Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

 

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.

On Lingerie, Street Harassment, and Making the Connections

There is a video making the rounds right now of a woman walking through New York City. A person wearing a back pack with a hidden camera walks in front of her, recording for 10 hours. She is catcalled more than 100 times. Watching this video make my skin crawl at certain moments. It is ever so familiar. It’s so banal that it breaks my heart.

Some of the comments I’ve seen in reaction to this video are really getting me riled up. And not the most extreme of them, because I am aware that some people think women are objects and that we should all be grateful for the attention and that all women deserve to be objectified and even violated. I don’t actually have the energy to fight against that kind of misogyny, I’m tired, and hopefully those folks stay in the dank dark hovel from which they so courageously anonymously comment.

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It’s this other kind of comment. The more moderate comment, which (to paraphrase) says ‘Some of those guys are scum, but some are just saying hi and it’s no big deal. You have to be able to say hi, right?’

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And this infuriates me. Because it assumes a few things. First, it assumes that sometimes the comments are harmless. I can assure you that this is almost never true. 1% of the time, if I’m being generous. So it’s statistically not worth mentioning. It also assumes that women cannot tell the difference between a polite greeting and a greeting with an underlying  motive. Again, I can assure you that we can. All of us. We know the difference between ‘Good morning!’ and ‘Hey there (I want to put my dick in you)!’. Because we are humans, capable of reading body language and subtext and vocal tone. ALSO: If you truly wish that you could simply greet other humans without being suspected of flirting or feared, then you can place the blame squarely on the harassers who have conditioned us that responding in any way to strangers is dangerous to our bodies and our psyches.

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And you know what? Sometimes maybe we get it wrong. But can you think for a second about how much energy, emotional energy, it takes to try and vet every comment/greeting/look that you get while out in the world trying to live your fucking life? Think about having to figure out which are innocuous and which are disgusting/loaded/disrespectful. Think about having to figure out if you are in danger every few moments. Think about having your guard up non stop, about not being able to be free and vulnerable and interact with strangers because you just might put yourself in a position to be harassed or followed or touched without permission. Think about if you were physically and emotionally drained by the act of existing in public.

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So I participated in a challenge recently, to support {my lingerie play}. Check out this dope performance/mission, check out Hollaback!, check out my video and post your own photo or video to their site or donate or talk to your friends.

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You can watch the video HERE!

Awareness, hopefully, can breed empathy (I have a LOT of feelings about empathy this week!) I truly believe that if everyone had to deal with the physic onslaught of catcalls and public objectification/sexualization each day, that folks would act differently. Cat calling and street harassment are expressions of power, and they minimize the total humanity of female bodied people. They are not complimentary. These actions reduce us to our bodies, and are rooted in the longstanding myth that our bodies (and desires) are dirty and out of control and shameful. But I will not be diminished. We are all beautiful, we contain multitudes, and our bodies are our own. They are beautiful, and they are beautiful right now. It bears repeating.

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we are all golden sunflowers inside {and out}
we are all golden sunflowers inside {and out}
all day erry day
all day erry day

Celebrity Nude Photo Leak: Scandal or SEX CRIME OBVIOUSLY UGH

Some low life leaked photos of female celebrities this weekend, notably the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Ariana Grande. And it’s being covered as a ‘scandal’.

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It’s not a scandal. It’s a sex crime.

Lena Duhnam succinctely sums up my feelings about the most oft used excuse for viewing the leaked shots:

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You shouldn’t be viewing these photos because you don’t have permission. They were not taken for you. These actresses have not chosen to share the images, they were not shot in a professional setting, no one was compensated. They are not ‘for sale’. They are private. Say it with me: PRIVATE.

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Listen, real talk: obviously I would love to see Jennifer Lawrence naked. I think she is beautiful, and bodies are beautiful, and that would be dope. But I won’t go find those pics, and I won’t link to where to find them, because this incident is a part of a clear pattern of misogyny and the policing of female sexuality and bodies. Celebrities give up a lot of privacy to have a career. Some of that I believe is part of their job, but some of it is a clear invasion. Women in particular, models and actresses and pop stars, are policed at a very high level. We speculate about their romantic lives ad nauseum (Jennifer Aniston etc) and we obsess over their bodies, circling supposed problem areas if they get too large (Jessica Simpson etc) or speculating about their health if they become too skinny (Nicole Richie, Angelina Jolie etc). This level of scrutiny is cruel, and it serves no one. We expect these women to hold to the standards we’ve all set for them, otherwise they face the wrath of tabloids and fans who will withhold their adoration until the standards are once again achieved. We hold them up as goddesses, but are quick to snatch them back down to earth if they ‘let themselves go.’

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But talent is not linked with a particular body type. This is why Christina Aguilera can belt at any size, and why Adele is effing glorious. The same applies to actresses, who needn’t be under 120 lbs to give a performance that is moving, convincing, funny or deep. Our adoration should be about performance, about the ability to consistently BRING IT. And yet instead of pledging our alegiance to those that move us, we worship goddesses of beauty and glamour. And I get it, because beauty and glamour are extremely appealing and alluring. But the standards are too rigid. The definitions of beauty of too strict and too immobilizing. The demands can never be maintained. And we are all just waiting for the slip up, so we can point out the flaws and I suppose feel some kind of catharsis or redemption because they are like us? Because perfection is an illusion, and we need them to prove it to us?

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This instance, though, can be spun as part of that worship. Which is gross. Because the naked body is private. It is for sharing only with those that you wish to share it with. This is not the same thing as to say it is shameful. It’s not shameful. Bodies are beautiful. The difference between what is private and what is shameful is not well articulated in our culture, and so we mostly teach girls that their bodies and their sexuality and their periods and their desires are shameful, when really those things are just private. Shaping them as private things has a much different connotation, because it is up to you to decide the boundaries of your personal privacy. Things are are private are under the purview of your own agency, subject to decisions that you are empowered to make for yourself. Shameful things have already been decided on for you, by someone else (your mother, your peers, the culture at large.) These photos were stolen and released without consent to shame these women. And the most common response is ‘Well if they don’t want them seen, then they shouldn’t take them’ which is indeed victim blaming akin to the ‘she was dressed provocatively’ or ‘don’t drink so much’ defense hurled at rape victims. The assumption is that if you take naked photos you are acting as a sexual being and if you are a woman that makes you a slut and you deserve to be exposed for what you are. She was asking for it. The only people responsible for crimes are those that commit them. In what realm of reality would it be unreasonable for a person to take intimate photos for themselves or a partner, and expect that only the person intended to see those photos would see them? Why wouldn’t a person imagine that their privacy be respected? If you believe that celebrities owe us even this, even their most intimate moments, then I think you are a delusional and unreasonable and not nice and unclear about what consent is and means. (Also: What are you hoping to find in those photos? Cause I’m pretty sure the fact that celebrities are naked under their clothes is not exactly revelatory information….)

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Women do not owe anyone access to their bodies. Famous women don’t owe you access to their nudity. Women in public don’t owe you access to touch them, to comment on their appearance, and they don’t owe you a smile. This incident highlights the way in which our culture functions to remind women that their bodies are not their own. It’s all connected friends, from street harassment to reproductive rights to the constant scrutiny and hunger for ever more provocative and revealing images. Don’t look at those pictures. They don’t belong to us.

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Street Harassment: Biking Edition

I’m pretty rattled about this incident, so bear with me.

I was coming north on Ave B, just passing the Williamsburg bridge. A fellow cyclist went ahead of me in the bike lane. For about a block we did this awkward thing where we were sort of going the same speed, but then he’d slow down and I’d go outside to pass him, but then he’d speed up again so I’d back off. This happened 3 or 4 times. At the intersection I made a move to pass him and he yelled at me ‘Watch it, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?!’ I hadn’t passed him closely at all, everyone had plenty of safe space. Now we were sort of next to one another so I said ‘I’m just trying to maintain my speed.’ He replied ‘Why the fuck are you trying to pass me?’ This sounded arrogant and completely illogical and I was starting to feel angry so I said ‘Just mind your own fucking business and keep your eyes on the road.’ I tried to speed up. He sped up next to me and unleashed a torrent of hateful language. I remember fucking bitch and who the fuck do you think you are and something about what a slut I was for biking around in a skirt and how I should cover up my filthy cunt. I tried to slow down to let him go ahead, but he slowed down and wouldn’t proceed without me. He even insulted my bike, and her fucking sparkles.

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this is my sparkly bike, sparkle pony.

I was starting to feel threatened, and unsafe. His tone was not joking, he was purposely staying with me, and he’d noticed my totally noticeable and not at all commonplace bike, which he could certainly see again in the future and remember. I wondered if I should try and get my phone to take a picture, but my phone wasn’t accessible and I’m always at yelling people holding their phones while riding. I wished I could magically manifest some of the cards this dope chick has been making, so I could throw up a whole handful and make it rain on him and hopefully distract him long enough to pedal to safety.  As we were approaching Houston Street I sped up like I was going to fly through the intersection, and so did he. Just before getting 1/2 way across I abruptly stopped, which PS was probably super dangerous, and I turned my bike to head east towards Ave C. He was ahead of me and didn’t see me right away so he was through the intersection and he didn’t turn around. His rants faded as I pedaled east, looking behind me every few minutes and hoping he didn’t turn east ahead of me to meet back up. He didn’t.

this is my awesome dad, ken dill, instilling a love of bikes in me at a tender young age
this is my awesome dad, ken dill, instilling a love of bikes in me at a tender young age

So, what is it, I wondered, that set him off? I pedaled all the way home, unsteady, turning over in my head what had occurred. Was it that I deigned to pass him? Because dudes are always stronger and faster than girls? Does he have something against lady riders in general? Too much freedom and autonomy? Too much joy? Too much leg? I couldn’t figure it out.

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But it doesn’t matter. Not one bit. Because I’m allowed to ride a bike. It’s fun, it’s economical, and it’s good for the environment. And I’m allowed to bike in dresses. If my thighs offend you, look at something else. And I’m allowed to pass you. I’m allowed to ride at whatever speed I judge to be appropriate, so long as I am not putting other riders/cars/pedestrians in danger. But isn’t it fascinating how quickly this conversation went from urban cycling to what a bitch/slut/cunt I am? I mean, he could have insulted my riding skills, or continued to claim I wasn’t practicing good bike safety etiquette. He could have just called me a jerk or a butt head. Alas, it was straight to bitch. That ubiquitous insult with no male equivalent (except for bitch, which is insulting because it implies you are acting like a woman.) How quickly he leapt to assume that I was a wanton harlot due to the fact that I had a bike seat between my legs and there was skin visible above my knees.

sparkle with one of her friends, my besties claire bear's bike from back in the day
sparkle with one of her friends, my besties claire bear’s bike from back in the day

Also: if you are reading this and thinking in horror ‘god that dude is an asshole and terrible and I wish things like that never happened’, but you don’t get why women complain about cat calling, please take my hand and allow me to show you the connection. In this case, the original exchange between us was unpleasant, however the scariest moment was when he escalated. It took a turn from a cycling disagreement to what a bitch/slut I was, and then he physically wouldn’t leave. This pattern also happens when the conversation starts with a ‘hey baby’ or ‘damn girl you look good’ etc. You can never tell when an innocuous compliment is going to to turn lewd, vulgar, or aggressive depending on how you do or do not react. This is why ‘compliments’ are not fun to receive, because they feel like ticking time bombs. So spread the word about how it really feels to be cat called or harassed on the street, and don’t do it yourself (unless there is an obvious vibe and eye contact and you’re a grown up I know you can figure it out on your own) and also check out these great folks and their work: SSH & Hollaback!

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I was coming home with a small token of celebration for my partner last night. Nothing extravagant, just wanted to take a moment to point out an accomplishment I think is pretty cool. And instead I came home upset, shaken, and thoroughly un-joyful. I showered and shook off the encounter. But I will never forget his face, or the feeling in the pit of my stomach, or the fact that our interaction is part of a web of similar interactions between men and the women they harass (#YesAllWomen). These interactions create a ubiquitous feeling of danger in public places. And instead of jumping to protect the right of women to do whatever the fuck they want to the same degree as men, as a culture we say things like ‘well maybe you shouldn’t bike in that skirt‘ and ‘what do you expect when you dress that way‘ and ‘you shouldn’t be going out alone at night‘ and ‘are you sure you didn’t do anything to lead him on‘ and ‘gosh, can’t you just take a compliment.’

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And I said the same thing to myself. You shouldn’t have engaged with him, you shouldn’t have cursed at him. But fuck that. I did what any reasonable person would have done when they were shouted at. I’m not going to stay quiet because you have some ego-maniacle malfunction. Fuck you bro. I am still gonna bike and sing up and down the east side of this island. I’m gonna go to yoga, run errands, meet up with friends and commute to my fucking big girl job. And I’m going to always wear a helmet because fucking safety. More and more women are biking, so you’ll have to get used to us, or relinquish the road. Sparkle and I aren’t going anywhere. And neither are my thighs. Grow up. Shut up. Get a helmet, and while you’re at it try seeing women as actual human beings. Maybe then we can all get where we are going a little more safely.

Real Talk: I’m having an existential crisis about hatred for women’s bodies, and it’s storming, and the struggle is too real

I know that a lot of what is written in the feminist blogosphere is done with a certain amount of humor, and snark. Sarcasm. Because we want to believe that what we are writing about is so obvious, that sarcasm is the perfect tool to reveal it for what is truly is. But honestly, I’m not sure I have a lot of snark left after this week, so I hope you will forgive this rather sincere and earnest post.

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I’m disheartened this week, by the recent Supreme Court rulings, but more so by the lack of outrage I feel. I know there is a lot written in anger, and that lots of my peers are upset. But outside of that rage bubble there is a collective shrug. An overall ambivalence, that this decision isn’t a big deal. The limitations aren’t very strong. Sincere religious beliefs are a fair enough claim for exception. This is about insurance, not about women.

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I don’t understand how people cannot see with certainty that this is about hatred for women’s bodies. How the very fact that contraception is controversial is irrefutable evidence that we live in a toxic, misogynist culture that values any life (hypothetical, corporate) over the life of a woman. And with other marginalized groups making strides, the rights of women are being legally thwarted at every turn. The law of the land was just altered so that folks who believe that women’s bodies belong to something or someone else can assert their beliefs at the expense of real people. And now the floor is open for companies to use their ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ to discriminate against women. And it is discrimination, which is made even more obvious by the fact that no other religious exemptions were granted. If you believe the blood transfusions, vaccines, or anti-depressants are immoral or sinful or whatever, well tough cookies. It’s only women’s bodies that can be sacrificed in the name of ‘Christian’ values. (Unless of course they allow this ruling to set a precedent for discrimination against LGBTQ folks, which is already trying to happen, FYI.)

Contraception isn’t magic, and it isn’t evil. And it shouldn’t just be liberals or self-proclaimed feminists getting upset about this ruling. Corporations being granted the rights of people should, frankly, upset everyone. And folks who are anti-abortion should be outraged as well, for indeed the best way to bring down the abortion rate is by providing comprehensive sex education and unfettered access to birth control. And yet, they’ve managed to trick many into believing that to be against one should automatically make you against both. Such a clever tactic. I believe that women’s health choices regarding her body should be her own, whether that choice be in avoiding a pregnancy or ending one. But for those who oppose the elective ending of pregnancy, this birth control exemption should feel like a huge disappointment.

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I want to know why they hate our bodies so much. Why, everywhere I look, control of our bodies is being taken from women and put in the hands of others. Into the hands of the Supreme Court, those 5 men who ruled that corporations have more rights as people under the law then women. Into in the hands of employers, who can now decide which kind of contraception, basic care in the eyes of the medical establishment and federal government, are acceptable for coverage. It’s in the hands of advertisers, the media, and internet trolls, who decide and proclaim which of us is beautiful, appropriate, feminine, and worthy. It’s in the hands of men on the street, who can comment and harass without fear because they are just complimenting you. It’s in the hands of rapists, who will claim that you were asking for it, and be justified when the police and the judge and even your friends and family ask ‘what were you wearing’ and ‘were you flirting’ and ‘how much were you drinking’. All these ways, the insidious and the obvious, are part of the reality of this culture. They are overt and subtle, they are accepted and sometimes frowned upon, but mostly they are tolerated. For now, we would rather uphold the power system of patriarchy that truly dismantle it.

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Ok ok, I’m using ‘we’ there loosely. In fact, I myself would really really like to dismantle the patriarchy, and I know many other capable adults who would as well. I don’t know why these things aren’t more obvious. I don’t know why folks can’t see the hate that is at work in this ruling, and indeed that is at work every day in large and small ways. I sincerely hope that all of the marginalized groups, all those that feel the weight of a culture that wants to keep them in a certain box (or cage), will come together. We have a black president, half of all states have legalized gay marriage, and women are over 1/2 the population. Let’s rally the troops and tell the establishment, the folks in power, the old white guys and all their allies, that their reign is over. That there is room for everyone’s voice, for everyone’s unique gifts, and for everyone’s love. So long as you are speaking about inclusion, empathy, true democracy and community. Equality. Creation instead of war. Love in the place of fear. ‘Yes we can’ instead of ‘No you can’t.’ True justice. Right now, I do not see justice for women. Only manipulation and control passed off as controversy and the protection of some freedoms at the expense of others. But maybe I’m the crazy one. Maybe it’s just about paying for some medicines, and not others.

Here is something that will make you smile instead of sigh, just so we don’t end on a note of despair: 18 Empowering Illustrations, to remind us that our bodies are our own to create and control in whatever image we choose. Namaste. Have a good weekend.

I’m Nervous About Cutting My Hair, and other thoughts on insecurity

I’m going to cut my hair off this weekend.

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If you know me, you’re rolling your eyes like ‘Come on Alex, how much more hair could you possibly cut off?’ And you’re mostly right.

asymettrical, purple swoop, resting bitch face
asymettrical, purple swoop, morning sass

But I’ve never gone full on clippers, GI Jane style. I’ve never taken it all the way down. I’ve thought about taking it all off before, in solidarity with my mom (who has lost her hair a bunch of times due to cancer treatment), and also as a way to just let everything go and reset. And I’m finally gonna do it, as a way to help transition to this whole no shampoo thing (furthering my natural beauty journey which you can read about here and also here.)

But I’m nervous.

sheldonnervous

A strangely large amount of people have told me that I’m ‘so brave’ for cutting my hair short. That they themselves could never do that, they themselves aren’t ‘brave enough.’ But cutting my hair wasn’t an act of courage.  In fact,  like a lot of folks, it was an act of desperation. When my best friend from high school slept with my then boyfriend (so cliche, so inconsiderate) about 1/2 way through college, I was heartbroken and stunned and completely unsure about the world. And I wanted to be a different person. And so I switched out my facial piercing, got a new tattoo, and cut my hair off. It was a beginning, and an end, and a statement. It didn’t feel brave.

cliche

And still, as I grew into that person with shorter hair, that person who got past a betrayal and kept loving the people that helped and found newer and better passions, I’ve still never felt that short hair makes me brave. My mom is brave, facing a seemingly endless amount of treatment and still yearning to move past cancer and live her life to the fullest. People who risk their lives to save others are brave. People who stand up to injustice are brave. People who face the unknown with dignity and hope are brave. All I do is pay Marika, the little old Greek lady who gave me my first hair cut and continues to put up with my crazy requests, to cut some hairs on my head into sassy shapes.

Ryan-Gosling-Shrug

But quite frankly, I am scared about cutting my hair really short all over. And it’s for a kind of embarrassing reason. It’s because I’m afraid I won’t be pretty. And actually, I’m pretty sure that I’m not pretty already, but I feel like this is going to make it worse.

To be clear, this is not a pity party and I’m not sharing these thoughts to garner supportive comments. I don’t think I’m gross or ugly, and most days I am satisfied with my appearance. And I’m lucky enough that I have lots of people in my life who love me and tell me I am beautiful and on lots of days, thankfully, I believe them. I’m talking about something very specific. ‘Pretty’ is glamour, it’s pink and it’s quiet. Pretty is Betty Draper with her tiny waist and full skirt, and the perfect shade of lipstick. Pretty is my mother going to work when I was a kid, dressed chicly in all black, putting lipstick on with a lip brush, hair curled with a curling iron and a little hairspray. Pretty is how ballet made me feel, pink tights and tutus and fingers held just so. When I say pretty I mean feminine, perfect makeup and a floral summer dress. I mean princess-y. I mean delicate. I mean put together. I mean pretty.

she's like a doll. an ice queen, kinda soulless doll...
she’s like a doll. an ice queen, kinda soulless doll…

And that kind of beauty is something that I’ve always felt was out of my reach. I can do sexy and sassy, short hair that’s sometimes fun colors and tattoos and loud style. When my body is in a yoga pose or peddling me up an urban hill, I’m especially happy with it, grateful for it’s strength and resilience. But we can’t be all things, and I always got the sense that I was a little too loud and a little too un-still and a little too creative for pretty. Because pretty comes with a catch. Can’t be too loud, pretty girls are quite. Can’t be sweaty, pretty girls stay still. Can’t be too funny, pretty girls aren’t in the spot light (unless they are staying still to be admired.) Can’t be too unique, pretty has rules.

rules

And I know that this is all nonsense. I personally know plenty of pretty girls that are brash and funny, and pretty girls that are smart as a whip, and pretty girls with tattoos and pretty girls with long and short hair and pretty girls that are different shapes and different shades. Because real life defies what they try to make us believe.

But sometimes I still wish I was the kind of girl who effortlessly looked put together, who could wear super frilly dresses and lipstick without feeling like I was trying to hard. And I’ll bet some of those girls feel like me, wanting something different or looking in the mirror and picking apart things that are perfect. Because we are bombarded with images of these kinds of girls everyday, and they taunt us with their airbrushed perfection. Because we all learn lessons as little girls about how to act, about what is important for us, and the concept of ‘pretty’ is high on the list. Because our culture doesn’t work to reassure us that we are perfect as we are, it undermines us and feeds our insecurity and sells us snake oil promising that just one more product will transform us into the swan/princess/super model/super woman.

happywithyourself

And yet. Fuck that. Because I am who I am, and I have spent lots of time (especially after that first major hair cut) working to be a person I am proud of, and working to love myself in this body and in my own skin. And I’ve worked hard to let other people love me, despite the fact that I’m not perfect, despite the fact that I’m kind of a lot and despite the fact that I’m not always feminine or ‘girly’. And my work isn’t over. We should all be doing this work, even though it’s never ending, because we have to set a good example for each other and for the next group of girls growing up. My best friend just gave birth (I’m so effing proud of her, in awe actually) and her little sugar bean is perfect. And I don’t want sugar bean to grow up worrying about being pretty. I want to teach her how to love herself, how to work hard to achieve goals, how to stand up for what she believes in and how to feel pride in herself for more than just her outward appearance. I want to teach her about empathy and self-love and feminism, and I can’t do that if I don’t keep trying to be a living example.

lesson #1
lesson #1

So it’s all gonna go. And then no more shampoo. And no more conditioner. And I’ll let you know how the natural remedies work out. And if I cry. And I’ll hopefully remind us all, myself included, that it’s just hair. It will grow back. Everything in life is only for now. It’s not that this stuff isn’t hard, or that these issues aren’t real, because they are. The pressure is real, and so is the shame, and it’s ok to have all the feels. The last thing any of us need is to feel guilty about wanting to feel beautiful. So I’m trying to get over my embarrassment (thus the large amount of sharing), own my insecurity, and then cut my hair anyway. And if it turns out that it does make me less pretty, well I mean, that’s not a tragedy. I can grow the swoop back. My friends and family and framily will still love me. The world will continue to spin. I do believe that if we can face some of our fears regarding our bodies and our personal beauty, we should try. Because if we can learn to love our whole entire selves, we can better love each other, and then we can all work together to dismantle the system that teaches us that we don’t deserve love unless our lipstick is perfect.

beylipsticksmash

Taylor Townsend: Grand Slam Debut!

Meet Taylor Townsend. She just made and impressive grand slam debut at the French Open.

taylor

She made it to the third round last week, making her the youngest American woman to advance that far in the French since 2003. She is 18 years old, with a game the media has deemed retro and a decidedly outgoing and competitive spirit. She pulled off an impressive 2nd round upset against the 20th seed and is awaiting news of a possible Wimbledon wild card. Andy Murray tweeted about her. All in all, I’d say she killed her first slam performance.

But. A lot of media coverage has been focused away from her game. Two years ago, the USTA attempted to keep the then 16-year old from playing in the US Open because of ‘concerns about her health’ ie they thought she needed to lose weight. She played anyway, however her mother had to pay out of pocket for their travel expenses.

eyeroll

Serena Williams, herself the victim of body trolling in the past despite 17 GS singles titles plus another 15 in doubles, was quoted as saying  “For a female, particularly, in the United States, in particular, an African-American, to have to deal with that is unnecessary… Women athletes come in all different sizes and shapes and colors and everything. I think you can see that more than anywhere on the tennis tour.” Taylor won the doubles title and advanced to the quarters in the singles bracket of that tournament. She made it to #1 in the world as a junior. She has since made up with the USTA, and they reimbursed her for those travel costs.

hugitout

The media is still talking about her body, with lots of speculation about how ‘getting in better shape’ could improve her game. Now, because we are talking about athletes, I’m not opposed to talking about physicality. We do, in fact, talk about the bodies of male athletes quite a bit. We don’t require male athletes to be as conventionally attractive or genial as we like our female athletes, but that’s a different discussion for a different day. The question here is whether her body shape is impeding her game. Jon Wertheim at Sports Illustrated thinks not.

“…the evidence that her physique hinders her tennis is scant at best. In her second round match, she played 30 games over three sets and almost two-and-a-half hours against France’s Alize Cornet (who goes 5-8, 139 pounds) Townsend won thrillingly, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 and was hardly winded.”

I think this is an interesting, very fine point in the way we talk about women’s bodies, and men’s bodies, and the language we use. For many athletes, concerns about weight are coded in discussions about their ‘fitness’, their endurance and ‘stamina’. But, as Wertheim points out, she doesn’t appear to have an issue hanging with the other women athletes. And, frankly, if you’ve been watching the ladies tour for the past few years, you’ll have already noticed a dearth in strength and stamina amongst the majority of the players, particularly the skinny-minny crowd.

justsaying

We so rarely speculate on the health of people with ‘normal’ body types, assuming they must be fine. And yet we have a collective cultural understanding that larger bodies are unhealthy and thus deserving of our ‘concern’ (read: trolling, judgement). This understanding is completely biased, and not at all based on fact. Body weight and shape can be used as markers of health when included in an overall assement of other markers such as resting heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. But taken alone, weight cannot tell you anything significant about your health. In fact, it’s entirely possible for folks who have the same exact habits, good or bad, both food and activity related, to end up with drastically different bodies.

I guess I’m hoping that, if we are going to speculate and comment on athletes bodies (which I have mixed feelings about because it is work related for them but also totally exploitive/fun/sexy for us…)  that we do so in the same way for all bodies. I mean, maybe I’d like to hear more about how Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are, believe it or not, the same height and weight! Say what?! And also, I’ve never heard anyone talk about how hefty some major league baseball pitchers are, or at least not as the main meat of the coverage. And it shouldn’t be the main story, because an athlete’s performance should be our chief concern. In short, I wish the issue of Taylor’s body and her past struggles was more of a foot note, an aside, a passing background tidbit instead of the headline. I wish her story wasn’t framed as part of a culture war between small and large people. I wish that we all, in general, were more accepting of a greater range of bodies. I wish our standards for what is beautiful, and what is athletic, were expanded to include the vast and wonderful array of people that we encounter on the streets and on the courts. Taylor’s debut was exciting, and her future looks promising. She deserves to be covered because of her on court performance, not how she looks in the tennis skirt.

taylorsmile

Which, BTW, is awesome.

The Normal Heart: My Heartache for Humanity

normalheart

Last night I watched The Normal Heart. If you can get your hands on someone’s HBO GO password, I highly recommend watching it. Everyone’s performance was stellar. I kept thinking I knew who’d delivered the most heartbreaking monologue, and I kept being wrong. There might be spoilers ahead, but there aren’t any real twists in the movie. Just a steady flow of death, and the search for answers.

normalheartcast

The story of AIDS in the early 80’s, before the disease had a name, before they knew it was a virus that attacked one’s immune system, is a story of panic and indifference. Because the initial outbreak occurred in the gay community, the culture at large remained unconcerned at best, and hostile at worst, to the first patients. When the outbreak continued to spread, the now familiar signs of hate (literal picket signs) began to appear. It wasn’t until 4 years after the first reported case that President Reagan said the word AIDS out loud, acknowledging the disease as a public health risk and pledging research dollars to find a cure. By that time, thousands were already dead or infected.

castnormalheart

Watching a person you love, possibly more than any other person on earth, get sick and whither away, is an experience that I have been up close and personal with. The fear you carry around, a deep and murky river just below the surface, it never goes away. And most of us have never plunged down into it, and so we do not know how deep it goes. If one has cause to care for a loved one who is ill, it will likely be a defining experience of their life. It is the defining experience of my life. And as I watched this movie, I felt deeply connected to the characters who wanted to save the ones they loved. Who needed answers, and hope, and had none. I am decades removed from this particular crisis and do not personally know anyone with this disease, but the experience resonated with my own none the less.

you-the-normal-heart-hbo-mister-scandal

And so why, I wonder, why was the world so callous and uncaring? How can you see young men in the prime years of their life withering away and possibly think ‘they got what they deserve.’ I don’t understand how it is possible that, all too often, people look at others and see difference where there is mostly commonality. I don’t understand how we so easily accept that some of us are good and others not, when it’s so obvious that all of us contain both dark and light within us. I don’t understand why, when given the choice, people seem to believe that hate is the safer choice, over love.

Seeing the humanity is every face you encounter, treating everyone with respect and love, this to me is the most important and urgent message of feminism. All of the specific political issues are, of course, important, because they affect people’s lives in very real and tangible ways. But at the heart of the issues, the real question is: do you care about other people? Do you value their life, their lived experiences, as much as your own? That is the real question of those first political activists fighting for AIDS research and community support. Obviously they needed to know what the virus was and how to treat it. But asking for money and support, it was really a plea for empathy. A plea for compassion. It was one community, reaching out to their larger community, asking if anyone recognized their humanity enough to help save those that were dying.

In the wake of recent incredibly violent and well publicized rampages, I have nothing but disdain for anyone who treats other people as inferior, as other, as less than human. Frankly, if you have a gun and shoot girls because you feel entitled to their bodies and attention, or if you are just a person who quietly thinks mysoginistic thoughts that you never express, I see no difference. You are part of the problem, you are a blockade on the road to a better world. We are all so alike, deeply alike on a fucking atomic level. I want to see love, and unity, and togetherness. I want to see compassion. Without those, full equality will never be realized.

Maya Angelou: A Thank You Letter

mayaangelou

Maya Angelou died today. She lived an incredibly full life, which you should read about here. She was an accomplished writer, a Tony nominated actress, a singer and dancer, a mother, and much much more. She influenced me greatly in my formative education. Something about her voice resonated with me, miles away from and decades after she grew up in the segregated South. That’s the power of poetry, of literature and memoir. The power to speak across the barriers of time and space.

caged bird                         maya-angelou-barack-obama

There has been and will continue to be much written about Ms Angelou. I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m just a fan. All I can say is that hearing voices such as hers, when you are young an eager to explore, is truly the best way to learn about the world. We must make space, on pages and in our hearts, for ever more diverse voices. Women, folks of color, people from different countries and different neighborhoods. People with different experiences than our own. This is how we learn compassion. It’s how we broaden our horizons. It’s how we learn the lessons of history, and how we figure out what we want the shape of our futures to become.

maya         angelou_free

I studied this poem in high school, I think my junior or senior year, and it has stuck with me ever since. The confidence, the pride, the unapologetic joy in her own body. It’s such a powerful message, and one that I think many young girls could seriously benefit from today. I present it now, with the utmost gratitude. For the beautiful collections of words she created, and for putting pen to paper and using her voice despite an overwhelming consensus that her’s wasn’t a voice worth hearing. I’m inspired by her words, and by her life. She remains a national treasure, a favorite poet, a phenomenal woman.

 

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.