Really, W Magazine? Really?

September 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

Once upon a time, I had a subscription to W. Magazine. As an artist, I love collaging, and W’s edgy, large-format fashion spreads provide great imagery for collage, and other mixed-media projects. But this article makes me really happy that I didn’t renew my subscription.

For starters, I have a problem with anyone describing different fashion styles in a “clique” mentality. “Clique” seems to imply a negative exclusivity, which a lot of people face in their lives, without reading W’s fluff fashion pieces. This also implies that women can only have one sartorial style code. I own dresses that flaunt my curves, flashy miniskirts, streamlined pieces, and flowy, bohemian dresses and scarves. According to W, I’d be considered to be a fashion schizophrenic.

But this piece went from “dumb” to “freaking inappropriate” in its way it described women’s body types. Jezebel pointed out W’s insensitivity to special dietary needs and eating disorders in the way that W called any woman who [ghasp!] isn’t a size two a “woman who eats her feelings”, and that is always talking about “gluten-free vegan cupcakes”. Here’s a nice little message for W: Women who may not fit within your acceptable skinniness range DOES NOT EQUAL a woman with a compulsive eating disorder. Also, Christina Hendricks, Beth Ditto, and Brigitte Bardot don’t have their amazing bodies (or, as W puts it, “full figured”) because they can’t stop eating. They have those bodies for a variety of reasons, mostly because they were born with bodies that were naturally curvy. Also, it would be nice if Christina could wear some Louis Vuitton or Prada to an event or awards show, but she has stated that designers won’t dress her because she’s bigger than a size two.

One of my friends from high school has food sensitivities that prevent her from eating many foods, including gluten and corn products. Another friend from Stephens is a vegan. Neither of them wear bohemian clothes, let alone Missoni or Edun. They wear jeans, t-shirts, and dancewear. Both of them have gotten frustrated about how their dietary limitations affect their everyday life. I understand that not everyone who follows a vegan/gluten-free/both diet is doing so for strictly medical reasons, but W needs to stop implying that a restrictive diet is just a great way to lose weight.

And finally, W Magazine, I’d like to think that someone thinks that I have depth because I, oh I dunno, actually have depth and speak with passion and knowledge about the things I care about. If I have to prove my supposed depth, intelligence, and “postfeminism” by wearing expensive designer clothes, then I don’t actually have any depth.

I like fashion. I like fashion magazines that produce creative photo shoots, creative and insightful articles, and that promote body diversity. I will be more than happy to put W out of business by spending money on a superior competitor.

Politics of Pleasure

August 27, 2010 § 11 Comments

by SARAH

“Women who report masturbating score higher on a self esteem index than women who do not report masturbating. Women who do masturbate have a more positive body image and less sexual anxiety.”

(Source, which you should actually look at because the whole chart is adorable and awesome.)

Ladies, raise your hand if you slightly jumped, internally cringed, or looked over your shoulder while reading that. It’s alright, really; I did while typing it.

Because, despite all of the talking and thinking and debating I like to do about sex and sexuality, I sometimes fall victim to the same fear of the “m” word that so many other people (particularly women) do. I can find myself having the most explicit conversation about sex with a good friend, and when it comes to that topic, I have trouble choking out the word “masturbate.” Several months ago, I was playing that (pretty stupid) party game Never Have I Ever with a large group of teenage girls -– we admitted all sorts of things without a hint of judgement in the room, yet when that question came up, less than half of us confessed to the deed. And I know that this intense shyness about it isn’t unique to me.

Funny that in a world where women are so sexualized, doin’ the Sally Draper is such a taboo.

But then again, it really isn’t that surprising.

Women are sexualized and objectified to appeal to others. Our culture tells us that our sexuality doesn’t belong to us, nor is it for us to enjoy -– it’s for The Male Gaze. Therefore, the act of a lady pleasing herself for her own purposes presents a little bit of a problem for The Patriarchy, which thinks that women are supposed to be sexy for other people, not for themselves. The Patriarchy also wants us to believe that women are passive about sex, that we are not sexual creatures. Masturbating proves that wrong.

Let’s return to that quote up there for a second as well:

“Higher self esteem…more positive body image…less sexual anxiety.”

When women feel these things, it’s harder to control them, to tell them what to do, to tell them how to change. Ultimately, masturbating is connected to self-respect, self-love, and sexual freedom, all things that challenge several mainstream notions of femininity.

Here’s the deal: Masturbating is fun, orgasms are good for you, and it makes misogynists uncomfortable. So get yourself a vibrator and start a revolution.

Is this shit for real?

August 26, 2010 § 2 Comments

by MIRANDA

Via Gawker, I can’t believe this exists in 2010. Like, I know douches are still around, but are ads like this even a thing? Do we or do we not live in the twenty-first century?

Confidence at Work: How to Ask for a Raise

It should start with your usual routine and all the things you do to feel your best, including applying poison to your ladybits showering with Summer’s Eve Feminine Wash or periodically wiping your vulva with harsh chemicals throwing a packet of Summer’s Eve Feminine Cleansing Cloths into your bag for a quick freshness pick-me-up during the day.

Because when I’m in a tense situation with my boss or teacher, the biggest concern weighing on me is the smell of my vagina. Uh. Nope. Thanks to my friend Sarah for sending me the link. I LOLed at her commentary: “Did Don Draper write this?” I’d rather see Peggy’s copy.

Dear Stephens College: There are better ways to raise 1 million dollars.

August 24, 2010 § 1 Comment

by ELENA

Before I transferred to SCAD, I attended a small college in Missouri called Stephens College. A friend of mine (a student at the University of Missouri — the school next door to Stephens) sent me a link to a recent story, in which an anonymous alum has pledged to donate one million dollars, if school employees collectively lose 250 pounds or more.

I think that linking a charitable donation to an institute of learning with weight loss is a bad idea. Especially at a place like Stephens, which is a women’s college.

Why?

Because many women are bombarded with so many images in the media, telling us to do this/buy that in order to lose weight. There are many competition style shows, in which contestants try to win money by losing weight. Jillian Michaels has garnered a great deal of money and fame by being the head screamer on The Biggest Loser, and her own TV show whose name I cannot remember, but would be best titled Jillian Michaels Really Enjoys Screaming at Fat People.

During my time at Stephens (Fall ’07-Winter ’08), it seemed like many of my classmates were in a never-ending weight loss competition with each other. One girl complained that it was “unfair” that a girl who was larger than her was a better, more flexible dancer. Another girl tried out the “Master Cleanse” with her friends: They spent a weekend consuming only a drink made from lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup. They did lose weight, but only because they spent their entire weekend in the bathroom, suffering from severe nausea/diarrhea. During my seven-week summer intensive, it seemed like I was the only person who wasnt freaking out about “getting fat” — we spent our mornings in an intense dance/aerobics class, followed by acting class, lunch, and time spent either in rehearsal or in the shop.

The most popular majors at Stephens (performing arts, dance, fashion) are majors that do place a great deal of value on traditional standards of beauty (thinness, conventional beauty, etc). Several professors in the performing arts department told some of my friends that they should lose weight, or otherwise alter their appearance (another was told that her muscles were too prominent). « Read the rest of this entry »

In Which I Masochistically Attempt to Understand Camille Paglia

July 6, 2010 § 8 Comments

QUESTION: What the fuck is this? That was my first thought when I came across Camille Paglia’s recent column, No Sex Please, We’re Middle Class. I looked her up on Wikipedia, which was a mistake. Lady is contro-fucking-versial and also slightly ridiculous.

The piece is — apparently — about a drug to counter low libido in women, for which there is significant demand. An advisory panel to the Food & Drug Administration recently voted against the approval of such a drug, but recommended further research. It seems the that possibility of providing non-hormonal medical help to women with this kind of sexual dysfunction might soon be a reality.

This is excellent! Agreed? Because women deserve an equal share of the power of modern medicine, we deserve a drug industry that responds to our concerns, we deserve good sex. Because men with sexual dysfunction are just regular guys with a bit of bad luck, but women with the same problems are alien cyborgs who should be quiet and shame-ridden. Because Viagra was covered by insurance before some kinds of birth control. (Erections are reimbursable, but preventing the unwanted potential products of said erections? Out of pocket, bitches. ERECTIONS!! We bow down to your almighty power! Or something.)

Unfortunately, Camille Paglia doesn’t agree. At least, I think that this is her position, though it’s difficult to discern why from the apalling above-linked collection of words and “ideas” that bears little resemblance to a coherent argument.

Below, for your reading pleasure, a selection of astoundingly ridiculous (published! And financially compensated!) excerpts from Paglia’s piece. (Real Paglia words in bold, followed by my own alternate, comparably illogical text.)

“A class issue in sexual energy may be suggested by the apparent striking popularity of Victoria’s Secret and its racy lingerie among multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class patrons, even in suburban shopping malls, which otherwise trend toward the white middle class.” “Sometimes I see women of color in my local Victoria’s Secret. Lacy underwear = having sex. Therefore, the aforementioned ladies must be having more sex than white ladies. Therefore, they must never suffer from unpleasant sexual dysfunction, which the aforementioned pharmaceuticals might cure. Conclusion: white ladies are prudes! No lady-Viagra can cure that shit! VICTORIA’S SECRET FOR THE WIN!!!”

“Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.” “FACT: As soon as you get to know someone, it is automatically impossible for you to find them sexy. You’re like, ‘Oh hey, that guy over there is substantially attractive. Shall I go over and introduce myself, maybe acquire his name, maybe acquire his digits of phone?’ Ladies, I am here to say NO! Do NOT talk to the men, do not allow yourself to glimpse them wearing T-shirts, shorts, OR HEAVEN FORBID SNEAKERS, because the sexy will vanish. It will be GONE, and you won’t deserve any lady-Viagra to turn you on again.”

“In the 1980s, commercial music boasted a beguiling host of sexy pop chicks like Deborah Harry, Belinda Carlisle, Pat Benatar, and a charmingly ripe Madonna. Late Madonna, in contrast, went bourgeois and turned scrawny. Madonna’s dance-track acolyte, Lady Gaga, with her compulsive overkill, is a high-concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism.” “I, Camille Paglia, don’t find Lady Gaga sexually appealing. Since I, Camille Paglia, have recently been crowned The Very Important White Lady Who Is Also The World’s Sole Arbiter Concerning Who Is And Is Not Attractive, the previous statement obviously supports my thesis that white women have an incurable lack of lust, so incurable that not even the most testosterone-packed lady-Viagra can attempt to correct it.”

“In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation.” “Because of stupid feminism, today’s poor, poor men sometimes work with their minds instead of their muscles, which is of course degrading and ridiculous. I would prefer if men were once more allowed to roam free in the wild, where they might enjoy a life of staring at their biceps, gnawing on beef jerky, never washing their hands, and impregnating women left and right. Men! MEN!!!”

Men must neuter themselves?! I am literally wondering aloud: what the fuck do these words mean? Is she saying that men have to suppress their masculinity, really? Really, they have to control their rapacious manliness in the unabashed boys’ club that is almost every single “white-collar realm” in this nation? Because 30% of female workers report harassment in their workplace, and men are almost always the perpetrators, dontcha know. (Keep in mind that the vast majority of sexual harassment cases go unreported, so that 30% estimate is likely far from accurate.)

And maybe some “ambitious women postpone procreation” not because they don’t like sex, as Paglia implies, but because…their lifetime ambitions simply don’t include children? Or because despite being inundated since birth with cultural messages about how they’d better-become-moms-or-else, many of their jobs offer shamefully stingy maternity leave? Or because they fear workplace discrimination based on pregnancy status?

Look, Paglia: I guess I can concede that I admire your attempt at a historical analysis of women’s sexuality in the United States. I live for that shit! Seriously, I love writing about sex and women. Because it is interesting, and complicated. Also, convoluted. A BRIEF AND REALISTICALLY CONFUSING PARAPHRASE OF WHAT WE TELL WOMEN: Everyone is having sex. Also, having sex is weird. Sex feels good. Also, feeling good is bad. Your sexuality is your only power and worth. Also, if you have sex your power and worth will vanish. You must want and be ready for sex all the time. Also, you can never have sex at any time.

Yes, this is what we do. We repeat over and over that women’s most potent power is sexual — which in some ways, unfortunately, is true, because we don’t hold equitable financial, or corporate, or political power — and then we don’t let women have sex!

So yes, I can agree with Paglia that the topic of women’s sexuality is ripe for analysis, and that a comprehensive understanding of such requires dissecting cultural norms. But what I cannot condone is her condescending dismissal of real womens’ sexual problems. Because female sexual dysfunction? Is not cultural. At least, it’s not any more cultural than breast cancer is cultural or fibromyalgia is cultural or any medical condition is cultural — which is, actually, somewhat (because the way we understand and interact with our bodies differs from culture to culture), but not entirely, as her writing supposes.

Paglia’s piece is a farcical charge against the logical and equitable notion that women, like men, sometimes suffer from sexual dysfunction. She betrays and mocks the 43% of this country’s women who will experience some form of sexual dysfunction in their lifetime. These conditions are real. They are medical. And they are treatable — or will be, if the FDA will approve effective drugs, and if people like Camille Paglia will take seriously the right of women to enjoy fully the pleasure our bodies can provide.

Also see the Harpy Seminar on and Sungold’s takedown of Paglia’s article.

Breastfeeding, Bodies, and Choice

April 16, 2010 § 2 Comments

Ruth‘s mom, a lactation consultant, passed along this fascinating article on breastfeeding and gender equality.

Breastfeeding, like any practice that involves women’s bodies, is highly political. The simple act of feeding your child is prey to a whole host of issues. Class prevents many women from breastfeeding, because it often requires a carefully planned schedule for feeding and pumping milk; for some women who work full-time, taking breaks to pump milk is not an option. Further, cultural biases sometimes dictate that women who can’t or don’t breastfeed their children are bad moms. On the flip side, another stigma maintains that women using their breasts for any purpose other than men’s visual pleasure is absurd and disgusting.

So yet again, we see many conflicting cultural standards and ideals — and policing women’s bodies is the mechanism we use to hash through them. Just like the Stupak amendment, women’s lives and livelihoods are irrelevent: it wasn’t abortion that was a problem, but healthcare reform overall. Yet again, women are the playing cards, and rarely do we win a hand.

Dr. Paige Hall Smith, Director of the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s Center for Women’s Health and Wellness and Founder/Co-Director of the annual Breastfeeding & Feminism Symposia (a partnership between UNC Greensboro and UNC Chapel Hill) says that although breastfeeding is seen as a “lifestyle choice” oftentimes, making some women out to be the “better mothers” and others made to feel guilty for their choices, in truth, “these choices are made within a constrained environment.” Smith says, instead, that we need to look not just “at the decisions made but the constraints and structures in society that shape women’s decisions” in order to understand more about why women do or don’t breastfeed for extended periods of time.

My own mother breastfed me exclusively for many months, and after that supplemented my regular diet with breastmilk until I was three years old. And she was very privileged. She was only 26, just starting her career, whereas my dad was 40 and had a great, stable job, which meant that she took more than a year off from work to stay home with me. She loved breastfeeding; she felt proud that she was able to offer me the healthiest feeding option, and the act of feeding brought us physically closer in my first months of life.

I too plan to breastfeed when I have kids. I look forward to the shared experience we’ll have. But I absolutely do not expect all women to do the same — nor do I bemoan the choices that they make about their own bodies. That’s a fundamental part of being pro-choice.

Dr. Smith says, “We need to give women control…That’s the bottom line. We must create structures in society that give women more control over their bodies. Women who have control over their lives, body, time and space [and I'm talking about private, public and work space] are more likely to breastfeed than those who don’t have that same kind of control.”

It’s the feminist answer — work towards equality and justice and we’ll allow women to make decisions they feel are right for themselves.

More Thoughts on Christina Hendricks

March 17, 2010 § 2 Comments

(She’s still on my mind from earlier this week…)

Here are some things that I love about Christina Hendricks: She is a razor-sharp actress; her character Joan is deliciously complex, a tangle of contradictions, the kind of woman you’d be terrified of but simultaneously want to be. She is very beautiful. She knows what’s what about rape; here are her comments on Joan’s rape by her fiance:

“What’s astounding is when people say things like, ‘Well, you know that episode where Joan sort of got raped?’ Or they say rape and use quotation marks with their fingers,” says Hendricks. “I’m like, ‘What is that you are doing? Joan got raped!’ It illustrates how similar people are today, because we’re still questioning whether it’s a rape. It’s almost like, ‘Why didn’t you just say bad date?’ ”

I absolutely love this. It is wonderful that actors are allowed to talk about rape in their interviews, allowed to condemn it, and that such comments go to print without an editor’s fear of “ruining the mood” of the piece.

Here are some things that I dislike, not about Christina, but about the way she’s talked about: Every fucking article in every fucking publication harps on her body. For example, this above-quoted, perfectly normal, perfectly informative New York Magazine article: Dangerous Curves. Even this article — again from NY Mag — all about Christina’s annoyance over all the body talk, is titled Woman of the Hourglass.

Other articles, while not explicitly and entirely about Christina’s body, are peppered with such references. See: “Mad Men star Christina Hendricks is the sexiest woman on TV today—and with her hourglass curves, she’s changing Hollywood’s skewed views of females. Meet the whip-smart, funny (and, yes, va-va-voom) charmer who’s a throwback to the days of Marilyn Monroe.” Or: “Christina, on the set of the award-winning Mad Men, proves her character, Joan Holloway, is the curvy queen bee of the office secretarial pool.”

Paraphrase: “Christina Hendricks is a lady who is an actress and who we think is smokin’ hot and SHE HAS CURVES. HER BODY IS CURVY. LOOK AT HER BOOBS. CHECK OUT THEM HIPS. CURVY CURVY BRAVE CURVY LADY.”

This obsession is outrageously demeaning. It suggests that her talent as an actor is corollary to — or validated by — the shape of her body. Women are more than a collection of body parts, on display for consumption.

For her part, though, Christina isn’t turning a blind eye to this insulting chatter: “It kind of hurt my feelings at first. Anytime someone talks about your figure constantly, you get nervous, you get really self-conscious. I was working my butt off on the show, and then all anyone was talking about was my body!”

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