Free Speech Used to Disguise Hate

I believe in free speech. I really do; as a writer, I think that it is one of the most fundamental and important things that our society should uphold.

I believe that any society that stifles and controls speech is limited.

I believe that the only way for new and better ways of thinking to be formed is if they have the chance to be talked about and explored freely.

And considering all of that, I have a very hard time when it comes to people who openly and blatantly make harmful comments and claim that it should be protected under the idea of ‘free speech’.

“I’m just saying,” one person recently said on my Facebook feed, “I don’t think transgender people actually exist. I think they’re all just extremely mentally ill and gender confused.” When someone pointed out to them that their opinion was a hateful one, that same person replied with, “I’m entitled to my opinions, you can’t shame me for them!”

But what about the transgender teenager on your Facebook feed that saw that comment? And sure, you can say that you don’t have any transgender teenagers on your Facebook feed, but how do you know that? How do you know that your niece, nephew, cousin, child to a long-lost friend, whoever it might be didn’t stumble upon that status and feel a sudden sinking feeling in their gut, paired soon afterward with a sense of self-loathing? How do you know that your status won’t come to mind later on in their life, when they’re thinking about the fact that there are people who don’t believe that they exist? When they start to wonder if they do exist? How do you know that your comment won’t someday contribute to the reason why they never express themselves for who they are, or the reason why they develop a life-altering, perhaps crippling depression? How do you know that your opinion isn’t the reason why someone someday kills themselves?

And I know, this is a difficult field to enter into altogether. On the one hand, people can’t live their lives constantly monitoring everything they say to ensure that it isn’t offensive, and even the best of us slip up now and then. And we do happen to live in a society where people can internalize harmful ideas, so it isn’t unheard of for good people to believe in bad things. But that isn’t the issue that I have here. The issue that I have is the use of free speech as an attempt to excuse hate.

Think about if someone were to make a harmful comment that wasn’t targeting a specific group of people, but rather one person in particular. Imagine someone walked right up to another person and said, “you’re a stupid, worthless waste of human life.” How would you react? Well, hopefully, you’d point out that that’s a cruel thing to say, and if the bully in this scenario responded with, “I’m entitled to my opinions, you can’t shame me for them!” you’d roll your eyes just a little bit, wouldn’t you? Because, yes, people are entitled to their opinions, but that doesn’t change the fact that they can be harmful and that they do have consequences.

The same thing applies to beliefs that are harmful towards specific groups of people. You can hold onto ideas that are transphobic, racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever, but at the end of the day, you should understand that these are people who deserve rights and respect. They shouldn’t be invalidated, they have just as much of a right to take up space and be themselves as you do, and if you do make an active attempt to undermine their existence, then you should expect a response, just like you should expect a response if you actively walked up to someone and insulted them. In a society where free speech is allowed, you are free to hate as much as you want, but you should also expect to have it pointed out to you that what you are saying is hate, and you should respect their perspective just as much as you want your own to be.

Why Emma Watson’s ‘Provocative’ Photo is Still a Feminist Act

When I first heard about the controversy regarding Emma Watson and her ‘provocative’ photo, bearing her stomach and parts of her breasts, I decided to stay out of it. My initial reaction was a very general ‘that’s a silly thing to get offended about’, and I had faith in humanity that this would just blow over and it wouldn’t be a deal in a couple of days.

Except the controversy is still here. People are still talking about it. And I have to say, I don’t understand why.

The argument that I’ve heard people offer is that Emma Watson is very outspoken about being a feminist, and that posing with parts of her torso exposed contradicts this statement. You can’t be a feminist and have boobs. Everybody knows that. Feminists are all conventionally unattractive women who dress head-to-toe in men’s business suits, and the moment she puts on a skirt or some lipstick, she immediately loses her status as a feminist.

Except that that very clearly isn’t true. And the manner in which people have responded to Emma Watson’s photograph just proves to me how much we need feminism.

Because, first of all, there is nothing inherently sexual about Emma Watson’s photograph. You can see parts of her breasts and her stomach, but besides that, she is standing tall with her arms crossed delicately before herself. The only reason why the photograph has been deemed sexual at all is because parts of a woman’s body are exposed – and that is a problem.

Because, honestly, what about a woman’s stomach and breasts is sexual, besides the fact that society has deemed them so? Why can’t Emma Watson be taken seriously as a feminist while simultaneously having breasts attached to her body?

And even if the photographs were completely sexual, even if she was lounging on a bed with a come-hither look in her eye and a pout on her lip, could she not still believe in equality? Want to be taken seriously as an individual? How is it that one photograph can so completely define who a woman is one hundred percent of the time?

This is our society’s problem – more than the fact that Emma Watson happens to have tits. We fail to see women as complex individuals. We have been taught to see them in the terms of stereotypes – a woman is either an unliberated whore or an ugly and completely asexual feminist. Any crossover between the two stereotypes completely baffles our mind and we don’t know how to understand it.

Because here’s the thing – women have sexuality. Even feminist women feel desire, have wants and needs of their own (unless they’re asexual), and that is perfectly fine. That’s more than fine – that’s human. And women should be allowed to express their sexuality in any way that they feel comfortable with, whether that mean that they take topless photographs and release them publicly or dress head-to-toe in a man’s business suit. As long as she is doing it because she wants to do it and it makes her feel comfortable and liberated, then that’s alright. That’s a completely feminist act and she should feel no shame for it.

Being a feminist does not mean that you have to limit yourself to being one thing. Being a feminist means that you can be free, that you can do what you want and what makes you happy, that you don’t have to bend exclusively to a man’s whim. That’s what being a feminist means.

Or, if nothing else, being a feminist at least means that you shouldn’t be publicly shamed for having tits.

Why ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ Doesn’t Work for Sexual Assault Cases

This morning, I was bumming around on the internet, looking for something that might entertain me while I fixed up my usual breakfast, and in my search I came across a vaguely titled video discussing Casey Affleck’s Oscar win, and, curious, I clicked on it.

The video’s argument was that people who condemned Affleck for the allegations of sexual assault against him are ‘morons’ (yes, this word was actually used; repeatedly) because Affleck’s case was settled outside of court, therefore we will never know if he really did it or not and all people in civilized society are innocent until proven guilty.

And on the one hand, yes, I believe in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality. This mentality helps people who are falsely accused avoid serving unjust sentences, and should be kept in the back of everyone’s mind in most court cases.

Most.

Because there’s a huge, glaring problem when it comes to sexual assault charges. In fact, there are two.

One of them is that the amount of women who falsely accuse rapists are immensely fewer than the amount of women who don’t receive justice after being raped. And this might happen in a multitude of ways: some women just don’t go to the police following a rape, because they internalize it as being their own fault, or because their rapist is someone close to them, or they worry that they won’t be believed, or they think it will only cause more trouble than its worth (and that’s only a few reasons why they wouldn’t). Some women do go to the police, but they aren’t believed, or the police tell them that it’s their own fault for dressing/acting/presenting themselves the way they did, or the police tell them that it’s her word against his and chances are she won’t see justice done. Some women get as far as the courts, and yet they still aren’t able to convince the jury that the rape actually happened, or that it wasn’t somehow her fault and she was actually ‘asking for it,’ and that all she’s trying to do is ruin this poor guy’s (cough cough rapist’s) life. And some girls actually do manage to make it to the police, to the courts, and to a place where they convince the jury to convict, and YET, the rapist’s sentence is incredibly light compared to the crime he committed (for an example of this, just look up Brock Turner).

There are multiple women I know who have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, and yet very few of those assaults are actually reported, for one reason or another. It has come to the point where I feel uncomfortable citing the statistic that ‘one in four women in Canada are raped,’ because I know that those are only reported rapes, and my lived experience tells me an entirely different story. And, meanwhile, I don’t know any women who have falsely accused someone of rape – although I’m sure it does happen, just not nearly as frequently as we think.

The problem is that, in cases such as these, the man’s word is always held in a higher place of privilege than the woman’s. The woman is always somehow at fault, somehow asking for it, while the man is always some poor, innocent victim whose life could potentially be ruined by this malicious female who is out to get him. Or, if that’s not the case, then there just isn’t enough evidence to convince the court, which brings me to the second problem with this ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault: it is very difficult to prove, beyond any semblance of doubt, that a rape actually happened.

There are cases where luck is on the victim’s side, and evidence can be found. If she gets to the hospital in time and a rape test is administered, or if there are witnesses, or if the rapist happened to make a recording of the crime, then the woman is more likely to see justice. But what about all those other woman who didn’t have that sort of good luck?

What about the women who didn’t go to the hospital or to the police right away, for one reason or another? Many women don’t, especially if their rapist was someone they knew, like their employer, or a family member, or a close friend, or their boyfriend, or their husband, or even just someone who seemed like a perfectly nice guy right up until the point that he forced himself on her. Or maybe he’s someone with a lot of power, a celebrity or a politician, and the woman knows she won’t be believed because of that, or that if she does go forward, she will face a constant barrage of fans who want to see the best of him and will call her a liar, a slut, a bitch, tell her that she deserves to die for what she did. For being the victim of a violent assault at the hands of someone they idolize. Maybe she doesn’t think she can handle that.

So these women hesitate before going forward, and the physical evidence fades away. Bruises heal. Semen is no longer traceable (maybe he wore a condom to begin with). And when she does reach out to someone, no one can prove anything. It’s her word against his and he’s innocent until proven guilty, so he gets off no problem, free to continue sexually assaulting women and empowered by the knowledge that no one will believe her anyway, while his victim is publicly shamed and accused of being a malicious liar.

So what’s the solution here? Should we operate under a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault? I don’t know – I don’t think I have all the answers. But I do know that when a woman comes forth and claims that she has been sexually assaulted, I am more inclined to believe her than I am him, because I know that there are far too few people on her side.

Two Paths: The Virgin or The Whore

The way that many people talk, it would seem as though all women reach a fork in the path at some point of their lives, one that forces them to choose between two options.

They can choose the path of sexuality, and this one comes with countless assumptions about who they are and what they are capable of. Women who express their sexuality are automatically connected with stupidity and frivolity. They are useless women, whores, really. They are the sort of woman that no one wants to be or be with. They are women who are defined solely by the fact that they express sexuality, because from the way that many people talk, they are incapable of thinking beyond their own vagina.

Or they can choose the second path: the path of intelligence and education. These are the sort of strong, modern women we should all strive to be. They are respectable, modest, sexual only for their long-term boyfriend or husband behind closed doors. They do not partake in one night stands, they do not explore their sexuality, and most people would not even guess that they feel any sexual desire.

These two women are represented as binary opposites: the good and the bad, the virgin and the whore. The problem with this, however, is that these binary opposites are trying to describe people, and people are not as simple as all of that.

The idea that women who explore their own sexuality are stupid, useless, and undesirable is an unfair generalization. It relies on the very old-fashioned idea that women should not be in charge of their own pleasure – which these women are. In fact, in some cases, these women are more liberated than the alternative. These are women who know what they want, who pursue what makes them feel good, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and neither does that make them stupid. It just makes them human.

And sometimes, the alternative, the ‘good’ woman who represses her sexuality, might be a woman who has internalized patriarchal ideas. She might think herself ‘better’ than her more sexually active counterpart directly because she isn’t ‘the whore’. She’s the good woman who caters to her man’s needs before her own.

But at the same time, this ‘fork in the road’ that people discuss just doesn’t exist. There are not two separate roads that a woman must choose between – there are more like multiple, meandering paths that sometimes intersect or branch off. Women are not ‘virgins’ and ‘whores’ – they are people, who find their comfort and pleasure in all sorts of things.

Some women are not comfortable with or liberated by sex, and that does not say anything about who she is as a person. It just means that she isn’t comfortable.

Some women are not comfortable with or liberated by sex, but they still enjoy flirting, or dressing in revealing clothing. And that, too, is perfectly fine.

Some women enjoy sleeping around while they’re single, but accept monogamy while they’re in a relationship.

Some women have multiple sexual partners even while they’re in a relationship.

Some women have a different relationship to sex depending on what is going on in their lives at the moment.

Women are not one thing or another. They are a massive group of people defined by countless ways of being. Some women feel more comfortable expressing their sexuality one way, some another, and both types should feel equally as free to express themselves without shame.

Because at the end of the day, it does not matter how many partners you have had or how you dress – none of that means anything about who you are. All that matters is that you are in charge of your own sexuality and that you feel comfortable living the way that you choose.

Why Women Are Not ‘Asking’ To Be Objectified

Though we may not have personally experienced it, I think many of us have at least witnessed the objectification of female bodies – particularly of nude or sexualized ones.

Perhaps you’ve seen a friend on social media post a sexy photo, one with her cleavage as the clear focal point, or where she’s wearing very little clothing for whatever reason (maybe it’s for an event, or maybe that’s just what she felt like wearing for this photograph), and you can’t help but notice a disturbing trend in the comments section. A trend of her male friends making very sexualized comments toward her. Some of these men are just there to drool over her, making the typical “nice legs, honey” comments. Some of these men make it clear that they’ve already imagined her in situations that she may not have even wanted to be in, saying “there are so many things I’d like to do to you”. And while you may not see it directly, it may not come to you as a surprise when I say that some of these men have privately messaged her explicitly sexual comments, invitations, or dick pics as a result of this photograph that she publicly shared.

Because when a women represents herself as a sexual being, too many men see that as an invitation to began treating her as a sexual object, one whose humanity can be entirely drained away to serve only the purpose of their gratification.

And there are some people who don’t really see this as a problem. They see the posting of photos like this, or a woman dressing in even-just-slightly revealing clothing, and they say “well, if she didn’t want this kind of attention, then she shouldn’t have done that in the first place”. Personally, I disagree with this statement, however, and for a couple of reasons:

1) It ignores the fact that, maybe, she didn’t dress or act this way for men.

Whenever people see a woman presenting themselves as a sexual being, they always seem to assume that she’s doing it specifically for the purposes of the entire community of straight men, which feeds into this vicious cycle that I’m talking about. She’s doing this for men, therefore it’s alright for men to talk to her however they want or send her whatever pictures they feel comfortable.

But women don’t necessarily have to have had men in mind to take a sexy photo or dress a specific way.

Maybe she just got a new outfit that she’s pleased with, and she wanted to show it off.

Maybe she feels like she looks particularly pretty in that photograph.

Maybe representing herself in a sexualized manner makes her feel confident and powerful.

Maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with men at large – maybe she just wanted to wear that outfit today. Which makes catcalling, dick pics, and objectification completely unwarranted when you think about it that way. Imagine trying to show off a nice, new shirt that you bought, and the only responses you get are obvious come-ons and sexual advances from everyone, including people who you might not have even wanted to think about you that way.

And even if she is intentionally representing herself as a sexual being, that is only because many women are sexual beings. Women have desires and attractions, and if they feel comfortable expressing that in a public setting, then they should feel safe to do so without being hounded by men who only want to tell her the ways that she can gratify them.

A woman isn’t ‘inviting’ anything by the way she dresses. She isn’t an object who exists only for your pleasure – she is a human being who should be considered as much more complex and varied than that.

2) Sexual objectification doesn’t just happen to women who are dressing or acting sexual.

The best example that I can think of that’s been on many people’s minds lately is breastfeeding. A woman’s breasts are not, inherently, sexual objects. They are a part of her body, and sometimes, they can be used to feed small children. But many breastfeeding mothers have been forced into shame and seclusion directly because a part of their body that they cannot help having has been deemed sexual by other people.

I have heard from people who fear what might happen if a child walks by and witnesses a woman feeding her baby in a public space, as though the sight of a breast is a fearful thing that might contaminate the young and pure of heart. But at the end of the day, it is just a breast, just a part of the human body, and no child who sees one will be worse (or better) off for it. The only reason why people think of it as a dangerous and sexual thing is because they’ve decided that it’s a dangerous and sexual thing.

The same thing is true for essentially all nudity. Nude photography, for example, is something that we’ve often been taught to view as fearful or inherently sexual. If one poses nude, then they are forced to take into consideration things like what people at work will think if they ever find out, or what their children will think if they ever stumble upon the pictures. But, a) nude photography does not inherently have to be sexual, and if you want evidence of that, I urge you to look up some of the late great Leonard Nimoy’s work. Some of it is just celebrating the beauty that is the human form, and b) even if it is sexual, so what? Many of us are sexual beings, and what’s so wrong with that? What about that is so fearful? I mean, yes, there are certain people in our lives who we may not want knowing that side of us, but if someone feels comfortable expressing it, then they should be allowed to without fear of being stripped of their humanity in the eyes of others because of it.

So I know that the question many men will be asking at this point is, “What is the appropriate way to respond then?” and, truth be told, I don’t know if I can entirely give a blanket answer to this question, because a lot of it has to do with the individual – particularly, it depends on your relationship with the person as well as the setting. All that I can really say is that, if you are considering making a sexual comment toward someone, you need to take a second beforehand to ask yourself, is this warranted? Is my relationship to this person one where I am totally justified in responding to them in this manner, and is their behaviour suggesting that a sexual response is proper? A lot of this is something that is going to require judgement on your part, because it’s difficult to broadly describe in which scenarios its appropriate and in which it isn’t. After all, treating a woman as a sexual being, with her own sexual agency, is not a bad thing. It only becomes twisted and ugly when you treat her as a sexual object, with the expectation that she exists for and should be flattered by your pleasure.