Category Archives: sex

This Week in GoT Atrocities (but really I wanna talk about Mad Men)

This week in TV the biggest story hails not from AMC and the quiet brooding drama of Mad Men, but from the fantastical dragon and winter zombie filled world of Game of Thrones. I think it’s an excellent time to talk about why good writing is so important, particularly when dealing with sensitive subject matter.

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Alright so Jamie and Cersei are everyone’s favorite conniving incestuous lovers. She, in my opinion, is the worst of all of them. I think she is pure manipulation and hatred, and I find her completely despicable and beyond saving. Which is super awesome, because true female villains are few and far between. The disdain she inspires in me is refreshing, and I relish it. Jamie has been on a journey that is largely redemptive, and I think his devotion for her (despite how creepy it is) is endearing. Which is why the choice of the writers to film the love scene that takes place next to their dead son as a rape is truly mind boggling. You can read about how it’s different from the book here, but it’s not the change itself that is upsetting.

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I am not against portraying rape on TV or in movies. It’s a thing that happens in real life, and if it’s handled with care it can be important to see. The folks who filmed the scene between siblings seem to feel as though they shot a scene that started out as rape, but turned consensual. This is where I start to get itchy. First of all, that is not at all what happened, so there must have been some miscommunication. She is protesting throughout. But a blurred lines scene is really a tricky scene to attempt, and it already makes me nervous, because why? Why make the scene more complicated when it’s already a incestuous sex scene that takes place in the presence of their dead love child? The explanations from the directer feel lame (time line issues, rape turned consent) and feel alarmingly close to the kind of language that rapists and rape apologists use (I could tell she really wanted it, silence is consent.) I am baffled by the choice of the writers to make the change, and baffled at the execution. And then I thought, ‘what is the right way to do this?’ And as usual, I found my answer right where I expected.

In this scene, we watch a date rape occur when Joan’s fiancé visits her at work. The scene is important because we all learn just the exact kind of terrible person Greg is, but also because we see Joan’s inner struggle. Her whole arc is about coping with the loss of what she thought she wanted, and her life with Greg is the biggest piece of that debunked puzzle. The scene is violent without being big or obvious, it’s gut wrenching without having to hear her scream. We watch her try to flirt her way out of the situation, we watch her become frightened, and then we watch her escape the situation as a survival technique. It’s disturbing, but it feels very very real. The way the scene is shot allows us access to both characters, but most importantly to Joan, and we see each moment and her emotional response very clearly.

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Rape can of course be incredibly violent and brutal. It can also be quieter, and more confusing, because most sexual assailants are known to the victim. The scene between Jamie and Cersei felt heavy handed and wrong because those characters wouldn’t have that interaction. It doesn’t feel true to who they are. And we are missing both their faces, we can’t get at their motivations. And if Cersei does stop fighting and either get into it or escape the reality of the moment, we cannot see that the way we can in Joan’s scene. the GoT scene feels oddly flashy, and mostly as though it were meant to be somehow more entertaining (which, as folks have pointed out, is not dissimilar to the rape scene is Season 1 between Daenerys and Khal Drogo.) I think that actions have to feel authentic, and should also tell you something about the character. What this tells us about the sibling lovers is yet to be seen, but it will have different implications than the original scene and storyline. Which also begs the question: should rape be used as a way to develop a character? As an interesting plot twist? And do we now continue to root for Jamie and his redemption, and just over look the fact that he is also a rapist because maybe Cersei is a raging sociopathic bitch who wants her brother/lover to kill her other brother just because she hates him and thinks he poisoned her first born son/nephew?

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In conclusion: rape is never ok, even between sibling lovers or engaged persons. There is absolutely a way to write and film a scene about a reluctant sexual encounter, one that includes both protestations and then explicit consent. That is a real thing that happens to folks every day. But it didn’t happen in Westeros this week. And in the future, they should look to their retro TV drama peers to see what nuanced writing looks like, because Christina Hendricks journey in that office is flawless and complex, and I neither pity her nor hate him (although I grow to hate him later.) Complicated subjects deserve careful, thoughtful writing. I hope in the future GoT will think a little harder about the changes it’s making, and about how the changes will play out both in the fictional world and in the mind of it’s audience. Stories like these, pop culture and literature etc, are important because we all learn from them. Game of Thrones is cool, in my opinion, because it gives us a broad range of female characters to interact with, root for and despise. They aren’t all just victims or wives, they are strong and vulnerable in different ways, and I appreciate that. But if they don’t stay true to the characters they’ve drawn, these kinds of missteps send the wrong messages about the characters, and about rape and sex and love and all the messy things going on in that scene. They should remember to tread lightly, because like it or not the stories send a message, and folks are invested in the world of Westeros and all it’s power struggles. This scene sends weird messages about rape and rape culture, and it soured the whole episode for me and many others who were thrown. It’s ok to go there. You just gotta get there carefully and authentically.

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“Alternative” Visions of Beauty.

I recently read a very thoughtful and insightful personal essay written by an ‘alternative model’ named Carrie Jo. I put that in quotes because  I hate the term alternative modeling. It is almost always applied to women with visible tattoos and other body modifications. I think that women with tattoos are beautiful, period end of sentence. Their beauty isn’t about being different or exotic, or at least it doesn’t have to be.  What the fuck does alternative even mean?

adj.  offering or expressing a choice;

different from the usual or conventional: as

a:  existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system

Alright, thanks Merriam Webster. So I guess in this case tattooed models are functioning outside of the established fashion system, where designers don’t want tattoos distracting from their designs. Both systems suck. In one, women are clothes hangers and must be shaped as such. And in the other, women’s bodies are the consumable product, existing only to be visually devoured and objectified. The author, Carrie Jo, comments on the well known Suicide Girls alternative modeling company, saying “While [Suicide Girls] still feature many different kinds of women with many different kinds of “looks”, the personalities of each individual model are lost. They are now just objects for masturbatory release, rather than women making a statement.” Her point is that Suicide Girls, nowadays, are practically interchangeable with traditional lingerie and pin-up models. Except they have tattoos. They are not, in reality, pushing the boundaries of what we consider beautiful. And they are often hypersexualized. In fact, I know a lovely lady who is tatted up and models, and indeed most of the photos she shares are very sexualized, bordering on pornographic. There is nothing wrong with that, and she looks super gorgeous. But why should she be limited to that kind of photo, that kind of look? Why should her tattoos restrict her versatility? Why are our visions of what can be beautiful, traditional, pretty and feminine so limited?

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The thing about feeling beautiful, is that in it’s purest form it is a feeling that is for you and not for others. When we talk about street harassment, one of the reasons some people don’t understand why it’s not a compliment is because they can’t fathom a world where women aren’t in constant pursuit of male approval. The assumption is ubiquitous that women make an effort to look good explicitly for men, and that they should be making this effort all the time. That assumption is sexist and heteronormative, which means that when you don’t conform to beauty standards, you are defying the patriarchy. And that makes you dangerous.

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But what about the things that make us feel beautiful that have nothing to do with an outside gaze? And I don’t even mean things like yoga, or being creative or being kind (which are super important, obviously.) I mean actual work you do on your appearance, that makes you feel pretty without necessarily making you more conventionally attractive. I like to paint my nails lots of different colors using vegan nail polish. And I recently died my hair lavender. And I’ve found that even though my hair is the longest it’s been in almost 10 years, I don’t really feel like myself and I cannot wait to cut it short again. I don’t dispute that it looks cute, but a very short ‘do just makes me feel sassy and real.

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Carrie Jo’s article hit me hard not only because I happen to have tattoos (and I totally agree that it’s still a radical claim to your own body and a very visible challenge to patriarchal aesthetics) but because the comments made on her photos are so vile and cruel. And she makes an extremely interesting point towards the end of her piece: “I’m not a ‘model for a magazine on the internet’, nor is this social media site ‘my employer’ putting me on display to be ‘judged.’ These photos are shared to be ENJOYED.” I thought that assertion was super important, because the commenters on her photos and indeed all over the web feel entitled and justified in their cruelty, because in their minds all images of women exist for them and for their consumption. They exist to be judged and if they are not up to par then they deserve to be called out. But what about the idea that images are for enjoyment, meant to be seen but not judged? Why is it that we can’t consume the images of women without dissecting their value against pre determined standards? Why do we tear them apart?

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I have gotten to a point in my life where I accept that certain parts of me will never change to be more conventional, and I do not (often) mourn that fact. I appreciate my body as it is (usually), and I try to express my true self in how I look and dress. I’ll never have flowing, feminine locks or feel comfortable in girly dresses and bows and heels. I used to wish that I was ‘prettier’, that I felt comfortable looking traditionally feminine (think Blaire Waldorf.) But that’s not me, it doesn’t feel authentic to me, and I am done fighting with myself. Self-love is a journey, and so I must strive everyday towards this end, towards being at peace with my physical self. I wish that the images we are bombarded with were more varied, more inclusive in their standards. It shouldn’t be so hard for girls to feel confident and secure. It shouldn’t have to be a life long struggle. I wish we were all more kind to ourselves, and to each other. I wish the media would push themselves to the point where women could be applauded for celebrating not just what is beautiful about them according to cultural standards, but what is beautiful about them according to themselves.

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Oh Westley, if only it were that easy. For now, we need to do our best to fight back against internet trolls, and that battle starts within ourselves. If you are consuming media, and you find yourself being harsh or judgmental when looking at models or actresses, check yourself. It’s not necessary. Don’t say it out loud, try to stop yourself from even thinking it. Because that’s just not a productive use of any of our collective energy. It’s hard though, I’m not going to lie. I caught myself thinking just yesterday that a girl in running gear didn’t have very well defined calves. I mean, what the actual fuck. Who is that thought helping? Not me. Not her. Not all of us who’ve been taught that women’s bodies are objects that exist for the enjoyment of others, that they ought to be dissected, that they are ours to comment on. And the internet is overrun with folks who are emboldened by anonymity,  drunk with it’s power and spewing their gross and ignorant judgments. Let’s overtake the negative with positive. Let’s make the spaces we inhabit online a force for joy and light. It’s not actually complicated: be kind. To yourself, to those you love, to those you just met, to those you will never meet. Recognize the humanity in the faces and images you come across, empathize with their struggle even if you don’t know the details, and appreciate what is beautiful and unique about people without measuring it against some bullshit pre-determined standard. Beauty is so much more than symmetry or a breast-to-waist ratio or small features or large features or lipstick or bare skin or silence. It can’t be completely described, and it certainly can’t be contained, and we are not bound to it any more than we allow ourselves to be.

So be free.

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And wild out.

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Be kind.

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Most importantly, love yourself.

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#NotBuyingIt : A Feminist App To Help You Be Heard!

Just before the Super Bowl, something really cool happened. The folks over at The Miss Representation project created an app, based on a hashtag movement, to help us all call out sexist advertising. #NotBuyingIt was born.

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I was always amped on the idea, and I downloaded it back in February, but I hadn’t busted it out until just last week. And let me tell you, I picked a douzey to start. Here is the lovely Miranda Kerr, using her very naked body to sell Reebok sneakers.

 

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Using sexy ladies to sell products that have nothing to do with sex or women in particular is nothing new. We see it again and again with beer, cars, and pretty much all manner of products. Doesn’t matter who the target is, a beautiful woman in an ad can’t hurt, or at least that’s been the wisdom up to now.

But this ad is particularly icky because of the weird, voyeuristic point of view. The camera is following her from behind for most of the shots, watching her from a distance and also at weird angles. And then it randomly cuts to an across the street view from a different apartment. I was so startled that I expected that view to be part of the story line of the commercial. But it’s not. Because looking at women and visually consuming their bodies is so accepted and commonplace that even this awkward moment is just par for the course. It’s such a casual shift, you almost miss how absolutely inappropriate and invasive that viewpoint really is. I mean, who the fuck was watching her from across the street? Does it even matter? And what does her black-undies clad ass have to do with sneakers?

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Now look, I know that in lots of cities (certainly in NYC) spying on our neighbors is sort of commonplace. We live in close quarters, the walls are thin, privacy is limited. But this kind of deliberate use of a voyeuristic view point is really inappropriate and creepy. Women are not walking around just so you can ogle them, and spying on people is wrong and sometimes illegal. And while we’re at it how about we can this weird ‘undressing as we go’ scenario. No one does that. It’s super choreographed and forced.

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Seriously, why must this story line, which logically should include athletics or movement, instead focus on her undressing and showering? They could have at least shown her ‘working out’ so you can argue that the shoes helped her get that body (which is mostly untrue since super models have all hit the genetic lotto and even with these shoes and hard work many women won’t ever have that ass and THAT’S COMPLETELY OK AND WONDERFUL.) I had a similar beef when Sketchers was using beautiful women to try and convince us that they got their bodies using those dumb shoes, because not only is it exploitative of the models but it assumes that we, the consumers, are all dumb enough to believe that. I can almost picture the scene of creation for this concept: a group of dudes, sitting around a conference table, Googling pictures of Ms Kerr and pitching ideas with the the singular goal of seeing her get completely undressed. How sophisticated.

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Luckily, I had the app! And it’s totally sleek and user friendly and easy, and I used it to call that nonsense out.
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And it felt great. I felt relieved that there was  a space for me to flex my feminist muscels and vent some of my anger. And not just a space of acceptance, but a space of action where other people were doing the exact same thing. The app, when it’s working right, actually does put pressure on advertisers and companies to change their ways. And why, you ask, does this kind of thing matter? Elizabeth Plank over at Policy Mic explains:

Missrepresentation.org explains that the average teenage girl spends 11 hours interacting with media every single day and that many of the images “depict women in a degrading light, perpetuate unrealistic body ideals, or use extreme stereotypes of masculinity to define men.”

The images we see all day every day, in magazines and on billboards and on all our varied screens have a huge impact. If the only women depicted in these spaces are sexualized, degraded, silent and objectified, then we will all absorb the idea that real women are also all of those things. And only those things. And until we demand different images with different messages, young girls will continue to internalize the very damaging idea that they can only be beautiful if they fit into a very narrow physical type, and that their only worth comes from being beautiful and sexually available. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the Miss Representation documentary to hear lots of much smarter ladies break it down. And download the free #NotBuyingIt app. It’s super easy and fun, and for now there is no shortage of sexist advertising to call out. Be heard.

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The ‘B’ in LGBTQ

Do you know anyone who identifies as bi-sexual?

Do you think they are greedy? Indecisive? Are they lying or seeking attention?Perhaps really just gay and not ready to take the full leap yet?

Check this classic Sex and the City convo about Carrie’s young  love interest (sorry for the bad dubbing, that wasn’t me and youtube is not trying to give me what I want!)

That conversation may seem dated, but I know plenty of people who’d still describe that as ‘real talk’. Which is why this excellent article from the New York Times, regarding a new push to ‘prove’ that bisexuality exists, wasn’t shocking to me. The writer describes various studies, all collecting physical data and hoping to measure arousal levels to compare with personal identity statements. I can only imagine that this push for scientific legitimacy is happening because folks who identify as bi are actually super likely to be met with ire and mistrust. In some cases, this pushback is more than a gay or lesbian person would get, because lots of folks think that bi-sexual isn’t a real identity.

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This situation is a clear example of the problem with linking sexual preference to identity. Actually linking any choice with identity, at least a large group identity. The way that the mainstream LGBTQ community has managed to gain access to rights such as marriage and non-discrimination laws is by a savvy combination of ‘I was born this way’ and ‘we’re just like you.’ And the idea that people choose who they are attracted to is actually super dangerous to this fight, because hateful idiots would use that as ammunition to discriminate and withhold inalienable rights.

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But sexuality and sexual preference only exist as an identity marker because the culture demanded it. I used to joke that ‘gay people didn’t exist before 1960’, and that’s actually not completely inaccurate. Folks who wanted to sleep with same sex partners before that was culturally acceptable did so in secret, or in the semi-open as more of a lifestyle choice. Lesbians, in particular, got away with this a lot because it wasn’t seen as a threat to men (because how could sex possibly happen without a penis??) Because these folks were not organized and asking for legitimacy in society, they were less visible. And their sexual choices were what they did, and not exactly who they were.

I do, of course, think it is important that folks are able to live openly, without fear of violence or prejudice and with the full range of options for how to live their lives. However. The more categories you create, the more boxes you draw and the more pressure everyone feels to fit in a box. And we do love boxes don’t we? Male or Female. Gay or Straight. Chocolate or Vanilla. PICK A FLAVOR!!!!!!

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But these boxes, these binaries, are reductive and exclusive and they breed a lot of hate and misunderstanding. And bisexuality is an interesting example, because even folks in the traditionally maligned group (gay/lesbian) and their allies are distrustful and ignorant. The same could be said about transgender folks, who face discrimination even from other liberal or oppressed groups. The inbetween people face the most antagonism.

Why is this? What are we all so uncomfortable with? I remember learning about the word queer in grad school, reading about queer time and queer space. I felt so saved by the ideas I learnt about, ideas that gave a name to life trajectories that don’t follow a heteronormative path and a world view that is more circular and leaves room for error. I wanted to exist in those spaces, outside the world of marriages and jobs and the lives that so many choose without choosing. I wanted to exist on the page, at dusk and dawn, living a path of otherness as many had done before me.

And actually, I rejected the term bi-sexual. It was another box, and felt strangely surgical to me. As though that word, bi-sexual, split me into two parts. As though those parts were competing with one another. But there are not two parts of me, just one whole self. And as I learned how to love, I did have experiences that I felt took me out of the ‘hetero’ category. But I don’t, and have never, liked any of the labels I heard as options. So I thought to myself ‘I love at dusk’, and I left it at that.

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The studies being done now do shed light on the variations and complications intrinsic to our sexuality, our sexual preferences, and our experience of our own sexual identity. There is a reason why people think that bi-sexual men don’t exist because they are all secretly gay. It isn’t, however, because men can’t be bi-sexual. It’s because we live in a culture where women are believed to be more fluid, and men are given less freedom to experiment. Less wiggle room. And so, it stands to reason that men are less likely to explore desires that could make them vulnerable to a label they are not comfortable with. And that sucks. And it sucks that lots of young women who come out as bi are told ‘it’s just a phase’ and that ‘they’ll grow out of it.’ And it sucks that if you are bi, it can be super hard to find same sex partners because they are distrustful and fear that you will leave them for a hetero relationship. And it sucks that in order to be recognized as a human worthy of respect and rights, you must draw a line in the sand and say ‘I exist, and there are others like me.’ The more categories of folks that come forward, the more we miss the point: That sexuality is a continuum, a path along which we are all traveling. It grows, it evolves, it changes. And our sexuality doesn’t define us. And no sexuality could possibly negate a person’s right to be treated with respect and live a full life.

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Although, I do kinda like this definition quoted in the article:

I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted — romantically and/or sexually — to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way and not necessarily to the same degree.

That shape feels large enough, with flexible enough edges, that I may just be able to dance in there comfortably, with other folks on similar adventures. Cause we are all just trying to be who we are, really. I think this grumpy pug in a unicorn costume illustrates our collective struggle to metamorphize into our most magical selves.

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Never stop trying. The struggle is real, haters gonna hate, the journey is long. Find other folks wearing unicorn outfits, love those people for their whole unique selves, take care of them and allow them to take care of you. One day it won’t take scientific data for folks to accept the truth about who we all are and who we all love.

SVU: getting wise in it’s old age

Lesson #1: Mariska Hargitay is a goddess.

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In addition to being effervescent and flawless, she is also an outspoken activist against sexual violence in real life, creating The Joyful Heart foundation and appearing in ads for the No More organization:

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SVU has been raising awareness about sexual violence and rape for 15 freakin’ seasons. And while I may never get over the abrupt exit of Detective Stabler (SERIOUSLY CHRIS MAOLNI WTF?! WE NEED SOME CLOSURE!) the show has continued to grow and evolve. We said goodbye to a some of the shows most beloved characters this season (I will always love you Dan Floreck), and Olivia got the bump up to Sargent. And episode #14, Comis Perversion, employees one of Law & Order’s favorite tactics: a story ripped from the real world headlines.

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This is Daniel Tosh, he has a show on E!, and he’s a comic. He got in hot water awhile ago for making a rape joke. It was a bad rape joke. To be clear, I don’t think that rape is always off the table for a comedy show. Here is a rape joke I find quite hilarious, smart, and on point, from Louis CK:

Ok so let’s put aside the issues of comedy and free speech. Feminists aren’t humorless bitches who want to take away an artists right to explore whatever topics he wants. But I kinda think comedy should be funny and healing, and making the victims of a violent crime the butt of your jokes isn’t funny. At least not to anyone with a single empathetic bone in their body. But you can say whatever the hell you want. That issue isn’t what got to me about this episode.

These are the main players in the scenario, the comic (who does in fact turn out to be a rapist) and his college student victim:

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The show does a great job of showing how our culture functions to discredit rape victims. In this case, the girl had been drinking heavily. She flirted with her assailant and even went back to his hotel room and drank champagne. At that point she blacked out and when she regained consciousness he was raping her. She never denied being intoxicated or interacting with him previous to the attack. Despite the fact that she was honest about these details, the defense uses them against her to paint her and her allegations a bright shade of red with a very important underlying philosophy: sluts deserve to get raped.

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Let me put this in some really simple language: Flirting is not consent. Accepting drinks is not consent. Going with someone to where the live/sleep is not consent. So basically, she can in fact get drunk and flirt and go home with you and then say no. In this case, it’s likely she passed out, in which case it was absolutely un-consensual because an unconscious person cannot give consent. And any person at any time can say ‘No.’ It doesn’t matter if its a male or female bodied person, it doesn’t matter if it’s a first time sexual encounter or if partners are in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if that’s frustrating or hard to understand.

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Now look. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get super wasted and go to new places with strangers. It’s playing with fire and it’s immature. I wish we lived in a world where people were more open about their sexual desires and more forth right when discussing sex and consent. I wish college kids in particular would be more careful, and indeed feel more free to experiment and play without needing to get wasted. Also, shit happens, and I do not think that all drunk sex = rape. But. The statistics that link binge drinking to rape should not lead you to think ‘Oh, girls who drink should know better.’ The appropriate reaction is ‘Oh, predators are using alcohol to pick on already impaired victims and create a built in defense for their crime. What assholes!’

And with all this talk about consent, how to we define it? When I Googled ‘sexual consent definition’ I got a lot of articles seeking to define sexual assault as an act without consent, but consent itself was not immediately defined on clear terms. I did find a great article from Safer Campus.org that attempts to define consent using examples from various university policy statements, but that same article makes the excellent point that lots of universities use the term consent in their policies without attempting to define it at all. There’s also the ubiquitous portrayal of women who at first say no, but are then coaxed into a sexual encounter. This is often a scenario in romantic comedies. But coercion is not romantic, and women are not all playing hard to get because it’s just so much more fun to ‘get convinced.’ (Although that isn’t entirely uncommon because in our culture women are supposed to be sexually available but also not want sex too much or we risk the slut label so all of this can be linked back to that over arching villain: patriarchy.)

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I personally love the idea of enthusiastic consent. This article from Persephone magazine says “The idea of enthusiastic consent is quite simple. In a nutshell, it advocates for enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity, rather than passive agreement.” Word on the street is that some people think communication is ‘too much work’, or ‘breaks the mood.’ Sex shouldn’t be easy (not if you’re doing it right) and if talking breaks the mood you should get some tips on dirty talk and how to make consent/communication sexy.

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This episode did a fantastic job of forcing us all to put ourselves in the seats of the jurors. When the opposing counsel was describing how the victim was drunk, how she’d flirted, I was shaking my head and thinking ‘Come on guys, don’t do that.’ And part of me stands by the advice that people, especially college aged people and especially college aged women should be way more careful about how much they drink. But that advice comes up short as a solution to the sexual assault epidemic, because we should all be equally worried about personal safety and women shouldn’t be burdened with the added worry of sexual assault when it comes to how much they drink or where they go. The threat of sexual assault does indeed police the lives of women, 24/7 and from a disturbingly young age. It’s unfair. And transgressing those rules of where to be and who to be with and how to act do NOT mean that a victim deserves or was asking for a violent act to be committed against them. As I’ve said before, the only people responsible rape are rapists, and the only advice we can offer to prevent more rapes is ‘Don’t rape anybody.’

The Co-ed Porn Star (A Real Life Saga)

The news of a Duke college freshman being outed as a porn star raised many issues that I feel passionate, yet conflicted about. Jezebel reported that it was a class mate that betrayed the young woman’s trust, and she has since seen fit to come forward and tell her side of the story. I’ll get back to her words in a bit.

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I want to start by saying that the kind of filth that people immediately began writing about her is a clear sign of our culture’s complete discomfort with female sexuality, if that sexuality is not in the explicit service of men. Boys at Duke asked for explicit information from partner’s she has slept with, and claimed that her porn work nullified her right to privacy and respect. Porn stars are whores and sluts, and those kinds of women don’t deserve to feel safe or dignified. Even if they are bright students at a top tier university.

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And moreover, women cannot possibly be smart and a sex object at the same time. Many of the comments were confused: Why do sex work when you are so smart? The idea that she may enjoy it, that she made a decision and doesn’t regret it, is no where to be found. Because once you become a sex worker you cease to be a full human (sluts and whores aren’t people who deserve respect, remember?) And here is the thing: no one is asking about the morality of her viewership. Because men can consume sex without fear of judgement or consequences. Indeed, even the term ‘sex-worker’ and ‘porn-star’ are so tied to females in the cultural mind that ‘male porn-star’ is the default label for men who shoot porn. Why do we shoulder women with the burden of keeping themselves pure? Why is sex a female responsibility, something we must guard and keep clean within ourselves, denying parts of our identity that men can display and explore freely?

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I’ll let her speak for herself in some of my favorite passages form her open response on XO Jane:

However, the answer is actually quite simple. I couldn’t afford $60,000 in tuition, my family has undergone significant financial burden, and I saw a way to graduate from my dream school free of debt, doing something I absolutely love. Because to be clear: My experience in porn has been nothing but supportive, exciting, thrilling and empowering... Of course, I do fully acknowledge that some women don’t have such a positive experience in the industry. We need to listen to these women. And to do that we need to remove the stigma attached to their profession and treat it as a legitimate career that needs regulation and oversight. We need to give a voice to the women that are exploited and abused in the industry. Shaming and hurling names at them, the usual treatment we give sex workers, is not the way to achieve this.

These words were, for me, a bit of a wake up call. I personally find most porn scenes to be hard to watch. Mainstream porn does not teach good gender relations or, for that matter, fun and healthy sex practices. However, it is not for me to say that this girl is confused or mistaken. Treating her like a child is a knee jerk, paternalistic reaction, and I had to check myself. If she feels that her experience has been empowering, well then that’s what it’s been. And it is true that not all sex work plays out this way, and those concerns or valid. But we must not treat all sex workers as victims. This is just as damaging as treating them all as a-moral sluts.

The most striking view I was indoctrinated with was that sex is something women “have,” but that they shouldn’t “give it away” too soon -– as though there’s only so much sex in any one woman, and sex is something she does for a man that necessarily requires losing something of herself, and so she should be really careful who she “gives” it to.

The prevailing societal brainwashing dictates that sexuality and sex “reduce” women, whereas men are merely innocent actors on the receiving end. By extension, our virginity or abstinence has a bearing on who we are as people — as good people or bad people, as nice women or bad women.

This quote is particularly well thought out and eloquent. Sex is not something that women ‘have’ and men ‘receive.’ It is not something women are bartering out for commitment or marriage or respect, and men aren’t brainless idiots bumbling around trying to ‘get’ sex from girls. At least, this isn’t universally true. Sex is something people share for a variety of reasons. No one is innocent in a consensual sexual experience. Each person is an actor, and all parties are both giving and receiving something. And no one has the moral high ground, because sex isn’t immoral. But for women who have ‘too many’ partners or the ‘wrong kind’ of sex or who enjoy sex ‘too much’, those transgressions are linked to their status as good or bad people. This story is as old as Eve (original sin is my favorite rage trigger) and as new as Beyonce, Miley, and really any well known woman who dares transgress into ‘too sexy’-ville. It’s fucking played out. The narrative is absurd and reductionist and hypocritical, to say nothing of it’s dangerous implications. Because if we think women who enjoy sex or have too much sex are bad, then why would be want to treat them with respect? Why should they feel worthy of non violent relationships or privacy or the right to pursue their passions? Whores can’t have passions.

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Now, I feel very strongly that a lot of sex workers are in danger and coerced. But ‘a lot’ is not the same thing as all. I also feel strongly that the industry needs to re vamp itself, make different kinds of movies with more variety in terms of plot, body type, race, gender variation and overall message (everyone should be authentically enjoying themselves, and not just as a quick and exaggerated moment of foreplay), but these concerns are not in conflict with my desire to support this person’s choice to do what is right for her. I mean, I sure as hell didn’t graduate debt free. And porn work isn’t for me personally, at least not right now. But who the fuck am I, and who the fuck is anyone, especially folks who consume porn and who are sexually active but really I just mean anyone, to judge her? Her experience is her’s to have. Having sex for money is not a choice all of us would make, but if it makes you itchy you may want to ask yourself ‘Why?’ Why is it that we are suddenly uncomfortable or angry when the identity of an actor in a porn film is revealed, and the narrative isn’t what we thought it would be? Why can’t she be a college student on a prestigious campus and also shoot explicit sex scenes? If it was a male actor, how would the reaction be different? Why are we so quick to demonize female sexuality?

yea. keep mulling that one over.
yea. keep mulling that one over.

Remember, your feelings and concerns are valid. But so are her feelings and experiences. Your feelings do not give you the right to condemn the completely legal decisions of other adults, they don’t give you the right to be mean or disrespectful, and they don’t give you the right to throw stones from the front yards of your very own glass house. Because we all live in a glass house.

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Furthermore, if you are truly concerned for her and her well being, you can advocate for the rights of sex workers to feel safe in their work place and you can work towards dismantling the system that strips them of humanity and dignity. You can also educate yourself on feminist porn, and use that knowledge to explore your own paradigms, fears and opportunities for growth. We all want to get off. But we need to start acknowledging the full-on, complex, unique and varied humanity of the folks who work to help us get there. (On and off camera.)

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The Economics of Sex (OR misinformation and subjective data interpretation with dumb animation)

Here is an infuriating video from The Austin Institute for the Study of Family & Culture about how sex is a commodity and marriage is always good and men and women are operating under a strange and simple system that disregards their personalities and desires. I honestly had a hard time getting through it, so I’m gonna present my thoughts in a sort of live blog format. What follows is a (largely unedited) list of the thoughts I had while watching, so you can listen and follow along. Anything in italics are thoughts I’ve added after the fact to expound on the  more important(ly disturbing) points. And there are gifs because I love gifs and they make this whole thing easier to think about.

~first assumption: marriage is good and divorce is bad This is obviously untrue depending on where and when you are in history and who you are personally. Just a gross simplification of people’s lives. Completely stupid. 

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~is sex a commodity? Definition: a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee. So, no. 
~is it an exchange? Yes, but what is being exchanged is not axiomatic or universal.

~men have a higher sex drive- NO Just, no. 

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no.

~how can you possibly know that they link sex to romance less often? The general use of data to support their point without actual stats/sources and without mentioning that interpretation of data is not entirely objective is super manipulative. 

~female motivations: expressing love, commitment, affirming desirability, security. uuuummmmmmm what? how is that shown in the data? Also, those motivations are not gender specific, lots of people have sex for those (and other varied) reasons.

sex will happen when women want it to? what? relationships all work the exact same way all the time???!?

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~men want sex but women don’t? men sacrifice for sex but women don’t?

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~market value. no. there are cultural expectations, and no it isn’t entirely private, but sex is not a supply and relationships are not a price. To paraphrase a perfect Jezebel comment I read on this topic: I am not a cow. My vagina is not milk. My partner is not a customer. 

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~comparing pesticides to birth control is not so subtle and gross

~’lowering the cost of sex’ would apply for everyone… And this is where the metaphor stops working the way they want. People generally like it when things are cheaper, especially things they like a lot of. So really, from where I’m standing, everyone benefits if the ‘cost of sex’ drops. But ‘the cost of sex’ isn’t an actual real thing in terms of how humans live their lives so this is a dumb point all around.

~’sex was oriented towards marriage.’ THIS IS HETERONORMATIVE AND TOTALLY LIMITED.  Also, again, assumed to be positive. But I happen to think that more people having agency over their bodies and experiencing a greater variety of relationships/orgasms is super positive. 

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~yea the unanticipated side affect is more autonomy for everyone, mostly women, and we are still adapting to the gender role shift. It’s not a catastrophe comparable to THE ONGOING DESTRUCTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT. Not even close.

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~”in the past it really wasn’t the patriarchy that policed women’s relational interests, it was women. but this agreement, this unspoken pact to set a high market value of sex has all but vanished. but in a brave new world where having sex no longer means babies and marriage has become optional, the solidarity women once felt towards each another in the mating market has dissolved. Women no longer have each other’s backs. on the contrary, they’re now each other’s competition.” SO BAD. This is, for me, the most destructive idea, because it actually blames the entire problem on women. Women policing other women’s behaviors was not a result of a worldwide agreement to ‘set a high market value of sex.’ It was a result of patriarchal ideas about women’s sexuality, and the ensuing rules and options regarding sexual behavior and marriage. Getting an oppressed people to participate in their own oppression is a wildly smart and effective tactic that has been used by the elite and powerful for centuries. Women were always each other’s competition. Marrying has historically been one of women’s best options for climbing the social ladder and creating a better life for themselves. It was not about sisterly bonds anymore or less than it is now. And to blame women for their own devaluation is just such bullshit, it’s taking it back to Eve and original sin and I will not stand for it. I will not take it seriously as an idea and I will not internalize guilt or self-disgust and I will not accept that women are to blame for their own  institutionalized and culturally accepted oppression. 

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~so women control sex and men control marriage, but women want marriage and men want sex. THAT IS COMPLETELY SIMPLE AND OUTRAGEOUS. The only limits on humans behavior are societal norms and cultural expectations. If people tend to act in certain predictable ways, it is due largely to videos like this, that expound a divisive and dangerous perspective on relationships and gender roles.

~this video puts women as the gatekeepers of morality, specifically men’s morality. this is terrible for everyone but especially for men. This idea is not new, but it is just as damaging for men as it is for women. If men are just a-moral dummies wandering this world and women must control them (in part by controlling their own behavior) then humans have an extremely limited capacity for depth and for growth. It means that men are silly boys and women must act as every man’s mommy. It’s gross, and reductive, and it sells every single person on the planet short.

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~so in this world sex is a commodity linked to marriage, and no one can possibly want other kinds of relationships, to explore one of those things without the other, and only heterosexual sex/marriage exist and matter.  It’s really not rocket science kids. There are an immeasurable amount of reasons that a person would want to have sex, with whomever that person wants to have sex with. And it is true that sexual and romantic relationships are kinda tough these days because we are all dealing with the break down of traditional roles in a rapidly changing/ technology flooded world. But harder doesn’t mean worse. I fail to see how people being liberated to explore more options is bad. I fail to see how a world with less marriages is bad. I fail to see how the break down of gender roles is bad. I do see a world where (hopefully) folks will be less constrained by cultural ideas of who they should be or how they should act or who/what they should desire. Sex is not something to be traded for commitment, that idea is so passive aggressive and fucked up. If you want commitment you should ask for it and if you want sex you should ask for it and if you are still trying to figure it all out then just be as honest as possible but don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Men are not all soulless animals looking for a trophy wife while trying to satisfy base instincts and women are not all worrying manipulators who are wielding their sex as a weapon while counting down  their remaining days of fertility. People are people, with complicated motivations and a variety of desires that may even be existing in the same moment and sometimes communicating is hard and this kind of distorted, reductive information is bullshit and I won’t accept it. Don’t allow anyone to dictate your desires or tell you the right way to get what you want. Women and men do not exist as separate groups that act as one singular entity, and no one is actually beholden to this garbage about what it means to be a man or a woman. You exist as you, and you act as yourself.  And you are probably great. 

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we woke up like this. flawless.

And you know what else, there actually was a time where sex was part of an economy. But it was women and girls, their bodies and minds and whole selves,  who were actually being bought and sold as familial property. This is not something to be nostalgic about nor is it a time to long for or extoll the forgotten virtues of. It was gross and patriarchal, a time where women’s bodies were not their own and where women did not possess full humanity. And it is a time that, frankly, we are not yet past despite some incredible progress. Until all women are free from the threats of sexual and reproductive violence and until women are economically independent worldwide and until this kind of video propaganda with this misogynist/homophobic/sexist worldview ceases to be disseminated (or have widespread support) we cannot truly say that we are beyond the historical moment of gender tyranny.

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Let’s get beyond it.

Stick to that Letter: Key & Peele cunnilingus skit

I laughed out loud, at my desk at work, while watching this. Before we discuss it’s pros and cons, lets just enjoy the comedy, brought to us by Key & Peele on Comedy Central.

Alright, alright alright. Catch your breath. Let’s start with the good stuff. First of all, any entertainment that portrays a sex education class for men with the goal of encouraging enthusiastic partner pleasuring is a WIN. Using humor to encourage mutual satisfaction is great. And some of that advice is actually quite accurate (don’t focus only on the clit, make letters with your tongue, gauge your partners response and stick with what is working). If you have an aversion to a particular act, maybe explore why that is. You of course have every right to say ‘not for me’, but especially in the case of cunnilingus, the issue deserves some thought, since culturally we aren’t taught to appreciate female anatomy or pleasure. Sex should be fun, and it should feel good, for all parties involved. There is no set script to stick to, no correct order, and no limit on what you can do (besides consent. It’s gotta be consensual.) Let your imagination run free and have fun!

get hype!
get hype!

But. It fell short for me in a few places. The word ‘bitches’ is just so jarring, when it’s used so often in such a short clip. I know they are playing characters from a very specific cultural segment, but I thought it was a bit much (although ‘learn your bitch’s snowflake’ was PRICELESS.) It’s a harsh word that doesn’t evoke respect or caring, and I think using ‘woman’ or even ‘lady’ could still have worked within the character’s universe. The only other moment I wish hadn’t happened was the line ‘Penises are easy. Vaginas are hard.’ Because that is just not true. The anatomy is different, sure. And it is true that penises are external, so visually they are easier to see and handle. But vaginas, labia, clits and g-spots are really not difficult to navigate. It may be true that female-bodied folks need more stimulation time, but I don’t have actual stats to back that up, and if they do THEN SO WHAT?! Take your time. Vary from the oh so boring script that is disseminated in mainstream porn. Act with care and enthusiasm, and notice to your partner’s response. Don’t assume all your partners will want the same choreography or timing, be ready to switch it up pay attention to everyone’s cues.

omg PREACH
omg PREACH

EPIC ADDENDUM: That advice works for all gender variations, so I think we all need to grow up a little bit and block out sexy fun time and freakin’ GO FOR IT. Don’t be scared to make mistakes, be open to feedback and trying new moves, and most of all up your enthusiasm. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake is a worthy endeavor, so broaden your horizons/challenge yourself to be a better partner/leave shame at the door/wild out. It may take time, and serious work, but I’m hopeful a more sex positive world (free of shame and violence) will emerge in the near future. *Note: This ending paragraph applies to everyone everywhere regardless of sex/gender/sexuality/any other demographic factor. Get. Into. It.

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**2nd Note: I know how optimistic/idealistic/borderline nuts that last sentence sounds. But hey, a girl can dream.

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Victim Blaming- *Rape Culture

I have just finished reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, by James Taranto, which has left me feeling nauseous and sad. Not a cute combination. Taranto is a member of the editorial board at WSJ, as well as the ‘author of its popular Best of the Web Today column’, so he is not just random dude.  The article is entitled ‘Drunkennes and Double Standards: A Balanced Look at College Sex Offenses.

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Right off the bat, I know I’m in for it. Sex offenses aren’t balanced. There is a perpetrator and a victim. Rapists are to blame for rape. So, yea, what’s his overriding argument?

What is called the problem of “sexual assault” on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike… If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn’t determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver’s sex. But when two drunken college students “collide,” the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault. His diminished capacity owing to alcohol is not a mitigating factor, but her diminished capacity is an aggravating factor for him.

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He also mentions false accusations, which as I’ve stated before make up around 2% of all accusations on a generous day. Women are not getting drunk and consenting to sex, then making false accusations fueled by their regret and resentment. “Had she awakened the next day feeling regretful and violated, she could have brought him up on charges and severely disrupted his life.” This almost never happens. Women are not slinging accusations willy nilly, especially given the nature of an investigation, the toll it takes, and how often victims are harassed and shamed when their stories are actually true. He goes on, “What is called the problem of “sexual assault” on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike.” And this, this is an interesting sentence.

I do not disagree that alcohol consumption, in excess, is dangerous for both men and women. I also don’t disagree that having sex while black out drunk is a bad idea for both men and women. For one, drunk people are usually measurably less responsible, so contraception is likely disregarded. Boundaries can also be crossed due to diminished communication, and usually drunk = sloppy which can result in a sub par experience for all. But the most important issue here is who can give consent. If neither party is capable of making rational decisions, then what follows is a messy grey area. Which can be emotionally damaging, or just awkward.

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HOWEVER.

There are a whole lot of assumptions when you make the claim that BOTH PARTIES ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT. You assume that everyone is the same amount of drunk. You assume everyone has positive intent. You assume that men are victims at the same rate as women. You assume we live in a world where sexual assault is an accidental oops, where men are just confused by ladies who claim to be liberated but are really pretending and then want to save their own reputations by destroying someone else.

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Again. Cause none of those things are true. What is true is that rape happens at an alarming rate, everyday, to all kinds of people. It happens to men and women. It happens to college students and to high school students, to children, and to adults of all ages. It happens across race and class lines.  And the only way to prevent it from happening is to teach people how not to rape. It’s to teach everyone that violence and aggression are not linked to ‘real masculinity’. It means teaching everyone what true consent means, and it means decoupling sex from shame. Women should not have to stay sober to avoid being raped, because that doesn’t work anyway. Are there good reasons to help college age kids learn to control their levels of intoxication? Absolutely. Is one of those so they don’t get raped, or accidentally rape someone? No.

The author also sites a widely circulated article from Slate last year to boost his argument, quoting the author:

…she offered the same advice to college men: “If I had a son, I would tell him that it’s in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate.”

Tell me how sad that quote makes you.

this one?
this one?
or this one?
or this one?
nope, this one. definitely.
nope, this one. definitely.

The author of that piece, Emily Yaffe, would tell her son that it’s not in his self interest to find himself accused of rape. Not that he should respect women. Not that he should be sure to only engage in consensual sex. Just that it would be bad news bears FOR HIM, for his life, if he were in a situation that allowed him to be accused of raping a drunk girl. The lack of empathy and compassion in that line of thinking is truly astounding.

The end point of Taranto’s piece is that chivalry should make a come back, because men and women are different, despite feminists instance of equality, and the balance of power in sexual encounters is uneven. He is only 1/2 right. The balance of power is still often tilted in the direction of men. This does not mean, however, that women are naturally more prudish or inclined towards monogamy. It means that we live in a culture that perpetuates base misunderstandings about gender and that de-values the bodies and well being of women at an alarming rate. It means that we all must strive to be more honest with ourselves and with our partners, and to treat our sexual partners as actual humans and not as a different species that we must apply different rules to and ‘figure out’. Yes means yes. You do not have the right to ever touch another human intimately without their expressed approval. And sure, I’m down for giving out basic safety advice like 1) learn to control your consumption 2) travel in groups 3)be aware of your surroundings. But that advice isn’t limited to just young women, and it applies to violence prevention in all forms.

Because the only advice we need to give on rape prevention is: Don’t rape anyone.

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Sochi Sexism

See what I did there! Alliteration!

The buzz coming from Sochi is that, well, it’s still kind of a rough situation over there. But the games start today, so they need to get it together! Yesterday, to [distract from the below-par facilities/animal rights violations/ rampant homophobia] advertise and drum up some enthusiasm, Russia released some insane photos of their female athletes. As you scroll through, practice this fun tool for figuring out if what you are seeing is ‘gender issues’: reverse the situation. In this example, the question is ‘Would male athletes be photographed this way?’

Curling.
Curling. Alex Saitova
Figure Skating.
Figure Skating. Ekaterina Bobrova
Freestyle.
Freestyle. Catherine Carpenter
Hockey.
Hockey. Svetlana Kolmykovan.
Short track.
Short track. Tatiana Borodulina
Skelaton.
Skeleton. Elena Nikitina

Look kids, these women have great bodies. They are bodies they work hard to maintain for their high level, outrageously difficult athletic endeavors. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be photographed to appear sexy, but do they have to take all the ‘athletic’ out of it? I can’t tell these aren’t lingerie models, and that’s selling them short (so is the tacky aesthetic, but that’s another story for another day…) I want to see how powerful they are. I want to see what their bodies are capable of, other than sitting on a bed in heels.

Here is a sexy shot of Andy Murray:

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Shirtless, yea, but in action.

Or how about this beast shot of Kenneth Faried:

naked and alluring but still 100% athlete
naked and alluring but still 100% athlete

And here is a link to Sports Illustrated Sexiest 25 Male Athletes. No undies, all either clothed or in their gear. Sexy, but not posed like underwear models. Not that there is anything wrong with being a lingerie model. But female athletes work incredibly hard to have the skills and stamina needed to compete at high levels. I don’t want to see them stripped of that work in a photo that reduces them so being eye candy. Why can’t they be athletic, strong and powerful eye candy? Because, duh, they are. And women can be lots of things (hot, smart, funny, sexy, powerful, assertive, vulnerable, caring, ETC) all at the very same time. Cause all humans are complicated. And unique. And exquisitely, complexly wonderful. Well, most humans…

justsayin

lets keep it real
lets keep it real