Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bathing Suit Areas and Sex-Positivity: A Post In Which I Talk To Your Children, Sort Of





Why, hello there, strangers! It's a pleasure to speak with you today! About the Human Sexual Urges!

I am, as you may know, a former educator about the Human Sexual Urges, and how best to gratify them. (MEANING: I sold sex toys, but I had to talk to people about what they wanted and how best to make that happen, for my shop was of the Sex-Positive and Educational variety!) I earned slightly more than minimum wage for my expertise, so you can imagine that I am quite the whiz.

Actually, the most important part of having educational conversations about the HSUs is realizing that no-one, ever, really, is comfortable having them; there is always a delicate balance, when talking about one's sexual habits, between being overly graphic and coming across as a lascivious weirdo who is just having this conversation so that you can masturbate about it later, or being "polite" according to normal social conventions and basically not saying anything at all. My one great gift in this arena is that I find sex to be totally fascinating in an abstract way, and also was born with a defective Shame Gland, and so could have relatively specific and instructional two-way conversations on the topic of, say, how best to put things up your butt for sex reasons, in a chipper and detached manner, as if I were telling the customers which vacuum cleaner attachments were best for cleaning their upholstery. Once you can convince a middle-aged heterosexual man who is shopping with his wife that you really don't CARE that he puts things up his butt for sex reasons, and that your chief concern is that he does so in a way that is both medically safe and personally fulfilling, the conversation gets a lot easier.

Do you know what I have never done, however? I have never taught a child about sex! Which is why this comment fascinated me so:
I hereby submit a request for a post about how to talk to our pre-pubescent daughters about this thing they hear about called "sex" (as in, where-do-babies-come-from kind of sex). When I tentatively told my almost-nine-year-old daughter about the sperm and the egg gettig together, I was vague about the mechanics because I refused to tell her "he sticks his penis in you", like it's something that happens to her, like her role is one of passivity. I didn't want that to be the first thing she ever heard about the mechanics of the act. But, I didn't want to say, "you put your vagina on him"...I mean, when she's trying to grasp the basic facts of HOW this occurs...the question of agency, of who does what to whom and HOW, was so freaking tricky that I really didn't tell her any details at all... as a feminist, and as her mother, I'd really like to give her the non-misogynist, non-passive view of her part in the act before she hears about it otherwise. You're the first person I've run across on the web with a blog that might actually be open to hosting a discussion about the language involved in introducing, from a feminist perspective, the basics of how "traditional" conception is accomplished. You up for it?
I sure am! Because, also, there was this comment:
You know what? I think your comment has totally changed my approach to how to talk to my daughter about this. ""Sex" is an umbrella term which I've used to denote a wide variety of consensual activities intended to help the parties involved get off. Masturbation is sex; mutual masturbation or digital stimulation of one party by another is sex; oral sex is sex; anal sex is sex; pivving is sex." I kinda want to explain "s-e-x" to her like this, even exactly in those words, but how do you define "get off" to a pre-adolesent?
It is a fascinating question! One which I have never before attempted to answer! However, here is why it is important to me: had we been having these conversations all along, there might be a significantly smaller part of the population stumbling into Educational Sex-Positive Spaces feeling deep embarrassment that they (gasp!) enjoy the sex that is not all about Making Babies, or staying away from those spaces and just sort of fumbling through unsafe or unsexy sex in which their instructions come from either equally clueless former partners or (at best) tremendously unrealistic porn. (Seriously, people: I've said it before and I'll say it again: using mainstream porn to teach yourself how to have sex is like the government using Die Hard as an anti-terrorism manual.) Indeed, if we were raising all our kids with a comfortable, positive attitude towards the Sex, including the Sex that is not undertaken for purposes of Making Babies, we might have a far more progressive national conversation re: sex and people who aren't necessarily setting out to Make Babies with it (GLBT folks, ladies on birth control, etc.) in general!

So, for the record, here is how I would set out to have this conversation with a child. I am going to say, a child of about five or six. Not being a parent myself, I am hoping that parents will chime in with corrections and additional thoughts!
"You know, [Timmy and/or Suzy], I think it is time for you to know some stuff about how our bodies work. This is stuff you will not need to know many details about until you are grown up, because it is a very grown-up topic, but I think you are probably old enough to know some basics about it right now.

"We've already talked about how your privates are private, right? They belong to you, and you should never feel like you have to let another person touch them or look at them, and you should never try to force another person to show you theirs or let you touch them. If someone tries to do this to you, you know that you need to come to me and tell me that, because that is a very serious, very bad thing to do to someone, and people who do it need to be punished."
I like to start the conversation off by emphasizing that violating someone's boundaries or doing anything non-consensual is a bad thing! I also think we need to teach the children that everyone else has boundaries, just like they do, and that they should respect the boundaries of others. I don't assume that the children are out doing terrible things to each other, of course, but the fact is that we live in a culture that doesn't stress full and informed consent as a prerequisite, so stressing that at home is a good solid idea.
"Now: when you grow up, your privates are going to change [I KNOW, THIS IS DORKY. ROLL WITH IT - Ed.] and touching them or having them touched will feel good. This isn't going to happen to you for a long time. People need to be grown up before they touch each other in those ways. There are a lot of ways that grown-ups touch each other to make each other feel good, and as long as they both want to do this and they like each other, that's a good thing. It can be a way for people who are in love to express that, for example. Sometimes girls do this with girls, sometimes boys do this with boys, and sometimes boys and girls do it with each other. Every grown-up has their own favorite ways to touch someone or to be touched, and, again: as long as the people who are involved are grown-ups, and they like each other, and they both want to do it, that's a good thing."
THIS IS TOTALLY VAGUE. I know! You can see why I want parents to actually weigh in on this business! But I think it is important to stress that this stuff is done for the purpose of feeling good, and that there are lots of ways that it happens other than the old Procreative Heterosexual Intercourse, and that all of those ways are cool and good and potentially loving but at the very least friendly. So, you know, we're not doing that whole thing where everyone's genitals are referred to as Baby-Making Devices and other ways of doing it are invisible or shameful and sexualities other than Cisgendered Heterosexual Missionary-Position Enthusiasm are erased.
"Now: one of the ways that grown-up people like to touch each other can lead to having a baby. Some people enjoy having their partner's penis inside their vagina; some people enjoy having their penis inside their partner's vagina."
See? Let's not talk about sticking-it-in versus enveloping-it. It's a thing that people like! On both ends! So, you know. Let's just talk about the fact that the thing has another thing in there. I really dislike terms that imply one person doing sex to another person, especially since the doer is typically a dude with a dick and the done-to is typically a lady with a vagina, which sort of erases the fact that ladies with vaginas are active participants in consensual sex, or should be, and ends up reinforcing both rape culture and the denial of women's sexual agency.
"When this happens, cells called sperm can come from the penis through the vagina, into a space just behind the vagina, which is called the uterus. Those sperm cells combine with egg cells inside the uterus to make a fetus, which is the start of a baby. The fetus grows inside the uterus, and when it's fully grown, it comes through the vagina and is a baby. Having a baby is a serious decision, and not all people who want to do this with each other want to have babies afterward, so they take certain medicines or use other ways to make sure this doesn't happen. It's very important to realize, also, that touching another person in that private way, or being touched by another person, can make you sick. If you touch a person who's sick in that way, you can catch what they have. So when you're grown up, and you start to do this, you will need to know all the ways to be safe. These, we will talk about when you are more grown up."
BIRTH CONTROL! SAFE SEX! NOT REFERRING TO FETUSES AS "BABIES!" Man, I feel progressive right now. I also feel like there is possibly no way I could actually have this conversation without running from the room in a mad panic, and that I am missing a whole lot. So, again: do you have anything better for me, here?
"So, do you have any questions?"

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sexist Beatdown: "Year One" As Explanation For, Basically, Everything Edition

You know people: nostalgia has kind of been dominating the news today! But what of our nostalgia... for times long past? For CAVEMAN TIMES, in fact!

This is basically the entire point of the "science" known as evolutionary psychology! In case you are wondering. In this "science," we take common stereotypes and facets of "human" "behavior" and imagine that cavemen did them, and thereby passed these "genes" onto us! It is a very common explanation for basically everything. Such as, for example, sexism. Or, uh... rape. Yeah, there's a "rape gene" theory involved.

Here is some surprising news for you: all of this is bullshit.

Here, Amanda Hess of The Sexist and I discuss!

SADY: hello!


SADY: i am very excited to discuss caveman times with you today. scientifically, of course! with caveman science! evolutionary psychology has always been my favorite bullshit science because it just sounds like some creepy guy going, "i'm just WIRED this way" over and over and over.

AMANDA: allow me to suppress my rape gene in order to converse with you for several minutes about all of our rape genes. ahem, yes, evolutionary psychology. it's interesting how in these debates there seems to be a tendency for people to figure out what IS and then justify why what already IS is inevitable (and/or good). people rape? must be because people were so rapey in the past, and now there's just nothing we can do about it. evo psych makes everything so easy!

SADY: right: although, what IS, is predicated very much on stereotypes. like, one part of the article i found fascinating is the idea that rape is actually disastrous in a small community: the "rape" gene is actually a "get beat up and not given food by your fellow tribespeople and also someone might kill your rape baby which defeats the whole procreative rape-gene-spreading thing" gene. or, the idea that male jealousy is somehow intrinsically different from female jealousy and that is why dudes kill "unfaithful" mates. basically, boiling everything down to reproduction entirely misses the point of everything else people have to do to survive. not being known as a dangerous killer or other threat, in a community as small as these very primitive ones we're talking about, is a good survival tactic. well, "primitive" is a bad word for it, since they're using data from contemporary hunter-gatherer cultures to test these points.

AMANDA: sure, and one thing the article doesn't talk about is in nowaday-land, how many women are actually stopping reproductive function entirely by sticking devices in their vaginas and medicine in their bodies. that's just one example where science can help defeat science when our evolutionary history doesn't really fit our needs right now.

SADY: right? exactly! but the whole appeal of the field is that it calls back to One True Natural Human Experience, before the dag-blasted condoms came to take it all away. and it seems - by sheer magical coincidence! - to be a version of True Humanity in which women ought to be sexy, men ought to be powerful, and violence against women makes you happier and more successful. it's kind of ricockulous to project all that back onto Caveman Times, when the fact is that those attitudes are clearly part of our culture NOW, but if you want to run with Fred Flintstone as archetype of undiluted manliness, go on ahead.

AMANDA: and that's why men rape, because at one point, not every man raped, and those men died out because they were PUSSIES.

SADY: CORRECT. Also, men of ye olden days KILLED their stepchildren. do you hear me, timmy? there was none of this "time-out" crap back when men were men!

AMANDA: it's difficult for me to see "rapist" as a characteristic born unto man in any real sense

is "rapist" the magical quality that helps you understand that "no" means "yes"?

or is "rapist" the magical quality that helps you not care, specifically, whether another person wants to have sex with you or not?

SADY: "rapist" is all of that, and more! but, more importantly, "rapist," in this theory, is the MAGICAL GENETIC GETAWAY CAR that allows you to say YOU didn't do it. it was your pesky genes! clamoring for evolutionary dominance! whereas, as the article notes, being a rapist in a small community where that's not tolerated actually has more repercussions than being a rapist in a LARGE community where it's hard to bring rapists to justice. i mean. i think whether you're a rapist might have a lot to do with how rape is received within your culture.

AMANDA: what is this "culture"? that's an interesting point, especially when we're talking about "date rape" or the dreaded (aiee) "grey rape" scenarios---people tend to dislike these terms because they make some forms of rape seem less "serious" than others. but they also, i think, are an attempt to push ACTUAL RAPISTS into thinking of their behavior as rape. when, in the past, many people haven't considered pass-out scenarios as rape at all. so if you can't even think of something as rape, you don't have to think of yourself as a rapist, and that's really convenient!

SADY: right. because "no" was the criteria, not the absence of "yes."

AMANDA: yes but Sady, we were BORN with the "no means no" gene. that's the only way we are able to define rape, as a result.

SADY: oh, right! i mean: how many other "genes" are we born with? is there a bukkake "gene?" is there a blow-job "gene?" is the fact that i find the naked picture of sascha baron cohen on the cover of GQ at once attractive and offensive attributable to a "gene?"

because i'd really like an explanation of that which in no way reflects upon my psyche.

AMANDA: it's natural. can we go back to the beginning for one second? what do you make of the headline of this piece: "Why Do We Rape, Kill and Sleep Around?" a little bit of a one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other trick going on there, Newsweek!

SADY: I like the equation of the last item on the list to the first two! Raping. Murdering. CASUAL SEX. All evil! I also like the fact that these "genetic" explanations for sex do nothing to explain people having sex for fun and profit. it's all procreation, all the time!

AMANDA: how did these fornicators not get weeded out?

SADY: yeah, but. you will notice. the slant of these theories is that male sexuality is a positive, ALWAYS, and female sexuality, if it even exists, is a negative. and there's some beeswax about how ladies have to be "picky" to ensure that they only mate with "the best genetic material," because apparently our vaginas are all hitler, but dudes just have to stick it into ladies as often as possible. no concerns about genetic fitness affect them! so, the headline should really read, Why Do Dudes Rape, Murder, And Sleep Around, Because Ladies Are All Waiting For Their Genetic Prince Charming And Therefore Don't Do Any Of The Above, Except Sometimes They Do?

AMANDA: right. and the answer is, as this story suggests, a lot of these scientists are themselves just kind of fucking weirdos.

SADY: right. i liked the part where the scientists responded to critiques of their work with accusations of MARXISM. "i believe your data to be faulty." "COMMUNIST!" that is what science is all about, right there.

AMANDA: also, that some of these quotes were taken from a scientist bbq.

SADY: oh, lord. why didn't they film the scientist bbq? THAT, i would pay to see.

Michael Jackson, Celebrity, Empathy, and the Culture of Silence

The thing is: celebrities, they belong to you.

This isn't completely true, of course. They're people. They don't, or shouldn't, belong to anyone but themselves. But to be a writer, an artist, a musician, or any sort of entertainer, is to give people little shreds of yourself - over, and over, and over again. This is true no matter how commercial, or calculated, or patently artificial the stuff you produce might be: even if you're putting on an act, even if you're putting on an act that has a lot of creators, it's still a document of you, what you said or did or how you moved or how you sounded at a certain time; it doesn't exist without you.

If it works - this process of giving yourself to people - it works only because those pieces of you speak to people: they allow people to project their own meanings, or feelings, or needs, or actual or desired identities, onto you. Every single person who takes up that little shred of your life will end up putting more of themselves than of you into it (because they don't know you, obviously) but what they end up with, in the end, is a version of you: a mental construct, maybe (generously) 5% actual You-the-Person and 95% You-as-Composed-of-Associations-and-Projections, some chimerical weird imaginary friend who somehow carries all of the feelings of solace or joy or excitement that they got from your work, and toward whom they feel all the kinship or gratitude or friendliness anyone would naturally feel toward someone who gave them all this, who gave it over and over, saying, implicitly: for you, for you, this is all for you, I love you. Of course, of course, they care about you. You, the Celebrity; You, the Imaginary Friend. Even if you might not actually be able to stand them. Even if they might not actually be able to stand you. Even if you are nothing like what they imagine.

And then you die.

Like: David Foster Wallace. As you can maybe imagine, due to the fact that I talk about him all the goddamn time, David Foster Wallace was someone with whom I had a firm and long-standing imaginary friendship. He died; he died unexpectedly, and young, and awfully; I read the post on Gawker. I texted the news to someone, then I sat there and said, aloud, "we'll never get another book."

We won't. I won't. Me, me, me. It was a completely narcissistic reaction, which I didn't realize until much later, when I read the obituary on the AV Club and some knob was going off in the comments about how David Foster Wallace was just like him, you know, they were from the same state, and they thought alike, and if he were smarter and funnier he'd be David Foster Wallace, and I was sitting there hating the guy and then I realized: David Foster Wallace probably wouldn't have liked me. Maybe I wouldn't have liked him either. He went off on rants about political correctness; he had theories about language and usage that would irritate the pants off me if they came from any other source; he wrote that one piece about porn that had me swinging between admiration for his writing and empathy and rage at his elitist, Othering stance; I fucking hate math, sports, and abstract systems of thought that I can't tie to lived experience or practice, and these things, if I understand correctly, were great and abiding passions for one David Foster Wallace, Writer. I had no greater claim to my DFW than this dude had to his, so how could I judge him? And why was I so willing to do so?

The thing is, Michael Jackson just died. I'm seeing loving tributes all over the place - some professionally written pieces, some personal testimonies. While I recognize that many of these people are paying tribute to their Michael Jacksons, their childhoods, all of that stuff that's cathected in the first few notes of the bass on Beat It or the Thriller video, I can't help feel that we have a responsibility to look past our own Michael Jacksons, and to the fact that it is absolutely, undoubtedly, certainly more likely than not that he committed sexual assault more than once in his lifetime - and that to do anything else is to contribute to a culture of silence surrounding sexual assault and abuse.

Because I'm seeing people arguing that there's no plausible evidence that he ever did those things.

That's a step too far.

Here's the thing, here's another guy with whom many people had intensely personal relationships based on his work, and who died, unexpectedly and young and awfully: John Lennon. John Lennon hit women, and was a misogynist for a very large portion of the time during which he produced this work. Before I read certain posts over at The Curvature, I did not know this. It was not part of the commonly told story of John Lennon. Now: this takes absolutely nothing away from his work, although "Run For Your Life" (I'd rather see you dead, girl, than see you with another man) will probably never, for me, be comfortable listening. I can also cite John Lennon as a man who became a feminist, who challenged and worked to unlearn his own misogyny, who wrote "Mother" (you didn't want me... Mommy, don't go) and maybe got all of his shit about Women out in the open and worked through it: a man who was, I would argue, actually substantially healed by feminism. This maybe makes it easier for me to look at and accept the fact that he did have those issues about Women, and that they (along with the fact that our culture accepts and encourages misogyny, and along with his enormous fame) resulted in him actually hurting actual women.

Now: Michael Jackson had issues about Childhood. You don't have to know much to know that, right? It's hard not to see his childhood as reflected in those old performances - this undeniably gifted, much-beloved little dude who was already performing in this eerily precise and adult way, as if he'd been trained to it, which he was, because it was the only value he had in the eyes of own father - without realizing that, for Michael Jackson, Childhood must have been a very weird mix of bliss and self-worth and self-loathing and terror. It's hard not to feel empathy for him.

Here's the thing, though: he publicly endangered his own children. He was clearly unstable and/or addicted in ways that meant he should in no way have been allowed to have custody of his children. He acted in clearly suspicious and predatory ways toward many, many children. He was in a position of authority and trust that allowed him to have access to many, many children. He was alleged to have sexually abused more than one child, and given both the fact that it is exceedingly difficult to successfully prosecute sexual assault and the fact that he had the money and resources necessary to settle the cases or bring on defense attorneys willing and able and gifted enough to utilize every single dirty trick that we all deplore in court, it would have likely been impossible to convict him even if, say, the assaults had been caught on tape.

And, given the fact that sexual abuse is common and underreported, and that false allegations are rare, and that children rarely if ever give coherent accounts of it because they are children, and have been raped, I consider the evidence against him to be so very overwhelming as to make any less-than-serious treatment of it - like, say, failing to address it, or minimizing it, or rationalizing it by pointing out that he had entirely understandable issues around Childhood - to be highly irresponsible, and to reinforce the rape culture in which we live, in which rape and sexual assault are regarded as private, umimportant, excusable transgressions, and in which confronting an abuser or talking about his history of abuse openly or insisting it must play an important, even central role in our evaluation of the abuser's life and legacy, is somehow an attack on him.

I don't want Michael Jackson to become another John Lennon. I don't want him to be someone whose abusive behaviors are erased from the record. Something some feminist has to dredge up later. I used to think it was unlikely. Now, I just hope it is.

Some of this may have to do with the fact that I might be a little too young to have ever developed a personal Michael Jackson. "Beat It" was the first song I ever liked - the first song, in fact, that registered for me as a song, rather than as sound - and I remember trying to moonwalk, and I have vague memories about Captain EO just like everyone else. But my first real memories of him are of the first abuse allegations. Now, when I see the videos - people keep talking about how he danced - I see that he moved maybe, sort of, like David Foster Wallace wrote: there was the same elasticity, the same joy (I always thought of David Foster Wallace's writing as, somehow, the most purely joyful that I had ever read; it was how he played with the language, not even necessarily what he said; I didn't know him), the same simultaneous sense of "how the hell is he doing that? People can't do that" and "oh, holy Christ, that looks good." I can see why people are drawn to it; why they love it; why they might love, even, in a way, the man himself. For giving that to them.

But he was an abuser, both publicly and in ways that we can't ever fully know. We have to make that part of the picture. Because the rest of it - the joy, or the solace, or the kinship - that was never only him. That was never even him.

That was you.

That was always you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dear John - John DeVore, That Is!

Hi, John DeVore. How are you? I hope you're well. As you know, you and I have exchanged approximately 3 to 5 e-mails with each other, which makes us officially the Best Friends in the History of Forever. I even wrote about it! And told everybody how nice you were! And how I regretted assuming that you were a jerk!

Which is why it pains me to write this to you today. Because I was on the Tumblr this morning (Livejournal: For Sexy People!) and saw a bunch of folks discussing this "Why Men Cheat" article they'd found on the CNN. I, naturally, clicked over to it, so that I might consider it in full.

The version I clicked onto included the byline! So, I have a question.

My question is: um, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS, JOHN DEVORE?!?!

Here's another reason men run around behind the backs of their doting, self-sacrificing, noble girlfriends and wives -- you don't adore us enough.

When Spartan warriors returned home from victorious campaigns, do you think their women greeted them with eye-rolls and shrugs? They were venerated supremely, celebrated for days upon days! Love was made to them, olives were pitted and fed to them, their wives could not get enough of their dangerous tales of adventure and carnage! Tales told over and over and over again.

And, at the end of each of these nights, as the mighty victors, now satiated and spent, drifted off to sleep, their ladyfolk would purr into their ears, "OMG, you are totally awesome."

All right. Here's the deal. I wrote a post not long ago about how dudes can be very nice people, and have the best intentions, and still do sexist stuff, because it is MORE NORMAL to do sexist stuff than not, in Our Society Today, and how I can (and do!) call the gentlemen of my acquaintance out on the sexism, without disliking them at all. This is what I'm going to do, right now. Because I have proof that you're a really nice - and funny! - dude. But this is just ridonkulous.

Now: the purpose of your article is to provide a hyperbolic rationalization for men cheating on ladies, based on the fact that you apparently believe dudes to be stereotyped as The More Cheaterly Gender, before coming to your conclusion that women and men both cheat and it's because monogamy is hard for lots of folks. So far, so good! The issue here, I think, is the tactics. Because I think you are using the wrong tactics!

I think you are using the tactics that, in fact, confirm stereotypes of men as The More Cheaterly Gender, and rationalizations that pretty much rest on the idea that women are crap! Like, um, the one above - where you cite the argument that men cheat on ladies because ladies JUST DON'T PUT THE DUDES FIRST.

Now: I think that all of this is pretty clearly a joke, in your article. I got sold on the "joke" bit when you mentioned that "actual relationship experts on television confirm that some, if not most, men are hooked on sleeping with as many women as they can." It was the "on television" thing that clued me in. Also, when you mentioned that "it's not [dudes'] fault we drool for hours over porn while you sleep. It's a diagnosable affliction." Yeah, I am of the opinion that jokes about PORNOGRAPHY ADDICTION are always funny. I think it has been sensationalized and overblown to the extent that whenever I hear the phrase I can only think of all of the books out there that use people's stories to demonstrate THE TERRIBLE WAGES OF PORNOGRAPHY ADDICTION solely based on the fact that they jerk off to porn, which is like using my life as an example of THE TERRIBLE WAGES OF COFFEE ADDICTION because I drink it when I wake up. So, this is a joke - and, if seen in the right light, it is in fact funny.

The issue here? The real, problematic issue? Is that ladies - and dudes! - read so many actual, serious articles, citing these exact same arguments, in language not that different from yours, that it's actually difficult to pick up on the fact that it is a joke. Like, if I go to Clown University, and I'm surrounded by fully-clown-dressed clowns every day, the fact that I show up in clown makeup isn't going to be funny. It just makes me indistinguishable from all the other clowns in the room.

And, if somebody really hates clowns (and who doesn't hate clowns, really?) because they read "IT" at a young age and it totally scarred them, or because they used to date a clown and the clown was really mean to them, or maybe just because they are SO SICK OF CLOWNS, FOR REAL, and they decide they want to go to the Clown U campus and punch a clown in the face, they're just as likely to punch me, the "ironic" clown, as they are to punch any of the other equally clown-looking clowns around me.

Basically, what I am saying is that clowns are sexist.

No, wait! What I am saying is: your article might not have come from a place of sexist intent, but it ended up reinforcing sexism, because of the cultural context surrounding it.

Now, in the more serious, less jokeful part of your article, you come back to the fact that men and women can both be big cheatery cheating cheats. Totally with you there! But here's the thing you used to illustrate that:
Women can be faithless, and for centuries, they've done their fair share of tasting forbidden fruit. Literature is full of the sorrow women have caused: Menelaus laid siege to Troy because Helen ran away with another man.
Actually, many versions of the story say that Paris raped and kidnapped Helen. Her complicity in this is a tricky issue, because Greeks (like many cultures) didn't really establish the firmest of distinctions between "raping a lady" and "having consensual sex with a lady." So this may be a pointless nitpick, considering that the story's been told both ways.
Othello smothered his beloved because he believed her to have cheated on him.
If we're talking about "suffering," or "the suffering caused by women," we might want to establish that the person who suffered most in that exchange was probably the lady who was killed by her husband (after she ran away and cut all family ties to be with him) for no reason whatsoever. This is a slightly less pointless nitpick: Desdemona is not the person you want to bring into your "ladies cheat too" argument. Trust me.
Even frat boy romantic comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" was all based around that Kristen Bell, from "Veronica Mars," cheating on that funny fat dude.



DO YOU???????

Okay. Phew. After attending one of my court-mandated anger-management sessions (I'm in a special group for people who've been traumatized by Jason Segel's screenwriting abilities: there are more of us than you'd think) I'm back to tell you: all of these people are made-up. There are probably real-life examples you could have used. Especially considering that you include an appeal to history in your article, like so:

There isn't a word for a women whose husband cheats on her. But the English language gives us a word for a man whose wife runs around on him. That word is "cuckold," and there are few names as limp and pitiful sounding as "cuckold."

Yes. And I submit to you that the reason why there are names for men who've been cheated on by women, but not for women who've been cheated on by men, is the fact that, in the culture from whence this term originated, cheating on your husband was punishable by beating or perhaps death, whereas cheating on your wife was an accepted fact of life. So, men who were cheated on by women were NOT the norm, whereas women who were cheated on by men kind of were. There's also still the idea that a man ought to own and lay claim to a woman, as a means of asserting his masculinity, and that her decision to have sex with other people challenges his ownership of her (rather than her commitment to him or to their relationship) and is hence damaging to his manhood, whereas women are encouraged to accept and take the blame for men's desire to cheat, since it's In A Man's Nature and whatnot. And all of this ties into the idea that (straight) men have active, undeniable, force-of-nature-type sex drives, whereas (all) women either lack sex drives and perform sex just to make dudes happy, or else are vile perverts and whores. We might pretend to have gotten past that, but we haven't, really. Which is why men are still regarded as the gender most likely to cheat.

I mean. Maybe you know all this.

I just didn't read it in your article.

You see what I'm saying?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This Week, in Decisions I May Have Cause To Regret:

After receiving many an e-mail and comment on the subject (and: thanks, e-mailers!) the Dworkin Thread of Doom has now been re-opened. I will be moderating comments so that it can stay productive, as it was for the majority of its run last week. Ad hominem/ad feminam/your-sexing-is-invalid/I'm-bored-let's-have-a-yelling-party-on-the-Internet arguments will be deleted, regardless of whether or not I agree with them, as usual. Everything else is fair game.

Play fair, folks! Don't make me use Disapproving Joan Graphics on you!


Joan has some thoughts about your stance on BDSM.

Adventures In Advertising Presents: Fear of a Red Planet

Oh, advertising firms. How much do you just not like women? Hold up! Don't answer: I know this. The answer is, "a lot! Advertising firms dislike women, a lot." They dislike them so much, in fact, that they have inspired this spec script for my new hit TV drama, Mad Men: The Next Generation:
Jean-Luc Picadvertising: Hey - you know who everybody doesn't like? Women!
Pete Campbell's Grandson, Dave: Ha! Yeah! I don't like women myself!
Jean-Luc Picadvertising: Well, think about it: maybe we can get people to buy this product of ours by establishing that it hates women! Just like they do!
Geordi LaFadvertising: Bad news, you guys. This product is supposed to be purchased primarily, if not exclusively, by women.
Pete Campbell's Grandson, Dave: Ha ha, women. They suck so much!
Jean-Luc Picadvertising: They totally do! High fives all around! By the way, where is Don Draper's grandson, Steve?
Geordi LaFadvertising: We don't know.
Pete Campbell's Grandson, Dave: He is very mysterious.
Okay. Maybe it needs some work. Regardless, I am confident that its dialogue is 100% factually accurate! I base this completely reasonable conclusion on (a) the magically-manly-making Ketel One ads, (b) those disastrous Bacardi ads (hey, lady-customers! Aren't girls who don't look like models hideous and therefore worthless? Um, we assume everyone who buys our product is a professional model, right?) and (c) the most baffling advertising campaign ever conceived by man, zack16.com, sent in by reader Kelly D. (Hi, Kelly! I believe this is what the kids call a "shout-out!")

Zack, you see, is a sixteen-year-old boy. A sixteen-year-old boy, with a blog! UNTIL...
So something weird happened to me last night and I'm just trying to deal. Went to the bathroom this morning to find that I suddenly possessed the aiming ability of a defective garden sprinkler. Soon thereafter I discovered that a super important body part of mine had gone missing.
Ruh-roh! I wonder what this "super important" body part could be? And why it has anything to do with his "aiming ability" in the pisser? UNLESS... oh, no! Penis emergency! Zack's penis is missing! Best file an Amber Alert for that business, Zack! But wait: if Zack doesn't have a penis any more, does that mean he has no genitalia whatsoever? Is he smooth like a Ken doll down there? I mean, that's certainly what I imagine, when I think of the absence of a penis...
Still in possession of girl parts "down under."
Oh, OK. He has a vagina. Because, for the record, "vagina" = "absence of a penis." Not "totally different body part that is in no way definable merely in relation to penises." For the female, you see, is a defective male, and the mother is castrated and blah blibbity blah blippity bloop bleep millenia of male denigration of/theorizing about the existence of ladybusiness. Zack is a Freudian young motherfucker, if you ask me.

Now, considering that actual vaginoplasties are both expensive and difficult to obtain, I'm pretty sure that a few trans ladies wouldn't mind receiving Zack's magic vagina. It's also nice that he gets to use the bathroom of his choice, without having to read or deal with some "feminist" (not enough quotation marks in the world, people) shit fit about it (including the obligatory, probably-not-meant-to-be-hilarious moment wherein the """"feminist"""" refers to some woman's penis like it is the shark from Jaws: "The dick is still there in many cases, waiting, just waiting for a reason to penetrate something or somebody." Dunnnh-DUH. Dunnnh-DUH. Dunnh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-TAKIN' A PEEEEEEEEEE.) Actually, this whole campaign is fucking weird in that it kind of doesn't acknowledge the existence of trans people in any way whatsoever - like, there are actually lots of trans men with vaginas out there, but Zack is just like, "what an unprecedented thing this is!" And by "fucking weird," of course, I mean "totally predictable."

But anyway. Zack is not a trans person. Zack is a cisgender dude with a magic vagina. A vagina with mysterious powers! For example: the vagina makes Zack bake things. Ha ha, because you can't prepare food if you have a penis! The vagina also makes Zack enjoy terrible costume dramas: "on the Estrogen Channel" - ha ha, estrogen, because that is what ladies have, in their vaginas - "I got caught up in this English costume drama about a fancy young woman from the British upper class who falls in love with a simple bricklayer." But you won't believe what else the vagina makes Zack do. It is awful. It is terrible. It is:

Was getting dressed this morning and my pants wouldn't fit right. It's like a gained a bunch of weight... Watching a cooking show this morning, I cried a little when the chef cracked the eggs.

Oh NO! Zack! You have no idea what is coming next, do you, buddy? Why, it's only the most horrible fearful thing in the world:
But now that I've got my period, I'm faced with perhaps my biggest challenge yet: the hideous, pristine all-white tuxedo that Chelsea picked out for me to wear to prom. I just hope the rose on my lapel is the only red we see that evening.

I am referring, actually, to the white tuxedo here. Apparently the vagina didn't take care of that whole "fashion sense" thing like it's supposed to. Zack's vagina and Chelsea's vagina were asleep at the wheel when it came to that particular decision.

Oh, but also: Zack gets his period. For, as I promised you, this is THE MOST BAFFLING AD CAMPAIGN EVER CONCEIVED BY MAN. It is an ad campaign FOR TAMPONS. Tampax-brand tampons, to be precise! Because, apparently, Tampax is the tampon so awesome that even dudes will use it. Not like all those inferior lady-tampons out there. Because, you know, coming up with a viral ad campaign for tampons starring a girl dealing with her vagina is just weak. Also: best to reel out the stereotypes about basically everyone with vaginas, in your vagina-product ad campaign! Because, you know, self-loathing sells.

But, whatever. Zack gets his period. Zack, like everyone in this entire society, hates and fears the period. I'm not interested in rescuing Zack's self-esteem right now. No: I'm interested in his sex life! With Chelsea!
Took Chelsea Carr to prom last weekend. She looked great. Too bad I'm completely unequipped to be her boyfriend.
Um, Zack? I'm pretty sure that people with vaginas - boys and girls - date and have sex with women all the damn time. YOU'VE LOST THE LESBIAN AND TRANS MAN TAMPON VOTE, Zack. Best use all those sensitive vagina-feelings you have now to make amends.


Would you like to see Zack's transformational, baking, nice-making, lady-genitalia loathing journey? ON FILM? Sure you would.

Oh, and also: there is a part where he shows his little sister his "secret."



Monday, June 22, 2009

AND NOW, A GUEST POST: Second Chances... To Reinforce Some Really Obnoxious Stereotypes, That Is!

NOTE: I, Sady, have been begging C.L. Minou - who runs the excellent, must-add-to-RSS-feed blog The Second Awakening - to write a guest post for Tiger Beatdown since approximately forever. Today is the day my dreams - and yours, reader - come true!

Trans people can get pretty jaded about our representation in the media--whether it's Transgeneration (excellent!), Sex Change Hospital (um...) or Transamerica (the pain, make it stop) , after a while you notice the invariable repitition of certain themes, especially in that most infamous of genres, the transgender documentary. (In fact, there are even drinking games where you can find out how many shots you're supposed to down if somebody says "a woman trapped in a man's body" or tries on bras on camera.)

Recently the New York Times put a short documentary on their website as part of a new feature called Second Chances--and you guessed it, the first film is about a transsexual named Terry Cummings. It's actually a touching little piece that is very sweet and definitely well-intentioned. But it struck me immediately how even something well-intentioned could manage to pack inside of it so many typical trans-doco-cliches.

And then I realized, that not only are those cliches subtly disparaging to trans people, they're also (no!) not-so-subtly misogynist--allow me to demonstrate:

:30 We kick things off with that most venerable of tropes, the trans woman putting on makeup; I think there must be some FCC requirement for it or something. Such scenes are annoying not just because they are repetitive, but because they make the woman's identity seem artificial, cosmetic, just a deceptive coating around the real person.

Not much different, of course, from the standard lady-hating vibe about how women need to wear makeup, since their attractiveness to men is held up as their most important single characteristic; but trans women especially are held in a double-bind--either wear makeup to look more feminine and be accused of only being interested in the trappings of womanhood, or don't wear makeup and either be told you "look like a guy" or worse, mystify people as to why you'd want to be a woman, since you don't want to look like one.

1:20-1:47 A quick sequence of scenes of Terry on the phone, talking about clothes, cuddling a cat, and telling someone on the phone "Welcome to a woman's world."

The clothes conversation feeds into one of the more damning things thrown at trans women--that we're just in it for the outfits--as if people decide to upend their whole life, spend most of their life's savings, and in general make things a whole lot more difficult for them just so they could wear a skirt. And again, it's a double-bind: don't express interest in clothes, and people wonder why you want to transition; but do worry about what you wear (something that happens especially often to trans people just starting to present as their desired gender) and you're hit with charges of superficiality.

Nevertheless it sure sends out messages about being a woman, like women talk about clothes, or cuddle animals, unlike men who don't have time for appearances or nurturing.

Maybe it's because I take things too seriously, but the way the "welcome to a woman's world" scene unfolds bothers me. I mean, it seems divorced of context--was she saying it in a rueful or sarcastic way, as I often have? (I usually refer to the paperwork I had to fill out to start hormones: "I signed the release.") As a way to sympathize with another woman? Both of those seem more likely; but the way it's shot seems to show her issuing the statement authoritatively, which opens up all kinds of nasty questions about the assumption of privilege that frequently (and especially) dog trans women.

It's not really what she said; given how little control a film subject has over the final result, I hold Terry absolutely blameless here. But the way it's presented seems to send out subtle messages, none of them particularly good, about being a trans person.

1:50 Shopping (drink!). If it's not makeup, it's got to be shopping. Once again, trans women are only in it for the clothes, the superficial trappings of femininity. And shoes! (Why did it have to be shoes?)

I suppose I should be happy that trans women get damned with these accusations; after all, it makes us just like the rest of women, who are told (and believed) to be obsessed with appearances and fashion--though trans women get the added burden of generally being shown as not only obsessed with these things, but not being very good at them. (Fortunately not an issue in Terry's case, but I sometimes think that the makers of these documentaries purposely seek out women who struggle with their female presentations, to reinforce precisely this point.)

We also see Terry's daughter, who seems like a very nice person, talking about her struggles with what to call her. This isn't a laughing matter; it's very tough for family members to deal with. But in the hit and run way it's dealt with in this documentary, it only continues to reinforce the idea that Terry is really still her male parent. Biology is still destiny.

2:25 Terry at her basement workbench. "This was what my life was like..." she says--that is, interested in traditionally male hobbies.

Which manages to be both misogynist and transphobic: that is, she couldn't be interested in them now, because she's a woman, and ladies don't do woodwork or other manly stuff! And also it's a subtle reminder of where she's come from, a continued destabilization and devaluation of her as a woman.

Let me state once again that this isn't a criticism of Terry: people's interests do change often during transtion (I started blogging, for example, and mostly stopped knitting.) It's not Terry's life I'm criticizing, it's how her life is being forced into the Standard Transsexual Narrative template, in a way that (surprise!) is subtly transphobic and misogynistic, despite it's good intentions.

2:40 The goddamn photograph of Terry before she transitioned. (Drink triple-shots: it's in black and white, and from her wedding.) I for one am heartily sick of being shown pictures of trans people pre-transition. Or publishing their former names. Or making a big effing deal about being trans, period. Because there's really no way of doing it that doesn't leave people feeling that the old name and gender are the real gender. And that just reinforces all the old ideas about gender essentialisms, the very thing feminists have struggled against since...oh, since the Agricultural Revolution.

And speaking of gender essentialism, we come to...
3:00--4:25 The surgery. I mean, The Surgery. I mean, The Surgery. It wouldn't, couldn't, be a trans documentary without the surgery. And certainly the largest single portion of the film has to be about the surgery. I think that's actually a law. Of nature.

Shocking but true: the surgery isn't always central to a trans person's life. For one thing, the surgery for trans men is expensive, difficult, and frequently less than satisfactory, so beyond a masectomy many of them never have any genital surgery. Secondly, there is a whole segment of trans women who never have GRS (genital/gender reassignment/reconstructive surgery; the phrasing depends on who you ask), and are perfectly happy and living perfectly ordinary women's lives.

And finally, for a lot of people, GRS isn't that big a deal. Major surgery, yes, but not something that will magically change everything in your life.

That isn't to demean trans women for whom GRS is a big deal--just to point out that for most trans women, it's less about making them into something than it is relieving them of their dysphoria.

And in any case, whether you are trans or a feminist (or maybe even both!), you simply can't accept that you equal your genitals. That biology is destiny. If anything, trans narratives should destroy that idea, rather than being used to reinforce it.

Now, the best part of all this? All the stuff that was left out and only visible on the comments page. Like, did you know that Terry is a lawyer? That might have been interesting to find out. Or that she considers the surgery to be a "rite of passage," but "it would not change her life." That might have been a sort of fresh direction for a film like this to take.

But should we be surprised, that a woman, of any history, has her work erased? That a woman's feelings of her own life are forced into a culturally-determined narrative? That a woman's appearance is stereotyped, or her body pathologized?

That the best thing you can say about most trans documentaries is that they treat their subjects like women, that is, misogynistically?

And in the end, if trans women get singled out for expressing their gender, it's still with the same refrains of oppression as other women.

Friday, June 19, 2009

SEXIST BEATDOWN: Muffin-Bluffing Is A Feminist Issue Edition

Ah, music. It makes the people! Come together! Music: [it] mix[es] the bourgeois! And the rebel! It also, recently, led to this really neat article about "post-post-feminism," which seems to mean the same thing as "post-feminism," which seems also (so Steve Haruch notes!) to mean the same thing as "pre-feminism," which means, basically "a-feminism." It has not much to do with feminism at all, actually; I don't know why that word keeps coming up.

Except that the kids today - especially the girl kids - are all a'sexin'! And a-singin' about the sexin'! Lady Gaga wishes to poke her face, yet bluffs with her muffin; Katy Perry wishes to kiss girls, and like it, on the condition that her boyfriend don't mind it; The Veronicas wish to be sexy twins who basically kiss EVERYBODY, boys and girls included; and, at this point, "postpostfeminism" is just something that happens after some annoying girl drinks too many Cosmos. But with a super catchy beat!

So, what does it all meaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnn? Read on, my friends, as Amanda Hess of The Sexist and I discuss!

MUSICAL ACCOMPANIMENT: Lady Gaga: postfeminist, postpostfeminist, postpostpostnotdressinglikeasexyMartianinvader, sings the sensitive face-poking hits of our time.

SADY: lady! are you ready to have a discussion about postpostpostpostpostfeminism?

AMANDA: hi! Sorry! first of all, since you seem to have been doing a bit of "research" into modes of feminism lately can you tell me what post-feminism is? and what post-post-feminism might be?

SADY: post-feminism is the one where progress has been accomplished so we can all be SEXY again and also camille paglia can blame us for our date rapes! post-post-feminism is... um... feminism again? or the one where we have to fight each other in Thunderdome. no wait, that's post-APOCALYPTIC-post-feminism. no, wait, that's my blog comment section.

AMANDA: ba dump ching!

SADY: TIP YOUR WAITRESSES. i do know you can find the postpostpostpostwhatever in the popular music the kids listen to today, though! such as the katy perrys, and the lady gagas!

AMANDA: first of all, let me just say to pop music, that i am a huge, huge fan

SADY: haha, i had to have someone sing me the veronicas song so i knew what it was about. according to this person it goes "take me on the floor, blah blah blah sexy twins." i feel no need to look up the lyrics! i'm confident this research is correct!

AMANDA: i will listen to nearly any pop music song, whether feminist, pre-feminist, post-feminist, post-post-feminist, told-from-the-perspective-of-the-unborn-fetus etc. so that sexy twin song, i may be adding it to my ipod!

SADY: yeah, why not?

AMANDA: however, i think it would be Educational if we discussed some modern pop singers (love 'em) and where their songs fall on the feminist ---> told-from-the-perspective-of-the-unborn-fetus spectrum

SADY: yeah, i kind of think that what they're talking about is the whole overt sexuality thing in these ladies' music. which is NEW! and UNPRECEDENTED! what with the poking of 'er face and whatnot! and the kissing of girls, and the taking on the floor.

AMANDA: let's start with that kissing of girls thing. i personally wouldn't take such an issue with that song if the rest of katy perry's album didn't blatantly ridicule gay people.

SADY: I JUST LISTENED TO THE VERONICAS SONG. the bridge is "i want to kiss a girl, i want to kiss a girl, i want to kiss a boy." maybe THIS is postpostfeminism? yeah, not just gay people but women which is bizarre: "you are so gay, you are like a woman, you terrible gay-woman-man." like, this grossness wherein gay or a lady is the worst thing to be...

AMANDA: the veronicas song sounds like some sort of bizarre undead compromise between you and andrea dworkin. oh, THIS song? i just listened to it for the first time. shit, i actually don't like this pop song, it sucks.

SADY: yep. this is our peace treaty. andrea dworkin's thing, sexually, was (i am learning) more complex than i maybe can understand, at the moment. i'm pretty sure she would have some harsh words for the whole sexy-twins, kissing-girls-for-your-boyfriend, bluffing-with-one's-muffin thing. her whole problem was that she thought we were bluffing with our muffins too much! NO MORE MUFFIN BLUFFING, is what she'd say.

AMANDA: i'm okay with never hearing another word about muffin bluffing.

SADY: MUFFIN BLUFFING IS THE PATRIARCHY'S SUPPORT SYSTEM. this is some weird performance of sexuality that seems so specifically catered to be precisely in line with current expectations of what dudes find sexy.

AMANDA: are there any current pop songs that qualify as post-post feminist, which i now understand (?) is feminism again after taking a little break from feminism?

SADY: haha, i like "if i were a boy," by beyonce, maybe a little more than i should. there are certain moments where i can convince myself that it MEANS SOMETHING.

AMANDA: i, too, have spent many moons attempting to squeeze that song into my worldview

SADY: if beyonce were a boy, she'd roll out of bed and put on whatever she wanted and drink some beer. if this first verse is any indication, i myself may be a boy, or beyonce. but also, if beyonce were a boy, she'd be cheating on YOU! and you COULDN'T STOP HER!

AMANDA: do you have a cop outfit?

SADY: mmmmmm... sadly, no. this may be the only difference between beyonce and myself. barring, of course, the fact that i did not appear in "obsessed."

AMANDA: i really like this song, and (i've convinced myself) that it's an honest critique of the double standards in sexual relationships between men and women ... for those of us who can't just throw all that shit out of the window and have sex with other women. but it's also kind of like, you don't have to be a boy, you're BEYONCE, you can do whatever the fuck you want!

SADY: right? beyonce could basically buy a small country at this point. yet, in her song with jay-z, she points out that she can 'still play her part and let [jay-z] take the lead role." i'm beginning to think her commitment to just doing all that dude stuff (namely, being kind of a dick) is not that profound.

AMANDA: yes HOWEVER---and this is a good point for those post-feminist to listen to---beyonce actually looks super hot acting like a fucking dick. and then looks less compelling when she goes back into the girl role at the (spoiler alert) surprise twist at the end

anyway. i'm beginning to think that postpostfeminism, what with the girls singing about how they've kissed girls, and also boys, and have done things with their muffins that maybe we would be uncomfortable hearing about, is not actually "post" anything. haven't people been singing about screwing (boys and girls) for A LONG TIME?

AMANDA: yes. i think that's what ALL pop music is about, right?

SADY: right? yet, when we hear songs about sex, we think they're kind of naughty, until someone sings an EVEN NAUGHTIER song about sex, and that's all these kids are doing: semi-raising, or trying to raise, the bar for naughtiness. with, GASP, girl makeouts! basically, i think that sooner or later "i want to pee on you" will be an actual single.

AMANDA: of course, until pop music enters its post-naughty phase. sponsored by kelly clarkson.

SADY: "if i were a boy, we'd be engaging in non-demeaning and mutually respectful activities, such as going to a church group, and holding hands. " "woooo, girl, i want to play zelda and not make out or consider sexual activities at all with youuuu."

AMANDA: You know, somebody kind of made this point in the Bitch comment section, and I think it's pretty apt: as far as POP music is concerned, maybe it's enough for us to have expectations that it not be misogynistic. and that other forms of music that are not played on the radio will tackle the more explicitly radical subjects. that being said, i would really love to write for Britney Spears.

SADY: haha. i'm seriously trying to think of a mainstream pop hit that handled anything vaguely feminist in its subject matter. the best i can come up with is "human nature," by madonna. and that's a tenuous pick. i would love for you to write for britney spears, too! actually!

AMANDA: i understand that she often takes up best-friends-for-a-few-hours fairly often. i think i could be a good influence on her.

SADY: i think my work with the postpostfeminist stars of stage and screen would be brutal, ugly, and short

AMANDA: i thought the misogyny consulting thing would really work out for you

SADY: i think my hit katy perry song, "i kissed the person that it was most pleasing for me to kiss at the time without thinking about or trying to present my sexuality as a performance for the benefit of the male gaze" would not, probably, sell like hotcakes. the b-side, "i like tacos," might be a little more well-received. who doesn't like tacos?! why is our pop landscape so post-tacos?

AMANDA: eww, post-taco

SADY: hahahahaha. ok. it's NOT AN ELOQUENT TERM for my movement. rest assured, you'll soon be hearing the sound of post-taco across the nation.

AMANDA: hahah

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Calling The Ketel WHACK, or: The Worst Title Of Any Post Ever (It Is About Vodka)

You know, my fellow lady-people, it has been a bit stressful around the old Tiger Beatdown lately. The post window: it glowers at me. It is like, WHO WILL YOU PISS OFF NEXT, LADY???? And I am like, "well, no-one, unless they learn about my vicious dog-on-baby-fighting ring." Oh, no! Wait! I meant, "my extensive collection of pornography!" Oh, CRAP! What I meant was, "my extensive collection of videotapes featuring dogs fighting babies!"

Ugh. Anyway, have you seen these Ketel One ads? They're pretty annoying!

Ha ha, yes. A TIME WHEN MEN WERE MEN. And not ladies! When they did not drink their vodka out of "delicately painted [like a lady would paint them] pink [like a lady would enjoy] * perfume [like a lady would wear] bottles." Ha ha, yes, the epidemic of vodka served in "painted perfume bottles" is quite disastrous for femininity. And drinking! The atomizer: it doesn't dispense much booze per squirt!

Here is also a fun thing to notice: the THERE WAS A TIME thing. Remember when men were men? Real live masculine manly men of manhood and manliness? Boy, doesn't it suck that men aren't men any more, and they have to be less manly and manful in their day-to-day interactions? It's almost as if many men fetishize a foregone time when male privilege was entirely unhampered and ran rampant (LIKE GODZILLA) through the streets and no-one ever questioned it and the performance of traditional highly privileged masculinity was never challenged! I wonder what could have brought this glorious time to an end?

Oh, shit, yeah. Right. Anyway, this beautiful time of untrammeled, pre-feminist, pre-ladyfied manhood existed once. And it can exist AGAIN! If - and only if - you purchase and consume Ketel One vodka! Which is a colorless and mostly tasteless liquid that can be mixed with any drink, up to and including the uber-ladyfying Cosmo. Or APPLE MARTINI.

Ha ha, yeah, it's really silly to think that a drink can be gendered, right? Or that it can gender you. In fact, I'm going to drink some Ketel One vodka right now, just to prove you a point: that it does not in fact affect my gender presentation whatsoever. Here I am, prior to drinking Ketel One:

Hmmm... vodka-y, drunk-inducing, no feelings of altered gender. Let's take an "after" pic:

OH HOLY CRAP. How did this even happen?!? I take it back, you guys: Ketel One is definitely the manliest vodka that ever manned a man up to manliness. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to book a ticket to Hawai'i.

* UPDATE: The ad totally doesn't actually say "pink," by the way! I've re-watched it several times to verify this. The thing is, I've seen it many a time, and I always, always, always hear the word "pink" in there. There's a weird pause between "painted [like a lady]" and "perfume [which is a lady thing]." So I just HEARD THE WORD AND/OR COLOR "PINK" USED AS A NEGATIVE in that space. This ad is so manly it can actually project sexist concepts right into your brain! Beware!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And Now: Tiger Beatdown Musical Hour!

You guys, have you heard this song?

I think I've posted this song before.

My point is, I think we all need to hear this song.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I just deleted a bunch of really nice comments! If your comment just doesn't show up: I accidentally deleted it! I am sorry! I love you! Snobographer, Fllewellyn, the person who compared me to T-Rex from Dinosaur Comics (AT LAST MY LIFE'S GOAL HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED), a whole bunch of people who had really smart stuff to say about what was going down with Shakesville: I'm super sorry. I did not mean to SILENCE YOU.

This has been another installment of: Things You Would Not Care About Unless You Were Directly Involved. Thank you!

Dear Andrea Dworkin,

It's me, Sady. Yes! That's right! ME! One of the many women who has no doubt caused you to wish that you could rise, as a vengeful spirit, to haunt and torment your critics!

Well, good news for you, Andrea: that is kind of exactly what happened to me this past weekend, when I tried to start a "conversation" (ha ha, yeah, um) about my feelings of alienation from radical feminism as such and also from the rhetorical and activist tactics of many radical feminists. With some radical feminists! Who - in a surprise twist that I could never possibly have predicted - kind of took exception to what I said! As they say, "you're nobody until you've engaged in some kind of drawn-out fight about schisms within the feminist movement dating back at least to the early '80s and which continue to be incredibly painful and divisive." Oh, no, wait: what they say is, "don't do that shit, ever."

Alas! I did it anyway! It was terrible! And here, in the aftermath, what I realize is this: I really, REALLY need to answer all of these e-mails. Oh, but wait! What I also realize is this: I've been taking it up with the wrong people. I should have been taking it up with you.

This is hard to do, because people have been so shitty to you! (Also: YOU'RE DEAD? Yes, I know, but this is a rhetorical conceit: roll with it.) I'm not just talking about the anti-feminists and misogynists who slam you and paint you as Big Bad Feminazi #1; I'm not just talking about the many folks who abused you in various ways; I'm talking about us, self-described feminists, writers, folks who should know better. Like, when a woman publishes an account of being raped while drugged, and that account is hazy, messy, confused and seems to betray an extremely unhealthy mental state on the part of the writer (like, say, the account of a woman who'd been recently raped might), is it ever even remotely okay to be like, "well, perhaps she is just making it up for political or career reasons? Or BROUGHT IT UPON HERSELF, due to being such a bitch all the time?" I would argue that it is not! Yet that's what we did to you, when you published that article in the New Statesman.

Anyway, Andrea: I am not one of those people. That whole spectacle made me sick. I can even tell you that you were the very first feminist whose work I ever read! It blew me away, and made me the tireless yammerer-on about gender and sex that I am today. I can respect much of what you were about: analyzing literary and pop-culture narratives from a feminist perspective, examining how sex (or, rather, heterosexual sex, in your work) is warped by misogyny and a culture of male domination, and refusing to back down from the fact that the rape and abuse of women, by men, happens, and happens often, and says something about the status of women in society, and needs to stop. All of that stuff matters to me. But, I have to tell you: you are just about the worst role model for a young feminist that I can imagine.

Let's talk about that! Let's, specifically, talk about sex! Or, in your preferred parlance, "fucking!" (Andrea, one of the many reasons I sneakily love you sometimes is that you dropped more f-bombs per page than any other Serious Theorist I know.) The "all heterosexual sex is rape" thing is a myth; you never said that. What you did seem to be arguing, and what many of your followers and colleagues have seemed to argue, is that in patriarchy, women are defined as existing for the use of men in sex, and that no woman can really, freely choose to have sex with a man, due to the number of societal pressures and power structures that make "having sex with men" the default and the other options untenable, stigmatized, and dangerous. The problem is that, as a young feminist, the "all sex is rape" thing and the other, less t-shirt-worthy theory seemed to be recommending the very same course of action, which was: don't have sex with dudes.

That's not going to work for me, Andrea! I have some vague idea as to how you worked it out in your own life: I know you identified as a lesbian, and your life partner was a man who identified as gay, and then later it came out that you were actually married to him, but your official position was that in your own life you did not have "intercourse." I don't hold it against any woman if she decides never to have sex again. That's not my business. What I know is that I can't be willfully celibate, and that I consider reclaiming and enjoying my sexuality both a vital way to heal from my rape (wherein my sexuality was used to degrade and subjugate me) and from the Madonna/whore split that keeps women from being whole people. I also know that I enjoy having sex with men, and that therefore what I need to work out is a way to do that while resisting old gender roles and subjugation to a male partner. You didn't help me there, Andrea. You never gave me a way to resist. You told me all the bad stuff that might happen to me, but not how to create anything good.

Then, there was the whole porn thing. Yep: porn is pretty sexist, all right. At least, most of the mainstream heterosexual porn that I've seen is sexist. I, like you, oppose that sexism, as well as human trafficking and the abuse, rape, and coercion of women who perform in porn. But, curious fact: did you know that most films and narratives produced within a sexist society are sexist? And have an adverse affect on society by normalizing sexism, just like porn does? Also, that abuse, rape, and coercion of women happen even outside of the context of porn? Actually, I'm almost 100% certain that you do know about that last thing!

Yet, with you, it was nothing but porn, porn, porn, all the damn time. You were like Captain Ahab of the USS Jesus Christ, I Guess Captain Ahab Really Hates Porn. Porn caused violence, porn caused rape, seeing porn in and of itself was a form of abuse (like, if you were "forced" to see it by walking into a bodega where it was on sale or something) and you went after it with these laws that (a) gave governments increased power to persecute and marginalize the queer community, because obviously they were affected first and disproportionately by any obscenity laws or laws policing sexual expression, and (b) gave women the right to sue for damages "caused by porn," thus making it seem as if porn itself had abused or assaulted them, instead of working to place the blame - and increased, more severe convictions - on their actual rapists. You took the blame off abusers, and put the blame on porn. And aided in the institutional oppression of queer folks in the process. Um, whoops?

Oh, and also? In your speeches about porn, such as "Pornography: The New Terrorism" (Jesus CHRIST) you described images from BDSM pornography as if they were representative of all pornography, when you had reason to know (because people were yelling at you about it) that this was not what all pornography was like, and was also a specific fetish which needed to be understood within its own context. Which was intellectually dishonest, and gave people a really easy way to discredit your arguments. Whoops, again!

Oh, and THEN, also! The BDSM folks got mad at you about it, and the ladies who were already kind of frustrated by the "don't fuck dudes" stuff got mad at you about it, and feminism basically CAUGHT FIRE AND EXPLODED and you did NO work to understand what those people were saying, and in fact attacked some of them really, really harshly! WHOOPS!

Oh, and also? Remember all those women of color and working-class women who protested both sides, and were like, "making porn the central issue of the feminist movement takes emphasis away from the very real issues that affect our lives?" Ha ha, yeah, they had a solid point there! On my own behalf, if not yours, I would like to say: whoops.

But seriously, Andrea: let's talk about sex, some more. Let's talk, specifically, about how you minimized and glossed over women's sexual agency and pleasure, and gave fuel to cultural conservatives by developing a rhetoric wherein women were giant babies who couldn't make their own sexual choices and were, in fact, threatened by sex itself: an image of women as passive, helpless victims terrorized by men's bestial desires that dates right on back to the Cult of True Womanhood, and gave preachers and right-wing pundits the opportunity to paint basically any sexual expression, regardless of content or intent, as "demeaning to women." Even if women were actively and enthusiastically taking part in the "demeaning." You painted us all as victims, focused almost solely on the most extreme forms of misogynist abuse (which, as basically anyone who knows me is aware, I abhor), used extreme, hyperbolic rhetoric irresponsibly, and didn't really address more subtle forms of sexism in society or - as previously referenced - give us workable, practical ways to resist. Don't believe me? Check this business out:
Bill Clinton's fixation on oral sex -- non-reciprocal oral sex -- consistently puts women in states of submission to him. It's the most fetishistic, heartless, cold sexual exchange that one could imagine.
Um, really? A blow job? The MOST HEARTLESS COLD FETISHISTIC AWFUL TERRIBLE NO-GOOD VERY BAD ACT YOU CAN IMAGINE? Seriously, lady: I can imagine worse. And I probably haven't seen as much porn as you have.

Of course, this is the essay that leads up to "I think Hillary should shoot Bill and then President Gore should pardon her," so this is an odd line with which to take offense. For the record, I do think Clinton was, pretty much, a misogynist! Yet it's precisely this construction that makes me so mad sometimes: refusing to acknowledge that maybe, sometimes, you give a dude head because you like him, or because you like doing that, and instead portraying a consensual BJ as an act of unspeakable violation.

And, of course, in that very essay, you get around to calling Hillary "pathetic" and not a real feminist any more because she hasn't denounced or left her husband, AS IF THAT WERE ANY OF YOUR BUSINESS, and as if that didn't give more fuel to the by-then-already-popular pastime of openly misogynist or concern-trollish Hillary-bashing. Andrea Dworkin: I THINK YOU ARE KIND OF A CONCERN TROLL, is what I think. In your version of feminism, what concerns us is passing judgment on the choices of other women, while we assume that we know what is going through their heads at all times, which is, of course, "I am oh so very victimized by men" or "oh, how I love to assist men in victimizing women."

And it's that, really, that led me away from radical feminism, and specifically away from your work. It's the lavish, intricately detailed, lovingly rendered descriptions of hate-sex, rape, and bodily harm to women. It's the endless parade of martyrs in your work. It's the "Andrea Dworkin suffers for your sins" shit you pulled so often. It's saying stuff like, "I'm a radical feminist, not the fun kind." (Ha ha, yeah, fun sucks! Joy couldn't possibly be a way to resist patriarchal oppression!) It's naming books stuff like Woman Hating and Heartbreak and Our Blood, the fetishization of suffering as feminist purity, and the refusal to really address the fact that sexism can be subtle, subliminal, non-violent, and just as if not more damaging and difficult to analyze and resist due to that fact. Here is another quote of yours I came across:
"He is the conjurer who takes the smoking ash of real death and turns it into stories, poems, pictures, which celebrate degradation as life's central truth. He is the illusionist who paints mutilated bodies in chains on the interior canvas of the imagination so that, asleep or awake, we can only hallucinate indignity and outrage. He is the manipulator of psychological reality."
The thing is, Andrea, you were talking about The Oppressor. I read this, and the only person I think of is Y-O-U. Asleep or awake, we can only hallucinate indignity and outrage, if we buy into your theory of gender relations. We accept, if we accept your work, degradation as life's central truth.

Oh! My goodness! It appears that this - in what is a completely surprising occurence with no precedent in either the history of feminism or in my own personal life - has become a heated conversation! To the extent that I've made it so, I take responsibility for that. Here are a few statements in regard to this that I'd like folks to hear, up front, before entering the war zone:

1. Everyone who reads this blog is entitled to call me out for statements or theoretical points that are based on privilege. Everyone who reads this blog is entitled to disagree with me. I take critiques of my privilege or theory seriously. I am furthermore aware that this is a contentious and painful debate, and that there are probably several areas in the post that deserve serious critique. I would appreciate it, and do appreciate those who have written careful critiques thus far.

2. For reasons of accountability and objectivity, I am not editing the post itself (except to add this) and publishing every comment in this thread except for random threatening Internet-stalker stuff, and doing my best to respond to them. [EDIT: Ha ha, not any more! Because the thread got too long to keep up with and respond to, and also literally almost as soon as this note went up folks started doing more and more of the following:]

3. Insofar as possible, please refrain from the following: slut-shaming (and this can take the form of framing "sex with men" as a choice that necessarily precludes "ending violence against women"), name-calling, condescending to or passing judgment on the personal choices of other women, and revoking other women's Feminist Membership Cards or claiming access to the One True Feminism. This, in case you are curious, can take the form - and often does! - of acting as if a fellow feminist's agreement, disagreement, or decision to criticize or support of the theory of one Andrea Dworkin invalidates both her commitment to the movement and everything else she has ever done. [EDIT: Jesus.]

4. Thanks for engaging.