A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

No Sacred Cows

Holy CowI’ve been at this blogger-activist thing less than a year, but I know I’ve said it more than once: I strongly believe we have to hold ourselves and our allies to the same standards we do our opponents. This means we can’t allow ourselves to place anyone on a pedestal where criticism can’t reach them, and we can’t sweep bad behavior under the proverbial rug. It means we don’t let one another off the hook when we slip up and contribute to the problems we’re all trying to fight.

It means no sacred cows.

It doesn’t mean we have to point fingers and assign blame—at least not in my personal best-case scenario. To me, it means we point out the problems we see with what someone said/did/wrote, and then we stand back and let the person respond, hopefully taking some time to consider and form a thoughtful rebuttal or explanation or mea culpa. I know this can work—I see it all the time. But people have to be willing to ask the uncomfortable questions, like “Did you mean to say X? Because that’s what I heard.” And then follow up with “Here are all the ways that’s problematic.” And that’s difficult to do. But I think there’s too much at stake not to at least try to do it more often.

Lately, I’ve had a number of encounters with people who are fairly hardcore about responding when a stranger or celebrity or faceless entity they care nothing about says or does something out of line, but seem very reluctant to call out people (or entities) they consider allies even if they behave really badly. And some of these folks can be extremely critical of those who do call out bad behavior from people (or entities) they deem “good.” For example, some critics point to a given target of my activist ire and a) tell me all the things to like about them and b) draw comparisons among the issues I could be focusing on and finding my choices lacking—particularly in the face of how awesome the target is if I could only see all the good they do. But the fact that a person or company or organization might be otherwise awesome is precisely why I have to speak out when they do something less-than-awesome. If I let someone off the hook for bad behavior because they also do good, I’m making a conscious decision to condone that bad behavior under certain very particular circumstances (i.e., ones that suit me in a given situation). There’s a word for someone who does that: hypocrite.

Sacred cows are everywhere, even in our social circles. Like that one guy people apologize for because he’s a “good guy” who goes to church or gives to charity or volunteers with underprivileged puppies or whatever even though he did something really awful to another member of your social circle (this probably sounds like I’m talking about someone specific, but it happens all the time—see Captain Awkward #322 & #323 and #393 for examples). Or that woman who really is a great person who helps people and does all kinds of good, and when she says or does something really awful, no one will call her on it because she probably didn’t mean it the way it sounded, or she was just having an off day, someone provoked her, or don’t pick on her because look at all the GOOD she does. When we let these people off the hook, we’re sending a message that they can behave as they wish without consequence. We’re sending a message to anyone these people have wronged that the wrongs they suffered don’t count. And that can be pretty harmful. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. (In fact, Sid wrote about it here.)

So what is at stake? Because we’re all tacitly condoning it, the behavior will very likely continue. Within the framework of activism, allies may decide to adopt the behavior and perpetuate the problem, while opponents will certainly make as much hay out of the offense as possible—especially since we’ve chosen to ignore it and laud the offender’s accomplishments instead. These are just some of the risks we take when we apply a double standard.

But the most important thing at stake here for me? My integrity.

When I do this thing I am describing—when I choose to apply my standards to only those unfortunate enough not to be among my sacred cows—I compromise my principles. And what value is there in anything I do or say if I don’t defend my principles with everything I’ve got?

barack_obama_haloThe most high-profile sacred cow we liberals hold dear is President Obama. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am happy as hell that he became president and that he got reelected. But there are things he does that have me scratching my head and I have spoken out about them in the past (not here I don’t think, but on my previous blog for certain). I had a (very unrealistic) hope that we would get modern-day equivalent of a fireside chat out of this guy where he loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves, parked his butt on the corner of his desk, and leveled with us on the day-to-day struggles of governing this country. I want to understand why we’re killing civilians with drones, why Gitmo can’t be closed (yes, I’ve read the reasons), and why the HELL he thinks fracking is a good idea. I wanted him to explain how he didn’t agree with some provisions of the NDAA but had to sign it into law anyway (for reasons I’ve also read).  And that’s just for starters. The President of the United States is the very LAST person we should be letting off the hook.

Penny Arcade, PAX, and front-men Gabe and Tycho, are sacred cows in the games industry where I’ve mostly made my living for the past 25 years. When I asked friends recently whether PA had ever acknowledged what the real problem was with the way they handled what’s now known as the Dickwolves Debacle (i.e., did they ever apologize, or did everyone just sweep it under the rug and keep going to PAX?), I heard two things: 1) No, they haven’t done anything to illustrate an understanding of what they did wrong. 2) PAX is too important a networking opportunity for some folks to miss, especially given the current economic climate. I sympathize, but I think we have to demand better from people with as much pull in the industry–especially among youth–as Penny Arcade enjoys. But we don’t, and so Gabe goes along his merry way being a rape apologist (he recently decried the unfairness of Kickstarter’s decision to pull a game called “Tentacle Bento”–in which the player’s goal was to accost as many schoolgirls as possible as an alien tentacle monster) and all around ignorant ass, and steadfastly refuses to hear anyone who attempts to help him understand people whose experiences differ from his and correct his course to avoid causing harm in the future. He consistently trivializes issues people ask him to take seriously, poking fun at or even ridiculing critics (and thereby encouraging his followers to do the same). And anymore, Tycho just seems to pretend none of it is happening. PA continues to be a major influencer, with the industry flocking to PAX where a lot of people still think Dickwolves was a kick in the pants because PA never stood up and said “We were wrong–here’s what we learned.” They have explicitly chosen not to use their influence to help solve the problems they continue to help perpetuate. And frankly, too few in the industry have asked them to.

The rape joke that got Penny Arcade into trouble in the first place (but was ultimately minor compared to their handling of the fallout) fell into that oh-so-holy space just outside reality where people are supposedly allowed to say and do anything: comedy. I’ll let Lindy West speak to that (via Jezebel):

But it’s just a joke. Calm down.

Yeah, dude, but this shit isn’t magic. It’s not a game. It’s not like you get to declare the comedy stage “base” and the rest of the world “hot lava” (spewing from the vaginas of feminazi gargoyles, I’m sure) and everything you say on the stage exists in some sacred loophole that’s exempt from criticism and the expectation of hard work. Rape, domestic violence, brutalization, marginalization, the struggle to make yourself heard—all of this shit is REAL to a lot of people. They’re not cute little thought experiments for you to mess around with without pushback. You can lie to yourself all you want, but if you say something awful to somebody in the course of your regular day, it is exactly the same as if you say it on stage. If anything, its emotional impact is magnified.

And anyway, anyone who says “but it’s just a joke” has never had their life profoundly changed by a joke.

In the same article, Lindy has this to say about sacred cows:

But Louis CK!

Ugh, this part is so boring. Okay. Do you know what else Louis CK does? He changes. He evolves. He thinks. And when he fucks up, he gets criticized like crazy, and some of that criticism makes it into his brain—and, eventually, his act. Also, just because one of comedy’s sacred god-kings manages to be funny and smart when broaching certain sensitive topics doesn’t mean they can’t also be harmful. You know, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Etc. Just because Jeffrey Ross can (debatably) pull off a “haha, faggot” once in a while doesn’t mean that identical “haha, faggot”s aren’t actively moving gay kids to kill themselves all over the fucking country. It’s real, and it deserves critical thought, not kneejerk defensiveness.

Also, you’re not Louis CK. Maybe don’t invite the comparison.

It’s not easy to realize your behavior might be contributing to the very problems you claim to want to solve. But if you’re lucky enough to reach a certain level of self-awareness, you realize that you’d rather be right—really right—than be wrong and defend your wrong position like a stubborn jackass. I have been known to say you can be Jesus H. Christ and heal the sick all day long, but if you’re an asshole, I’m going to say, “Jesus! Don’t be an asshole!” But even I didn’t want to heap criticism on the president at election time in 2012. And that made me a hypocrite. A well-meaning hypocrite with what felt like good reasons for being so, but a hypocrite nonetheless.


So, this is my mea culpa for that and for how hard it is for me to call out my sacred cows when I think something they have said or done has caused harm. I can’t say it will never happen again. I’m not going on a witch hunt; believe it or not, I’m actually non-confrontational by nature. But I want to do better. I’d like to call on anyone reading to consider joining me in making a commitment to hold ourselves and each other to the highest possible standard so we all strive to do and be better. At the very least, we’ll give our opponents less ammunition. At best, we will raise the level of discourse, which is always worthwhile.

Either way, we’ll have our integrity.

Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.

23 responses

  1. dragster65

    The only reason I thought this article was related to Ms Deen is because of the timing between this article and Ms. Deen’s problems with actions she’s done in the past that people thought was hurtful towards others and the fallout from it.

    The quote that you used from Pastor Martin Niemöller, that argument is used by many Tea Party members because they are paranoid about people coming to get them. I’ve seen that quote used by those kinds of people frequently and sometimes with religious references instead of the political ones. I’ve even seen pro-gun people use that quote and put types of guns in place of the other words.

    Now, I have read the words carefully. I think the misunderstanding is based on context.

    My point is to ask who are we to sit in judgement of others. How can individuals set standards for others when individuals rarely like it when someone else imposes a standard on them that they might not agree with. So often I see people saying they don’t want to be judged and then they judge others, very harshly at times.

    To me, it is a lot of ego for one person to dictate to others what a standard is. We have 7 billion people on this planet which is 7 billion different standards. Who is to say which is right and which is wrong? What I think is right, to someone else, they think it’s totally wrong.

    Often, people don’t see eye to eye and many times people with differing frame of minds in regards to context don’t get their points across clearly as this conversation is an example.

    June 30, 2013 at 11:27 pm

  2. dragster65

    My 13 year old daughter put it in perfect terms.

    “I do not have the right to tell another what they can and can’t do. If I don’t like what a person does, I don’t associate with them for awhile. If they care to have a relationship, they’ll ask what’s wrong and then I’ll tell them what I didn’t like. It is then up to them to decide to change. If they don’t, then I won’t be friends with them. I don’t think I have the right to hurt them or take anything away from them when I don’t agree with them.”

    More adults should listen to her. People use justification as a allowance to hurt others in one way or another.

    “I clubbed someone with a baseball bat because they were a racial bigot.”

    That is not justification, that is still murder.

    “I made a big stink about what someone said and cost them their job and blackballed them so they can’t get a job anywhere else.”

    That is not justification, that is still murder because you are actively punishing someone to such a high degree, that they will wind up homeless and starving and eventually dying because of a remark. It is also subjugation and acting like a dictator. No one like a dictator but yet so many people like to act like one on a daily basis.

    Instead of actively trying to hurt others for what they do, people should simply stop associating with those they don’t agree with. Segregate yourself, not others.

    June 26, 2013 at 11:18 am

    • Ok, I don’t even know what to say to your accusation that if someone gets fired as a consequence of their actions, and I’m one of the people speaking out against their actions, and they subsequently starve to death, that I’m a murderer. It makes absolutely no sense to me, and I’ve given it some thought. By that logic, anyone who spoke out against Hitler is responsible for his suicide. Sorry, I’m not buying it, but I’m happy to take some retroactive credit for that one if saying this does the trick: Hitler was a murderer.

      As for “live and let live,” a wise person (Pastor Martin Niemöller, to be exact) said this:

      First they came for the communists,
      and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
      Then they came for the socialists,
      and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
      Then they came for the trade unionists,
      and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
      Then they came for me,
      and there was no one left to speak for me.

      June 29, 2013 at 11:20 am

      • dragster65

        Then you totally misread the comment. What I said was when people actively seek to get someone else fired…

        If you don’t like a person at work and you actively seek to get rid of them, put them on a list, and prevent them from gaining employment elsewhere, you are trying to actively kill someone by prohibiting them from making a living.

        I found it odd that you’d equate Ms. Deen with Hitler. You think using a slur a few years after the civil rights movement went into effect merits being called the most evil person in the world? I call that cruel and unusual punishment myself.

        I’ve been called a cracker, a stupid male, a walking penis, and many more things but that’s because I’m a poor person and people felt they had some sort of wrongful superiority over me and felt they could get away with using derogatory remarks against me. I haven’t oppressed anyone because I’ve been part of the oppressed, but because I’m a convenient target, and not attacking the fat cat millionaires, that they used instead. After 40 years, I’ve learned that people are slow to change and if we crucify every person who made a slight, then I have a long list of people we need to start with that come from every walk of life.

        I just object to people actively seeking to destroy a person’s life because of a minor transgression that happened so many decades ago. She spoke as many spoke back then in certain circles. If she said this yesterday knowing that what she did was totally inappropriate by today’s standards, then yes, I would be with everyone on knocking her down a peg or two. She did not kill anyone so I don’t think the death penalty should apply here.

        But if you want to crucify her now for what she did a long time ago, then I want to do the same with every fem-nazi who attacks and belittles men. I want to go after and destroy all the homosexuals who attack anyone showing any sort of religion that the homosexuals find objectionable. It goes both ways.

        But then you seem to think everyone is coming to get you according to your quote. Sounds like a paranoid teabagger line if I ever heard one…

        June 30, 2013 at 9:20 pm

        • I didn’t equate Ms. Deen with Hitler because neither this article nor this conversation are about Paula Deen. Not at all sure why you would think they were.

          My point was not to equate anyone with Hitler, but to point out the folly of keeping your mouth shut when you think something someone did or said might be harmful. I have not called for anyone to be fired–I have simply said that I think we have to hold our alies to the same standards as our opponents.

          I don’t think anyone’s is coming to get me, and that “teabagger” insult is so bizarre I am once again left speechless. If you want to engage in the conversation here, please do me the courtesy of actually reading my words.

          June 30, 2013 at 10:15 pm

  3. dragster65

    There is still a double standard going on here. You have someone who comes off as ultra sensitive and is demanding reparations for a slight they perceive as bad behavior.

    The act of becoming offended, in itself, can be a tool to act poorly. People falsely feel they can abuse someone who did something they don’t agree with. Attacking someone for having an opinion that you object to, no matter how justified you “THINK” you are, is still abusive and wrongful behavior.

    The other problem is perfectionism. People like to think they are perfect no matter what their behavior is. Then they have a standard for which they judge other people by. The standard for themselves and for others differ very widely. It is a double standard the force on everyone around them.

    People do not look at how they act. They delude themselves into thinking they do no wrong. That is a lie no matter who that person is or what their political affiliations are. People are human and they make mistakes, including the ones who become watchdogs for how other people should act. And yet there are people out there who feel they should be allowed to completely destroy another person’s life and force them into poverty, just to make themselves feel better.

    They get smug and they say to themselves, “HA! I saw someone that I didn’t like do something I disagree with and I tore them down! Now I feel better!”

    That feeling is called abuse. You attacked another person. Plain and simple. You committed a heinous act in destroying another persons life so you can gain some pleasure in doing so.

    So often I see people who say they don’t want others to judge them. Then they make statements in arguments which are judgements against other people for who they don’t agree with. If a person doesn’t want to be judged, then they shouldn’t be judging other people. These people are not looking in the mirror and being honest with themselves. And if a person can be honest with themselves, then they can’t be honest with others.

    So, someone used a derogatory remark or they don’t agree with your political opinion. Does that mean they should be opened up, ripped apart from their infraction and then left to die in the gutter because you feel they belong there? That’s called cruel and unusual punishment and far too many people exact that sort of punishment against others they don’t agree with.

    Instead of crucifying others, if you can’t tolerate someone else’s behavior, then remove YOURSELF from the situation, do not expect the world to bow down to your will and revolve around you. That is narcissism and self-centeredness.

    You have the right to disagree, but you don’t have the right to abuse me, alienate me, cost me a chance to survive, force me to be subservient to you, or force me to act in terms that only you agree with. I know you wouldn’t like it if I did all that to you. So why do you feel like you can do it to others, but they can’t do it to you? That is the basic form of a double standard.

    June 26, 2013 at 9:51 am

  4. I come from the music world, where anyone who has reached master teacher or conductor level gets an automatic pass for ANY abusive behavior. Because supposedly, that kind of abuse is not only done in the name of Art, but the readiness to accept it is What It Takes for Greatness. And that frame of mind leaves very little room for change.

    This may not be relevant to the blog, because it is not necessarily sex-based. In fact a lot of master musicians are equal opportunity offenders. But what goes on in the activist community goes on in music too, with even less chance to question it. That’s one of the not-so-nice things about the music world – anything that’s gone on for long enough becomes a Hallowed Tradition, good or bad, and there’s no going against it.

    June 13, 2013 at 10:27 am

  5. I appreciate this article. It is so very difficult to get across to people the simple fact that even the people they really like still always have flaws and will do things wrong sometimes.

    With public figures, people tend to split them into two categories of “all good” or “all bad.” We can’t bear to think that those we put on a pedestal could ever do something wrong. I think this has to do with how we use public figures that we love as a part of our own identity. We identify ourselves by saying that we love Penny Arcade or we support Obama, and therefore the actions of each of these figures are a reflection upon our own character. If I support Obama and he does something wrong, it’s like I did something wrong.

    We need to get past this. We need to let public figures be human. We need to remember that criticism upon Obama is not criticism upon ourselves – that Obama is not perfect and, in fact, neither are we.

    June 12, 2013 at 11:32 am

    • Wow, that’s an excellent point. Not sure I ever thought about it quite that way. And yes, we have to let them be human and let them be separate from us. Thanks, Lindsey.

      June 12, 2013 at 11:35 am

  6. NS

    What you said about President Obama struck a chord! I have been a fan of his ever since his first book came out. My admiration was I suppose more on the grounds ohow he struggled throughout his life and how he became the President. Notwithstanding his personal side, everything you mentioned (drone attacks, policies, gitmo…) it has me completely baffled!!! Why on Earth is he worth any admiration, if the core principle – CHANGE – for which he was elected is not even on his agenda.

    June 11, 2013 at 8:04 am

    • I knew change would be slow and difficult–I guess I just expected more transparency. I really want to understand.

      June 12, 2013 at 11:34 am

  7. well said and i agree integrity is everything.

    June 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm

  8. Sometimes I amaze myself with my ability to keep my mouth shut in order to “keep peace” especially when 95% of what I believe is in line with the verbal abuser in my midst. Most recently I have been actively watching my use of the word “retarded” which is a habit carried over from when I was 12, and 20 years later find spewing from my limited vocabulary mouth. I try to hold myself up to this awareness of my own verbal abuse and I get super mad when it slips out before I’ve thought about it, but I have forgiveness to spare for my progressive brethren who will have no qualms about demeaning my opinions because I happen to have a vagina. At least they are anti-car right? They don’t have to be pro-vagina too. But really… they do. Great post today. Got me revved and thinking!

    June 10, 2013 at 9:15 am

    • Thank you! I’m so glad. This one’s been simmering for a while and I’m happy to get it out there finally.

      June 10, 2013 at 9:25 am

  9. Le Clown

    Le Clown

    June 10, 2013 at 9:02 am

    • Le Clown

      …which also means, if I step out of line consciously or not, I hope you’ll let me know.
      Le Clown

      June 10, 2013 at 9:03 am

      • You bet. :)

        June 10, 2013 at 4:14 pm

        • Le Clown

          With no emoticons please.
          Le Clown

          June 10, 2013 at 4:27 pm

          • LOL, I’ll do my best. :P

            June 10, 2013 at 4:28 pm

          • PS: Next up is “No Sacred Clowns.” [icrackmyselfupemoticon]

            June 11, 2013 at 8:45 am

            • Le Clown

              Love. This could have been a great blog title…
              Le Clown

              June 11, 2013 at 8:47 am

    • Thanks, Clown. :)

      June 10, 2013 at 4:14 pm

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