The first rule of comedy: Aim up

Last night in Vancouver comedian Ian Harris came to town as part of his “Critical & Thinking” Tour. The show has been promoted by the BC Humanist Association and other skeptical groups, so naturally many of my friends in town went to the event.

From the reports, it sounds like Ian Harris was funny and a hit.

Unfortunately, the host for the evening at Yuk Yuk’s, the comedy club that hosted the event, was less humorous: discussing rape, ranting about feminists, and generally complaining about half* of the human species. When his ‘jokes’ fell flat, he suggested men would pretend to not find them funny or boo him just to get laid.

This line isn’t unfamiliar to anyone who tries to defend their jokes against the “politically correct police” or the liberal censorship brigade.

What it misses though is one of the keys to good comedy and satire: The targets of your jokes should be at least as well off as you.

Continue reading The first rule of comedy: Aim up

A pox on (some of) your houses

Recently, numerous allegations have flown throughout the blogosphere (at least, the portion that I read), identifying numerous high-profile skeptics/atheists/scientists as varying degrees of creepy to rapist. Others have jumped to their defense, crying that we ought to be skeptical of anonymous accusations and that women ought to just drink less. (See the timeline for a recap.)

For those who believe the accusations (and I see little reason not to), it can be quite disheartening. From various comment threads on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook I have seen this frustration over and over as people worry about the ability of any major freethought organization to handle the larger issues of sexism and accountability.

Yet this strikes me not only as false but counterproductive.

The “institutional rot” that many see so far has been limited to 2 or 3 national US organizations (you can name them if you like). Every non-profit with a small staff, limited budget, and few active volunteers grapples with accountability and transparency in its decisions, yet the worst cases seem fairly isolated to me.

This is especially transparent if we look at the next generation of freethought leaders. The Secular Student Alliance and the Humanist Community at Harvard are arguably the two most progressive and forward thinking major organizations right now. Neither is remotely embroiled in scandal (that I’m aware of) and both are filled with bright, young activists.

Similarly, PZ Myers recently noted:

By the way, humanist organizations in general tend to discourage the kind of behavior that asshats take as a given privilege — if you’re looking for a group of people who won’t treat you as a piece of meat, look into the humanists.

As such we see the British Humanist Association and the American Humanist Association continuing in their good work without falling prey to the closed cultures of others. I like to think the BC Humanist Association follows on that path as well but I’m obviously biased.

By writing off the entire movement, these donors and volunteers forget how many people – and I suspect it’s a sizable majority – want to see things continually improve. By solely focusing on the negatives, they write off everyone who is actively working to make things better either within the troubled institutions (many of the local groups and volunteers are equally forward-thinking) or in independent organizations.

I guess my point is that we should not be so quick to dismiss the hard work of numerous organizations that are not involved in this mess. We can demand better and ought to work to see the movement we want to see.

At least, that’s what I’m trying to do.

An Inclusive Community

I just added my signature to Adam Lee’s petition to “The Leaders of Atheist, Skeptical and Secular Groups: Support Feminism and diversity in the secular community.” Here’s the note I left with it:

In my view, it is important that Secular Humanist groups in Canada maintain their historic commitment to feminist values and human rights that were championed by Dr. Henry Morgantaler and the founders of our movement decades ago. Today, this means we have less fights to do at the policy level but more effort needs to be turned inward to ensure that equality exists within our own ranks. Accomplishing this means working toward diverse and inclusive communities, reflecting the changing communities we live in. It also means standing against those who would stifle the voices of the marginalized. I am proud to sign this petition and to do my best to champion these values in the organizations that I am involved in.

I encourage you to sign as well.

Adrian Dix stands up for Christy Clark’s cleavage

On Wednesday I called out former NDP MLA David Schreck for his comments regarding premier Christy Clark’s choice of attire in the Legislature.

His comments reeked of sexism, and thus far he has refused to climb down from his puritan pedestal.

Luckily though, BC NDP leader Adrian Dix has made the right decision and asked Schreck to apologize.

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix has reprimanded former MLA David Schreck for questioning if B.C. Premier Christy Clark was showing too much cleavage in question period on Wednesday.

on Thursday morning, NDP Leader Adrian Dix said he had phoned Schreck and asked him to apologize, after the story appeared in the local media.

"I’ll tell you this. Schreck’s comments were wrong. I completely disagree with him," said Dix.

Schreck acknowledged later that he had heard from the NDP leader but said he would not apologize.

The BC NDP has long maintained a policy of gender equality. The most controversial rule is that there must be an equal number of men and women represented on every constituency association, the party executive, and election candidate lists. It’s good to see Dix distance himself from this issue.

There are many reasons to criticize Christy Clark; how she dresses herself is not one of them.

Sexism knows no political boundaries

While typically seen as the domain of regressive fundamentalist Christians who believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen, subservient to her husband, left-wingers are not immune to the issue.

Enter David Schreck, form BD NDP MLA and political commentator who takes offence to Premier Christy Clark’s clothing choice in the legislature:

Is Premier Clark’s cleavage revealing attire appropriate for the legislature?

He deservedly receives a torrent of criticism from a number of BC Liberal supporters, accusing him of sexism and of being a “moron.”

Still in possession of his shovel, Schreck continues to dig deeper. He responds to many of his critics reaffirming his possession, citing other women in the legislature as examples, linking to the book Erotic Capital (which I’m not clear how it supports his thesis), and suggesting followers Google “cleavage and appropriate business attire”.

With the recent PC leadership win by Alison Redford in Alberta, Canada now has more female first ministers than at any point in history – Christy Clark with the BC Liberals, Kathy Dunderdale with the NFLD PCs, and Eva Aariak in Nunavut. However, even at this point, women in power still face criticism not over actual policy or substantive issues (of which their are many to criticize with Premier Clark), but over their fashion choices.

It’s striking to me that the majority of female first ministers in Canada have represented conservative parties. While I don’t believe that progressive parties have any more of a sexism issue than conservative ones, comments like Schreck’s do challenge that belief.

In reality, I really don’t care what our politicians – male, female, or transgendered – wear to work. Given that our representatives are supposed to be… representative, perhaps it would be better if they wore more casual clothing.