I kissed a girl … now get over it.

I frequently let Rhapsody decide what I should listen to based on what it knows about what I’ve listened to recently. This doesn’t always result in playlists I actually like but it does at least relieve me of the burden of trying to decide what I want to hear while I work. And this is how I happened to hear Katy Perry’s “I kissed a girl.” At first I wasn’t paying much attention and assumed it was a remake of Jill Sobule’s song of the same title. But after having heard a few references to Perry’s song in particular I decided to go back and compare. Definitely NOT the same song. This, at least, appeases my annoyance that Perry is getting a lot of attention for this song as if it were original since the song itself is original to her. But the sentiments annoy me. A lot.

In particular I am annoyed by “I kissed a girl just to try it // I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it.” I grew up in a pretty homophobic community so I was a little shocked when I came to college and discovered the degree to which lesbians are fetishized by many straight men. Not real lesbians of course, but the fantasy kind. The kind of girls who kiss other girls while drunk out at the club. Given that, I’m willing to bet that Perry’s boyfriend didn’t mind.

Continue reading “I kissed a girl … now get over it.”


The dirt on my hatred for Valentines

Ok, if you know me, you may very well know that I hate valentine’s day. I have always hated valentines day.* In high school I used to try to get my friends to join me in wearing black on February 14th to demonstrate our disdain for the whole concept. They, however, shared neither my hatred of the day nor my love for wearing black, so that never actually worked out.

This year I am finding myself particularly annoyed as the day approaches and I’m not sure why. I mean the reasons not to like the holiday are pretty obvious:

  1. pink. I really really do NOT do pink. I’m cool with red, but not when it’s paired with pink.
  2. bitterness. I admit it, my early feelings about valentines day were heavily influenced by my failures in the romantic realm. If you’re single it’s hard not to hate a holiday that celebrates the very state of couplehood.
  3. unrealistic expectations. Even when one is in a relationship, the hype of a day where your significant other is supposed to express the depth of his or her feelings for you with a gift, is just asking for trouble.
  4. gender stereotypes. This is a holiday that by its very design reinforces countless gender stereotypes. Don’t believe me? See point 1.

All of these are, in my opinion, perfectly reasonable reasons to not be a fan of the day but I will admit that the sensible thing to do, really, is just ignore it altogether. To a certain extent I do this, but this year, with just under two weeks to go before I can forget it completely, I’m already sick to death of valentines day. Of course the magazines I read for their food and gardening content (Sunset and Better Homes and Gardens) are full of articles keyed to the holiday. I’m sure some of the baked goods and other ideas are worth looking at but I frustratedly flipped through the many pages of pink and red without a second glance on Friday night when I decided I was going to chill out in the bathtub with the current magazine offerings. Too much pink! Seriously.

Continue reading “The dirt on my hatred for Valentines”

Drum roll (or not) please

A couple of days ago a web acquaintance pointed out this shirt on thinkgeek. It has a drumset decal on the front that’s hooked up to a battery pack and speaker so that it actually plays when you tap it. Cool idea, right? Well, yes, but…. My first thought on seeing it was “oooh, that’s neat” but that thought was quickly followed by “but clearly it was designed by a man for men.”

I’ll admit that I’m a bit weird when it comes to physical contact, but I’m pretty sure my desire not to turn my breasts into a drumset does not result from the unfortunate experiences I had in high school (which still, after all these years, leave me hyper-sensitive to the dynamics of casual touch in social situations). I mean, in theory, even if you do have a working drumset decal plastered across your chest random you’d still have ultimate control over who actually tapped on said drum set. But I’m not one to trust theory when it comes to control over my own personal space (and bodily contact). So someone let me know when I can get a shirt with the musical instruments on the sleeves. I mean come on, the ad copy even writes itself then.

Smells Like Teen Spirit Testosterone

I commute 60 miles round trip on days when I go to campus. I’m pretty careful about avoiding the times with the worst traffic, but it still works out to somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours in the car. Lately I’ve decided I’m sick and tired of the selection of CDs I have stored in the sidepocket of my door (don’t bother breaking into my car, they’re almost all CDRs from emusic, and I have weird taste) so I’ve switched to radio. It turns out, though, that there aren’t that many stations that I like that actually come in consistently all the way from Altadena to Westwood. So I’ve settled on KROQ. They advertise themselves as the “World famous KROQ” and “LA and O.C.’s only new rock.” I can only conclude from the latter that rock is dead, or at least half dead. Large quantities of the music that gets played regularly is stuff I know from high school. The DJs seem to have a particular penchant for the black Metallica album. I imagine if you listened more regularly than I do it would only take about a week to hear the whole damn album. (The heavy play might be attributable to last year’s live album but I’ve heard songs that don’t appear to be on that album so it doesn’t explain it all). To put this in perspective, if I had had a kid when I was listening to that album obsessively, that kid would now be older than I was then. Add to this the fact that they play a lot of Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili peppers and I started to suspect that their main demographic wasn’t 16 year olds but rather 20- and 30- somethings nostalgic for when they were 16. Of course this suggests that I have no clue whatsoever what “kids these days” listen to. But I’m ok with that. Continue reading “Smells Like Teen Spirit Testosterone”

How do we solve problems that have no solutions?

I started writing this over a month ago and never finished. Story of way too much of my life right now. But the thoughts seem coherent enough as started. So you get that.

Twisty at I blame the patriarchy has been critiquing the patriarchal nature of fashion this week. There’s a whole series of posts, but this one takes on fashion head on in a way I find interesting. Essentially the argument is that all fashion serves to sort people into categories and that all fashion is informed and shaped by our patriarchal system. Fair enough. I’ll buy that. She also argues that within our patriarchal system women’s agency is limited and that women make up a subordinated sex class. The argument that women’s agency is hindered by patriarchy is one that I’m willing to accept.

Twisty concludes:

A few of you have wondered what I suggest in terms of the patriarchy-blamer’s value-neutral wardrobe. Sadly, if my hypothesis is correct, such duds do not exist. Feminism cannot seem to counteract the intoxicating effects of male domination. In our culture it is the moral duty of every woman to be “sexy”, and her value remains tied to her success in this painful endeavor. You’re either “sexy” or you’re a schlub. Fucking patriarchy. I blame it, I do.

I’m tempted to conclude that she’s right. On the surface, the argument holds pretty well. But in the end it feels defeatist to me. In the end I think arguments of this sort give too little credit to what agency oppressed people do have within systems of oppression. To say that one has less agency in one social position than one would if one were in another, is not the same as saying that one has no agency. It is not the same as saying “resistance is futile.” So the question then becomes, is resistance futile? How much agency do I have? Is that agency enough to actually effect anything, or should I use what agency I have to choose the path of least resistance?

The Commodified Body

What does my body mean? What is it worth? Who does it benefit? How much are you willing to pay for it? Despite four years in women’s studies classrooms and half a lifetime of personal feminism, the questions still sound a little strange to me even as I ask them. But in the past few days I’ve come to the conclusion that these are precisely the questions I need to be asking. What do bodies mean in our consumer culture? What do female bodies mean? And if my body can be bought and sold, even if I am the one selling mine, what does that imply about freedom?

Let me start with a couple of caveats. I consider myself a pro-sex feminist. Moreover, I’ve never believed that pornography is the root of all evil and oppression. I tend to part ways philosophically from the likes of Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin pretty fast. As a primarily hetorsexual woman with some notable bisexual leanings, I actually benefit somewhat from the sexualization of women. And I’ve always been mildly uncomfortable with my own ability to objectify women, but reasoned that the objectification itself (at the mental level) is not entirely unnatural. The problem with objectification is how it’s performed in the world. At a certain level if you look at a stranger and appreciate their physical form you’re objectifying them. And frankly, I don’t think I’m ever going to get to a point where I don’t find myself appreciating the physical forms of those around me. Still, I find objectification as it tends to be practiced in our society sad and scary.

Last weekend I went to Vegas for the first time. We stayed in a hotel off the strip. As it happened, said hotel was right next to Club Paradise, a strip club. As it turns out, I’d never been to a strip club either. Not out of lack of interest particularly. It just was never high enough one my “things I want to do” list to make putting the effort into doing so. So when the friend of the friend I was brought up the idea of going to Club Paradise, I was enthusiastic. Indeed it’s probably my enthusiasm that resulted in us actually ending up at Club Paradise.

I was fully expecting to enjoy the experience. Lots of my female friends like strip clubs. I have great appreciation for the naked female form (though even going in I knew that I have an appreciation for a larger range of female forms than I was going to find there). So where’s the problem?

I’m still not sure I can explain my emotional response in a way that makes sense but I did not enjoy the experience. In fact it made me queasy, depressed, and a little angry. Something about actual women, removing actual clothes, and gyrate around their actual bodies, in an actual club was disturbing to me in the way that the theoreticals never were. B. pointed out to me that this particular club was creepier than others he’s been to on account of the particularly aggressive money extraction (i.e. cover charge to get in, minimum bar tabs for tables, etc.). But I’m unconvinced that I could have stomached any other club any better.

The first problem was two of the men I was with trying to talk me into a lapdance. I was unethusiastic and actually balked at the idea. It took me a minute of standing watching the stage to figure out why. As a woman getting a lapdance I would be playing into the lesbian fantasy that so many men seem to have. A woman getting a lapdance stops being a consumer of semi-naked women and becomes an object herself. So I rejected the lapdance, intending to just enjoy the women from a distance. Except I couldn’t.

Somehow I couldn’t get past the knowledge that they were there because they were being paid. I couldn’t get past the knowledge that these were real live women in the flesh, and they were for sale. The more the women gyrated, the sadder I got. I just couldn’t shake the realization that I was in a huge club packed with people (more men than women, but women too) who had come to consume female flesh.

I don’t hold anything against the women at the club for selling access (if fleeting) to their bodies. I don’t even necessarily hold anything in particular against the men buying it (though I find it a touch disconcerting). But the social structure that all of this takes place in makes me want to scream and cry. It seems to me to be a simple step between “their bodies are for sale” and “my body is for sale.” Actually, that’s not really the problem. They make a choice to sell their bodies and I make a choice not to sell mine. And as long as I continue to think of it in those terms I have no problem. The problem is not with the selling, but the consuming. While I choose whether to sell my body, what I realized at Club Paradise is that I don’t necessarily choose whether or not my body is consumed. It’s not as if I didn’t at some level already know this to be true. But the club just made the point too clearly. The entire place screamed out “the female form is for the pleasure of men (and the occasional woman)” It screamed “the things beneath this flesh, hopes, dreams, personalities are irrelevant.”

I’d like to believe that this isn’t pervasive, that once I walk outside the confines of a given club that I am not for sale, that my body is no longer open to be consumed. But the realities of my experiences suggest otherwise. How many times have men with whom I share no intimate involvement made comments about my body? How often have I caught eyes tracking me as I move? Or tracking other women, whose bodies conform more strictly to our society’s oppressive standards of beauty?

We are a consumer society. We recieve constant messages to consume, consume, consume. So we consume things. And we consume people. And it isn’t just within so-called sex-work. We sell products using people as objects. Movies are all to often about the consumption of the image of people on the screen more than consumption of the story. Sex sells. Everywhere.

And some people even feel entitled to that. In a discussion about the Dove Real Woman ads, Jill of Feministe links to this article, which discusses men complaining about the ad campaign because the women in the ads designed to sell products to women are not attractive enough. The men complaining are implicitly asserting their right to not just consume images of women, but to consume images of beautiful women.

I want to run around screaming “I am not for sale.” I want to wear a huge paper bag over my head (and the rest of me) so that my body does not become object as I walk down the street.

All that said, at least in a strip club there’s a certain honesty. At least in that setting women are compensated for others’ consumption of them. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ll go back to one anytime soon. I don’t really like the feeling when the realities of my society are presented to me so clearly in black in and white.

The Cult of Perfect Motherhood

A woman on a livejournal community this morning posted that she’s stressed out because her husband wants a baby and she wants a baby too, BUT she also wants to finish her PhD, to teach, to write, to publish (presumably to get tenure). I responded that it’s not an impossible situation if her husband is willing to be at least a 50-50 caregiver if not a primary caregiver. I firmly believe that academic women should be able to have families. I also recognize reality and realize that if you want to get tenure at a top tier school babies are a risky business. This is a very personal issue for me. And while right now I don’t particularly want children, I still find the bind that academic women (and high achieving women in general) find themselves in very stressful and depressing.

One woman (I’m guessing from the username that she’s a woman, but hard to say for sure) responded to my comment noting that it’s very hard for a father to be a primary caregiver in the first year if you’re breastfeeding and “If you medically can breastfeed and don’t intend to do it, then you should assess whether you really want to have a child at all.” Urgh. Excuse me for a moment while I gurgle in frustration.

Basically what it comes down to is that professional women are essentially damned if we do and damned if we don’t, no matter where we turn. Lots of people seem to share this notion that if you can’t be the perfect mother you shouldn’t be a mother at all. And somehow perfect motherhood seems to involve letting motherhood subsume all other identities. Don’t get me wrong. I am pro-breastfeeding. In fact I’m very pro-breastfeeding. But I’m also pro women having lives that are not entirely determined by motherhood. And somehow that aspect seems to get lost in a lot of the dialog. It becomes this situation where anything that does not put the immediate well-being of your child front and center is “selfish” no matter what it does to your own well-being immediate or long-term.

Forgive me if I think happy mothers are better mothers. And to me being a happy mother means making your own choices and not being thrown piles of guilt and shame. Do you want to take three months leave and breastfeed and be there every time your new baby gurgles. Fine. Oh wait. How many women actually have the privilege of doing that? Not that many. And even those who do face the very real possibility of negative consequences for their career. Does wanting motherhood to have as small an impact on your career as possible make you selfish? Well, you know it might. However, I’m a big proponent of being selfish once in awhile and watching out for your own well-being.

I’m just frustrated because women find themselves in this situation where they are made to feel guilty no matter what they do. No matter how good a mother you are, you’re never good enough. Someone will always have some reason you should have done things differently. And ultimately what it comes down to is choosing between motherhood and career. And yes men have to make this choice as well, but they aren’t punished for it the way women are. Men are allowed to say “yes I want children, but it’s not practical for me to be the primary caregiver because it will hurt my career.” And yes the situation hurts men. Yes, the situation is unfair for men. Yes, men who choose fatherhood are punished in their careers. But it’s not quite the same catch 22, and there isn’t the same cult of perfect fatherhood. A father who chooses to put his career at the forefront might get a snort of disgust for his 1950s behavior, but I’ve not seen fathers choices attacked in quite the same ways I’ve seen mothers choices attacked.

So I’ll tell you what. I’m not going to tell you how to raise your kids (short of the obvious things like make sure they’re fed and clothed and don’t beat them) and I’ll trust that when the time comes you won’t tell me how to raise mine. AND you won’t treat me like I’m a selfish bitch who can only think about herself if I decide that maybe I don’t want any kids at all.

Revolutionary Petunias

The title of this is taken from an Alice Walker poem that always makes me think of changing the world by changing the landscape, revolution with a spade and garden gloves instead of rifles (ignoring for a moment the fact that the content of the poem itself is rather violent).

My brain these days is circling around the word revolution, around phrases like social justice. I wonder what others mean by these words. I wonder what I mean. A fellow Unitarian Universalist asks of the support of white allies in anti-racist movements: “I wonder if that support is premised on our space in the sun not creating a shadow for them.” I have spent a lot of time pondering this question and pondering whether my answer is consistent with my faith/philosophy or whether it is a hypocritical mark of racist self-interest. Because ultimately my answer is “yes.” Yes, my support for anti-racist movements is contingent upon those movements not merely shifting upon whom the shadows fall. But I would expand my answer beyond that. It is not just along the lines of color where I think my discomfort with this formulation lies. Fundamentally I am not interested in reinforcing hierarchies. I am not in favor of replacing old hierarchies with new hierarchies that simply favor the formerly disempowered. I do not seek to replace white supremacy with non-white supremacy, patriarchy with matriarchy, or rule by the rich with rule by the workers. I haven’t read Rawles in any detail, but I understand him to basically argue that justice requires the feeling that a system is just even if you don’t know where you’re going to end up in it. The way I think of this is that I should be imagining a utopia where I am not penalized for characteristics of my birth. The assumptions of those fighting for their own empowerment, however, often seem to rest on the notion of a zero-sum game, the idea that one cannot come into power without wresting power from another. And that’s a reasonable assumption, certainly. It’s the next step in the logic that puzzles me. Why does a redistribution of power necessitate recreation of hierarchy? Revenge? Where’s the logic there? Why is it any more fair that I should pay the price for my position in a system created by my ancestors than it is that you should pay a price for your position in a system created by my ancestors?

Truly I’m not much of a revolutionary, the way revolution seems to be typically defined. My disdain for violence seems to get in the way. I understand that to say that I am a pacifist is a reflection of my privilege. I understand that when the war lands on your doorstep the words “but I’m a pacifist” will not stop the bullets. On the other hand, I have seen no convincing evidence to suggest that any problem has ever been solved through violent action. I am convinced, having seen it historically and in the personal lives of people surrounding me, that violence begets violence. Of course violent revolution can be successful, but it requires an astounding amount of blood. It requires not merely overthrowing those in power and putting yourself in their place, but killing every last one of those in power or those related to those in power, or those sympathetic to those in power. Essentially it involves killing anyone and everyone who might eventually want revenge. I have to admit that I am at a loss to think of any cause I support strongly enough to endure that kind of bloodshed.

But I realized last night that I have other problems with leftists and revolutionaries, and radicals in general. Tunnel vision, a devotion to one’s own cause that leaves even well-meaning fighters of oppression perpetuating oppressions of their own even as they pat themselves on the back for their progressiveness. I realized in the midst of another conversation that part of my retreat from economic radicalism has nothing to do with my pacifism and everything to do with my feminism. I offer here two historical examples. The first is the United States in the 1960s. Sara Evans offers a nice narrative of the relationship between civil rights activism and the formation of the women’s movement (second wave feminism). Of course, if you want to look back further, you could also make similar arguments about abolitionism and the suffrage movement (first wave feminism). But flash forward a couple of decades and shift your focus a few thousand miles south of the civil rights work done in Alabama and Mississippi. Anna Fernandez Poncela and Jennifer Bickham Mendez both offer descriptions of women’s organizing in Nicaragua during the Sandinista Revolution that is depressingly familiar. Maxine Molyneux describes the history of women’s organizing in Cuba in ways that again sound all too familiar. And yes, my skepticism is driven largely by self-interest but I have a hard time getting behind the word revolution when it seems clear to me that I risk being put against the wall for the color of my skin (or the privilege of having pursued intellectual pursuits, never mind the ill-logic of punishing people for where they ended up rather than where they started) without even having any hope of overthrowing the particular hierarchal structure that holds me down. And as a feminist I can’t much fantasize about violent revolution if I want humankind to survive. And even if it weren’t for the issue of reproduction, nothing changes the fact that some of the people I love most are people empowered by patriarchy, men.

There is more I could say of course. But really what it comes down to is a conviction that no one should be living in shadows. And a deep underlying suspicion of anyone who would ask me to fight for their right to stand in the sun but be unwilling to fight for my right to the same.