Monthly Archives: November 2014

S-E-X (Americans are stunted adolescents)

This country has a sex problem. Our culture doesn’t have a healthy relationship with sex. We are obsessed with it, but ashamed of it, and only certain people (white men) are allowed to express their sexuality without an array of consequences. In the name of ‘decency’ we censor, and for the children we slut shame (meanwhile we leave our kids in the dark with abstinence only education that leaves them completely unprepared to deal with sex or intimacy.) We are not honest  about the realities of human sexuality in the 21st century.

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Unfortuately while we are all yelling about how shocked and offended we are, we are also watching an unbelievable amount of porn and demanding that celebrities give us salacious details about their sex lives. The latest example of this is a story that just broke: Nick Jonas ‘I’m no Virgin’.

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Stop the presses! This 22 year old dude with a rocking body and lots of money is sexually active?! How can this be?! Why do we cccccaaaarrrrreeee?

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We care because we forced him and his bandmate brothers to say they had purity rings when they were The Jonas Brothers because of the widespread assumption that Christian morality is the best/only morality. We really do love to sexualize teenagers as much as we love to make them tell us they aren’t having sex (Brit Brit, Timberlake, Miley, etc.) So now that (obviously) that purity ring nonsense is over, we feel entitled to an update. But we aren’t entitled to an update. The sex life of Nick Jonas does not belong to us, it is not ours to know or comment on. I know that sex is exciting and fun, and I don’t think we should never discuss it. But we discuss it in such adolescent, immature ways. The very idea that this is news reveals how very middle school our cultural conversations about sex truly are.

Now, lest we think this issue is too straightforward, it is also worth pointing out that we don’t talk about sex in the same ways when we talk about male and female celebrities. Nick Jonas is having a sex symbol moment right now (remember these), and this news will not result in any back lash (maybe some religious nuts, but his career won’t be damaged in any lasting way.) Let’s contrast that with another star who is having a pretty successful moment: Tay Tay. Ms Swift has the only platinum album of 2014, and just became the first women ever to replace herself at #1 on the Billboard charts.

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But Taylor’s career has consistently been undermined by a media who is obsessed with her love life. She draws from her life to write songs, as most folks do, but in Tay Tay’s case this results in constant speculation about who she wrote about and who’s she is with. She has even been ridiculed, called a man-eater. And most disturbingly, some religious conservative a-holes have denounced her as a slut and a harlot, saying she is a bad example for young girls.

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First of all, Taylor is an adult that can do whatever the fuck she wants with her body. So keep your slut shaming judgements to yourself. But what is even worse is that these out spoken fanatics are assuming that they know intimate details of her sex life. Being linked to someone in the tabloids doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. Dating someone doesn’t mean you’re sleeping with them. Kissing someone doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. Hell, even sleeping with someone doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. So I wish these folks would actually get their minds outta the gutter (isn’t it ironic that those who rail against something the loudest are usually also doing that thing behind closed doors?) and stop assuming that they know Tay Tay’s life.

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I’m just over the media prying into the sex lives of stars and reporting all the salacious details. It’s like trying to peep through a locker room window. It’s not shocking or surprising that grown ass really beautiful people have sex. It’s not a surprise that underneath their clothes, celebrities are naked. They have bodies. Whoa! There is no way that we are going to be able to teach ourselves and the next generation how to have a healthy and positive relationship with our bodies and sexuality if we don’t cool it with this kind of journalism. It may be fun to watch Nick go from curly-headed boy band teen to uber-hottie, but we don’t need to pry into his love life to enjoy his music (or his abs.) Taylor’s romantic life may inform her music, but the real story is her catchy songs and her record breaking new album, not her past paramours. Luckily, she knows how to one up that haters and make an amazing video for her record breaking single that shows you exactly what you want. Enjoy, and stop being such a perv.

 

Feminist: It’s Not a Buzz Word

There has already been much written about the Time magazine decision to include feminist as a choice in it’s poll for what word should be banned in 2015, as well as the apology issued after the initial outcry.  I personally think that the whole point of this ‘poll’ is stupid, considering it pokes fun at/dismisses slang language which is largely used by a young and diverse population (“The list is supposed to be funny, but it is largely a policing of the vernacular of anyone who isn’t a white, heterosexual man.~ Roxanne Gay“). Here is the description from the actual poll site:

If you hear that word one more time, you will definitely cringe. You may exhale pointedly. And you might even seek out the nearest the pair of chopsticks and thrust them through your own eardrums like straws through plastic lids. What word is this? You tell us. ~ Time

I personally think that part of what makes language so cool is the way that it can change over time, the way expressions can be created out of nothing and the way that different groups can create their own vernacular. It is always changing, through both the addition of new words and through the evolution of the meaning of known words. Language is not static. It’s a beast of our own making, and it grows and changes along with our cultural shifts and revelations (revolutions). It transforms as the world transforms, it is remade and recreated as we remake and recreate the world around us. Language can be empowering and affirming. It can help shape our culture and our identity.

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the full list.

That being said, language can also limit our world view. Gendered pronouns, for example (she/he, his/her) and also words like husband and wife, do more than just describe a person or their marital status. They can create a world that is seen is distinct binary opposites, when in fact our world includes lots of grays and queers and inbetweens. Words  have subtext, and meanings outside of strict definitions that are culturally confirmed, and words can be used to condescend or confine.  The history of a word can never be erased, and reclamation attempts can fall short if that history is full of hate (bitch, the n word, dyke… I’m not of the belief that words can be totally ‘reclaimed’.) And this fact, the very idea that the construction and use of the English language continues to be a tool of patriarchy, is an excellent example of why the word feminism is (still) a vital word in need of broader understanding and utilization.

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And I get it, it’s supposed to be a joke. Like ‘OMG people keep talking about this, enough already.’ And I agree, enough already. Enough with pay inequality and the epidemic of sexual violence. Enough of the objectification of the female body, enough of the over-sexualization of girls and of slut shaming and of the fight against basic health care for women and families. Enough of a culture that caters to white men and attempts to silence other voices through ridicule or outright lies. Enough of the beauty industry and the impossible standards foisted on women and girls. Enough of the interrogation of ‘whose a feminist’ and ‘is she a good feminist’ and ‘is she a good mother’ and ‘is she pretty enough’ and ‘is she young enough’ (shout out to Hillary) and ‘who is she sleeping with’ and ‘should she be doing that’. Enough.

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Feminist, believe it or not, is not a buzz word. Feminism is a movement that has been around for more than 100 years, and, as Robin Morgan points out, feminists have been at the forefront of almost every social justice movement in American history. The fight for equality in all aspects of daily life is not a fad. The issues that feminism seeks to untangle are complicated, deeply rooted, and backed by a couple thousand years of patriarchal and misogynistic cultures. The fight cannot be won by laws or politics alone, as indeed all social justice movements require both the support of governing bodies and the hearts and minds of citizens. Women are half of the population for fuck’s sake. This movement is not a trend. It has a storied history as part of not only American, but global culture. And on my more optimistic days I believe that the internet will prove to be a tool of social justice and empathy and global momentum, and I think that one day our collective voices that proclaim ‘Women matter‘ or ‘We woke up like this‘ or ‘I am woman, hear me roar‘ will drown out the backwards thinking miscreants who would agree that this word (along with the movement and peoples it describes) should be banned.

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I’ll leave you with another quote from Robin, because frankly, I couldn’t have said it any better:

But I confess that for me feminism means something more profound. It means freeing a political force: the power, energy and intelligence of half the human species hitherto ignored or silenced. More than any other time in history, that force is needed to save this imperiled blue planet. Feminism, for me, is the politics of the 21st century. ~ Robin Morgan

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You Should Never Meet Your Heros (esp. if they’re famous men)

You know what’s exhausting? When you think you know someone, and then it turns out that they were kind of terrible. This is particularly exhausting if they were famous, and talented, and everyone considers them beloved and wonderful and then BOOM, something changes and you have to rethink your whole portrait of them.

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Recently it’s occurred to me that since patriarchy has been happening for centuries, I have been recalibrating my images of ‘great men’ a lot more often than great women. Because the rules for men, especially the most talented and famous, have always been ‘do whatever the fuck you want.’ As a matter of fact, we shower them with ego-inflating praise and also with things. And some of the things we shower them with are access to women, who are part of the whole package of things you get for being brilliant/pretty/famous whatever. Here now are some examples of men who, it turns out, are huge disappointments.

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Exhibit A: Breezy. He was so cute when he was young, he has the great dance moves. I used to groove rul hard to Run It. And now it’s ruined. And we didn’t even have to wait until he was old and almost forgotten for his bad behavior to come to light. It turns out he is an extremely violent young man, and a batterer to boot. And this guy has the nerve to release a song with the lyrics ‘these hoes ain’t loyal’ after publicly kicking the shit out of his also-famous girlfriend. He’s despicable.

JFK

A more historical example: God Jack Kennedy was beautiful. I mean seriously. And I know we have a soft spot for icons that are taken too soon. And I do have a soft spot. But then I remember the extent to which this man was a womanizer, and the extent to which the people around him went to enable his behavior and keep it a secret and I think: how was it possible that he was the most powerful man in the world in a country that was still so vanilla and prudish and yet he managed to have almost continuous extramarital affairs? He managed to carry on with Marilyn for fuck’s sake! And now it’s a considered just an anecdote, a small part of who he was. It’s even considered charming, part of why he is so roguish and handsome and desirable. Sigh.

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A disruptive piece of breaking (sort of) news: It turns out silly old comedy icon Billy Cosby has been a sexual predator for decades. And this isn’t new news. Lawsuits have been filed, he’s settled out of court, and his victims are speaking out. And his MO, for the record, includes drugging his victims. Which just, I don’t know, is extra infuriating. Think about Dr Huxtable slipping a roofie is some young girls drink. I don’t want to have to feel this way about a man who elevated the image of black America with laughter, who was TV married to the indomitable Phylicia Rashād, who wore those great sweaters. God dammit God dammit!

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And, finally, my most personal of these struggles: F Scott Fitzgerald. I just finished a wonderful and searing book by Kate Zambreno, Heroines. It’s a retelling of the great men of literature in the early 20th century, and of the women who surrounded them. These women were merely plus ones to their men. They lived in service of their partner’s genius, never being allowed to flourish or explore their own talent. And the most interesting among them was Zelda. Zelda, who wanted to be a real writer. Zelda who wrote in diaries and letters, and whose words her husband generously borrowed. Zelda who also painted, and later threw herself into ballet. And her spunk, her desire to be creative, was remade as mental illness. And she has been posthumously diagnosed and written over as the crazy wife of the genius. And he helped in this. He discouraged her, he actively worked to stunt her writing career, he forbid her from using their own lives as subject matter because that was his material. And he drank and drank and shut her away, and she died in a fire in a mental hospital. She deserved more, at the very least the same encouragement and opportunity given to him. And I love Gatsby, I still love it and those words still inspire me. And I completely resent having to rethink the man who wrote some of my favorite sentences to ever have existed. I hate it.

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Why? Why do we make the world a playground for these talented men? We tell them to take whatever they want, especially if it will help their art or whatever. Like fucking Picasso who emotionally abused all the women in his life and then painted them as monsters, and we told him he was great and hung those pictures in museums. We enable these guys, all of us with our accolades and praise. And we provide countless pretty young things for them to play with. But women aren’t things. They aren’t prizes in the world wide talent competition that is pop/celebrity/literary/art culture. This won’t stop until we deal seriously with rape culture, and until we hold men accountable for their actions. All those guys up there that I mentioned, their stories are not defined by the women they hurt. Their careers aren’t suffering. C Brown fans are insane on Twitter and will defend him unendingly. A convicted violent criminal, and his fans will say they’d let him abuse them and insult anyone who dares speak against him. JKF’s habits are just a footnote, Cosby is getting a new show and Fitzgerald remains a Great American Writer while Zelda’s novel is no where to be found (actually I found it, so you can find it in my apartment, but I had to special order it cause it’s out of print.) These guys continue to demand respect and inspire awe. It’s only women who are defined by their sexuality or sexual partners (Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Monica Lewinsky.)

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I’m fucking over it. I’m sick of having to compartmentalize with these guys. I know that people are complicated and no one is perfect and I know that not all great talents are predators. But we should be demanding a world where talent is appreciated without being overly idolized, where women aren’t prizes to be won, where sex isn’t a weapon used against the female body. I have no more patience for this shit. We need to stop excusing this behavior, we need to stop devaluing the female body and dismissing this as adolescent/harmless shenanigans. Sexual violence is not shenanigans. We all need to grow up and get serious and make culture a place of accountability and inclusion. We need to have icons that don’t require excuses.

Female Bodies: Endlessly Contested Obsessions

There have been a few things on the internet this week that made my spidey senses tingle, reminding me that women are first and foremost things for people to judge and argue about. Never mind that they are also humans that work and breathe and make completely autonomous decisions on the reg. As far as our culture, especially digital internet culture is concerned, they should always be pretty and ready to be appraised.

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This week Calvin Klien launched a new campaign. It’s typical for them, black and white and slick. But there is something different, although when I first saw the photo I myself didn’t notice it.

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That’s Myla Dalbesio. She’s a model. She looks pretty great in that simple black lingerie. NBD.

A Twitter-storm erupted when Elle tweeted:

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Because some people think that a size 10 isn’t plus size. I would agree. And some people say ‘Well it’s fashion and for the fashion industry she is large.’ And yea, I guess. But ew. And of course there were a range of other lewd and vapid comments, but what stuck out to me is this need to define what she is. I mean, can’t she just be a model? Like, a beautiful model? I of course agree that we need to see a wider range of body types in the media, but it’s about so much more than that. Because redefining beauty is not just about expanding the range of sizes a woman can be while still being hot.

And then, well, then there was Kim.

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She ‘broke the internet’. She ‘did it again.’ Kayne tweeted his support:

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And everyone has an opinion. Some shamed her, because she ‘is someone’s mother’. Which is ridiculous cause babies are made with sex. Right? That’s not new news, is it? And some people are sick of her, and I’ll admit I am sick of her. And I’m sick of how her butt is always emphasized, and I’m uncomfortable with the racialized history of this type of photo. And the amount of photo shopping that I’m guessing happened here, to tip this photo over the top, is also problematic.

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But it’s not new. Is it? I mean, the whole shoot was recycled ideas the photographer already did. And haven’t we seen this before, in general? Is this so shocking? Is it really necessary to argue about what she should be doing with her body, if mom’s can be sexy (duh), if she has no talent (duh), etc? Why can’t we look right past her (I know, I know, ‘that ass tho’) and talk about the culture we all perpetuate that allows this photo of this actual famous person to exist? Because this photo, of a sexualized backside and a shiny shiny white-ish woman, this is what we push as an ideal of beauty. This is what we encourage young woman to aspire to.

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Quick, name a female scientist (that is alive, not Marie Curie.)

I’m gonna go with Emily Graslie, seen here reading her mail and talking about gender gaps in STEM fields.

Now name a female novelist (again, who is alive.)

Here are two dope women writers, chatting with each other and positively thrilling me. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian American novelist, and Zadie Smith is British and too smart for me.

Quick, think of 3 female role models that aren’t role models because they always look perfect and seem to have it all (this unfortunately leaves out Beyonce although her work ethic makes her worthy of role model status in my humble opinion.) Feel free to leave your pics in the comments.

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Because one of the important things to remember is that no matter what else we require of women, we require them to be beautiful. And I get it, we all like to look at beautiful things. But people aren’t things. And men don’t have these same kinds of standards. They can be professional or smart or powerful or parents or hardworking or famous or entrepreneurial, without also having to look flawless all day every day. But women must always exist in these contested spaces. Is she pretty enough? Is she a good mother? Can she be a feminist icon while also being sexy? Is she too sexy? Too crude? Can women be funny?

The topic of ‘is she good enough’ is always up for debate.

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All of this chips away at women’s humanity. We are not objects to be argued over. Our bodies are our own. So too are the choices we make. If Kim wants to get lathered up with baby oil and let them photo shop her waist so she can continue to make money off her ass, that’s her choice. I don’t wanna talk about it, but she’s allowed. And she should be allowed without all the subsequent chatter. Like the photo or don’t, but remember that she is an actual human, with a family, with friends, with a real life. Same goes for Myla. Why should she have to deal with the ‘is she or isn’t she plus sized’ conversation? Plus sized is a made up thing. It’s not real. People are just people, with bodies of different shapes. Who. Cares.

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And before the ‘they put themselves out there to be judged’ brigade starts in, I will remind you that these kinds of arguments do not happen around men. Even male models, who make money off of their body and image do not occupy the contested spaces their female counterparts do. We do not pick apart male actors or celebrities in the same way. Because we don’t feel ownership over male bodies. We don’t feel entitled to enjoy or critique male bodies in the same way we do with female bodies. This entitlement contributes to the endless arguments, it contributes to internet harassment and street harassment and rape culture. And I’m sick of it. It’s exhausting.

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Here is a newsflash: adding your voice to the endless debate over who is beautiful and who is worthy will not end the centuries of violence and control enacted on the female body. If we spent half the energy we expend on judging women on thinking about how we could change the conversation and change the world, then we could actually get down to the work of making this world a better, safer place for  all those that are currently being disenfranchised by ‘the man’. Stop staring at Kim’s ass and arguing over which number size is too big for models, and let’s make our voices heard about the stuff that matters.

Facebook Engagement Fatigue

I’m not sure what it is about chilly weather, but all the sudden diamond rings abound on my Newsfeed.

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I should start this by saying that I am happy for people who want to get married and then get asked to be married, and that I hope everyone is successful in their relationships, and anything else they put their mind to for that matter. I always feel defensive when I talk about being irritated or annoyed or uncomfortable with this stuff, because folks assume that I am man-hating/bitter/hate love/unromantic, etc. But that’s categorically untrue.

That being said, all the hand photos, to show off the ring, and the #isaidyes hashtag and the really large bridal parties and the floofy dresses and the stuff… I don’t know guys. It has me feeling…. itchy.

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I think my itchiness comes from the fact that so much of what is shared is steeped in traditions that I find deeply problematic. Rather than coming up with new traditions, making room for alternative partnerships and lifestyles, we are creating hashtags and crafting cute announcements that show just how pretty and fabulous and romantic the whole event it using our iPhones and social media presences. But it’s the same old story (emphasis on old). I think most people’s journey is a lot more interesting than a photo of your hand with a new ring, or a new hashtag, or a new name…

a smattering of results from an #isaidyes search
a smattering of results from an #isaidyes search

Ah yes, the issue of names. On Facebook this is particularly apparent, because all of the sudden your friend from high school that you used to skip class with and drive around with and yearn for college with isn’t searchable under their name. Same with the girls who lived on your dorm floor in college. They have a new name. I can never think about these old friends as anyone other than the name I met them with. I can’t be the only one for whom this is disconcerting (can I?). It feels so retro, so abrupt. It seems so serious, so fundamental. And I guess maybe that’s the point, but who the fuck can keep track of all these old girlfriends, with their new names?

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I know people who are excited about changing their name, and that’s fine. But when you look at it in cultural context, I think this tradition sucks. I know this question isn’t exactly earth shattering, but why should women have to change their identifying name, their family name? Think about growing up, being part of your family, but knowing that one day your last name would be different and that you would, symbolically, be part of a different family and no longer your own. That’s fucking weird. I can’t imagine having a name that is different then my name now. It feels right, my name. It has a rhythm, I have a catchphrase, and I’d never wanna be anyone else. I think your name is a large part of your identity and personality, and like it or not this tradition places women in a cycle of having first their fathers and then their husbands determine this identity marker. Oddly enough, I don’t feel strongly about my own future child having my name because they will be their own person, a little monster with their own identity and personality. But I do feel strongly about my name, my ties to my own 3 person original family unit, and no matter what my family looks like moving forward I wish to always have my name to bond me to them and to my memories.

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I know people like tradition. And I’m not really against a person changing their name to symbolize a new union. But why not have both parties change it, to maybe a hyphenated name (ugh, I hate hyphenating) or some kind of hybrid, or I mean it could be anything at all! Your drag queen name or an allusion to your favorite poet/character/musician or the street your grew up on or that you met or WHATEVER. Why does it have to be so literal, so patriarchal? And all those other traditions that are played out too, like why are all my girlfriends waiting for a ring presentation when these kinds of decision can (and arguably should) be made together? Why a diamond ring when we all know that tradition was invented and sold to consumers by the diamond industry itself? Why a white wedding dress when that color upholds virginity as the ultimate female virtue, and anyway not everyone looks good in white? Why not rethink all of it? I wish we could all think outside the box more when it comes to unions and love and partnerships.

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Homoerotic, but heteronormative. #justsayin

So yea anyway, love is great and I’m glad people are finding it. But just a heads up, no one’s hand looks pretty in those ring photos. It’s weird. Post a photo of you and your partner and your smiling, joyful faces. That’s what it’s really about anyway, right?