christine

Publishing the identities of minors . . . who bully rape victims

On the Media has an amazing interview with Matt DiRienzo, editor of the Connecticut Register Citizen newspaper, about yet another victim-blaming sexual assault case out of Torrington, CT. This time the victim is 13, the defendants 18. And still, local kids are tweeting hate at the victim, calling her a whore, blaming her for her sexual assualt, and calling for her to be punished, rather than the alleged rapists.

DiRienzo and his team decided to post screen captures of the hateful tweets, including the full Twitter handle and image from each kid. And in the interview, he’s totally unapologetic about it. When asked if this makes him an “advocacy journalist,” he says he is more than happy to be seen advocating against 13 year old sexual assault victims being called whores in the public square.

Give it a listen – it’s just  a few minutes! And while you’re at it, you might check out the entire show from this weekend, where they discuss Steubenville and rape culture in a very measured, thought-provoking way.

How to prevent rape

dont rapeI’ve seen this image going around in the wake of the Steubenville verdicts, and it’s a great rhetorical salvo: Hey, what if we actually put the responsibility for rape on the rapists, instead of the victims? Crazy, right? It’s a very good reminder that most of the rape prevention advice we’ve heard is directed at women, instructing them how not to be raped, and how messed up that is. The implications behind it include the assumption that men are just gonna rape, nothing to be done about it, and that women could possibly do or wear or drink something that “causes” them to be raped.

So I’m not trying to criticize that list here. However, I think we could go further, and construct a list that isn’t directed satirically at malicious rapists, but to every good person out there who wishes they could help prevent rape. Not in a “potential victims: don’t wear slutty clothes!” way, but guidelines that all well-meaning people could actually use to make rape less prevalent.

I think Men Can Stop Rape is a good start. Sometimes they veer a little paternalistic, especially considering their advice is aimed solely at men. But the idea that we should protect and support our friends from creepers, jerks, and potential rapists is most welcome.

So I sat down and thought “What do I want my daughters to know? What do I want their friends to do? What standards do I try to hold myself to?” What would be on a sincere list of suggestions for all people who want to help, not just focusing on potential perpetrators or potential victims?

I was heavily influenced by this excellent post on Captain Awkward. It tells stories of social groups passively allowing creepers to test group tolerance for sexually invasive behavior. Read this! It’s chilling how even women who are themselves harassed and groped feel awkward calling the creeper on it, and how the groups tend to exclude women who complain, rather than the perv who is assaulting people. And Captain Awkward’s response is wonderfully wonderful.

All that said, here is my proposed list of ways to prevent rape. These are for men, women, girls, boys, people who worry about being raped and people who worry about their friends being raped, and people who just want to make our society less tolerant of rapists in general.

How to Prevent Rape

  • Remind yourself often that women are human people worthy of respect.
  • Remember people’s bodies belong only to them.
  • “No means no” is fine, but better to look for an enthusiastic YES!
  • Don’t let anyone have sexual contact with an unconscious person.
  • Yes, even if “it’s their own fault” they’re unconscious.
  • If you have to stop and wonder whether something is illegal, assume it’s not acceptable behavior.
  • Look after your friends – don’t stand by while someone takes advantage of them.
  • Look after strangers too!
  • Call people on their inappropriate behavior!
  • Don’t put up with creeps in your social group.
  • Don’t blame women for complaining about unwanted touching and other invasive sexual behavior.

I’m including an image for easy sharing, but if people like it, maybe someone with more graphic design skill than I have (i.e., any) could think of a way to pretty it up like the image up top. Let me know!

Problem solving with kids

IMG_2094“I don’t want to go to gymnastics anymore! We have to do the high bar AND I’M SCARED OF IT!!!” *hysterical, terrified crying*

This popped out of nowhere right around bedtime this week. Instead of voicing my first thought, “They require 30 days’ notice before quitting, and if I’m paying, you’re going,” or even a more constructive, loving solution, I worked from the key fact – it was the end of the day, and Claire did not have the resources to discuss something she clearly found so distressing. At this time of day, and with this much emotion, there was no prayer of having any rational information go into her brain. So I empathized, telling her I understood that she was very scared and wanted to quit gymnastics. Then I said we needed to wait till tomorrow to talk about it more.

When she brought it up again the next day, we were lucky enough to have time and space for a mini family meeting. I told her about brainstorming. We would sit together and write down every idea we thought of for the problem, no matter how silly or weird. Then we would look through our list and pick one or two approaches to try first. She caught on pretty quickly, and gave me some ideas. Even one or two other than “I quit gymnastics,” so that was a great start! Here’s our list:

  • Mom helps Claire on the bars
  • Mom talks to teacher about alternatives
  • Claire quits gymnastics
  • Claire goes to drop-in daycare while Chloe’s at gymnastics
  • Claire does the high bar even though she’s scared
  • Claire doesn’t do that part of class and sits off to the side
  • Claire takes a water break during that part, and sits with Mommy

You can probably guess which ones were my contributions! I did tell her about the 30 days notice, and that I would expect her to go to classes we had committed to. So that helped motivate her to try some of the other ideas. In the end we decided to combine me talking to the teacher and Claire taking her water break during that part of class. She really is petrified by it – I think being physically separate from the gym floor and being right with Mommy during that part of class is helping her agree to this compromise measure.

I wanted to share this process because it would have been awfully easy for me to simply impose my own solution. Of course, the “traditional” parenting approach would have been “No, just suck it up.” My mushy mommy heart wanted to say, “Of course you don’t have to go – I won’t ever let you be scared!” The funny thing, though, is even if I had said, “You can’t quit, but I’ll talk to the teacher so you can take your water break during that part,” it wouldn’t have gone over well. Instead I allowed my child some space, giving her a voice in the process, and showing I respected her feelings and her problem-solving skills. I feel this really helped her accept a solution I liked better, plus it helped her build skills for the future. As she grows, this is a foundation for her to work around strong emotions, use reflection and openness, and feel more confident in her resilience when she faces something daunting.

Of course, I don’t always rise to this level of evolved parenting. Sometimes I don’t have the resources or I don’t stop to think. But I’m going to try to remember this experience and invest a couple neurons in creative openness in the future. I think it brought us both to a better outcome and prevented us from being opponents on this issue.

Dr. Amy and Conspiracy Theories

tinfoil hatA friend pointed out this 2012 article by Amy Tuteur about skepticism versus denialism. It’s a worthy topic, and I’m right with her (or perhaps more accurately with her cited material from Andrew Dart) regarding vaccine and evolution “skepticism.” But I take issue with her broad brush getting paint on me when she states, “Though it isn’t as obvious, natural childbirth and homebirth advocates are denialists, too.”

I’m a natural childbirth and homebirth advocate in part because I’m a skeptic! (The other major impetus for me is gender equality and bodily autonomy.) Look, I realize there are loonies in the natural/home birth camps. There are people so out there that Koi-Assisted Birth was greeted not simply with “Great satire!” but with many readers taking it as real. But there are plenty of advocates interested in evidence-based medicine and freedom of choice. Take someone who questions the benefit of routine continuous electronic fetal monitoring. That’s a reasonable question to ask when the intervention was introduced on the guess that it would be helpful, then later research showed it may result in worse outcomes. When you equate a skeptic about that issue with a crank who believes against all evidence that the earth is 6,000 years old, you’re being both inaccurate and insulting.

Here’s a rundown of the most glaring logical problems in Dr. Tuteur’s article.

Universal statements – Note the lack of “some” or “many,” or “the most extreme,” preceding the terms natural childbirth advocate and homebirth advocate. The existence of a single skeptical, reasonable advocate of natural childbirth upsets her argument.

False Dilemma – she gives the impression that a person either supports typical hospital birth, or is a loony conspiracy theorist who ignores all evidence that homebirth is imperfect. There’s no intimation that some people might occupy a middle ground.

Equivocation – Tuteur quotes Dart’s discussion of conspiracy theories, then uses an unexplained, idiosyncratic definition of “conspiracy theory” to assert that natural childbirth advocates are conspiracy theorists. Under her implicit redefinition of “conspiracy theory,” anyone who acknowledges unconscious bias (such as the possibility that a doctor might intervene quicker if he wants to get to a golf game) is evoking a conspiracy theory.  She also redefines conspiracy theory to include the realization that medical schools often teach by tradition, rather than strictly keeping to the latest evidence-based practice. The normal definition of “conspiracy theory” hinges on deliberate plotting. Dr. Amy’s special definition includes totally unconscious, unplanned behavior. I guess if she used the real definition, she couldn’t include natural childbirth advocates under Dart’s definition of denialists.

Guilt by association: “And natural childbirth and homebirth advocates share key attitudes with vaccine rejectionists, creationists and other denialists.” First she lumps natural childbirth and homebirth advocates together, then further assumes that homebirth advocates universally support poorly trained CPMs, and don’t care about any evidence that they might be less safe. Through this chain of association, suddenly a mother who gave birth in a freestanding birth center because she was worried about unnecessary interventions is equated with believers in a global conspiracy to give kids autism with vaccines.

Personally I get the impression that “The Skeptical O.B.” is herself a bit of a denialist, that she believes typical hospital birth with lots of interventions is the best, safest practice, and that no evidence will ever be good enough to dissuade her. So rather than searching out the best evidence about these practices and questioning her own biases, she targets people who do question, and paints us all as crazed fringe ideologues who don’t care about dead babies.

I admit I am biased toward natural childbirth and questioning medical interventions. But, I at least try to remember that I have that bias and attempt to embrace the foundation of skepticism – watching out for my own perceptual foibles. If there is solid, evidence-based consensus that the benefits outweigh the risks for routine continuous electronic fetal monitoring, routine episiotomy, or nil by mouth during labor, I would be interested in seeing it, and if it’s convincing I would change my mind about the desirability of these procedures. Being willing to change your mind is what skepticism is all about, while protecting your current beliefs at all costs is denialism – even if your beliefs are culturally mainstream.

(For the record, I’m a natural childbirth advocate and homebirth advocate in that I believe in making these options available to women, I am skeptical of some of the typical hospital practices, and I was personally more comfortable birthing outside a hospital, where I felt my providers’ approach to birth dovetailed with mine. I’m 100% in favor of making CNM-attended homebirth a common option. I am not personally as comfortable with CPMs, and unattended childbirth scares the hell out of me. But I still think women have the right to do either, though they should have access to the risks and benefits information as best we have right now.)

Parenting and external costs


Want milk, kid? Here’s the cow.

When I studied environmental law, I learned about external costs. Part of the problem with pollution is that the cost of smog, fish kills, and flammable tap water are not inflicted on the polluting companies and their customers, but generally on the population. One idea in environmental protection is to internalize these costs. For instance, tradable permits for carbon emission internalize the climate change impact by charging companies for their emissions. This in turn should force the companies to consider their environmental impact as part of the bottom line, because pollution-heavy practices become more expensive.

So what does this have to do with parenting? It occurred to me that authoritative, empathetic parenting involves slowly internalizing the costs of our kids’ behavior as they mature. When they’re newborns, all their costs rest on our shoulders. Their messes, their pain, even their mental stress falls to us automatically, because they have no resources to deal with these negative side effects of being human. As kids grow and develop resources, parents can help their children internalize these “costs of living.”

Consider potty training.* My friend’s son has advanced remarkably, learning to use the toilet on his own initiative. Except it only works when he’s pantsless. Put pants on him, and those pants are going to wind up soaked in pee. I think most of us will experience some version of this: when you know your kids are capable of using the toilet, but they have accidents because it’s too much trouble to go, or they’re having too much fun playing and don’t want to stop, or they read Stephen King’s “The Moving Finger” and are terrified of the bathroom. (Wait, that last one is me.)

My friend wants to gently motivate her son to give some extra effort, but doesn’t want to use external rewards like stickers or M&Ms. So I suggested something that has worked for us –  internalizing the cost of accidents. It’s very much in the realm of “natural consequences,” and isn’t judgmental. When my 5 year old pees in her pants, I say, “OK, it happens sometimes. Now take off your pants and I’ll get you a towel to clean up the floor.” You don’t have to yell and scream, you don’t have to inflict a punishment or dangle a reward. But making a child bear more of the cost can provide enough motivation to make pulling down their pants, pausing their video game, or excusing themselves from the party worth it. After all, wiping up a puddle of urine is much less pleasant and takes longer than just using the toilet in the first place.

Meanwhile, making sure that kids start handling the less wonderful aspects of living helps keep us parents energized. Because after a while, handling 100% of someone else’s costs will wear you out. (See my post about burning out on AP.) Some days I’m feeling so overwhelmed by the mountain of household duties before me, and I can’t tell you how rejuvenating it is to see my 9 year old put away her own laundry and take a shower with no intervention on my part! I feel much less resentful of the burdens I have to help them with when they start shouldering the jobs they can easily handle.

So maybe it’s worthwhile to stop thinking so much in terms of motivation and consequences, never mind manipulation and punishment, and look at parenting from a bit of an economics perspective. Just like they do in big business, externalities can distort the give and take between us and create a bad atmosphere. Internalize those costs, and you’re helping everyone in the equation.

*I use this term in the same sense as continuing education or vocational training, not teaching a dog to sit. If you’re more comfortable with “potty learning,” go for it.

Breaking Bad – harrowing stuff!

baby seatI’m in the middle of season 3 of Breaking Bad, and it’s definitely a compelling show. All the actors really are as great as you hear, the writing is very tight and doesn’t rely on Idiot Plot elements, and the show can be beautiful to look at. But sometimes it can be downright scary, the stuff they do!

In just a dozen or so episodes, I’ve seen such shocking images as:

  • Baby wrapped up in multiple blankets before being buckled into car seat
  • Car seat straps wide and loose with no visible chest clip
  • Crib with bumpers and tons of fluffy blankets under and around the baby
  • Propping a baby on her side instead of back sleeping
  • Smoking in the baby’s room

Oh, and there’s been some milder stuff like drug use, murder, rape, decapitation, and dissolving a human corpse with acid.

Even though it can be disturbing at times, I’m definitely hooked! I’m kind of curious whether Walt will go back to cooking. And of course, I’m on the edge of my seat about the pool fencing – when are they going to show us that already?! Or are we going to see that fancy high tech system they talked about? They are such teases!

Recent science “journalism”

JournalistsBad science journalism has been buzzing all around me this week. This is a frequent topic on the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, and they have a doozy of an example this week. Here’s what actually happened: a Harvard researcher spoke to a German reporter about the exciting theoretical possibilities of genetic manipulation, which could perhaps become possible in the future. He mentioned that cloning could someday be used to bring back extinct species, perhaps even Neanderthals. Translation back and forth between English and German are partly to blame for what happened next, but so is reporters’ failure to give a crap if their science story is accurate. It seems many just want to generate clicks. Even the more reputable organizations seem interested in science coverage primarily so they can spin the content into an irresistible headline that brings in traffic. A headline such as,

Wanted: ‘Adventurous woman’ to give birth to Neanderthal man – Harvard professor seeks mother for cloned cave baby.

Slightly less dramatic, but more frequent is the Killer Disease of the Week. A friend posted a link to this dramatic story, commenting on how scare-tacticky it is: Doctors Warn of New Stomach ‘Superbug’ Hitting U.S. The story is ridiculous on several levels. First, the only person referring to this as a “superbug” is the reporter. That fact is awkwardly disguised by the use of the passive voice in the lead paragraph – “A new strain of norovirus that wreaks havoc on people’s stomachs is so vicious that it’s being called a “superbug” by doctors.” Passive voice allows reporters to weasel out of providing a source. If you see it, your eyebrow should immediately rise. The rest of the story attempts to sensationalize a perfectly run-of-the-mill CDC report about the most recent strain of norovirus, which tends to cycle new types every few years, much like the flu does each year. The story even represents the CDC as saying that 50% MORE people could get sick, when as far as I can tell, the CDC merely noted that the Sydney strain is responsible for 50% of the norovirus cases this season. Anything to get people terrified of the plague so they click all your links, I suppose.

Finally, there’s this idiocy from (not unexpectedly) Yahoo News. Want to have more sex? Men, stop helping with the chores. Did you guess that the headline confuses correlation with causation? Not only does the study sound fairly crappy, with outdated self-reporting as the source of the data, but the reporting overlooks the observational nature of the paper, and of course doesn’t engage in the slightest inquiry into an independent, unstudied variable being responsible for both observed features. (An explanation immediately leapt to my mind. Households that keep to traditional gender roles report more sexual encounters. In addition to assigning yard work to men and laundry to women, traditional gender roles also tend to encourage wives to capitulate to their husband’s wishes.)

It makes me angry and sad. I hate to hear Steven Novella of Skeptics’ Guide talk about giving interviews. He says often reporters have a set angle on the story, and will go so far as to feed him a quote that supports their spin. They aren’t interested in his actual opinion, never mind in investigating and vetting facts themselves. So beware science reporting. These days it’s most likely a come-on for mouse clicks akin to Dog sentenced to death in Tennessee today because he is ‘GAY’ or Stars without makeup: The real face of fame.

(By the way, I can see how many of you click on those links. But I won’t judge you, I promise. I personally think Rihanna is cuter without the lipstick.)

(Oh, and if you hate slideshows, use this to view that makeup link. Love Deslide!)

Girl Scout Cookies!

Hey benighted Christian extremists, I don’t think that image about how “bad” Girl Scout cookies are because they support feminism and reproductive rights is working the way you mean it to!

In any case, here’s my response: