Notes on The Feminist Porn Book | Take 1

I recently read The Feminist Porn Book by Tristan Taormino. It is such a great book, and Taormino, as well as all the other authors who contributed essays to it, have amazing brains.

I love talking about porn with people and listening to their opinions. This book definitely helped me in polishing and re-conceptualizing my own, and has equipped me with more information and perspectives to be able to help and guide others in their journey through porn & porn critique.

I decided to write a series of (shorter than usual) blog posts about different quotes from the book that are thought-provoking, fun, and/or great to talk about. Please comment, add to, disagree with, and share through the comments, on social media or wherever you feel like bringing up porn (hey, Easter is coming up!). Communication is what keeps us learning and growing!

I will start with a quote from the Introduction which I think is VERY relatable to many, and I think speaks to one of the reasons I love feminist porn.

“Feminist porn does not shy away from the darker shades of women’s fantasies. It creates space for realizing the contradictory ways in which our fantasies do not always line up with our politics or ideas of who we think we are.”  – Constance Penley, Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Mireille Miller-Young, Tristan Taormino

It is very simply put here, which I love about the quote, but really it speaks to a complex, ongoing process of deconstruction, critique and mindfullness that feminism has always dealt with in different ways with different phenomena.

The internal battle between desire & politics, fantasy & activism, the personal as political, is not exclusive to porn, of course. For decades certain currents within and outside of feminism have criticized femme identity of being internalized misogyny, sex work of being a weapon and a victim of the patriarchy, fetishism as being just another form of female objectification, to name a few instances. Hell, even being attracted to cis men is sometimes subject to feminist, queer criticism. Ask bisexual communities.

The thing about porn, and about sex & sexuality at large, is that we do not pick and choose what turns us on. Sure, desire is to an extent malleable, but it is hardly voluntary. Either something has orgasmic potential or it doesn’t. What we protest against during the day may very well be what we ask our partners to (consensually!!) act out with us at night.

Think about BDSM, abduction fantasies or rape (role)play, D/s relationships, maid/slave/schoolgirl role-play. These are all things for which (primarily people raised as) women who enjoy them, in particular when these women want to play out the submissive role, often face external and/or internal criticism, shame, accusations of betrayal to the movement. “Am I perpetuating rape culture?” “Why do I want a man to be physically/verbally violent with me in bed?” “Am I furthering the stereotype that (all) women WANT to be submissive (outside of bed too)?”

My answer would be NO, people whose desires take them to submissive roles, feminine attitudes, and/or ANYTHING ELSE for that matter, are not perpetuating anything. They are (consensually, duh) enjoying their sex lives, which is awesome, healthy and empowering. And they are acting upon their own bodies as they please. Isn’t choice and self-determination what feminism is all about?

Now, we – the book & I both, I mean – aren’t saying that fantasies, BDSM, porn, etc should be exempted from intersectional feminist critique. Feminist porn is about allowing that critique to happen – in front and behind the camera, as well as in the audience & under the sheets, there should be discussion & reflection of why and how and when these things are happening, ways to be ethical & humane about them, etc.

But feminist porn – and sex-positivity in general, I would say – is about acknowledging that our politics are no less valid because we don’t get off on them. It is also about being mindful that our desires are just as big a part of us as our ideologies, and that paying attention to both is not an impossible contradiction but rather a useful tool in knowing ourselves and others better.

Feminist porn does not pretend these “darker shades of women’s fantasies” don’t exist, nor does it judge & police them. It exposes them, is highly aware of them, comments on them, and ultimately allows them to be. This is something to love and admire and try to bring to our lives: feminist porn allows (or tries its best to allow) all shades of human emotion & sexuality to just be.

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If you are looking for this mighty book on your local (buy local pretty plz) bookstore or library, here is the bibliography:

Taormino, Tristan; Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley, Mireille Miller-Young (eds). The Feminist Porn Book: The politics of producing pleasure. The Feminist Press: New York, 2013.

Related bits (re: fantasy, feminism, BDSM):

Laci Green’s vid on Female Sexual Fantasies

The Pervocracy: “How can you be a feminist and do BDSM?”

Feminist Halestorm: Consensual Non-Consent. Trigger warning for discussion of rape.

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What do YOU think about fantasies, feminist porn & the politics of desire?

FYI: to my one-day-to-be teenage nephews

Today I read this one article that pretty much forced me to throw away all responsibilities and get to writing on this blog again (which is great!). The first thing I thought was “those poor boys”, quickly followed by “OH MY GOD WHAT IF MY NEPHEWS GOT THESE HORRIBLE IDEAS FROM SOMEONE?”, and, while I would like to think they are being and will continue to be raised better than that, I also wanted to write a letter to their future teenage selves.

Granted, I am not a parent. I may or may not become a parent. But I swear to Jimi, my intentions towards those gorgeous, amazing little boys are parent-like. Plus, anyone with half a sense of what is actually wrong with the world can tell what was wrong with that article, with or without having given birth.

 

Now, for the sake of this letter (and how heteronormative the original one was) I am going to assume my nephews are heterosexual. They are 1 and 3 now, so I have no idea and I don’t really care who or what they do in that respect. I am also being quite sarcastic in how I mimic the original letter’s structure and content. But all in all, it is pretty much what I would say to them.

 

Dear boys,

I have some information that might interest you. I don’t creep on your social media – and really hope your parents don’t either, because that shit’s creepy and wrong and not even beneficial to anyone – but I know we trust each other and so I have seen some of your pictures with your teenage gal friends.

You are teenage boys, and you may or may not have a lot of lady friends – you don’t have to in order to be a man’s man, and there is no “naturally” in how you define your own masculinity and boys will not be “boys” if they don’t want to, I hope you know that. If you do like having a lot of gal friends, though, that is cool too. You own your own body and mind and goddamn Facebook profile.

Anyhoo, back to the pictures. They have cute bedrooms, don’t they? I noticed and you noticed too because I really hope we are past stupid stereotypes of boys have dirty rooms and don’t even see color and “girls have pink everything and basically smell pink” by the time you are in your teens. They are also really clean rooms, like yours. I don’t even need to say this to you, that hygiene is not a girly thing, it is just good sense, and that having somewhat dirty rooms is not a guy thing, it is a teenager thing.

Look at all the interesting books and magazines and fun things they have, though! I know you notice because, contrary to what media often portrays, men are capable of seeing beyond bra-less breasts. Perhaps she could recommend you a book? She seems really smart and wonderful and I know you know this as well.

Now, you may notice other things – I am not assuming that because you are a boy (hell, I notice breasts too from time to time, although I don’t really look at that in teenage girls’ photos), but because you are into girls (not all girls, of course, like all human beings you have preferences and choices) and there are girls in those pictures. Some pictures have girls posing in their pj’s, some pictures have boys and girls hanging out in their swim suits, some pictures have people dancing at a party.

 

Now, you may have heard an unhealthy amount of talk about teenage girls and women and how they should act and dress and talk.

So, here’s the bit that I think is important for you to realize: those pictures are not about you. The poses they make and the clothes they wear are completely independent of you, and me, and everyone other than themselves for that matter. As such, they are not yours to judge or try to dictate over. Women are not yours to judge or dictate over.

What you do own and dictate over is your own behavior towards those pictures and towards those women. It is fairly normal that you notice their lack of bra or their curves or their pretty eyes or their pose. You have eyes – we all do. What is not okay is for you to reduce them to their bodies and their poses and choice of attire, because just like you and your parents and me and everyone else, they are complex and whole people and you should respect them and treat them as such.

Speaking of complex and whole people – you are such complex and whole individuals. You have the ability to see someone dressed one or another way and know that that means nothing about their personality, their intentions, their character, their intellect, their sexuality, etc. You have the ability to be attracted to someone – sexually or not – and act or not act on it depending on how appropriate, consensual, convenient (or whatever) it would be. You – as any other human being – have will, reasoning, and self control. To sum this up, and to clarify – given all the ideas that the media and crazy mothers around the internet will have you think – WHAT YOU SAY OR DO OR THINK IN REGARDS TO A WOMAN AND A WOMAN’S BODY IS ON YOU, NOT ON HER. And before another crazy person on the internet says anything: unless a girl/woman comes up to you and verbally, explicitly asks you “can you please view me sexually?”, nothing else she ever does is asking for you to do so. So, I am sorry to break it to you, buddies, but it is on you.

Please know that I genuinely get what you see in those pictures and all of that. We are sexual beings, and you boys are raised (hopefully not too much) to think that sexualizing and objectifying women is what boys do, and that it is a woman’s fault when you do it. I believe in you, though, because you are insightful, smart, and very, very funny. It is a unique lens you have, that of a teenage boy, because your hormones are all over the place and you think of things you don’t know much about yet. It is okay, it is even fun! But that does not mean that your teenage gal friends are responsible for your erection.

Which is what makes this such an important topic to discuss.

Those messages in the media don’t reflect who you are at all, though! I think you guys are lovely and interesting and usually very smart. I cringe and wonder what the people saying these things are trying to do or who you are trying to reach by blaming women for men’s behavior. What are they trying to say? That you are incapable of discerning between clothing and character? That you lack self-restraint? That you are a primitive monkey who is governed by his boners and who cannot unsee nakedness? I know you would be insulted by this, and I know you are more than that.

And now – big bummer – we have to sit here and talk about crappy messages being said to you. Because, the reason we have these (hopefully not too awkard) family conversations around the table is that we are not sex-negative slut-shaming assholes (assholes are actually very smart organs, but that is another subject for another future time) like so many people all over the world. I would never block any of those messages from you though, because that is a violation of your right to information (as false and ridiculous as it may be) and because I trust you to make your own decisions regarding the messages you get. I can only hope you continue to trust me enough to bring those messages to the table to discuss openly about.

I care about you deeply, just as I know that teenage girls’ families care about them and would like their friends to be decent human beings who take responsibility for their own behaviours.

I know their family would not be thrilled at the thought of you teenage boys making inappropriate jokes or comments about these girls’ bodies. Did you know that once you see a role model slut-shaming or making horrible jokes about women, you start thinking it is okay? And that once you say one such thing and no one calls you on it, they start rolling off your tongue? You don’t want people you care deeply for to see you as an ignorant, sexist, dudebro, do you?

Neither do I. I know you are much more than that.

And so, in this house, in our relationship with each other, there are always second chances, even if you say something you’ve heard somewhere that is kind of sexist or demeaning of other people in any way. But we would talk about it, and talk about it a lot. I know, so lame. But, if you want to be a decent and respectable human being, you will listen and keep an open mind. Or maybe you won’t, but I will say these things anyway, because I care. I also hope you grow up to know your privilege as a guy and know that with great power comes great responsibility – is that still a reference for you? I hope it is – so, yeah.

I know this sounds weird because I might (hopefull not) be the first one to tell you these things, but I am hoping to help you guys be great men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger endlessly over pictures of women, and if they do, they take responsibility for it.

Every day I pray  – nah, I don’t pray, who are we kidding – think about the women or men or whomever (because love is not just romantic love) that you will love and who will love you. I hope you are drawn to people who are beautiful and who know beauty is everywhere, not only on the outside and especially not only in clothing. I hope that you complement each other and make each other the best each of you wants to be. I don’t like the term “worthy” because it assumes some people aren’t , but I hope that you inspire respect because you give it too.

Guys, it is not too late to unlearn shitty messages! If you think you’ve made an online mistake – telling a girl she is a slut or that she looks fat or joking with your friends that her ass looked a certain way and that she is better/worse for that – you don’t have to run and take it down “before I see it”. I am not the CIA, a creepy mother, or the boss of you. Just acknowledge that it was wrong and apologize if necessary, and learn about ways you can become a better man in those respects. You don’t want to make comments or remarks that make it easy for people to assume you are a disrespectful human being, and see you in that dimension alone.

Will you trust me? There are girls out there waiting and hoping for men of character. Plenty of young men and women are fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds free of sexist, slut-shaming BS, and their thoughts praiseworthy – just like you.

You are growing into a real beauty, inside and out.

Act like that, speak like that, post like that.

 

Your loving aunt Lui

I show you mine, you show me yours.

I want to share a deep, dark, secret with you guys: I am privileged. Another deep dark secret? You are very likely privileged too.

privilege-and-prejudice

Neverrrrrrrr

I am also oppressed and non-privileged in more than one way, and probably so are you.

I want to address a couple of conversations I have had and comments I have received (thanks you guys! you make me love my blog and feel obligated to write in here even though I have finals coming up, and I like the feeling), most of them relating, directly or indirectly, to privilege. I have mentioned it but, true enough, haven’t really explained it or said too much about it. The point of this blog (or part of it) is making information accessible, and I haven’t been doing that all too well.

So, first of all, what is meant by privilege?

For those not too familiar with social justice or feminist blogs or literature in general, privilege is a set of unearned benefits society bestows you due solely to one fraction of your identity, whether it be race, gender, sex, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc. What does this mean, in reality? That there are things that I don’t have to think about, daily nuissances that I will not be target of, worries that I will not have, and disadvantages that I do not need to consider because I am a person with no physical disability or impairment of any kind, for example. Privilege makes our lives easier in ways that we tend to take for granted, and so checking our privilege is, for one, realising how good we have it in many ways. Privilege also makes us think, say and do things that may offend others simply because, in our position of privilege, we do not “have to” think about others, as the default way of thinking in that area in which we are privileged supports our own.

This is too broad and abstract though, I believe. Most talk about privilege is fairly abstract because it intends to apply to as many people as possible. I will talk about it in more concrete terms. Big, huge, monumental disclaimer, though: I am not speaking for anyone other than myself. I do not know or pretend to know everything. That is another thing about privilege: even if you’re oppressed in some other way, no two oppressions are the same, so do not pretend you empathize, because you cannot possibly know what anything other than your own experience is like. That said, here is an attempt to further explain what privilege is.

For example, I am a ciswoman (as in, my gender identity happens to match the sex assigned to me at birth; this, as opposed to transgender, which is when the gender identity you’re comfortable with does not match the sex assigned to you at birth). Based on that one little fraction among all the complexities of human beings, I have certain benefits – ranging from relatively small nuissances that I don’t have to deal with, to relatively big ones like not having to choose between a birth certificate that reflects my identity (and save myself from more nuissances, confusion and harassment) and having children. I am not harassed and stared at and whispered about when I go to public restrooms, I am not constantly asked really invasive and STRAIGHT UP NONE-OF-THEIR-BUSINESS questions like what my genitals look like or how I have sex, my gender identity is plenty represented in mainstream media (without it being only as the punchline of a joke). If I am in need of medical care, my gender identity will not grant me an unnecessary psychological examination; if I am in need of a shelter I do not have to fear for physical abuse in there. People don’t ask what my real sex is, as if I was lying or as if my gender identity was not valid, as if they were entitled to decide who I am for me. [I am taking these examples from this blog post, but the list goes on and on.]

Now, another thing I have heard and have read is pretty common (and fairly understandable) is that whole defensive ‘ttude of “but I am not like that!” or, “what do you mean I am privileged? I have had it bad in life!”

Here’s the thing, when someone (for example me, through this blog) tells you to check your privilege, they (or we) are not blaming you. Privilege is not about individual behavior or douche-baggery. It is not about you.

Privilege is not about blame, but it is about responsibility. Of course I know you cannot help but being white, or male, or cisgender, or able-bodied, or economically well-off, or heterosexual. I know, also, that you are probably a nice, well-intentioned fella. Most people are, I truly believe that. Thing is, we are part of a patriarchal society which values and reinforces and benefits some groups of people while oppressing, discriminating against, dehumanizing and invalidating the experiences and identities of other groups of people. That is a fact [If you are unwilling to accept this fact, I am sorry we’ve wasted each other’s time. Go about your business now].

Furthermore, society is built in such a way that dominant discourse, mainstream media, formal education, law, medical discourse is meant to represent and reinfornce the views and interests and needs of the privileged and ignore or reject or misrepresent those of the non-privileged. For a quick example, see what is meant by “flesh-tone” in most products: whose flesh tone is that? It sure as hell is not mine, it sure as hell is not the majority of my hometown’s flesh tone, it sure as hell is not the majority of most countries’ flesh tone. And YET…

Now, as I was saying, privilege IS about responsibility. Sure, as much as you read a checklist on male privilege and you think to yourself “yes, that’s right, how have I never thought about this”, you’re still a guy. And that is okay. Don’t do like I did the first time I read that I was privileged in so and so ways and be paralized by liberal guilt and by “omg I have been such an asshole!” thoughts. I mean yes, reflect on the fact that you may have been an asshole enough time so that you try not to be an asshole ever again, but accept that you probably will. Move on, though: we all make mistakes and will continue making them, just hopefully not the same ones.

A friend, reasonably, asked me, what the hell do I do with that, though? What do we do with that privilege?

Be extra aware of it. Be aware that you are already over-represented everywhere else, so you should allow non-privileged groups to have the chance and the space and the voice: help them create those spaces, those times.

Be humble. The rest of the world thinks you are more entitled to talk on behalf of others already, so don’t. No matter how much you read about their history, their needs, their interests, their concerns, their oppression (which you should, by all means); no matter how active of an ally you are. You are not them, you cannot explain their suffering for them, you cannot answer for them. So shut up, listen, and learn.

Learn their terms. They should not be the ones teaching you how not to be offensive, you should be able to do that yourself. It is valid to ask questions, of course (RESPECTFUL questions). Just do not feel like you can correct us on how you can refer to us (if I personally find you calling me ‘baby’ offensive, dude, drop it). Short confession: I once thought I was entitled to judge if I were to call a transwoman a woman or a man based on how much she “passed” as a woman. I cannot even begin to say how ashamed I am of that mentality right now, how sorry I am for it. Completely unacceptable.

Learn their history, their oppression, their concerns. We learn the white, heterosexual, able-bodied male history since we are kids, even if it does not represent most of us or OUR history. Now it is time for you to do the same.

Be an active ally. Do not try to lead the way, but try to walk with them, supporting their struggles. Call bullshit on the guys for catcalling, intervene when someone is bullying a person on a wheelchair, correct a person who you know got your friend’s pronoun wrong [See: Trans Etiquette for Non-Trans People | Matt Kailey]. To be an active ally you have to be an active listener, willing to accept your own mistakes, willing to take the heat of being an ally of an oppressed group, willing to shut up when you have to and speak up when you must.

And, honestly, why not? Use your privilege for good. Respectfully, carefully, checking yourself closely.

While cismen speaking up against violence against women might be seen as problematic because it should not take a cisman’s voice for other men to listen to it and pay attention (a woman saying “stop raping us” should be just as effective and respected of a claim as a man saying “let’s stop raping women”), today’s world works in such a way, unfortunately. Cismen speaking up against violence against women or against sexism in general, provide men with a role model they can relate to (on the basis of genitalia similarity, which I find quite odd and arbitrary), and they can listen up. They cannot say the guy is speaking to his own benefit or personal interest, and human brains work in such a way that we think that fact makes their claim more valid – whereas, as Tim Wise speaks about in his ‘Pathology of White Privilege’, who is more of an expert on oppression than the victim of that same oppression?! – and it may be more effective. An ally is an ally. If I am talking to a friend about sex work, about transgender issues, about disability, I will use my privilege in those categories to speak of what I know, with as much care and tact and humility as possible, and I will try to change someone’s prejudices and misunderstandings. I will point out when they say something offensive, even if it is not specifically offensive to me.

Why? Firstly, because I would like a guy to do the same thing about rape culture and about slut shaming and about wage gaps, I in fact love it when I see it happening. It does not make them or me a better person, or more entitled to friendship, a relationship, sex or ANYTHING with the group we are an ally of, needless to say. But I love it. Secondly, because part of knowing you’re privileged in some way is knowing that people are more likely to listen to you (unfortunately, and we must of course fight to change that fact as well: referencing non-privileged authors or sources of knowledge, explicitly noting that your word is not any more valid, etc). People are less likely to dismiss you, or get defensive, or offend you with their denial. It sucks, but it is true, and an ally is an ally (again, a respectful, non-entitled, humble one). I don’t know about you, but I’d take it as it is.

So yeah, that sums it up I think. Checking your privilege is 1) realizing you haven’t got it so bad after all, so stop bitchin’, 2) taking into account that what you say might come from that place of privilege and ignorance and you may need to apologize, correct yourself, do your homework, etc, 3) taking responsibility for your words and actions, and owning that privilege by becoming an active and supportive ally, 4) realizing some spaces are not for you to take over with your privilege-splaining (I think I just made that up, but see mansplaining to check out what I mean) or your over-representativeness: you have the rest of the world to have role models, topics relevant to your needs and interests, categories and terms that are consistent with how you see and like the world, etc., so back off when, for once, it isn’t about you.

That is all, for now. If you have any thoughts or things to add, please tell me. I love knowing more and more and more. And sharing it all 🙂

If you feel like talking about privilege to others and are not sure how to start, or are not all convinced by what I said just now, check out How To Talk To Someone About Privilege Who Doesn’t Know What That Is, and An Anthology of Privilege Checklists.

“Hey psssst, hotstuff. Read this for me, will ya, babe?”

Sometimes people don’t understand why street harassment is a big deal. Why catcalling matters. Why we feminists “get our panties in a bunch” about it: “but it’s harmless guys’ fun!”, “come on, it is jokingly!”, “it is just words, y’know?” or the worst of ALL, “you should be flattered!”

or "Pssssst" or "Lookin good!"..

or “Pssssst” or “Lookin good!”. Nope, not “dayyuuuummm” either.

I want to address these and other claims one by one. Because street harassment is serious, and it should stop. And I will be talking to YOU, (straight, I guess) men who shout at us or hiss at us or whistle or honk or do any other gross signalling to a gal you do not know on public spaces. Those of you who think it is no big deal because you are a nice guy and you would not actually do anything.

1. It is not harmless. I mean, for you it is, of course. You are doing the harassment, so DUH. But it does harm us in many ways.

For one, it makes us uncomfortable. And if you were doing something that half of the world’s population considers uncomfortable and you are a decent human being, I would think that you’d stop it.

It makes us feel unsafe. Why? Because there is no guarantee (hey! we do not KNOW that you are a decent non-rapist guy because you are not doing the decent thing which is to not honk at us) that you will only attack us with words, for one. There is no guarantee that you will not follow us, or rob us, or rape us. You probably have the physical strength. You definitely have the sexism and utter distaste towards women (you are whistling at us! we are not strays you know?!) too.

It makes us doubt our sense of self and our self worth, our value as full human beings, not just bodies that walk. It makes us internalize your honking and start objectifying ourselves as well.

It makes us feel like second class citizens, since the streets and other public spaces are not so much ours as they are yours, clearly.

2. It is not fun. It shouldn’t be, at least. Do you find it fun when someone you don’t know singlehandedly makes you feel uncomfortable, objectified, humilliated, unsafe and basically ruins your day? We don’t either.

3. Guys fun? Yes, I do know that men tend to find fun in women’s bodies – heterosexual men, that is. We find fun in men’s bodies – and women’s, for sure – too. But could you find a consensual partner to have fun with, pretty please? Someone who has fun with your body too and so you have fun together 🙂 I do not consent to a gross (nothing to do with physical appearance really, to me any guy who catcalls is instantly gross) dude whistling at me and having “good ol’ guys’ fun” concerning my breasts, my thighs, my ass. I decide who gets to have fun with those. Clear?

4. The joke is on us, clearly. Thing is, you wouldn’t find a joke funny if it involved you having to watch your back on your way home, or make sure you are with someone when you walk on certain streets, or self-impose a curfew because you cannot walk alone any later than that. You wouldn’t find fun if your freedom was being messed around with because some people you don’t know feel the need to let YOU know what they think about your body and how much they’d rather have you naked.

5. Only YOU know it is just words. As I said in #1, we don’t know you are a decent guy because you are not behaving like one. We are afraid to even respond to you because you might get angry. You might get violent. You might get more crass in your comments. You might follow us home. Society teaches us to be afraid of men, because we don’t know what you might do to us if we cross a precious line that you continually cross: with your comments, your catcalling, your sexist jokes, your threats of violence, your socially-accepted outbursts (another privilege us ‘ladies’ do not enjoy). We are made to be afraid of your sense of entitlement to our bodies, to be violent if we do not comply.

We don’t want to find out if you are a rapist or “just” a guy who talks like one.

6. I am a lot of things when someone harasses me on the street, but flattered is not one of them. I am angry, I am disappointed, I am scared, I am annoyed, I am uncomfortable. NOT flattered.

The fact that you THINK it is flattering is insulting. I do not seek men’s approval. And it may sound like an angry, lonely feminist’s line, but trust me, it isn’t. (For a very long time it was, though, for sure. It took quite some time for me to value myself – everything about myself, including my body but much beyond that as well). I certainly do not seek a random dude’s approval. I know what I look like, I know I have breasts, thights, ass. I am aware of all my body parts. I feel sexy because I look myself in the mirror and I like what I see, what I am. Not because you hinted at licking my “pussy” (true story, I wish I was making this up).

A guy once told me that they were at least paying attention to me, because many girls do not get catcalled at all. At the time I was not so loud-mouthed, did not know the full extent of the sexism in his comment, and I was not as confident in regards to feminist discourse to say much, but just thinking about that comment today makes me want to cry. It makes me think that in matters of taking back the streets, the lecture halls, the world, we have very little space as long as we are trapped in the “hot or not” BS.

If we are “lucky enough” to be considered beautiful in today’s mainstream standards then we are constantly harassed, objectified. People are surprised when we are smart or when we are feminists. We are held to low standards, socialized to low standards. We are told that all we have is beauty, and that beauty is the thing that will grant us power in this men’s world. We are also told that we must hate other women and make sure we are the prettiest ones, make sure we get men to listen to us and see us.

If we are “lucky enough” to not be harrassed in the streets on a daily basis and objectified and not taken seriously or held to low standards then we are constantly ridiculed, named names, put aside. We are made to feel worthless (because a woman’s worth is in our beauty). We are made to think that we will never get married (which is just such a catastrophe!) or have anything going for us at all.

All in all, we are made to constantly doubt ourselves. We are never beautiful enough, and we think we gain power if we are. We could get more jobs, we could get more friends, we could get more men, we could get more money. We could ‘choose’ the man we want. But magazines and catcalling and pornography make us think that we are not that pretty, and so we devour every single product that is thrown at us, in the hopes of being better as women. We are either too pretty for our own good or too unpretty for our own good. We cannot win.

 

Moreover, there are many things that I might find flattering. But reducing me to a dettached body which you feel entitled to ‘critique’ at will is not flattering. If you are a guy on a date with me and you tell me I look good, I do find it flattering – it is not that we are against or impervious to compliments or against making ourselves and others feel beautiful, obviously. But there, there is consent to a certain closeness and intimacy, to a reduced personal space from that of a sidewalk. There is the implication that there is more to the interaction than separate body parts to whistle at.

On the street, I expect to feel safe, to be respected, to be left to myself. I certainly do not expect to be made feel like the street is a men’s playground in which they can and will shoot slurs at me. And then being told to give them a lil’ smile. Because while a guy is honking at me, I am supposed to feel flattered and to smile pretty, letting him know I am more than okay with his advances. Who in her right mind wouldn’t, right?

 

I was made to feel afraid of my streets, of my hometown, of my own body and femininity all my life. Growing up I did not even question that I should never walk alone, or late, or wearing anything other than sweatpants and a hoodie. I was made to feel the need to dress as close as possible to a man, because showing I was a girl was showing that I was weak, that I could be fooled or tricked or attacked, that they had nothing to be afraid of in me, and that I was “open” to harrassment. I was taught that walking alone in my city, as a woman, was letting guys do whatever they wanted, basically. I grew up fearful of getting in a guy’s way, provoking him, making him get out of the car from where he was honking and actually doing something. THAT IS WHAT STREET HARASSMENT IS.

Street harassment is a way of policing our bodies and our sexuality, the times of the day that we go out, how unsupervised we are, policing that we are not wondering about (vagrancy laws working against street sex workers, anyone?) and when & where we go, what we do. It is literally making sure we are never left unsupervised, but “for our own good”. It is making sure we stay home. And we might not all conciously put it or do it that way, but it is what it effectively does to women. If we are walking around alone at night, we must be bad girls, we must be up to no good. So we get what we deserve: paranoia, harassment, or who knows what else. If we want to not be subject to those things, or the shame of being called a promiscuous or “bad” woman, we better stay home, we better walk with a man on our side. We better not be seen where we shouldn’t be.

I refuse to accept this. We are entitled to our streets, we are entitled to our bodies, we are entitled to our self-confidence, to wearing what we like, when we like, where we like. We are entitled to the same safe environment as any man in the world. We are entitled to stop restraining our sexuality for the sake of men who cannot keep their mouth shut. We are entitled to not be judged, shamed. We are entitled to decide what our bodies, our clothes, our time, says about us, and not having men decide that for us.

 

 

Join Hollaback! To end street harassment. We all can do this together.

– Intervene when someone is doing the cat-calling. Man up and tell them what they did is not okay and why.

– Calmly approach them and tell them why this hurt you. This takes a lot of courage, but try to do it (when and where you feel safe doing so, of course!)

– Take pictures of the agressors and post them in the street: “Disrespected women while at work” “Beware of this car, they will disrespect you”.

– Talk to the victims on the street. Make them feel safe and accompany them when possible.

– Tell your story and read the stories in Hollaback.

Welcome to the Jungle (sorry, too crass?)

Until today, attempting to write a blog post about hair – I am only going to cover part of it right now -, I had never thought too much about it at all. I am now discovering I have way too many opinions on hair. It’s insane, really.

I started off thinking about the feminist war on shaving. Then I thought about the arguments used for shaving, which are usually aesthetics or hygiene. I did some research on the history of hair removal (particularly of the Garden of Eden *she writes giggling*) in terms of both the cultural and the medical.

To start off in a light mood, here are some random facts:

– Judging by art of the time, in Ancient Egypt, body hair grooming in women was customary and a sign of status. A similar thing is to be said of Ancient Greece, in their case for both men and women.

– In the Middle Ages, pubic hair removal was very useful in erradicating pubic lice.

– In Japan it only became legal to depict female pubic hair in art until the 1990s.

– You can actually find “manscaping” on the Oxford English Dictionary.

The case for aesthetics can be summed up as follows: it is associated with carefulness about looks, it is considered sexy, it looks “clean”. As for origins, the trend in pornography to show less and less pubic hair has been suggested, as well as, well, capitalism (I am being too broad, yeah? Okay: the beauty industry robbing you blind with creams and “special” hair-removal devices and more creams and vag douches that actually give you yeast infections and all that). The area covered by increasingly short swimwear and underwear may have to do with it too, which makes sense, if you do a timeline of both trends. Another disturbing theory is the obsession with youth and looking young: the less hair, the more you look like a little girl. But this is too creepy, so I will try to forget I read that.

Although clearly the pressure for women to oblige (long hair, no armpit hair, little to no pubic hair, no leg hair are what being an obliging woman is all about these days) is greater, men shaving (facial as a sign of status, chest and pubic as a sign of sexual availability… or something) has become more and more the norm.

I could talk forever about aesthetics, about what it says about women – they need to stay put, that they need to look pure (in the Renaissance prostitutes would shave to show to their costumers that they did not have any infection or rash), that natural smells are unladylike, etc – ; what it says about men – that shaving facial hair used to be the only acceptable thing because it would get you a job (and financial independence and control), and that now with trends changing, other types of shaving because they get you laid more often (I don’t have to explain this: it is evolutionarily and culturally self-explanatory). But I won’t. I will just say it is another way in which society polices, controls and attempts to manage our bodies. I will also say there is nothing wrong with hair anywhere in my humble opinion. For me, sexy is not in the armpits. It is in what your body says and how you feel about it.

The case for hygiene, though, is not that tricky. First of all, there are many infections and other complications associated with shaving pubic hair – such as razor burns, follicullitis, the spread of ANY infection, and contact dermatitis – , a rather unnecessary war. There is really not much that science says about pubic hair. [If you know an article that does, send it my way please!]

So aesthetics wins. And feminism comes to mind.

I will not place this blog post on a personal level (much), simply because my hair or taste in hair is my business, and of whomever I invite to my business perhaps. What I will say is stuff that I have informally read, informally heard, and informally seen. For many women – specially in feminist circles – body hair is a political thing and a political space. Their bodies are their protest. For other women, and most men, body hair removal has many justifications in their lives: “Whenever I am not too lazy to do it”, “When it is summer”, “When I am having sex”, “When my partner does it too”, “Because it is gross”, “I shave X but not Y”, “What my mood tells me that day”, “It is just what feels natural for me to do”, “Because my partner likes it better that way”. I read this blog post in which a woman said how after she shaved her pubes for the first time – despite her mom telling her not to -, she could see what was ‘down there’ and thought it was beautiful, and felt closer to her own body, so she continued shaving ever since.

A good friend told me recently that for her it was an extremely political issue, and that she hated when men, or anyone, expected her to be shaved. But that at the same time she wanted head and she knew it was easier without hair and she saw her partner was happier doing it when she was shaved, so she did it. It was that simple and basic for her: her political views would not get in the way of her orgasms. I thought that was pretty awesome, and an incredibly good motto to apply to my own life, not even just hair.

Shaving is one of the many hot topics for feminism, and for good reason. It is one of the many expectations of women and one of the many really dysfunctional things about our relationships with our bodies and on what conditions do we love ourselves.

sexy beast shave

Concepts of beauty are socially constructed and historically bound, but that does not make them any less real in the effects that they have in society. The fact that the naturally-distributed body haired, naturally-breasted is now a fetish in porn and the artificial laser-hairless, anal-bleached, implant-breasted is the mainstream is terrifying, at least to me.

In my ideal world, of course, nobody would care so much about hair and would care more about, I don’t know, sustainability, world hunger, whatever else of actual importance. Even about making each other happy through small acts of kindness. Almost anything trumps pubes, really, if you ask me.

For some hairy viewpoints or hairless information – although I got most of the info for this blog post from academic journals, I got access from my university databases, so I am some interesting perspectives instead:

The Feminist Hair Dilemma

Shaving, ‘Virgin’ waxing and porn

My favorite so far: a critique of the feminist anti-shaving argument and how they frame it. Mindblown.

The war on pubic hair: a misconceived one.

The Last Triangle: Sex, Money and the Politics of Pubic Hair

If you want to read up on the subject, I am citing some articles here:

Herzig, R. (2009). The Political Economy of Choice: Genital Modification and the Global Cosmetic Services Industry. Australian Feminist Studies,24(60), 251-263. doi:10.1080/08164640902887452

Ramsey, S., Sweeney, C., Fraser, M., & Oades, G. (2009). Pubic Hair and Sexuality: A Review. Journal Of Sexual Medicine6(8), 2102-2110. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01307.x

Tiggemann, M., & Hodgson, S. (2008). The Hairlessness Norm Extended: Reasons for and Predictors of Women’s Body Hair Removal at Different Body Sites. Sex Roles59(11/12), 889-897. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-

Trager, J. K. (2006). Pubic Hair Removal—Pearls and Pitfalls. Journal Of Pediatric & Adolescent Gynecology19(2), 117-123. doi:10.1016/j.jpag.2006.01.051

Clothes off, everyone! jk. or am I?

I want to talk about the body.

Lately I have been connecting several dots, many separate instants in my memory: experiences, anecdotes, advice, overheard conversations. I have been remembering various moments in which I was taught – overtly or not – in the same way that many were taught, that the human body is something forbidden, something to hide and be ashamed of. Something dirty and uncomfortable. I was taught that the smallest indication that there is nudity – that there is a woman – beneath all the clothing, some of my “purity”, of my “dignity”, of the most intimate instance of my femininity and my humanity would be lost. A mere sillhouette is already an abhorrent thing to show.

I don’t want to talk much about how the male human body is not as covered by an overprotective, vigilant, controlling and oppressive aura as the female human body. [Nor will I talk much about  two of my breast-related pet peeves: 1) women’s breasts are the same thing as men’s breasts – apart from the average size and the ability to lactate which is awesome but not particularly sexy in my opinion – and yet society has made a fetish and a spectacle out of women breasts and an irrelevance that can be shown wherever out of men’s. 2) how is wearing a bikini in front of everyone any different from wearing underwear in front of everyone? same skin, same body, possibly same people. Sheesh.]

What I want to really discuss, though, is how body shame, censorship, discomfort in our own skin is tragically internalized. We are constantly hiding our body from ourselves, from others. When we stop doing it for a moment, not knowing what to do or who we are really, we end up allowing others to dictate what our own body means, what we should show, what we should not. It’s not that I think that we should all run naked through the streets (and not because it would be immoral or abhorrent, but because then there’d be nothing special in undressing – both emotionally and physically, ideally – in front of you alone). It is not that I think we are evolving in some way or another because we show more now than we used to. I think showing or not showing is equally oppressive so long as you are doing it for someone(s) else.

hijabbikini

Post-it for a future blog entry: is the hijab really more oppressive than Western hypersexualization? 😉

What I do think is that so long as we give moral value to the human body, we will continue to be tied down and doomed to not knowing ourselves at all.

How deep a cleavage is does not indicate the moral, intellectual or spiritual value of a person; a naked sillhouette through a window does not determine any personality trait nor does it express any aspect of a person’s sexuality; a tattoo is not a marker of intelligence, capacity or morality; a person’s weight says very little, if anything, about a person’s habits, hygiene or mental health; attractiveness means lack of personality or intellect as much as “unattractiveness” means great personality or intellect: nothing.

I know, I know, I am talking about a myriad of things that would require a deeper analysis and a blog entry of their own. Think of them as previews, and save them for Christmas time. Anyhoo.

We constantly try to regulate the body, standardize it (now, why would anyone want to do that?! BORINGGGG), morally judge a person basing our judgment almost exclusively on it. But it is US who should be deciding giving meaning to our bodies. Our own bodies only, and no one has any right to change our own definitions, limitations, symbols.

We really should stop feeling so ashamed of ourselves, as human beings. I really think we should play a lot more with our own symbolism, push our boundaries, deconstruct and reconstruct the way we were socialized, learn without judgment and with that knowledge love and embrace every inch of what we are. We really should celebrate how awesome we are, with or without clothes, with or without someone besides us, with or without what society tells us we should be and have.

To have a real revolution, starting by loving our bodies, unconditionally (what longer-term and more worthy of cultivating relationship than that with our own skin?). It is only like this that we can use it to the max, and use it however we want to. Not necessarily as a tool for power, domination of manipulation. Use it to find balance, to express ourselves, to feel better physically and mentally. To be whatever we want and be the best we want to be.

To have a refuge, a shelter. But not just any shelter, but a redecorated one to our own taste and our own abilities, positioned and understood however we choose. A place that is absolutely ours, and that we share it, we share it with whoever we choose. That that is, too, respected. Because it is our place and not the state’s, or the medical community’s, or middle-aged heterosexual white men’s.

That once our bodies are re-occupied, re-invented and profoundly free, we find  under our skins the Kamchatka that we all need: that personally decorated place, that weapon of beauty that protects but also connects us with all our other strengths and the universe as well.

badassunicorn

[Note: if you don’t know what this Kamchatka business I am blabbing about is, check this out ASAP!]

For more on body image, self esteem and body reapropriation:
Airbrushed Nation: The Lure and Loathing of Women’s Magazines | Gender Focus

Feminist Perspectives on the Body (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Excerpt from Mama Glow: A Hip Guide to Your Fabulous Abundant Pregnancy by Latham Thomas

Making History by Reclaiming our Bodies (PDF)

And a heartwarming, cheesy, Valentine’s Day video from the Sex+ Channel (which you should totally check out if you haven’t already)

The perks of a two-way street

When you read about and are interested in the different intersecting systems of oppression that operate in our society, you know how certain privileges exist and float around, invisible. You know that part of how you fight against discrimination, oppression and inequality is by marking and pointing to these privileges: in the media, in our communities, in our families, and most importantly (and much harder), in ourselves. It is so much easier to focus on others’ privileges which oppress us than the privileges from which we profit and that we take for granted.

Truth is, I could give a zillion reasons as to why I don’t “come out” as a bisexual person – yeah, yeah, I am doing it cowardly through the interwebz, BITE ME. Because of ideology: just like no one expects a heterosexual to do so, “coming out” as an ‘exception’ still serves a heteronormativity that seems to need that we wear a sort of ‘Star of David’; some indication to let straight people know how to act around us, what kind of social control needs to be enforced around us. Because of my philosophy of life: I don’t have to be announcing myself and who I fancy or not, who I date or not; they’ll know when they know and if they don’t, well, it was none of their business anyway. Because it’s not convenient: because I am still studying with my dad’s money, and I care more about staying here studying than about making a ridiculous universal declaration about something that doesn’t mean much in my book in any case. I can even say that it’s because it’s fairly irrelevant: most of my significant relationships have been with people from the opposite sex, and 80% of the people I find truly, fantastically, significantly attractive are too, so why bother. I have this idea that until I have someone relevant to introduce them too, I have no real reason to tell my parents that I also like people from the same sex.

But really, truthfully, all this is BS. I mean, it is not BS – I do have all those reasons not to come out as well – but there is a reason well above them all. Well underneath my skin and underneath the sheets of many people I know are bisexual but find no good reason to say it out loud to their families and friends. This reason, my friends, is heterosexual privilege. And you’ll ask, what is heterosexual privilege? In short, it is all the things that do not burden you, that you do not have to ask yourself, that you do not have to go through only because your sexual orientation just so happens to be the norm in the society and culture that you live in.

Here is a list of some things that I find particularly true to my experience (not to be taken as a comprehensive one):

– I don’t have to declare anything to anyone. Silence means you are heterosexual, as a default. Nothing heterosexist here, BTW.

– My declaring my sexual orientation/having PDA is not interpreted as me pushing my sexual orientation to other people’s faces.

hetero

– I don’t have to explain, validate or otherwise prove my sexual orientation to anyone. No one questions why it is so, when did I decide (as if), when did I realize, how did I find out, or if I really am heterosexual.

– I don’t have to fear that my attitudes, opinions or actions be attributed or generalized to everyone of my sexual orientation. This is a big one. Notice the difference between: “He (heterosexual) is promiscuous because he is afraid of commitment”, where the reason given is on an individual level, as opposed to “He (homosexual/bisexual/pansexual/gender non-conforming) is promiscuous because he is homosexual/bisexual/pansexual/gender non-conforming”, where the reason given to the SAME ATTITUDE is a generalization of everyone who has the same sexual orientation.

– No one assumes anything about my personality, attitudes, opinions, sexual practices or gender identity (among others) based only on my sexual orientation.

– Looking for a roommate, I know my sexual orientation is not going to make anyone uncomfortable.

– My activism around gender feminism and sexuality is not attributed to my sexual orientation or minimized and reduced to “self interest”. (Oh, surely she is for same-sex marriage because she is gay. Not because it is the human and rational thing. That is nonsense.”)

– My sexual orientation does not “take points off” my femininity, nor do I have to prove it to anyone – a man on my side is proof enough (because we are only women in relation to men. pfff.)

– Looking for a job, a scholarship, a school, a partner, social assistance, health care, I know that being heterosexual is not going to be an issue.

– My sexual orientation is not invalidated as a “myth”, a “phase” or a “fad”. Watch this vid 😀

– My sexual orientation is not constantly trivialized and sold as a fetish. And yes I am referring to those ridiculous ads or porn vids of pillow-fights turning into lesbian sex or porn in which the only reason two women are together is to please the man together.

Truth is, being bisexual (and more so being much more leaning towards the heterosexual side of the spectrum), one has the option of just shutting up, but it is a double edged sword. You can just not say it and keep the heterosexual privilege without sacrificing TOO much. But you are tying your own hands, your own sexual experience, in someone else’s bounds. You are trapping yourself in this binary system that only serves the dominant heteronormative system. And this heteronormative system is the biggest buzzkill of all since someone came up with the idea of the catholic mass.

bisexual

So here is what I say: ENOUGH. I cannot aspire to study human sexuality if I am not a 1000% comfortable with my own, which includes giving up the comfy straight couch I have been sitting on all my life. I cannot aspire to be an activist against gender oppression and ignorance without shouting loud and clear about privilege and lack thereof. Lastly, I cannot aspire to have honesty, responsability, trust, or happiness in my relationships if I am not having them with everything that I am.

On the other hand, I want to invite everyone to do a checklist of heterosexual privilege (or any privilege, for that matter) or to reappropriate my list or one of the ones I linked below, and place it in the context of your own lives. Mark, in your daily lives, in what ways you profit (or are limited by) from heterosexual privilege, in what ways do you reinforce it. Pause, recognize, deconstruct. Identify in which ways you can contribute to improve the lives of those without this privilege, in what ways can the playing field be leveled – one daily interaction at a time.

Cool things to check out:

White Privilege, Heterosexual Privilege, and Liberal Guilt

I’m PANSEXUAL?!

30+ Examples of Heterosexual Privilege in the US

Heterosexual Privilege, by Charlese Rice | YouTube

How to talk to someone about privilege who doesn’t know what it is