“Blurred Lines” and why your anti-sexist rants are getting awfully sexist, ladies.

Every summer we get to indulge ourselves in dozens of new, sparkly pop songs. They dash up and down the charts, their videos and melodies pervade our radios, newsfeeds, and televisions all in the hope of being the big hit of the summer. The song we’ll all remember.

Perhaps the song that’s stirred up the most controversy this year (and by that measure beat the controversial competition, sorry Miley) is “Blurred Lines.” “Blurred Lines” is an oddly languid pop song with barely discernible lyrics by Robin Thicke, featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams. However, upon some investigation and help from the video, it becomes apparent that it’s a song about a man speaking to a woman who has previously not been encouraged to express her sexuality or desire. The speaker urges the girl toward her desires, and generally encourages her to go with her instincts, which presumably will result in him getting laid. The song repeats references to these “blurred lines,” but it’s unclear what that is exactly referring to. Don’t get me wrong, this song is in no way feminist, it’s a pretty typical, fantasy-driven pop song.  There are certainly things to find irritating about it (who does this guy think he is? Why does he get to do the liberating?) but it’s not worthy of all-out feminist frenzy.

Today I had the good fortune of reading a “feminist take down” of the song and anyone who would dare enjoy it by Elizabeth Plank at Policymic.  While the article was logical, it was also predictably belligerent. Ms. Plank takes great offense to the assumption on the part of a male speaker that he might know what a woman wants, even if that assumption is liberating. Further, the video is offensive because the women (models) are partially clothed while the performers are fully clothed, also the women engage in overt, objectifying behaviors.

She heavily cites an interview with Robin Thicke where he (somewhat misguidedly) confirms that the video is degrading to women, and maintains it was “making fun” of something. Perhaps Robin Thicke doesn’t have the delicate hand to negotiate unspoken humor about the objectification women in 2013. She further cites comments make by the video director,  Diane Martel, a woman, who denied that there was an issue. Of course, as far as Ms. Plank and the feminist take down is concerned this woman’s opinion is irrelevant, despite actually producing the material. Diane Martel is, after all, only a woman working in music industry, can’t imagine what she would know about sexism!  Finally, the article references comments made by one of models in the video, Emily Ratajkowski, who expresses her ideas that women’s bodies on screen can be empowering, that the video was playful, and that she thought it was confidence-inspiring. It’s a fine example of post-postmodern feminism illustrating that some women’s opinions are valuable, some clearly aren’t. In this case, the women who produced the object do not have valuable opinions about it.

The introduction of the model is particularly interesting. When she’s introduced into the article, this parenthetical comment appears: “Emily Ratajkowski (who I wouldn’t recommend looking at unless you’re ready for a dramatic drop in your own self-esteem.)” Wow. I think it’s really crucial, while discussing how visible women’s bodies are being leveraged in a sexist way in a pop video, to emphasize that people should not look at Ratajkowski because she’s so pretty she’ll destroy your selfconfidence. Don’t even look at beautiful girls. Their existance in your field of vision is sexist, and they’re going to make you feel more insecure. One comment that boils a woman down to her appearance alone is all it takes to devalue an entire position.

Effectively, what is emerging from a lot of criticism of the song and video in various places is a total inability to grasp satire. The video involves a stuffed dog corpse, T.I. brushing someone’s hair, Robin Thicke sexily eating an ice cream cone. It involves a lot of silly dancing and not a lot of sexy touching. No actual nudity, no simulated sex acts, no grinding, there’s alcohol – but no women consume it, no violence, even playful, toward the women, while Thicke gets slapped at one point. There are nun-chucks and string of sausages though, clearly a piece of cultural commentary to be taken very seriously. The lyrics voice a little more violence; some hair pulling, and rough sex. At one point T.I. says: “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” which is a pretty brazen thing to say unless he’s referring to an enormous dildo, and yes, it’s questionable, but it’s not enough for this outrage.

In thinking about what the “blurred lines” refer to, the general consensus seems to be that dangerous area where men have a hard time extracting consent (awful), but could also refer to the “blurred lines” between the “domesticated”, “good girl” the woman in the song is expected to be, and the “animal” she could be in the speaker’s fantasy.

…and with the fortitude of a concrete rhinoceros.

Today my best friend, Nicole sent me this article. It’s about the cultural archetype of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and more importantly, one very smart woman’s experience of buying into the desire to be this stereotype and then finding herself on the other side of it, realizing that she is far more than the manifestation the brooding men of modern cultural production would have her be. The article is sharp and familiar for any woman who’s felt constrained and constructed by media narratives and other people’s opinions and more so, anyone who has abandoned those limitations in favor of a self-authoring approach.  

The article got us talking about Manic Pixie Dream Girls. For those of you who don’t know, this is the type of girl introspective, artsy, alternative guys seek in movies. She’s Jessica Day, Ramona Flowers, and that character Kirsten Dunst was in Elizabethtown (this was were the term was coined). She’s the sort of girl that seems like a “realistic compromise” compared to the glamazons, ingenues, Final Girls, femme fatales, and succubi who have often occupied the media landscape, but she is no more real. MPGD has been for many young women of the Millennial and Y generation, a desirable role. However, despite being a clever, quirky sort of girl this is a designation that I am not allowed to participate in because MPDG’s are little

It is this what I am interested in. A terrific amount is tied up in women’s littleness. Littleness is often considered valuable, appealing, sexy, sweet, delicate, and perhaps most complicatedly, feminine. There are a plethora of positive associations for little girls, and not just little petite, or little skinny girls, but little curvy girls, and even little fat girls. This isn’t about weight though, it’s about bigness. I am a very big person, in addition to being enthusiastically obese*, my thighs are like small countries. I’ve realized many of the negative connotations for larger women aren’t just for fat girls or women as big as I am, it applies to women of many sizes, the 5’9, the size 10, the athletes, the broad shouldered, and wide of rib cage, the long legged, and big footed. However, after much consideration and the my committed goal to think through things positively I’ve realized there is real privilege in being a larger-than-average woman. 

There is a particularly poignant Louis CK bit where he talks about the sheer insanity of dating for heterosexual women. He ardently asserts, “there is no greater threat to women than men. We’re the #1 threat to women. Globally and historically, we’re the #1 cause of injury and mayhem to women, we are the worst thing that ever happens to them.” Women learn very early on in life that this is a dangerous world, and that it is simply and sadly just not safe to be a woman in this world. Domestic violence, systemic misogyny, rape – the list goes on. These are all very scary realities. However, I can honestly say while I am aware of these dangers, aware that men could pose a very real threat to me physically, I am not intimidated.

By being a larger woman, I am, in some ways, insulated from some of these threats (not all, by any means – especially considering the prevalence of date and acquaintance rape.) I am also insulated from a great deal of misogyny, it’s simply more difficult to patronize someone who is eye-to-eye, it’s more difficult to belittle someone who physically dominates a space. I don’t feel like men are talking down to me, or encroaching on my physical space. I rarely, if ever, feel physically threatened because I know my body has the outward appearance of a kind of substance and strength women are not often afforded. 

While there is no cutesy, make-believe movie character for me, and many things feel alienating, it’s important to remember that in a world where men’s physicality is so often used as a weapon, that women who are able to stand up to that are lucky in some way. It also brings to light how important it is that we move toward a space where a woman doesn’t have to be 6’something with the fortitude of a concrete rhinoceros to be able to safely walk to her car at night, or ask someone to leave her alone in a bar.

 

*Enthusiastic obesity, or jubilant obesity refers to fat people rejecting the death fat condemnation of our ol’ faulty friend, the BMI index. Go home BMI index, you’re drunk and stop yelling that I’m going to die on the way out. 

Sex Ed.

Some months ago I took on a new job at a little sex shop in Alexandria. Now, firstly, this was “some months” ago, and if one is going to blog about a new job, it’s probably a good idea to get on and do that. Also, if one is going to start a blog, allowing it to languish as long as I’ve allowed this one to languish is pretty criminal. That said, it’s about time I dusted off my blog and put this puppy back to work.

The little sex shop is Lotus Blooms . It’s open 7 days a week on King Street in Old Town Alexandria, and it’s a very special little place. Lotus Blooms is different from ordinary sex shops. [Let’s take a second to imagine what sex shops are like; dark, intimidating, chock full o’ pornos.] There’s nothing wrong with sex shops of any sort, however, this particularly one is extraordinarily interested in sex ed. It’s as much about helping people get the most of out of their bodies, their sex lives, and their relationships as it is about selling intimidatingly huge plastic dongs [note: we don’t have any intimidatingly huge plastic dongs, but if that was your bag, we could order you one.]. The other very special thing about Lotus Blooms is that the vast majority of products are body safe and body friendly. No nasty chemicals, no weird toxins you can’t even pronounce, and no plastics which will steadily leach chemicals into your body.

Turns out the FDA does not monitor, or regulate the production of lubricants or sex toys. This means that the bottle of KY in your local CVS is not monitored by any regulatory body (and some of that stuff heats up – I think it’s safe to assume that a chemical compound that heats up can be describes the same way as Diet Soda and fat free cream, it’s a “chemical shit show”). The people who manufacture sex toys and intimate products can put anything they want in there, whatever is cheap and effective. I think in 2013, we’re all starting to realize that cheap and effective isn’t what we want in our mouths, and by extension, any of our other orifices. [The question of why the fuck the FDA doesn’t regulate sex toys is a sticky one, perhaps it’s because this is a sexually oppressive government who refuses to acknowledge sex as a part of the consumer market.]

Beyond the safe products, you can also take classes at Lotus Blooms. That’s right, you can come down to King Street, go to dinner, and at 7pm settle in comfortably and learn all about BDSM, or blow jobs, or anal sex, or a myriad of other things. Classes are usually $15 or $25 and you can find a schedule here! Now, so far this may seem like a shameless plug for the cute place I work, but what I’m really here to write about is my first class.

Last week Friday I taught 6 total strangers how to have anal sex. There’s a moment in your life when you’ve said “sphincter” like 15 times in 4 minutes where you really wonder how you got yourself into such a situation. Before I taught the class, I nervously told my friends, and many people asked, “what’s that all about?”. The answer is simple. It’s about preventing people from hurting each other during sex. That was the long and short of it, I drew a diagram, discussed a bunch of misconceptions, some anatomy (it’s like an obstacle course of sphincters in there.) and answered some very intimate questions. While that was scary, because people in a class are relying on their teacher to give good at advice, it was also edifying. It was a good feeling to be able to look a total stranger in the eye and make them feel confident about something which can often be overwhelming. That’s what teaching is really all about.

Good Girl Gina, I like where your head is at…

As I was making my usual rounds down my Facebook newsfeed today, I noticed that several of my friends had posted or linked to this article on Jezebel. It’s listed in the sub-section, “Sexism” and is titled: “Good Girl Gina Loves Anal, Cooking Pot Roasts, and Watching Her Man Play Video Games.” It’s about the feminine version of Good Guy Greg (in which a cheery looking fellow is praised for doing nice things) known as Good Girl Gina. The article addresses some dubious “research,” in which a redditor decided to gather the quickmeme reddit outpours of Good Girl Gina and examine just how terribly offensive they are, and then Jezebel used that to make some sweet, sweeping generalizations about men.

Now, I’m pretty much grossly offended by Jezebel daily (between the hyperbole, the defensive attitude, the inconsistency (“we’re so much better than everyone else, look at us fawn of consumerist celebrity culture”), and the fucking terrible writing…) so all I know is that this article means that it’s a day of the week ending in y. However, this one struck a chord.

A few issues:

1. Reddit? Really, reddit? I always like to make my social observations in a room full of bored teenage boys. That’s a really amazing space to gather social research with which to condemn men and their clearly articulated desires. Y’know, Jezebel, use reddit to determine what ‘men’ are like, and then get yourself over to CraigsList and see what ‘women’ are like…oh, no, wait. You wouldn’t do that because CraigsList makes all women out to be easy, vapid whores and we don’t make generalizations about what women are like.

2. Let’s break down this title, shall we?

“Good Girl Gina Loves Anal” – Why, o’ website so centered on female agency, is this bad? Why is anal sex a marker of a woman being “basically being a Real Doll, but alive”? What’s more interesting is the comment where Good Girl Gina’s desire for sex (and I assume this is unromantic sex) is mentioned first in the listings of offensiveness. As if to say that heterosexual women are allowed to desire  sex, perform non-reproductive sexual acts, and articulate their desires aggressively (I am unclear if Jezebel thinks this, everything seems to point to women desiring sex being fuck-puppets for sexist men.) but men are not allowed to find that attractive. Ok. It’s like the gals at Jezebel want to feel the agency of desire, they want their desire for sex to pushed against, they want men to want them to be wives and mothers – they want “slutty behavior” (like enjoying anal sex?) to be condemned in order to be angry about that.

“Good Girl Gina Loves Cooking Pot Roasts” – I don’t know why any man would be particularly invested in the pot roast, but I also don’t dig this idea that women who enjoy cooking are demonstrating their oppression. I feel like cooking is really even between the sexes at this moment in our culture. I understand that once upon a time women cooked in the home, and men cooked in the expensive restaurant, however, we now live in the Age of The Food Network (do not even get me started on how I feel about “food porn”) where men and women cook publicly and passionately. What’s interesting is that Good Girl Gina’s Man isn’t mentioned in her love of cooking pot roasts, it’s not “loves cooking men pot roasts.” But I guess the damage of the past is such that women desiring to perform tasks once confined to our gender in a sexist fashion cannot be undone. Pardon me, while I torch all this yarn…

“Good Girl Gina Loves Watching Her Man Play Video Games” – This is where it becomes readily apparent that Jezebel somehow selected these three terrible, sexist behaviors for Good Girl Gina to perform. Whether the cultural iconoclasts of reddit think women should enjoy watching men play video games or perhaps play with them or just be able to not be doing something together all the time is unclear. What is clear is that Jezebel thinks a woman who would love watching ‘her man’ (some possessive language here…) play video games is indicative of her failure as a feminist, I just don’t feel like I can buy that.

3. I’m going to come full circle here, and look at the “more than depressing” findings from reddit.  Some of these entries are concerned with things that just don’t make sense: for years feminists have rallied on about how terrible it is that men condemn women who desire sex, “slut shaming”. Good Girl Gina clearly is a bit of a slut, she’s having anal sex, oral sex, she’s doing it without being asked, she’s very sexually self-possessed. She’s the kind of woman who would usually be condemned as being ungirlfriendable, a whore, cheap – but she’s not, she’s incredibly desirable. And my favorite of these is “She Isn’t A Stereotype” – part of the problem with this is men articulating desire for women who violate their own previous sexist constructions about what women are like?

I understand that some of these are deplorable, but this is the Internet, not an even sample. Frankly, the condemnation of Good Girl Gina memes makes little sense.

Finally, the summation of all this is the tongue-in-cheek conclusion; “”So what can we glean from all this? If someone wants to be a Good Girl, then reddit already has it figured out. A Good Girl is an object to be lusted after. A Good Girl makes sure you’re sexually satisfied, either by her or someone else,” LaTex_fetish added. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go barf.” It’s all in the language, I’m clearly reading these results very differently:

It seems to me that Good Girl Gina is a “good girl” not because she’s “an object to be lusted after” but because she’s possessed of clear sexual desire and able to articulate it without feeling shameful. Not because she makes sure  “you’re sexually satisfied, either by her or someone else” but because sex is a two way street for her, and god forbid, she might want to engage in non-normative activities like group sex or anal sex.

Your negativity is a self-defeating mess, Jezebel.

 

 

 

 

Hostel and Feminism

I am currently watching the direct-to-DVD third installment in the “Hostel” franchise. I didn’t even know there was a “Hostel: Part III” and I think of this as a major failing on my part as I am serious advocate of the “Hostel” films (says the girl who spent hours and pages working on a creative-meets-analytical writing exercise on a scene from the first one.)

Now, I am more than certain that plenty of people have plenty of less than favorable things to say about these films. Eli Roth’s “Hostel” redefined horror and peaked on a completely new wave of the genre, made changes that horror will never recover from. And rightly so. Yes, it’s wildly violent, utterly grotesque, filthy, gritty and leaves you feeling sick to your stomach, and not because of the drilling, hacking and gouging but because of the clever, unsettling construction of the film and more so the grim reflection it casts on our own nature.

Many a critic would point to the dismal things this indicates not only about our selves but also the state of the horror industry. I naturally think they are wrong and that “Hostel” (and even it’s low-fi follow-up) is a neat, sharp, troubling bit of cinema and deserves praise, I would also like to point to a little oddity that really pulls this particular franchise from the abyss.

The classic and acknowledged world of horror is one of institutionalized racism, misogyny and searing patriarchy. In horror movies, non-white characters die first and in stupid ways, women who have sex are done for, men who are vain never last, and the invariable survivor is a doe-eyed ‘final girl’. A sweet, virginal thing, with good morals and a good heart – she is the epicenter of Western virtue, and we know only she can beat evil.

Not “Hostel”. Interestingly, the first and third films focus on the capture and torture of men rather than women. (Because “torture porn” is dominated by “Saw” it seems like an equal-opportunity subgenre, but in reality the majority of torture films which are not “Saw” are about watching beautiful women suffer.) I will note that the second “Hostel” film is about women being tortured, but I get the sense this is to pull in audience, and it’s the only thing beyond coming up with new and gruesome ways to use power tools, that changes it from the first film.

The conceit of “Hostel” is that young men seeking sex and deviant good times are captured and subjected to various forms of gross bodily damage to the benefit of paying clients (in the film, and yes, you, paying audience.) What makes this interesting is that these men are lured into these situations by female sex workers. Prostitutes, escorts, strippers – these lascivious ladies of the night are usually the sort of characters who get popped off almost instantly in a horror. But not here, in fact, here, the men who so enthusiastically seek to treat these women like objects, to engage in the institutionalized abuse of women who don’t matter because of their relationships to sex are punished.

Not only are they punished, but the women are not. They are neither compliant or active, they simply have the opportunity to deliver the nice, white bread men into the clutches of evil. It doesn’t seem fair, until one stops and thinks about the way nice, white bread men are allowed to treat strippers, prostitutes and even any other women in film. As the women lure the men in they are beautiful, porn-staresque babes, flowing locks and perfectly glossy pouts, and once the men are in the facility and facing their torturous deaths, we see the women unmade up. Because they are real people, not just agents of destruction.

My Favorite Place On The Internet

It’s a well known fact that I am in love with the Internet. However, beyond and over all places, I love one website most. I love it more than Facebook, Pinterest, Netflix, or Etsy. More than Vogue.com, The New York Times, Gilt Groupe or Twitter, I love it even more than the website where I play hours of Tetris.

I love Chubby Bunnies best.

Chubby Bunnies is a body positive Tumblr blog run and administered by a woman named Bec who lives in Australia. Bec is the kind of warm, supportive person who reaches out, offers comfort and advice, she’s non-judging, caring and smart. Her personal blog, and Chubby Bunnies are opinionated, well-informed, and welcoming. She’s the kind of person one aspires to be, someone who offers a kind of real love to people for no reason except that it’s right.

Chubby Bunnies is part of an ever-growing network of body positive Tumblrs and websites. As the name would suggest, Chubby Bunnies is fat positive. Striving to create a safe space for fat people, particularly fat girls (there is a Chubby Bunny Boys blog too.) to express themselves, articulate their struggles, their happiness, and in many cases the sexuality that fat people are denied.

It runs on submissions, thousands of women from all over the world submit pictures. Faces, bums, boobs, tummies, and often personally ground-breaking full body shots. Pictures of girls in every state and style of clothing to complete undress. Each picture tells a story, each one, with or without commentary offers a window into the personal life of someone living in a body that they are told to hate every single day, and yet refuse to.

It’s an incredibly inspiring place. Firstly, because Bec doesn’t hesitate to reblog important content, regarding sex advocacy, women’s rights, queer and gender issues, and human rights. Secondly, because every single person I’ve seen on the blog is beautiful. Every photograph is an exercise in bravery, in confidence, in standing up for something. Chubby Bunnies is a space where the fat woman’s body becomes political. What aesthetically, society demands be hidden, the sexuality it pretends does not exist, the confidence that, frankly, scares everyone else flows forth freely and powerfully.

We spend a lot of our lives looking at images of women. For a fat girl these images can be incredibly painful; models, actresses, diagrams in textbooks which look nothing like us. A skinny, slim ideal held up as the only way to be healthy, sexy, desirable, confident, even acceptable. I’ve spent a lot of my life looking at other fat women I see around, trying to look at their bodies and rationalize my own. Chubby Bunnies allows this, it allows me to look at bodies like mine, girls of similar shapes, with similar thighs, rolls, and tubby little knees and see myself reflected. It’s not the reflection we’re lead to believe looks back at a fat person; these women are not disgusting, lazy, dirty or gross. They’re beautiful, powerful, individual and sexy. Their bodies are appealing, the wide hips, soft stomaches and arms, all speak to an aesthetic we are culturally denied.

Frequently, girls write in on their pictures that the blog has improves their self-confidence. It’s unsurprising, seeing something we’ve never been allowed to look at changes the way we feel, changes the way we feel about ourselves. It’s remarkable, profound and important. So, if you’re game for seeing some beautiful, awesome, empowered fat girls this is the place to go.

And that is why, Chubby Bunnies is my favorite place on the Internet.

 

Hmm, feminism.

There are a few things in life that are expected of women, a lot of the things are mundane stereotypes that no one really expects, the one that chiefly concerns me is that we’re expected to be feminists.

Feminism is peddled to preteen girls, and then to young women, and once you get to college, it’s being unceremoniously rammed down your throat and if you head off to graduate school, prepare for the fire storm if you dare utter the words, “I’m not a feminist.” Feminists are the door-to-door salespeople of ideology.

Are you sure you don’t need some liberation? No, thank you. I’m fine. Are you certain you aren’t feeling repressed by men? Um, yeah, but I feel okay and I still feel productive, thanks. No, you aren’t, you need to embrace your womanhood and fight against the Man! Well, I agree there some pretty serious issues with authoratative nature of patriarchcal society but I still feel as if there’s important and productive thinking around and against it, that um, isn’t yours. And I feel fine about it. 

I understand feminism. I understand why it’s important, it’s first and second waves, where it came from and how it’s been valuable to our culture. I understand that equal rights among men and women is important and that feminism forms an important building block for the queer and gender studies to follow – but I do not want that word floating over my head and stapled to me.

I am not a feminist. 

*gasp* How dare I?!

I know most people will, at this point, nervously crack their knuckles and tell me that I’m a sex positive feminist or a modified feminist. Usually, I just accept these things and move on, because the idea of a liberal, educated woman in her twenties rejecting feminism is truly unfathomable.

Why, I wonder? Is it because we’re supposed to be feminists?

I’ve been very lucky and have had the opportunity to read a lot about feminism, the formative texts and the important writers, the voices that defined and invigorated this ideaology. To be frank, at it’s core, as a theoretical construct moving through post-structalism and postmodernism it is completely acceptable. I mean, who doesn’t love a handy-dandy feminist lens?! However, in the greater culture, the one I live in, it’s a monster. It’s fundamentally painted as a rejection, maybe even an alternative to patriarchy, but because of the profoundly binary nature of rejection, it becomes like a form of mimicry, a reductive opposition based on something that it can neither outdo or outwit. It ends up being condemning, pleasure-denying and fundamentally unproductive.

Feminism is fabulous, interesting and engaging, in theory. Watching the various and sundry iterations of that theory attempt application is another matter all together. I guess I should make clear, I’m not talking about Irigaray here, but rather that feminism  that has been sold to me, making me a basic ideological consumer, in need of this way of thought in order to function as a woman, because second wave feminism happened and we’re all still gasping for air, and failing to find our feet and the results are treacherously conformist.