Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sex-positive feminism (2)

Note: this is a work in progress, having spun out of the comments from an earlier post. The "you" here, at least in the first part of it, probably refers back to bitch | lab, to whom I was originally responding. At any rate it's worth checking out that whole sequence for better context.

**3/31/08** Having looked at this piece for the first time in a couple of years, now that it's been carnivalized, some of it's making me wince. If you think you remember this differently, it's because I'm doing some on the fly late edits.


I keep reading several themes within "anti-pornstitution" writings.

Mainstream, at least; or all, depending on who's speaking--obviously this isn't monolithic on the radfem/feminist end either--porn & prostitution are oppressive because

a) they, or more specifically porn, here, reinforces patriarchal hegemonic structures and ideals, through the saturation of media images

b) they/it reduces what should be an intimate, soulful interaction into a meaningless cash transaction, the woman to be consumed by the male consumer. (Gay male prostitution is generally unacknowledged, but if someone else brings it up, it is swept under/into this same category, because the people who buy the services/consumers are stil men, and the prostitutes are still being exploited/consumed)

c) most, if not all women in sex work are doing this against their will, are badly exploited and abused in the process of making porn and performing sex work services.

It is pretty much a truism even among the "sex positive" that by far the majority of people earning their living by sex do not live lives much resembling that of sex-positive sex workers such as Carol Queen. Even if one is skeptical of, say, Melissa Farley's "90%", it is probably fair to say that there is, for quite a lot of women, if not all, at least some serious element of exploitation, if not outright danger, inherent in the gig.


Well, it seems to me that c) is by far the fairest and most troubling critique of the whole business: that is, the abuse/exploitation is real, it's widespread, it's often breathtakingly horrific, and it's not gonna go away just because a handful of relatively privileged (on the global scale) women are finding a way to not just survive but make a relatively lucrative and soul-fulfilling career out of sex work in spite of it all.

But the thing is, you cannot separate the question of class from all this, and that is most blatantly apparent here. And it's here where I think the construction of patriarchy as the all-encompassing frame to examine all this breaks down. While this is admittedly not my area of expertise, it seems obvious to me that if one seriously wants to examine sex work as exploitive because it transforms the workers into a commodity to be bought and sold, usually at the hands of grossly more wealthy and hence powerful consumers, then is is more accurate to pin the problem in this case, at least, as capitalism, not so much patriarchy. And that it would probably be more helpful to shift one's central focus to a socio-economic lens (i.e. talk about class, work and money in general) than one dealing solely with male-female power dynamics.

More troubling to me is the way in which all the railing and blaming still does nothing in itself to help the actual exploited women, and in fact often ends up demonizing them or at least depriving them of their agency, any agency, through a patronizing tone. This is putting aside and separate from real-world activism that results or has resulted in enactment or enforcement of laws which 1) in realpolitik terms usually means that the radfems have to get in bed (!) with the uber-patriarchal Religious Right, and, perhaps because of this, or perhaps would have happened anyway, 2) the laws and regulations effectively end up, historically have ended up, blaming, demonizing and punishing the very women the anti-sex-work/"pornstitution" feministswere supposedly trying to help.

It seems clear that the most important, (often unsung) work is being done by the sex workers themselves.

(Sex trafficking is, assuming one does not agree with the position that it is indistinguishable from prostitution, a topic to itself, one which I don't feel qualified to tackle at the present. It is worth noting, however, that there are in fact places where the intersections of "sex work" and trafficking, along with other international human rights issues, are considered. Here's one. Ditto abuse, underage prostitution, pimping, and other grim realities that are not, contrary to the apparent belief of some, what "sex positive" people are in favor of or complacent about. The meeting ground is usually found under the name "harm reduction." An example. Another).

And it's at this point where one comes to a crossroads: either one does or does not agree that, okay, sex work is problematic primarily because it is exploitive as a money transaction in an ownership society, and that it is at least possible to conceive of a set-up in which sex work is, in the final analysis, work, no more or less. Even if one is skeptical (for good reason, imo) that such a set-up is likely to become the norm anytime soon, if ever, this is still an important point.

Because, particularly if one is coming from a radical position, the assumption is that one is at least open to, hell, is working for, deep-rooted, widespread change, even if over the long haul. And that therefore it is worth distinguishing "rare, steep uphill battle to achieve at all, but not impossible" from "never has worked, never will work, not in any way shape or form, let's move on." And my argument is that non-exploitive, meaningful, creative, "positive" sex work falls into the former category; because I have observed, first-hand, if not directly experienced except indirectly (but even that was something) that this is so.

And, further, that sex work can thus be viewed in the same way as all other work for pay, however one approaches that whole enormous complicated subject. For example: the garment industry. There are many many women and children viciously exploited in hellhole factories throughout the world, and arguably this is as least as predicated along gender and racial lines as prostitution. Does this mean that all clothes production is inherently exploitive? Does one dismiss the experiences of say a fortunate handful of independent clothes designers, who work primarily for themselves and love their work? Does one lump an underpaid hash-slinger, perhaps one who's in the country illegally and accepts miserable conditions and below-minimum pay in order to not be deported, into the same category as a self-employed caterer who works out of her home? Is "straight" work always automatically better, even assuming it's available?

Because if one reads all this and is still going, yesyesyes, but it's DIFFERENT. sex work is DIFFERENT,

then it leads us directly into

b), which is predicated on the assumption that sex is something special, apart. Higher or lower (or both!) than the more mundane activities we take for granted as work or play. That physical sex is bound up inextricably with emotional intimacy; and that both physical sex and erotically charged emotional intimacy are inextricably bound up with the idea of relationship, specifically and usually, a monogamous dyad. The traditional-family-values folks insist that this dyad must needs be differently-gendered; the leftier folks of this position broaden the view to include homosexual (monogamous, is usually the implication, at least) dyads, as healthy and desirable. And that sex is healthy and good...within this set-up. But not so much outside it. Certainly not as much, even if the occasional fling might be okay (depending, again, on who you ask) between or on the way to a real, serious relationship.

Which position, is perfectly fine, as individual preferences go. But it does tickle me a bit when it's coming from someone who positions her/himself as radically opposed to patriarchy, kit 'n' kaboodle, and when it comes up in the context of a sociopolitical discussion (i.e. what's good for women/people in general, not just what I like).

Because the assumption here is that sex, even if one accepts that it can be about fun and pleasure rather than just or primarily procreation (which is the right-wing sexual conservative position), 1) needs to be emotionally intimate in order to be a good thing, and/or 2) erotic emotional intimacy is only possible within the context of a long-term, monogamous, dyadic relationship.

Which assumptions are surprise! surprise! brought to you directly from the Patriarchy (tm), here more specifically the Victorian version, with its emphasis on a domestically romantic love. What to do, what to do.

Well, one could always go the way of late seventies/early eighties-style rad lesbian feminism, you know, "feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice." Never mind if you're not into sex with women, especially; the goal is to Overthrow The Patriarchy, after all. Maybe go so far as live on a commune, and/or have polyamorous and/or casual sexual relationships with one's fellow wimmin, so long as they're completely egalitarian, free of such dangerous remnants of the Patriarchy as butch-femme, BDSM, maybe even penetration.

At which point one who is naturally predisposed toward monogamous romantic longterm (and especially heterosexual) dyads may well respond roughly along the lines of, (as I have seen come up, more or less), "well, gee, I don't do everything in order to please or subvert the Patriarchy. I do this because it feels right and healthy and natural, and say, why are you getting all up in my grill? Why even bring this up? I thought we were talking about patriarchal oppression, not how radical I am or what I do with my relationships and/or sex life."

At which point the sex-positive feminist, who is not necessarily so predisposed and has been trying to say this all along, goes, "DING DING DING DING DING DING DING!!!"

I'll speak to my own experiences in this in a separate post someday soon, I think, and probably in another blog. But briefly: what I learned in particular from my experiences with an organization called Body Electric, was that it is possible to have moments of *profound* erotic/emotional, even spiritual, connection with someone whom one barely knows, has little or nothing (superficially) in common with, and will likely never see again after the weekend. And that further, the experience can be healing in a way that reverberates long beyond the actual encounter. And that while I did not do this as a paid sex worker, there were a number of people I encountered along the way (male and female) who do and did do this in their own lives; and clearly experienced such meaning in connection in the work they do/did. In this way the sex work is a lot closer to more traditional counseling (my own chosen path, or eventually) than to selling oneself as a consumer good.

Finally, I'm now thinking that a) needs to be treated in a separate sequence of posts, as it starts to get into the whole notion of "objectification."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

They're still doing it

my neighbors who play the same annoying song over and over, and yes, I've now determined it IS the same goddam song, or at least the same goddam record playing variations on the same goddam...what IS that, anyway? Some tortuous variant of "Heart and Soul," rearranged for the electric kazoo?

Whatever it is, it is now, seemingly permanently, stuck in my head. We hatess them, we hatesssssssss them, we HATESSS THEM FOREVER

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Of course

...quite a lot of racism (and other bigotries) are not nearly so clear-cut as in the example of the hateful little snots' video (see post below).

I am trying to suss out how it's played out in my own life, well, racism in particular. My parents, as I've said before in this blog, are/were good liberal Democrats who would no more dream of using a racial slur than commit arson. They had at least a couple of non-white friends, including a black colleague who was married to a white woman (and later had absolutely gorgeous children), name of "Xave" (I was fascinated by the fact that his name started with "X.") And I was a funny kid, not terribly influenced (or so I've thought) by peers, except by way of generally fearing and mistrusting them I suppose, at least up till a certain age; off in the world of books and dreams, mostly. And, my very early childhood happened during the mid-late seventies and early eighties, which meant: Sesame Street, Electric Company, Mr. Rogers, "Free to Be You and Me..." (you know, well-meant attempts to show little kids that sharing and learning to be tolerant/celebratory of differences was a good thing, before the ensuing swarm of batshit toxic reactionary media darlings swooped in (or back) and declared it all a Dirty Liberal Anti-Family Communistic Cannibalistic Secular Satanic Plot or whatever the fuck it is they rabbit on about).

So why it was that (as I'm remembering it) I was determined to re-imagine the characters in a favorite book ("Striped Ice Cream!" --which also of course was telling the story of a family from a very different socioeconomic class than the one I knew, the fact of which I'm sure never really got through to me as such till years later) as white? And this was true of a few other books and stories with black characters I'd read, as I recall. I don't think there was anything like what we tend to associate with racism per se fuelling this: anger or disgust or fear or contempt or whatnot. But I was distressed, in a six-year-old way I suppose, that the characters I loved so much did not look like me, much less the imaginary blonde, straight-haired princesses I had already learned to idolize from Andrew Lang fairy tales and "The Brady Bunch."

I grew out of this by the time we'd moved to California, I'm pretty sure (small boy classmate upon my introduction from the teacher as having just moved from Indiana: "You're an Indian! YABABABABABA.."). I had friends (very few and far between, on the whole, through adolescence, in general, but that's another story) who weren't white, mainly Asian-American girls.

On the whole, though...what I'm coming to realize, uncomfortably, is that it's a lot easier to be non-racist in the "I see no color" way when in fact you actually AREN'T seeing any color (other than yours) in your daily life. And while my life circumstances have had me mainly in places that aren't as homogenous as they could be, certainly (the coasts, and since adulthood, big cities), I don't think I'm atypical in observing that it's been far far easier to stick to me 'n' mine, colorwise, at least, than not. Not deliberately. But because the currents from that old, old source nudge us subtly (or not) but inexorably in that direction: apart.

Most vividly, at least from my youth: flash forward to high school. I'm now in the A.P. track, amongst the sheep. Dunno what happened to the goats in the non-college bound track, much less did I give much consideration to whether there were some overall distinctions to be made between the backgrounds, appearances, and/or presentation manner of the kids in the one track versus the kids in the other. Hell, I didn't even know there were tracks. You took AP or you didn't; that was as far as I knew, and, the "stupid" kids took remedial classes or dropped out altogether, and okay, there were courses like shop and home ec, but those were just for fun, weren't they?

Anyway, there was one class in particular, econ or social sciences, where I was clearly aware that there was one (1) African American kid in the entire class. I was aware of this, because the teacher--an affable right-wing self-described libertarian who used to bring articles from the Wall Street Journal for us to discuss--would call on him and/or call attention to him whenever the subject of affirmative action would come up. The kid, you may have intuited by now, was against it, affirmative action, and as far as I could tell at the time he didn't seem to mind being put on the spot in this way. I'm going to call him Robert, not his real name, but he was the sort of person who was most likely to be called Robert rather than Rob or Bob, even by his friends, of which he had many. He was the son of a conservative and well-known professor at one of the local colleges. He was tall, and good-looking, and was always well-dressed, often in proto-corporate wear (shirts buttoned up to the top and so on). He spoke softly and politely, and--not formally, that would have made him a weirdo, we didn't like those--but, you know, in a way that teachers liked a lot. He probably would have passed the "paper bag test," as I recall (not that I know that anyone in his or his family's circles formally conducted such tests, and god knows the rest of us would have been 'buh?' about such matters), and he wore his hair very short, but not brutally so. He was an athlete, at the top of his classes, and generally considered an all-round mensch; very popular. Nice guy.

So one day we were divided into groups to discuss I forget what, but it had something to do with racism, perhaps the apartheid just beginning to be formally dismantled in South Africa. Yes, that was probably it, because the argument had less to do with apartheid per se (Bad) than with the question of whether or not racism still existed here in the U.S. The general consensus among my own little group, in which Robert was not (he was on the other side of the room), was that there was no more racism in America. I think I or someone must have made some argument about opportunities or suchlike; anyway, whatever it was led to some boy's response, "But," (voice dropping to an undertone) "I mean, look at Robert."

I guess we did, then, and then the argument probably ended. I guess Robert probably got looked at quite a bit, then and later. I wonder whatever became of him (as with many of my classmates. not enough to go to a reunion or any such torture, but, you know...I wonder).


I've been writing this at work (oh, on lunch break, of course). Go to the bathroom, wash my hands, make critical faces at my reflection, partly against my will (way too fat, of course, and god, is that a pimple? a wrinkle? a pimple on a wrinkle?--no, wait, I love myself, I'm beautiful, I'm sexy--fuck, one really is bigger than the other, isn't it. fuck). Another woman emerges from the stall, and excalims in delight over my hair. Well, this happens fairly often; I do have nice hair (of course I always wanted flowing straight blonde locks as a girl, know the drill). Long and thick and curly, and "Red! So pretty! Lucky you."

Now this is of course SOP among straight women, at least, for one of whom I no doubt pass; and frankly the sapphic of us are not immune. Chirp and coo and praise the other in a decidedly nonerotic fashion, all the while deprecating oneself. What followed next, though:

"...God, I love red hair. I wish I had red hair. And blue eyes. You're so lucky...." (voice drops to an undertone) "...(something) you know, white."

I said something lame about how she, too could have my red if she wanted it, as it came out of a bottle; she went on to animatedly say no no, it would look all wrong with her (dark-chocolate colored) complexion, and, oh, how she loves blue eyes. Have a good afternoon.

Still processing this. On the one hand, while I expect Toni Morrison (say) might have something to say about this, truth is, it did sound to me pretty much like your standard compare-n-contrast that happens in women's bathrooms all over the country. "Oh, I wish I had your such-and-so." Which is probably worth a deconstruction in itself; nonetheless.

What I found far more striking: hers was the first black (if not the only non-white) face I've seen in this rather swank corporate office...and she was wearing a janitor's uniform.

Monday, March 27, 2006

As good an argument for retroactive abortion as I've seen lately

...are two little drawling proto-Coulters who not only think telling drearily offensive "black jokes" that were stale when Rush Limbaugh was gumming his first lead-paint-covered zwieback make them SO CLEVER OH. MUH. GUHD, but have the means and vanity to film themselves doing it and put the video up on the Internets.

link (warning: not work-safe despite cutesy "G-rated" business, may cause blood pressure spike and eyeball bleeding)

found via blac(k)ademic (check out some of the other fisking and fine writing while you're there)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

In other words: yup, yup, yup.

Jean gives me props for the post two doors down, but deserves her own for this:

The most explicit piece of wisdom was handed to me---when I knew no more about the F-word than the basic popular iconography of the name 'Gloria Steinem'---by my father while he was rebuildling a car alternator and explaining each step to me. I remember it like it was yesterday:

Dad: "Know why I'm showing you this?"
Me: "
Dad: " need to know. No daughter of mine is ever going to depend on a man for anything. Because you can't. We can't be trusted."

Dad has a habit of being a bit gruff in his pronouncements. But the point was taken, duly noted from the horse's mouth. I can't trust men. Therefore, I should learn about cars, be all I can be, and not make any rash decisions. Make yourself better, Mom said. Make yourself better because men suck, Dad said.

...Take a breath. Whose advice was better? ‘Do it for yourself’ versus ‘Do it because no one will do it for you.’ It might practically work out to the same thing, but one puts the impetus, the motivation somewhere else. One gives me an Enemy, a very tangible Every(bad)man. Where am I going with this?...[O]ne of those kept bits of wisdom: Don't let people live inside your head rent free.

This is what the Every(bad)man does. He lives there in my head, shaking his Phallus at me, tearing up eviction notices with a twinkle in his eye. "You can't escape me, silly girl! I am Patriarchy! Everything you do---education, career, your choice of sex partners, your wardrobe, your music, your idols---it all has my taint on it, don't you see? I'm in here! It all goes through me! Mwahahahaha!"

Or maybe not. Maybe I kicked his ass out a long time ago. Maybe I stay aware of the damage he did, and remind myself that he’s still out there, and that a lot of other women need help drafting their own eviction notices, and that a lot of other women have already done so. Maybe I remember what my Mom said: find yourself first. Maybe, having kicked out one deadbeat tenant, I'm not ready to let others move in, even if their intentions are pure. Even if they are other women.

It's Feminism, not NotAManism. It's about us, not them. Unless we like deadbeats. Unless we want to admit that Daddy Great Name was in fact the greatest feminist thinker of his time. Greasy hands and all.


And with that said, I'll just add: damn, I wish I knew I knew how to rebuild a car alternator. Work with my hands more in general, anyway: basic plumbing and electricity stuff. Although in my case my feelings of insecurity/ambivalence about self-suffiency probably come more from Mom than Dad, and Mom doesn't know jack about alternators. Which, I won't go into detail right now, but that's another part of the fuel for this: my own experience tells me that women can be plenty invasive, even scary, all by themselves.

Bottom line, and one I was sort of getting at with the Allison quote, although I think I left out the exact passage where she says this more directly: oh, here, this was the key one:

For all of us, it is the public expression of desire that is embattled, any deviation from what we are supposed to want and be, how we are supposed to behave. the myth prevails that good girls--even modern, enlightened, liberal, or radical varieties--don't really have such desires.

(Allison, "Public Silence, Private Terror")

--and to that claim for female sexual agency I'd add: and don't have any deep dark nasty aggressive impulses all on our very own, if I am correctly reading between the lines of some of the patriarchy-blamers' screeds.

On "sex-positive feminism" (1)

Even for those of us with backgrounds as political activists who thought we had some handle on sexual anxiety and its variations in this society, the revelations of shame, fear, and guilt that occurred after the Barnard Sex Scandal and the period of public controversy that was its aftermath--since labeled the Sex Wars--were simply overwhelming. The women who kept talking and working as publicly identified sex radicals, or pro-sex feminists, began to engage in an expansive conversation that was in no way safe but was powerfully revealing...and convinced me that very few people in our society believe themselves normal, think that their sexual desire and behavior is like anyone else's. Women talked about years of celibacy, self-hatred, rejection, and abandonment by lovers, helplessness after rape or incest, social censure and street violence, family ostracism and--overridingly--the fear of what our desires might mean.

...It is difficult, in fact, for me to frame any questions about sex without getting caught up in endless considerations of the meaning of the acts, sometimes quite astonishing philosophical, political, and spiritual treatments of meaning that I cannot being down to the level that interests me most--my everyday life. All the impassioned rhetoric serves no purpose but to lead to greater obscurity if it does not originate and flow from an examination of the specific: how we all actually live out our sexuality. Without that detail, I have concluded, there are no valid generalizations to be made about sex and women's lives except for the central fact that we are all hungry for the power of desire and we are all terribly afraid.

...Throughout my life somebody has always tried to set the boundaries of who and what I will be allowed to be: if working class, an intellectual, upwardly mobile type who knows her place, or at least the virtues of gratitude; if a lesbian, an acceptable lesbian, not too forward about the details of her sexual practice; if a writer, a humble, consciously female one who understands her relationship to more "real" writers and who is willing to listen to her editors. What is common to these boundary lines is that their most destructive power lies in what I can be persuaded to do to myself--the walls of fear, shame, and guilt I can be encouraged to build in my mind...I am to hide myself, and hate myself, and never risk exposing what might be true about my life. I have learned through great sorrow that all systems of oppression feed on public silence and private terrorization. But few do so more forcefully than the systems of sexual oppression, and each of us is under enormous pressure to give in to their demands.

...A decade later, many of my questions from the early 1980s remain unanswered. I find myself continuing to wonder how our lives might be different if we were not constantly subjected to the fear and contempt of being sexually different, sexually dangerous, sexually endangered. What kind of women might we be if we did not have to worry about being too sexual, or not sexual enough, or the wrong kind of sexual for the company we keep, the convictions we hold?

--Dorothy Allison, "Public Silence, Private Terror," from Skin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature, 1993.


I was hosting a friend/colleague of my mother's for the night. An 72 year-old Argentine novelist (my mother's translated some of her books into English), she's a lovely, funny woman. She is/was, in a word she used frequently, "delightful." She has not had the world's easiest life; this would almost certainly be true of your average person who'd lived through the political and economic turmoil Argentina's gone through over the past three-quarters of a century (not to mention one who is/was Jewish in a fairly anti-Semitic environment, to boot); and she's had her share of personal woes on top of it, I'm given to understand. She was stopping here between speaking engagements at various universities around the country.

Anyway, at one point she was telling me about one of the professors she had met at her last engagement (apparently the topic was about Argentine identity, which she said she didn't know what that meant, really, how could you define such a thing?...): a man who was, as she put it, "trying very hard to be as Jewish as he possibly could." Except he didn't believe in God, the religious part. But (I took it), he was still following all the laws, going to synagogue, learning Hebrew, pilgrimages to Israel, and so on, so as to be a better Jew. She seemed bemused. She said he was very...serious, or, no, not exactly, what's the word? "Earnest," we said in unison. "Yes," I said. "I know the type." Yes, she went on, he seemed terribly concerned about doing everything, about being... "I don't know how to say it."

"Correct?" I ventured. She nodded, thoughtfully. Then, "What?"

(Unfortunately, she's also extremely hard of hearing, and she found my flat, slushy California accent hard to understand, so this happened a lot. I let it go).

Anyway, she said, she thought he was a bit of a...masochist, yes. "Well, that's part of our tradition, too," I said, dryly, and probably out of her range of hearing. But, he was, she continued, so worried about getting everything right, about doing everything properly, about...

She paused, and laughed. Basically her gist was, life was hard enough as it is. Why make up more things to punish yourself with?

I have to say, she had a point.

It seemed to her and it seems to me that in some ways this is perhaps a peculiarly (U.S.) American phenomenon, the whole "identity politics" business (into which general category I'd slot the man's behavior, based on what she was telling me). Oh, not limited to us, of course. Karen Armstrong, for instance, talks very convincingly on how all fundamentalisms (religious and otherwise, I'd say) are a byproduct of modernization, a reaction to intense and rapid destabilization. I would venture that this is true on a micro as well as a macro level. The more chaotic your world, the more rigid an ideological framework you'll construct for yourself (or, more likely, fall in line with one someone else has already constructed). The fragile your internal sense of identity, the harder you'll cling to an external, constructed Identity.

And while most of us in this our modern woild are subject to the buffetings of dizzying change, those of us who grew up in the United States are (perhaps; then again we're also notoriously self-centered, myself included, so I can't speak with any real authority on anywhere else) particularly vulnerable to the identity business. Because with the exception of a few folks, most people can't trace their familial roots back more than a couple of generations or so, if that. And contemporary American life is more rootless than ever, for a lot of us (what d'you think the whole "family values" squawking is about? it's about people worrying about the social unit fragmenting even more than it already has, which is: considerably. They do it in a way that I find personally inimical, but I understand the impulse). And on top of it you factor in all the people(s) who were pressured until very recently (and in many ways and places still are) to melt into the pot, to let go of any remaining non-norm-conforming characteristics. So, not really a surprise. And most of us probably need to go through some version of this or another at some point in our lives, I'm now thinking; it's a kind of rite of passage.

That said, I also think that it's maybe not so great to end up stuck there. Crawling back into your own cozy if narrow niche with a few like-minded fellows is a comfortable and sometimes necessary retreat. Nice place to visit; probably you don't want to live there. Or, anyway, let's just say I don't. I find it claustrophobic after a certain period; and I also think that it's a luxury the (loosely defined) American left can't afford for too long. This last more on the macro level than on the individual level, I'd add; there's a place for all kinds of activism, and yes, there's a need for inter-work as well as intra-work (are these real terms? fuck it, they are now). Some people might want to spend their lives and work within a certain concentrated niche, and I think that makes complete sense...for them.

But there's been a real dearth of serious bridge-building, let alone larger structures, within the (loosely defined) American left, it seems to me, (at least until very recently, maybe). The thing is, the reactionary right is all about retreat; if the bulk of the left is mostly on its own retreat, there's not a lot of meeting ground, and there's not a lot of room to go forward to anything new.

There's been some talk in some circles about the need for meeting the (loosely defined) right with "come, let us reason together." And that's probably true...but it seems to me that before one goes too far afield, one might be better off starting closer to home, with the people you share a basic framework with, even if there's bitter contention over some points. Dialogue. Which is what I was trying to get at with my link to the networking piece (yeah, a "structural hole" doesn't sound like something I want to be in either; but funny academese aside, the basic idea behind it is sound, I think).

But all of this wasn't even my main point, when I started this entry. What I was really interested in was the idea that maybe life is too short to go around being terribly terribly earnest all the time; and that what with all the imposed restrictions from the Powers That Be (which we're not and never will be, of course. no; the powerful are alien beings in their own world and have nothing to do with anything within the rest of us), maybe, you know, we could be a little gentler with and amongst ourselves with regard to imposing still more.

Which is as good a segue as any back into our favorite subject, Sex Positive Feminism (tm).

I've more to say about this, a lot more. For now I'll just leave it with this:

Try, if you will, to let go of the "sex" part of that phrase and focus on the "positive" for just a moment. As in: this is something some of us are fighting FOR, not merely against. Desire. Creativity. Expression. Pure sensual happiness. The lives and beliefs of the "sex positive" (feminist and otherwise, and yes, there is a distinction to be made) are not for everyone, God knows; and I for one do not know of anyone who is "sex positive" who's, like, trying to force everyone to buy porn and wear fuck-me pumps and go to orgies, or whatever it is that people seem to imagine (I've seen some decidedly bizarre interpretations on the Internets over the last few weeks).

All I want to know from my fellow travellers, whatever your sexual bent, is: what are you positive about? What makes you happy? What's the cream in your coffee, the spring in your step? What do you want to see when you go out your door in the morning? What kind of world? God knows there are a shitload of things in this world to be fighting against. What's worth fighting for?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

It occurs to me

that I'm angry.

I was going to write a nice, well-thought out series of posts on What Sex Positive Feminism Means To Me, and I still plan to. Eventually.

But right now I feel on the verge of a massive rant which I sense it isn’t completely about what it seems to be about, but: right now what it SEEMS to be about is a deep, slow-burning anger at…women. Particularly certain supposedly lesbian and/or feminist women. Mainly because it seems to me that for wimmin-lovin-wimmin, some people sure do go on and on about MEN MEN MEN. Particularly the ones who aren’t het or bi, I find this weird; and lately, no doubt because of my own stuff, increasingly aggravating. MEN MEN MEN MEN MEN!

Oh, sorry, not men, the PATRIARCHY. The SYSTEM. (invented by and largely maintained for the pleasure of MEN, but, still. Not about Men, per se). As in, women are complict in it, too, so, sure, okay, let’s talk about women for a while. Specifically, the ways in which they are victimized by and/or contort themselves to please MEN MEN MEN! Ain’t it awful.

--Oh, look, here comes another self-styled Radical Feminist (tm) and her Radical Feminist BOYFRIEND, he heaps more sackcloth and ashes on himself and his own disgusting, control-freakish gender than anybody, so, please, ladies, clear the floor and let’s hear his opinion about what MEN think of women, and the ways in which they shouldn’t contort themselves to please nasty piggish MEN anymore, because we all know the outrages that MEN commit, or are thinking about committing in their filthy little minds, and how awful it is, all these poor women who somehow can’t seem to get out of that unenlightened, patriarchal, man-focused, sex-obsessed (because those things inevitably go together, sex and men, like chocolate and peanut butter only apparently not delicious, even if there are no actual men involved) mindset, and did we mention MEN MEN MEN MEN MEN??? Just so’s you don’t forget: they do horrible things to women. A lot. MEN MEN MEN MEN MEN MEN MEN MEN MEN MEN!!!!!

(whereas we women are inherently more peaceful and full of the sisterly love, particularly once we have begun the endless, gruelling work of purging ourselves of the patriarchal toxins, and oh my God, you're not seriously wearing those shoes, are you? You like WHAT in bed? What the hell is wrong with you? I mean, besides the patriarchal contamination, which has clearly gotten to you even worse than the rest of us. Don't you know that those spanking and bondage games you're playing out with your girlfriend are all about abuse and hierarchy, which were invented by John the Patriarch in 703 B.C., and plays right into male rape fantasies, which I'm now going to describe in great unappetizing detail? By the way: I'm only telling you this for your own good).

And, well, no shit, sherlock, but, y’know, at a certain point I just. don’t. want to HEAR IT ANYMORE. Right now, I don't want to hear any more about all the things and all the MEN that you heartily disapprove of; after the first 40,000 volumes of the Catalogue of Horror, one begins to get the point.

N.B., and just so we're clear: this rant is not directed at the cock-lovin' women (or men, for that matter) out there who love, celebrate and/or objectify the boyz; by all means, follow your bliss.

But me, I don't (usually) sleep with men, and while God knows I love my boy pals, I don't ultimately care what men think of me as much as I do women...and you know, I suspect that this is also often true even of women (feminist or otherwise) who are not Sapphically inclined.

It hurts. A lot. What women can do to each other. And yet somehow it's easier to just blame the men...I mean, the patriarchy.

I swear to Christ if some people woke up and walked out their door tomorrow and the world had miraculously been transformed into a peaceful, egalitarian, non-patriarchal (whatever the fuck that’s actually supposed to look like, even vaguely), hell, even 100% men-free place, they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. What do you do when there’s no one left to blame anymore, and all the fighting's over? Well, let’s see, there’s always SEX, with WOMEN, even–oh, sorry, pursuit of sex is frivolous and inane. Quick, better go build another MAN out of sticks, and set fire to it.

…and, you know, even this, too, the ranting and blaming in my own turn, is a lot easier than just coming out with “say! I quite like pussy! My own, and other pussies as well! I think I’ll go out and find some nice girl who also likes pussy, and particularly mine!


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Net work.

I'm finding this guide to networking rather germane right now. True, I've never much cared for the word "network" (connotations are a bit corporate-ish* for my tastes), and this is a guide specifically for PhD students, which may or may not be something more strictly applicable to my life in the nearish future. Meanwhile, though, some of the opening bit...resonated for me. are already encountering two fundamental principles of professional social life, both of which will recur throughout this article. The first one was already well-known in classical rhetoric, and I will call it "articulating commonalities". The point here is to develop relationships with people. And relationships are founded on commonalities. These commonalities might include shared values, shared research topics, shared goals, or anything else of a professional nature that you might share with someone. To articulate a commonality means formulating language for it. This will not always be easy. Because the people whose work you cite will often inhabit worldviews quite dissimilar from your own, you may have to draw on the full resources of language in order to identify the large, irregularly shaped patches of ground that you share in common. The recipe that I just provided for sorting elements of your work into foreground and background is one simple method of doing this, and you will develop other, more advanced methods as you go along. Think of yourself as growing and evolving a distinct language for every one of your professional relationships. Having done this, you can then proceed to explore differences, disagreements, debates, and other stimuli to clear thinking. Many people avoid conflict because they want to preserve relationships. As a result, they become unable to assert their opinions and their distinctive intellectual contibutions in public, professional fora. And indeed, disagreements that are conducted outside a framework of articulated commonalities are most often confused, destructive, and a waste of time. Lacking such a framework, the combatants will lapse into projection, stereotyping, sloppy thinking, and other such junk. The principle of articulating commonalities is the secret to getting along with people.

The second principle of professional life that you are encountering here is a concept from sociology called "structural holes". (See Ronald Burt, Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition, Harvard University Press, 1995.) A structural hole, intuitively speaking, is a bunch of people who don't know each other but ought to...

*Speaking of corporate, can I just say what a difference it makes, even in the context of a mind-numbing temp gig, to have a supervisor who acts like a human being? And an environment that's someone's at least given some aesthetic consideration to? Oh, free lunch doesn't hurt, either.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Grisly, man.

So I just saw the DVD of "Grizzly Man," the Werner Herzog documentary about a man, Timothy Treadwell, who had lived amongst the b'ars every summer for thirteen years. Then, one fine day, one of them up and et him. The movie contains a goodly amount of Treadwell's own film footage as well as post-mortem interviews with those who knew him.

The story is, I think, viewed as a tragedy of sorts, at least by some of the reviewers and probably by the director: one man's obsessive hubris leading to the inevitable fall. The crossing of boundaries man was not meant to cross: nature, red in tooth and claw, gets you in the end. Or at any rate, it got Treadwell. Or, at any rate, the bear part of it, got him.

And all of that was there, certainly. I gotta say, though, that by the end of it I was left with two thoughts that overshadowed all other impressions:

1) Go, bears!

2) GodDAM but the closet leads to some weird-ass places. And that ain't Narnia, neither.

No, okay, one shouldn't make these cynical, stereotyping assumptions. Just because the guy came off like Richard Simmons to the tenth power doing "Wild Kingdom" doesn't mean anything about his sexuality, of course. (or Simmons' either, for that matter; I seem to recall he's a straight fella himself, on the record). In fact, Treadwell goes out of his way to talk about how hard it is for him, with the ladies; and how it's so much easier for gay folks:

"You know, it's just Bing! Bing! Bing! - gay guys, no problem. They go to restrooms and truck stops and perform sex, it's like so easy for them and stuff."

He goes on to say that he always wished he were gay, Treadwell did, but, sigh, it just wasn't meant to be: he's straight straight straight, dammit. He loves the ladies. But they don't love him. That same sad song so familiar to all the other straight dudes out there. Good thing he has his animal friends, for consolation. Specifically, big, muscular, hairy, do-what-comes-nat'rally...bears. Who don't even need a restroom or a truck stop, let alone anyone's permission, to do their thing, be it sex or rasslin' or just plain takin' a dump. It's, like, so easy for them, and stuff. Bears, that is.

At any rate it didn't seem like he had trouble attracting women to share his life with him, Treadwell; in fact he had one girlfriend, Annie Huguenard, who shared his death. Did she, in fact, die for him? Well, she certainly died with him, which is pretty damn intimate, I'd say. No one seemed to know much about her, in the film; the speculation was that she could have made a run for it at the last, but didn't, which implies a heroism of sorts, I suppose. Personally I have no idea how I'd react if I were stuck in the middle of fucking nowhere with an extra-manic Richard Simmons and a shitload of bears, let alone what I'd do when one of the bears finally cashed in that all-you-can-eat-buffet coupon on my companion. I imagine I'd be too busy crapping myself and screaming to figure out an escape, but who the hell knows?

The real question, of course, is why on God's green earth does a nominally straight woman take up with Richard Simmons Gone Wild in the first place? According to the people who knew Huguenard, she was frightened of the bears, so it wasn't like she was completely at one with him in his amateur naturalist enthusiasm (and/or his insanity, depending on one's point of view and/or one's degree of charitability toward Treadwell).

Personally, I blame the patriarchy, (cough) for all of it. Socialization of women to take care of everyone but themselves, to play nice and not say "You want me to camp out where?! Screw you guys, I'm goin' home." Socialization of men so that it seems more acceptable, easier, somehow, to be a platonic bear-lover and eccentric martyr than to just do one's thing--in truck stops, or restrooms, or anyfuckingwhere but a protected campground full of projections of idealized love in the form of wild animals (who, as the director notes, frankly don't seem to see Treadwell as anything but a potential snack, ever, despite Treadwell's cutesy nicknames and protestations of deep psychic bonding with the critters).

And finally, there's the whole romanticization of innocence business, which I think is at the heart of Treadwell's trip. You know: humans are corrupt or too complicated or sinful, or something, so clearly the solution is to reject one's ties with the greater body of humanity. Turn away altogether, put all of one's needs onto Nature (with a capital N). Or--now extrapolating to others I think have taken versions of this trip, and perhaps for similar reasons--Michael Jackson, say--children. Or perhaps even aliens: witness the Heaven's Gate people, or at least their leader, Marshall Applewhite. Applewhite the idealist, Applewhite the gentle eccentric, Applewhite the guru, who was charismatic enough to find a number of other pure, shining, selfless souls to merge and go all the way to the Light with him. Would Huguenard have eaten the Nembutal-laced pudding if Treadwell had asked her, I wonder? At least it would've been a less painful way to go than being mauled and eaten alive.

Cases like these guys are fascinating because they take certain threads in the cultural zeitgeist to their logical, if extreme, ending. At any rate it's not at all hard to draw from the ah "traditional values" template, current American version(s), and conclude that there's something fundamentally wrong with us mere mortals. Something that needs fixing, or running away from. Maybe even killing.

And yet, for all of Treadwell's attempts to merge with the "animals," it's not at all clear that it ever occurs to him that humans are animals, too. And, by extension, that he, too, is already an animal, no more or less than the rest of us--and that that might actually be O.K.

By the way, this Slate review of the film is really good, and I agree with Edelstein's take, on the whole. (Corky St. Clair, yes! even more than Simmons)

w00t! I'm a Flippery Fish. I'm a Flippery Fi-ish.

(see below and the TTLB ecosystem)

Happy not just 'cause I'm a raging link 'ho and the whole being-a-vertebrate thing (always nice), but in earnest, "Slimy Mollusc" was a bit...yeah. You know what I'm sayin'.

Now if I can just evolve a bit more, maybe we can get past the unfortunate Freudian associations altogether.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Overheard at the gig

"So I tell the guy we need proof of death in order to pursue the case? He sends a photograph of the headstone."


"'WHAT'S LO-OVE got to do, got to do with it--' Come on, SING IT, everybody!"

then, more quietly

"God, I hate this place."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Oh, why do I keep saying "sexist asshat" in the post below?

Bitch | Lab is sponsoring a googlebomb campaign. And, also, it's fun to say (SEXIST ASSHAT!!); and, it's true. Some people just are sexist asshats, and there ain't no way around it.

I do not believe the Constitution includes a proviso that what I do and don't do with my body must first be approved by a sexist asshat.

Yes, we all know by now that William Napoli is a sexist asshat.

If you don't yet, see this video on the sexist asshat's explanation of the criteria for being allowed to get an abortion, as recently decided in South Dakota, and all will become clear.

Then, if you haven't already, go over to Planned Parenthood and sign the petition. Because the choice of whether to have an abortion belongs to the woman, not to some random sexist asshat.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Interesting speculation on the causes of *ex*-gayness:

At A Musing: How Sexual Abuse Made Me Ex-Gay.

Lots of "ex-gay" proponents claim that one of the causes of same-sex attraction is childhood sexual abuse. I don't think they are lying; they truly believe it. In fact, I imagine that the majority of people who attend their programs have been sexually abused, so in their logic they have concluded that sexual abuse + other factors (family, gender confusion, etc) = GAY.

Instead of searching for the elusive root causes of same-sex attraction, I wish they would ask themselves, "Why do our programs attract same-gender loving people who have also been sexually abused?"

I think of my own story. I was sexually abused as a young boy. Age seven. That abuse filled me with shame and guilt, partly because it was a much older boy who perpetrated it, and I actually enjoyed some of it. I was already gay before I was abused--I felt an attraction towards other boys.

Filled with shame and guilt, I grew up in a decidedly homophobic society that proclaimed that being gay was a sickness, an aberration, a sin, an abomination. Because of the abuse I suffered as a child, I felt dirty, evil, shame-filled and unloveable. (These feelings are common for many who have experienced sexual abuse.)

These negative feelings made me a target for the Evangelical church which promised that I could be a child of the King, a holy servant of God and a new creation with robes washed clean in the blood of the Lamb...

(more at link)


I think he's really onto something. I also think that there's a fair argument for calling homophobic shaming (or any sort of sexual shaming, for that matter; the "slut" labelling thing, for instance) a form of sexual abuse in itself.

But certainly I could understand how a history of abuse would make any ideology which boils down to follow these rules, and you will be purified attractive. First of all, your own boundaries, your internal radar, your ability to distinguish what you want and need from what someone else tells you you want and need, are already shot all to hell; that's the fundamental mechanism on which abuse turns in the first place, after all. All you probably consciously know for sure (if that) is that you feel really, really awful. Shameful, unworthy, dirty, as the man says. Bad.

Then, along comes a strong voice that affirms at least some part of you, possibly for the first time ever. Of course you're going to be all over that. And if the voice has some conditions for your continued presence in the circle of light? Well, that feels...familiar. Of course, there have to be conditions; there's no such thing as unconditional acceptance in this world, right? Certainly you've never experienced such a thing. And your world has been so out of control; of course you need rules. The stricter, the better, in fact. Just so you know where you are.

And then, too, there are rewards in this set-up: it feels old, but there's also something new: now you can be one of the good guys! The bad guys, they're over there. And what better way to spend the rest of your life than fighting the bad guys, now that they have a name, a face, and an identity that isn't you (anymore)?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

And now, a very important question:

Do you take it?

More existential video and musical queries by The Wet Spots.

Thanks to howard at webpen for the link.


A post over at Official, via Ally Work, on "how to be a genuinely nice [person]." Specifically, how to be a genuinely respectful ally (feminist, anti-racist, gay rights, what have you--as someone who isn't a member of the discriminated-against group).

And, hmm. I'm thinking. I agree with most if not all of this. Admittedly I am more comfortable agreeing to its points when I am the member of the discriminated-against group than when I am the outsider/ally/privileged representative (surprise). But it's sound, and it's smart, and it's hugely worth reading in full.

My thing, and it's been niggling at me for a while now--

okay. First of all, everything at the above-cited makes perfect sense in the context of a discussion that is overtly about the issues of/discrimination against the discriminated-against group (DAG for short henceforth). Particularly when it is a gathering that is hosted by people who belong to the DAG; you are, it is generally understood, there as a guest, if you are invited at all. And if you're explicitly not invited but you crash anyway--well.

Somewhere, misplaced the link alas, anyway someone had posted a poem by Chrystos (I think) about this phenomenon, about a white woman who crashed a women-of-color -only meeting and ended up hijacking the whole shindig with her hurt and upset--at being excluded, at hearing nasty things said about her and hers. Yeah, it happens. And sure, we're all probably privy to the whole not-invited-to-the-party hurt; all the same...hello, don't go if you're not welcome. For all the reasons listed in the poem and in the above link, but also: seriously, why? It's a bit like reading a friend's diary or something: yes, sometimes people need to vent, and that may include talking smack about you in ways that they wouldn't want to do to your face, not just because they don't want you crashing the party, but because, quite possibly, those are not the only feelings they have about you; they just need to...vent. In private. If you don't want to be hurt by it, you probably shouldn't go there. Sometimes it's true: what you don't know won't hurt you.

Which last seems to contradict a bit the business in the link about "being able to take criticism," perhaps.

The thing is, the advice to "not take it personally?" That's terrific advice for everyone, across the boards, not just in sociopolitical contexts. Because even when it is about you, personally: it really isn't, you know, at the end of the day. We'd all do well to remember it. Terrific advice; yet I, for one, very seldom follow it. Well, sometimes. I try, you know.

But the other thing is, while it's true that people often bridle and get defensive when their privilege is named (in a matter of fact, impersonal way or otherwise) by someone who doesn't share it, there is also another phenomenon, probably more prevalent in leftie circles than elsewhere, but certainly not restricted to such (especially these days, where "political correctness" means making sure to not criticize Dear Leader or neglect to wish everyone a "Merry Christmas," happy holidays be damned).

Rather than using old, tired labels, though, I think it's more accurate to say that it's usually this, at least in part: intellectualization. That is: when people wrap large sociopolitical megillas around personal grievances, or (more often) conflate the one with the other, it tends to make everything spiral up and up and out and out, with nary a resolution in sight. Big heady "isms" and abstract structures clouding the sharp, immediate feelings, till no one can separate thought from feeling at all anymore, or indeed identify any feelings at all, although it's clear from the outside that the predominant ones are rage, shame, and hurt.

And the thing is, when this happens: it's not that the sociopolitical business is inaccurate, which is the usual line of the defense from the supposedly "politically incorrect" (tired!) It's that the personal shit, it matters, too; it doesn't need justification, if only you can address it for what it is. The personal is political, yes, but only to a point, and not always in the way people think.

At any rate, I've often thought, after yet another long agonizing process-y leftie coalition meeting which covered everything and went nowhere, it would probably save a lot of time and miscommunication if more people could say, simply and directly, "I'm feeling hurt" or "I'm angry." Of course, this is also the group therapy talking.

...addendum: still mulling. I think one situation that comes up fairly often is when a DAG member (DAGM) is "speaking from the I" about a personal experience of discrimination, and the privileged outsider (PO, henceforth) chimes in with something like, "Well, that happens to me/us, too: (follow story)."

This often tends to piss the DAGM off, because it can seem like the PO talking over the DAGM's voice (which is precisely what the DAGM is tired of). And, depending on the speaker and listener, the chiming in can come off as anywhere from well-meaning-but-clueless to hostile.

So what often happens then is, the DAGM will respond, either right there at the scene or later on after some processing, with something along the lines of "HELLO! It's NOT ABOUT YOU! Shut UP, for the love of GOD, I'M TALKING." Maybe after a number of such encounters, the thought/feeling will crystallize into something like "You know what? You just don't get it, and you never will. It's a __ thing, you wouldn't understand." And, people being what they are, the DAGM is likely to carry those experiences and feelings into his/her/hir next encounter with not just that particular PO but other PO's of that group as well; or at least more likely to do so than before.

So, well, hm. First of all, again, back to the advice in the piece: first and best option as a PO--hell, as anyone faced with an angry person, is to go back to listening. Maybe no response is called for. Maybe addressing the feelings directly (there's that group therapy again) might be helpful, if one feels capable. If one is feeling too defensive to do either, maybe best to excuse oneself and take a walk. (Very good advice; I very seldom follow it).

I'm also thinking, though, that if one is a DAGM whose hackles rise all too easily at such encounters these days, it's worth considering (I am slowly learning this. I think): there are at least a couple different motives fuelling the PO's "well, we get that too" business. Some of it is defensiveness, yes. Sometimes it may just be the person consciously or (far more likely, not that it's an excuse) unconsciously trying to one-up the DAGM, yet again. Or, appropriation, or what you will.

But also, I think, at least with genuinely well-meant PO's, the "me too" is an attempt, however clumsy, to try to connect with the DAGM. Not always. But sometimes. And when one invokes "it's a __ thing, you just don't understand," that is a shutting-down, pushing away gesture. I'm not saying one shouldn't ever do this. Maybe that's just how one feels. Maybe it's even true, in this case, with this person. But I do think it's important to be clear about what one wants. If one just wants to speak one's piece and be heard, well, that's one thing, and that's fine. If one wants a discussion, however, then...well, it's really difficult to discuss and invoke pushing-away gestures at the same time. And I think that it's at the point where that starts to happen--the come-here-go-away--that a lot of talks break down.


Grannyvibe has linked to a post and discussion over at Den of the Biting Beaver, on the notion of the "continuum" of consent, wrt rape and sex.

I respect grannyvibe one hell of a lot. I respect several other women and/or feminists who have linked to the Den with an approving/admiring tone for the posts there. And I have had serious bones to pick with the folks over at the Den, particularly the male half, over not just their interpretation of feminism and sexualit(ies,) but their approach to talking about it. Which I've referred to rather snidely here and elsewhere, directly and obliquely, because the subject of sexual agency is one I feel strongly about, and also because I am a bone-picker.

Here's the thing. I've read BB's story (at the link). It is, without a doubt, a chronicle of gross and repeated violations, rape(s), in point of fact, among other emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual abuses. It is a horrific story, and yes, sadly, it's not an anomaly: this shit does, as I think is one of BB's main themes, if not the main theme, happen to lots of women and girls, all the bloody time. It is also extremely well written.

Like I say, I've been bitching about this already, so I'll not now go into my problems with BB's stuff when she extrapolates from the personal to the sociopolitical, except to say this:

I have my own experiences and impressions, shaped by institutionalized sexism and homophobia, among other things, personal and political. They have led me to my own politics, my own interpretation of feminism, and, last but definitely not least, my own sexuality, or at least my expression of it. And I vow that they are as valid as anyone else's. For me. And I hold to that. I hold to the right to claim and express my desires.

And that is the bare bones of what "sex-positive" means to me. My body, my choice. No means no, absolutely. AbsofuckingLUTEly. But also, yes means yes. For me, and I can only speak for me.

And with that said, whatever one thinks about the notion of a "continuum" of consent, at least as BB has laid it out, there is no doubt in my mind that sure, there's always a vast grey area between "yes" and "no." How one might best negotiate that territory, in an ideal world, is the subject of another, longer post. I'll just say here that it starts with the notion of boundaries, a concept that encompasses far more, I'll vow, than sex or gender.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

AUGH, or reason #109,876,443,448 why Republican misogynist greedy swine SUCK CRUSTACEAN TESTICLE

From Planned Parenthood, via Not Your Woman:

WASHINGTON, DC — Today the United States Senate is considering a bill that would have a serious and damaging impact on health coverage for women across the United States. The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act (HIMMAA), introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) would allow insurance companies to ignore nearly all state laws that require insurance coverage for certain treatments or conditions, such as laws that require them to include contraceptives in their prescription plans.

"We need to move forward, not backward in expanding access to quality health care, including birth control," said Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards. "Congress should work to protect patients, not undermine them."

This federal legislation would raze hundreds of state laws that ensure patients can get the medical care they need and would
• not allow women to designate their ob/gyns as primary care providers

• not allow women to seek care directly from their ob/gyns, but would force them to be screened by their primary care doctors first

• dismantle coverage for contraception

• dismantle coverage for annual cervical cancer exams

• not allow women to stay with the same doctor throughout a pregnancy, if that doctor was dropped from the insurance provider

For years, many insurance plans covered prescription drugs, but refused to cover birth control pills and other prescription contraceptives for women. In the past decade lawmakers in 23 states have remedied this inequity and enacted contraceptive coverage laws. Under HIMMAA women will lose contraceptive-equity protections currently guaranteed by state law.


So, within days of the South Dakota abortion bullshit, this. Gee, do you think they're trying to tell us something?

Bad, baaaad feminist.

I like it already.

Attention, bloggers and independent media providers: regulation is at hand.

Learn more about the proposed "two-tiered" system here.

...and here, wherein Oregon Senator Wyden (D) is proposing a ban any such "tiering."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Cinema verité

This video has it all: pain, dominance, submission, the false pretext of freedom, delusions of superiority, the indulging of man's basest appetites...and a lap dance. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, March 06, 2006

You Will Take My Dildo Only When You Pry It From My Cold, Dead, Sticky Fingers

Just in case you're still wondering, crap like this is a fair part of fuel behind the sex-positive movement. Tennessee Guerrilla Women report:

If the Victorians have their way, it will soon become a crime to sell, advertise, publish, or exhibit dildos in this red state. Presumably "exhibit" is what happens when more than one person is caught in the vicinity of a dildo. The lawmakers are willing to permit some exceptions, such as the study of dildos by college students and professors. Were you looking for a subject for your Master's thesis? Interviewing lawmakers on this touchy subject could prove highly stimulating.

Note: there are already existing laws in other states banning or otherwise restricting sex toys. I'll see if I can dig up details later; as I recall some of them were pretty funny.

Meanwhile, make yourself comfortable and take the edge off with a Louisiana-based, fifty-something grandma who lifts weights, dances the zydeco, and oh yeah, writes brilliantly. On the whole, the very opposite of a buzzkill. Granny Gets A Vibrator.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Newsflash: "Have It Your Way" is a corporate slogan, not an unalienable right.

It is confusing sometimes, I know.

Anyway, I'm in Burger King for a late lunch/sodium, caffeine, fat and sugar hit, and there's this woman at the counter. Grey hair; square, lumpen glasses; square, lumpen body; shapeless, colorless clothes and skin. Her mouth is open, a lot. She's among the only other customers there at that hour, but all four or five counter employees are clustered around her, and the one who's taking my order is distracted by the show. It is quite a performance. Something about how she came in yesterday even though she never goes to Burger King, and she only came back today because she liked something or other, the spicy chicken sandwich, which is not what she GOT when she ordered it today. And she DOESN'T want another sandwich (apparently the disappointment was too crushing): she! wants!! her money!! BACK! her! MONEY. M-O-N-E-Y. and yes, she took the soda, but she only drank thiiiis much. On and on. They were in the middle of it as I arrived, and they were only just resolving it as I got my food.

So, okay. She finally gets her money, thanks them, ("Have a nice day, ma'am") and huffs out, vowing never to darken their doorstep again. The employees look at each other and break into tension-relieving giggles. Just another frootloop in the great cereal box of life, I suppose. And yet as I went to sit down, I found myself flashing on a George Orwell passage (as I so often seem to do, these days):

He remembered how once he had been walking down a crowded street when a tremendous shout of hundreds of voices--women's voices--had burst from a side-street a little way ahead. It was a great formidable cry of anger and despair, a deep, loud, "Oh-o-o-o-oh!" that went humming on like the reverberation of a bell. His heart had leapt. It's started! he had thought. A riot! The proles are breaking loose at last! When he had reached the spot it was to see a mob of two or three hundred women crowding round the stalls of a street market, with faces as tragic as though they had been the doomed passengers on a sinking ship. But at this moment the general despair broke down into a multitude of individual quarrels. It appeared that one of the stalls had been selling tin saucepans. They were wretched, flimsy things, but cooking-pots of any kind were always difficult to get. Now the supply had unexpectedly given out. The successful women, bumped and jostled by the rest, were trying to make off with the saucepans while dozens of others clamoured round the stall, accusing the stall-keeper of favouritism and of having more saucepans somewhere in reserve. There was a fresh outburst of yells. Two...women, one of them with her hair coming down, had got hold of the same saucepan and were trying to tear it out of one another's hands, and then the handle came off. Winston watched them disgustedly. And yet, for just a moment, what almost frightening power had sounded in that cry from only a few hundred throats! Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?

Of course, the answer to that, or one of them, is, "And you, why don't you shout about the important shit more often?" To which in turn the answers are:

"Because I'm afraid I'm apt to get killed if I do."

"Because I don't even have time to think about all that; I've got enough problems as it is."

"Because they're way up there, and kind of abstract; the pan, or the burger, or the nitwit over in the next cubicle, they're right here, where I can reach them, and I can get immediate satisfaction of some sort with the petty drama. Even if it's just getting a few bucks back...or the satisfaction of venting at a real live person."

As I was eating, a woman came up to me, trying to sell bootleg DVD's. This happens fairly often in the fast-food joints and some diners around here. Sometimes people just come right out and baldly ask for money. When I was younger, I don't remember this happening so much. People ask for money in the street, sure, but coming right into business establishments, not so much; that, I tended to associate more with Mexico, for instance. (We don't get the little girls selling gum, but we do get somewhat older boys trying to sell candy bars). I don't know whether this is because middle-to-upper middle class suburbia, where I grew up, is less tolerant of this sort of thing, or whether it is, in fact, another sign of the further deteriorating economy. In either case it's astonishing just how much one learns to ignore.

If kittens ran the world

A sensitive video on getting one's priorities straight.

Pointer thanks to sbpoet at Watermark. Be sure to check out some of her fine poetry while you're there.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


(Had this one in my buffer but forgot to post it; the debut of pal Alex's new blog, Train Mama, reminded me. Which, you should check it out).

Today on the subway, two kind of classic Queens boyz (the accent, the clothes, the manner of speaking, general presentation). One's interjecting the word "fuck" between every other word. They're talking about TV's, stereo equipment, something. Prices, models, numbers, numbers.

Then the one sitting across from me says he's gettin' a manicure, and maybe a pedicure. I look at him; he's rather prominently missing a tooth. I flash on a recent conversation about dentistry, or the lack thereof, being a class signifier, and wonder where hetboy pedicures fit into that equation. (Later the guy does say he's got a dentist appointment coming up).

Guy next to me is all, "Aw, that's so fuckin' gay." Some more back and forth, the gist of which I gather being that while it may indeed be fuckin' gay if you do too much of that shit, guy-across is still going for it, the pedicure. Guy next to me continues:

"And dude, what about these fuckin' facials. You know that shit? That shit is like, facials, they take off all your fuckin' blackheads, no shit."

Mississippi Goddamn

Don't tell me, I'll tell you.

Ole Miss nearly trips over the heels of South Dakota in its rush to keep women barefoot and pregnant.

As has been noted, at this point, such a law probably won't make much substantial practical difference in Mississippi (or South Dakota for that matter); "the state already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation." MS had seven abortion clinics; as of a year ago, only one was left, in Jackson, and it was struggling to keep its doors open. Guess why.

The UK Telegraph writes about us as though we were one of those repressive, regressive third-world countries instead of the Leader of the Free World. Oh, wait.

Anyway, as you know, the point now is to not so much about Mississippi or South Dakota but to seize the day and push for a court case that will lead to a wholesale overturn of Roe v. Wade; enough of this hole-and-corner chipping away.

So, yeah. I guess this would be that heightening of the contradictions that I seem to recall...certain people arguing as a good reason to have the Republicans in for yet another millenium instead of the useless Democrats. We'll see, won't we. It is true that this burst of optimism doesn't seem to be shared by all anti-abortion folks; they fear, probably with good reason, that it's too soon to count on the SCOTUS going their way (they'd need one more judge solidly in their court to really seal the deal).

Call me a cynic, though, but somehow I'm not exactly falling all over myself with joy here. Oh, look! A defining moment! A window of opportunity for the left to get its shit together and revive itself in the face of a crisis! To rise like a phoenix from the ashes! Thank God for that. Because it's not like we've had any other such opportunities over the last two-four-ten-twenty-five years. I'm sure we'll get right on that.

Somewhere on the road from agnostic to neopagan reminded by taking a coupla quizzes to determine one's personal cosmology, via Bitch | Lab.

There are no such things as witches,
I have known this all my life.
If I lost my path, it's not from the wrath
Of a toothless old goodwife.
And even if I am astray
I'm sure I'll find another way
If not just now, at break of day
For these are woods I know.
I know,
I know,
For these are woods I know.

There are no such beasts as werewolves,
Normal wolves are enough to fear.
But I surmise those glowing eyes
Belong to a frightened deer.
And things that bump
And things that bite
Are mere illusions of the night
As soon as I can find some light
I'm sure these fears will go.
I know,
I know,
I know these fears will go.

There is no such thing as magic,
Of that much at least I'm sure.
I can't explain the sun and rain
But my faith in facts is pure.
The rules of men are right and real
The world is what you see and feel
Though other fancies might appeal
I know they aren't so.
I know,
I know,
I know they aren't so.

I can't grasp what's ethereal
I believe in the crown imperial,
and dialectics material.
The rules of men are right and real
The world is what I see and feel
Though other fancies might appeal
They aren't so, they aren't so,
And this is what I know, I know,
And this is what I know!

From nearby, an eerie howl

But, even so...

--from Baba Yaga, an unfinished musical in the virtual desk drawer

Friday, March 03, 2006

Postscript to addendum:

Confidential to zealous young hetboyz, freshly converted from their formerly misogynistic, lustful, dominatin' ways, all full of shame and repentance and eager to spread the Gospel of Dworkin to the unenlightened:

The ghost of Valerie Solanas came to me in a vision last night with a message for you. Are you ready? She says, it's not enough. In order to be a true radical feminist ally, you're gonna have to cut 'em off. The whole works, in fact. With nail scissors. And no anaesthetic.

Before she vanished into the ether, she allowed as how another alternative might be to sit your ass down, shut the fuck up, and listen to what actual women (including the ones who don't already agree with you) have to say before presuming to go a-educatin'.

But, she said, if that's too difficult, then go with the auto-castration. Anyway, the root of the problem is your sexuality, not plain ol' being an entitled asshole, so really, one good snip should eradicate any remaining tendencies toward being a sexist control freak for good. Huzzah! At last, a simple solution!

Thursday, March 02, 2006


There are, I observe, two (at least, but for our purposes here) major themes running through the expressions of anti-BDSM (and other forms of "patriarchal" sexuality) sentiment. Roughly:

1) This is exploitive, or, at minimum, is reflective of our exploitive culture, and thus, should be shunned, or at least seriously critiqued.

2) Ew! Ewwww! ICKY! (shudder) EW.

Expressions of 1), provided they're argued with some thought and research, are worth taking seriously as feminism, whether or not one agrees.

Expressions of 2), not so much. And honestly, I've been seeing a lot of 2) lately, and, well, frankly, it irks. "What you do is gross and nasty" is not "radical feminism," nor yet is it a critique. That is high school. ("Oh. my. god. canyouBELIEVE what she's WEARING?! do you HEAR what she DOES?? psstpsstpsst"). Speaking of conformism. Speaking of conservative.

As for the "help, help, I'm being oppressed by what you do with another consenting adult in your bedroom/private sex club!" folks: you can fuck right off. Really. Speaking of control issues. There's more to power than leather and chains...or patriarchy. It'd be more convenient if it were that simple, I'm sure. But it never is.

She's right, you know.

Cassandra says:

For the record, I think that BSDM is like most other things - it has the potential to be either good or bad, and how it plays out in practise depends greatly on the ethics and motivations of the people involved. I've met some people who've had horrible experiences with BSDM, and others who have stepped in, had a great time and stepped out again when they got bored with no harm done. I have also met a smaller but stastically significant number of people for whom BSDM is simply part and parcel of who they are - they don't enjoy vanilla sex, and seem to simply be wired in such as way that they will always feel the need to play out power issues in the bedroom. I just don't see what purpose is served by telling these people that they are failing the feminist cause and not living up to their ideals every time they pick up a flogger or put on a corset.

...Given the country's current rapid drift towards a Handmaiden's Tale-like nightmare with no legal abortion and a crappy economy and the dismantling of Social Security, can we really not find something more important to worry about than policing the way that other people fuck? When you stop to think about it it's actually kind of absurd - we're facing some of the greatest actual threats to the feminist project in years and we're busy arguing amongst ourselves about what is and is not an acceptable way for a feminist to get her rocks off...



There's more to it than that, but: yeah.

Here'd be my request: If you are of the opinion that freedom of sexual expression is largely irrelevant in the greater scheme of things: well, I disagree, but I'm happy to not discuss it with people who share a number of my other concerns. So: let's agree to disagree, and not discuss it, as the woman says. There are bigger fish to fry.

If you are of the opinion that sexuality is largely irrelevant, though, and yet somehow you keep bringing it up: well, can you ask yourself why? And, is it really a surprise when people then take offense upon being misrepresented, patronized, blamed, shamed, and even demonized in the inevitable thrash that follows?

...It's probably fair here to offer a link to I Blame The Patriarchy's apparent last word on the topic of BDSM before declaring a moratorium on the subject at her blog. So, okay.

I mean, am I a spinster aunt or aren’t I? The code demands that I not shirk my duty. It has not escaped my notice that it upsets some women when I say their beloved stiletto heels are tools of the patriarchy, or when I say the nuclear family is a tool of the patriarchy, or when I say that pole-dancing is a tool of the patriarchy, so I don’t expect they’ll like it when I out their spanky-spanky sex life as a tool of the patriarchy, either.

But, like it or lump it, BDSM is patriarchy, the whole patriarchy, and nothin’ but the patriarchy, in a black latex nutshell. It is, I unwaveringly assert according to the Honor Code of the Blaming Spinsters, the eroticization of a vastly horrific social order that has, over the millennia, generated the suffering of untold millions, and against which I am sworn to vituperate. BDSM’s got it all: sex, power, rape, pain, dominance, submission, the false pretext of freedom, delusions of superiority, sublimation of the orgasm at all costs, women who think it liberates them, a conservative orthodoxy, compulsory conformity, absurd, exaggerated gender roles, and a silly dress code. It is profoundly anti-feminist, anti-intellectual, anti-individual, and unattractive.

Do it, do it, do it till you’re satisfied, whatever it is. Just don’t kid yourself. You’re gettin’ off on patriarchy. Which is not to say that patriarchy-blamers can’t be all “yay, BDSM!” Because if pain and humiliation get you off, what better way to achieve it than by hanging a sign on your ass reading “I blamed the patriarchy but all I got was his stupid orgasm.”

Thus spaketh the Twisty.

Just a couple of small notes here:

a conservative orthodoxy, compulsory conformity

Uh. Yeah. 'Kay. This is not my experience of the world of kink (although lord knows you can find annoying reversions to high school in any scene, anywhere). I do keep wondering, though, what it is this non-patriarchal world is supposed to look and feel like, exactly. God knows that I've certainly never found any tendencies toward orthodoxy or compulsory conformism among self-styled radical feminists. Radical anything, really. Just let me know when "real" freedom comes along, okay? It does seem like an awfully elusive concept, the more I read there. Especially in the comments section.

"Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never jam today."

It is profoundly anti-feminist, anti-intellectual, anti-individual, and unattractive.

Well, smell YOU, Nancy Drew.

BTW: allow me to introduce Midori.

Speaking of jam: you do know that meat is murder and inextricably connected with the oppression of women, right? Come to think of it, that squash is calling out to me in anguished tones as well.