Two Things

June 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

There are two things I’ve seen today that I think do the lovely, much-needed job of demystifying queerness. The first, a video via Shakes called Yes, We’re Gay But...

In the comment thread at Shakes, it’s been rightly pointed out that this video features almost entirely white gay men, which bolsters the privileged poster kid of the LGBTQ rights movement. Commenter Abby writes after commenting in that vein, “I think I was reacting to it based on discussions here and elsewhere about upper-middle-class-white-guys dominating the discussion about homosexuality, and wanting the video to be more inclusive. BUT it is still a great video.” I’m inclined to agree. The erasure of less-privileged queer folks within the movement is a serious issue, to be sure, but the video is still inspiring in its own right. Anyway, here it is (transcript in the original Shakes post):

The second, a post on Feministing Community by allybally called What’s It Like to Have Sex With A Girl?

But ask me now, “What is sex with a woman like?” and if I managed to resist rolling my eyes and walking off, I would be likely to say, “sometimes awkward, sometimes amazing, sometimes downright crappy, sometimes orgasmic; just like sex has always been, and always will be, throughout the ages.”

Enjoy, equality-lovers!

Those Ads

June 10, 2009 § 23 Comments

true blood

This is an advertisement for the second season of True Blood, a television series on HBO.

I have never seen this show, and my thoughts on this poster are difficult to articulate. But they’ve been stewing for weeks, and I know for sure that I am troubled by the combination of the sexual picture and the words “It hurts so good.” A few days ago I saw one of these on a payphone booth, and on the plastic cover was written in black marker: “Stop Domestic Violence. This Ad Is Dangerous.” I am seriously inclined to agree.

My response is complicated by my knowledge that some people achieve certain kinds of pleasure from certain kinds of pain. Some people embody the phrase on this poster. These people might be my friends, partners, teachers, or peers. They might even include my future self. I am conscious that this group, linked by sexual preferences, has a history of being demeaned and fetishized and caricatured by society, and I want no part in that degradation.

But at the same time, this advertisement scares me. Like the glamourization of dead women, this design portrays direct physical violence as something sexy. It tells boys and men that women will automatically lust after violent sexual interactions. The problem is not that women may indeed have such fantasies, and that they will have male partners who will participate — it’s that this ad sanctions sexually violent attitudes on a grand scale. In our consent-confused culture, this subtext could easily translate into an implicit excuse for sexual assault: it was hurting her good. She liked it, even if she didn’t say so.

That thought makes me more than a little nauseous.

Students Speak: V*gina

June 6, 2009 § 3 Comments

V*gina – by Ilana, a high school junior.

2005-2006: I was on the young end of the spectrum as an eighth grader. I had turned thirteen in 2005 and would stay that way until high school. Even as the baby of the grade, I had 34 B breasts that seemed to pop up over night, literally. Along with the breasts came hips and a shape that was not meant for my age. As my body changed, so did the attitudes of the people around me — both of boys and girls — but I couldn’t figure out why. As my perspective of my body was impacted, I felt obligated to adjust how I dressed. I began to cover up my body, which had previously never caused me discomfort. In addition, once I became involved with boys, I was suddenly labeled a slut for reasons I did not understand. But wait, I can’t possibly be the only one who felt like this. There must be some rationale. Let’s look back at the perception of women in our society…

1999: A scantily-clad Britney Spears, age 17, is on the cover of Rolling Stone, almost naked. The picture of young Britney shows her in a school-girl’s outfit lying on a bed with her white shirt unbuttoned completely, exposing a black bra. The photo is suggestive, provocative, and potentially perceived as slutty. 17 may be one year away from adulthood but why is this young pop star exposing herself like this? Many considered this photo inappropriate and as setting a bad example for Britney’s younger fans. An association to sex quickly accompanied her fame. This caused an uproar by many who saw Britney as representing all that was wrong with women. She was exposing a part of her that was meant to be kept secret from all. Women are not supposed to be as explicit with their bodies because this leads many to believe they want sex and will engage in it readily. A woman who is free with her sexuality is one who does not respect herself, and thus is labeled a slut. Such comments have been made about other teen pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudgens. These two girls were seen as young and innocent. However, the moment both of them exposed their bodies, a Britney cycle ensued.

2009: I must ask, how can it be that society so rejects women’s display of their sexuality? Britney was sexy and not afraid to show it, nor ashamed of the associations that accompanied her Lolita-esque photo. If Britney was comfortable with the photo shoot, and Miley Cyrus is not concerned with how she looks why is everyone else? Why must we demean a woman’s choices of how she handles herself if she is comfortable? The same applies to a woman’s sexual experiences. Women are seen as sluts if they are “too loose.” Let’s look further back…

1973: Erica Jong’s book Fear of Flying is published. This is a tale of a woman who recounts sexual experiences with an openness that had previously only been associated with men. Its release caused a huge uproar, which indicated that society was not ready to hear the truth about women’s sexual desires. Women had been, and continue to be, seen as having a more passive approach to sexual desire and action. In Fear of Flying, the untraditional character, Isadora, defies sexual conventions as she describes “the zipless fuck.” This is defined as an entirely sexual encounter that is based solely on desire and pleasure. Isadora states that it the “purest thing there is” and that she has never had one.

2009: But why has Isadora never been able to have a “zipless fuck?” Is it because she is afraid of the judgment she will receive? Has she internalized the notion that this feeling is unfeminine and forbidden? Or is she afraid of rejection because this approach too forward for a woman? Though for women today a “zipless fuck” is no longer “rarer than a unicorn,” the subject is still provocative. Women are not taught by society about their sexual essence and power, and struggle to learn through experience. Our sex drive is just as strong as men’s; however, we are expected to suppress it. This duplicity in society, praising men’s exploits while condemning women’s sexual freedom, presents women with an identity crisis. In addition to this, the way that a woman dresses or acts is a reflection of her sexuality. How can I feel comfortable with my sexuality when I am being told it diminishes me as a person? How can I feel comfortable with my sexuality when I am told that my comfort in my body and my desire to show it is wrong? Who will offer me much needed guidance, beyond fictional characters? Women are too easily intimidated by other’s judgments and thus become uncomfortable with themselves and their sexuality. A woman’s desires are just as valid as a man’s. Women should embrace their sexuality and not believe that their natural instincts and desires deplete their integrity.

Unfortunately, society will not change as fast as us. We will not wake up tomorrow to a world that promotes our sexuality as part of our femininity, or that allows us to dress as we please. However, we can assume the power ourselves. Every woman who can find strength in herself and her sexuality and can achieve happiness through it will lead a more complete life. I am not advocating rampant sex, or random nudity, I am simply saying the sex you chose to have and the clothing you chose to wear is yours. As long as you’re comfortable with the choices you have made, you are no slut.

Previously in Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes, by Luke; Spice Up YOUR Relationship, by Jennifer; Letters From Kartini, by Nia; Coming Out As A Feminist, by Shani; Inequality, by Sasha

Condoms Shouldn’t Be A Secret

May 17, 2009 § 1 Comment

Last week, my grade went on a school bonding trip to the Liberty Science Center. I must admit, I enjoyed it immensely, at least once I got over the fact that we were the only people there over the age of 11, excluding parents. I took a look at the Infection Connection exhibit, which had a lot of cool interactive displays like digital representations of disease rates by country and a model of the human body which you could diagnose after examining (I was quite proud that I got cholera correct on the first try).

I particularly liked the exhibit because of its firm handling of decidedly squishy subjects – namely STIs. A video discussed the global impact of the HIV/AIDS virus; it was accompanied by an excellent display of posters promoting condom usage (No Glove, No Love! and simply, Use a Condom!). We barely (and begrudgingly) grazed over the subject of condoms in my tenth grade health class, and here is a well-funded museum teaching kids old enough to read why they are so damn important! It blew my mind, in a great way.

The curators did something so right by presenting STIs as any other harmful infection: they resisted the Puritan urge to turn that section of the exhibit into a hypersexual caricature or a judgment zone. Contrary to conservative fear-talk, teaching youngsters about the dangers of STIs and ways to have fun while keeping their bodies safe does not need to be a big brouhaha. I’m so sick of the online “articles” that profess the secret to having “that conversation” with your kid. It shouldn’t be a single potent encounter that makes both sides nervous and leaves lethal questions unanswered; rather, talking about sex should be a life-long reality.

Who are you calling a ho?

May 8, 2009 § 5 Comments

So, I am a second-term high school senior. These are words that should be music to my ears, but I have actually been extremely stressed out with endless amounts of work. I am, however, having a great time working on a research paper about sex workers in Pakistan. The paper is still in its early stages right now (I will post it when it’s finished) but there is a really interesting issue I wanted to discuss here with all of the fabulous members of the women’s glib community.

The topic of sex work has raised many questions and debates both amongst feminists and in society in general. One major question that I am addressing in my paper is about how we, both as feminists and as members of the global community, should approach sex work. Within feminist approaches to sex work, there are two major view points that I’ve encountered. On the one hand, there are those who argue that sex work is an inherently abusive system that is based on manipulating women, especially poor women, and should be abolished. Then, there are the people who argue that sex workers should be viewed as just that–workers. They argue that the abusive and manipulating aspects of sex work would be more easy to address and diminish if the focus was on protecting the rights of sex workers through legislation and unionization. Personally, I would fall in the second camp because I think that if we treat sex workers as workers as opposed to bad people, their voices will be heard much more and the stigma that we associate with sex work would be less powerful.

I’m really interested in finding out more about what feminists, particularly young feminists, have to say about sex work. If anyone has any insight or opinions on sex work, both in the U.S. and internationally, please share them!

“With Plan B, they can do it now and deal with it later.”

May 3, 2009 § 12 Comments

Hey, Mike Galanos? Shut the fuck up. Your “commentary” on the tyranny of 17-year-old girls (a.k.a. me) having access to emergency contraception is naive, elitist, and contrived.

In a matter of weeks, teenage girls, just 17 years old, will be able to get their hands on the “morning after pill” without ever talking to a doctor and without their parents ever knowing or being a part of this major decision.

The pills are in my HOT LITTLE HANDS! And one day I will rule the world with them.

Think of a 17-year-old girl. Most of the time she’s a high school senior, still living at home with Mom and Dad. She still needs her parents in the tough times. But they will be cut out of a traumatic situation. All thanks to U.S. District Judge Edward Korman. Korman stated in his order, “The record shows that FDA officials and staff both agreed that 17-year-olds can use Plan B safely without a prescription.”

Why oh why would Korman say that it’s safe for teens to use emergency contraception without a prescription? Gee, maybe because there was no medical evidence from the start that the pill could be dangerous to women under the arbitrarily chosen golden age of 18. It’s more than obvious that the conservative movement to restrict access is not about the health and safety of teenage women, but about legislating who is and isn’t allowed to have sex.

I’m very much like the ghost girl Galanos describes: I’m 17, not a senior but a junior (gasp! so young!), and yes, I do “still need my parents in the tough times” (gotta loathe that Lifetime-esque word choice). But here’s the difference between me and Galanos: I trust young women. I know that we are the only ones who can be sure if our parents are trustworthy, if they’ll support us through whatever “major decision” we make. In an ideal world, of course we’d talk to our parents, not just if we needed to take Plan B, but about all that messy sex stuff: attraction, consent, myriad birth control options, pleasure. But our world is far from ideal. Far too many parents are abusive or just inconsiderate for Galanos’ mandate to hold any value in real life.

And the larger point is, society must help parents, not undermine their rights by keeping them in the dark on their child’s life-changing decision.

Oh, word? You’re playing that card? It works both ways, Galanos. I vote for a culture in which the rights of parents and teenagers are respected, where each side is honest and informed and open-minded. I vote for a culture in which the person in the hot seat – the young woman, in this case – has the ultimate right of choice.

The [pill] is 89 percent effective in preventing pregnancy when it’s taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It’s no surprise that Planned Parenthood applauds the now broader access to this drug, calling it “a strong statement to American women that their health comes before politics.” I question that, when we are cutting a doctor out of the decision to administer a powerful drug. Timing is essential to the drug’s effectiveness, Plan B supporters say, so getting parents and doctors involved would unnecessarily delay the teen’s ability to pop the pill the “morning after.” Does it really take that long to get a prescription?

Uh…YES. If I get sick, there’s a good chance that my pediatrician can see me within a few days on short notice, but not always. If I needed an appointment to get an EC prescription – if time was a particularly important factor – I’m pretty sure they’d rush me in, but this is a private practice with affluent clients. Who knows what the situation is like for other women? I certainly don’t – but unlike Galanos, I don’t make huge assumptions about that sort of thing. Galanos is effectively asking, “Why are we expanding quick access, when it’s somewhat likely that most women will probably be able to get a prescription within the very small time slot?” What he should be asking is, “How can we make this powerful option available to every single woman who might want it?”

But let’s get back to the first point: We are making it available to high school girls. We’re enabling teenagers to act carelessly with an easy way out. During a recent discussion on my show, Jackie Morgan MacDougall, supervising producer of the Web site, said it best. “Teenagers are known for thinking they’re untouchable and here we are saying that they can continue to do that and that there aren’t any consequences.” With Plan B, they can do it now and deal with it later.

Don’t tell me high school dynamics won’t play in here. The boyfriend will talk his girlfriend into unprotected sex with the promise of buying the “morning after pill” the next day. Any 17-year-old boy will be able to buy this drug, just as any 17-year-old girl will.

Yes, this could encourage unprotected sex and that means a greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases. What about the 17-year-old girl who may get Plan B for her 15-year-old sophomore friend? These are the kind of decisions high school girls will make.

Korman didn’t stop there. He asked the FDA to consider making Plan B available to girls of any age. That’s a slippery slope and what’s worse, the ones who will fall are our daughters.

Dear readers, I wish I had a witty antidote to this sexist, ageist, slut-shaming, sorry excuse for logic. Unfortunately, I’m only human.

via Feministing.

The Spermicide Search

April 23, 2009 § 2 Comments

A few days ago I was in a drugstore looking to buy some over-the-counter birth control. It was a store I’d never been to, medium-sized, and I looked all over but couldn’t find the aisle where contraceptives and condoms are kept.

Finally I found what I was looking for, all the way in the back of the store on the side of the pharmacy counter – that is, about a foot and a half off the ground. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to buy, so I sort of bent over, trying to get a better look at the options. But they were so low that I eventually just put myself on the floor in a combination sit-kneel.

I said to my boyfriend, “What the fuck? Why are these things so out of the way?” He agreed. The store apparently has the space to put dozens of bottles of chocolate syrup at eye-level in a regular aisle, but lacks the decency to put life-saving products in a remotely convenient place. The incident really got me thinking about people, like me, who are looking for condoms or BC but who, unlike me (thanks to a good deal of feminist awakening), don’t have the courage to face judgment by asking an employee where to look. My boyfriend pointed out that this policy would particularly affect teenagers, who in my experience want to be as inconspicuous as possible in situations like these.

So as I was paying, I spoke to the manager, who was totally nice and charming and respectful about it. I said, “It took a while for us to find this, and when we did we noticed that the condoms and spermicide products were located all the way in the back and pretty low to the ground. I basically had to sit on the floor to decide what I wanted to buy. It seems like you’ve got a lot of space here. I’m sure a lot of people come here looking for the same thing I was, so I think you should consider moving the products to a more obvious display.” He said he would look into it, and seemed very sincere.

Me: “That felt so badass!”

Boyfriend: “Changing the world, one store at a time.”

Language Matters: Virginity

April 22, 2009 § 4 Comments

Courtney’s response to Jessica Valenti’s latest book, The Purity Myth, discusses society’s construction of virginity – because indeed, there is no scientific definition of the concept; it is purely (ha! purity puns!) social in origin. From her post:

But the trouble with [recognizing that virginity is scientifically mostly bogus] is what to do about it, right? I mean knowing race doesn’t technically exist doesn’t mean you can start acting like Stephen Colbert and pretending to be color blind. Likewise we can’t act like our societal value on purity isn’t affecting girls just cause it’s bullshit. So I came up with a few things we can personally do in reaction to the learning that virginity doesn’t exist:

1. Language matters. Stop talking about the first time you “lost your virginity” and start just referring to it as sex–especially when you’re interacting with younger women.
2. Tell people far and wide about the fact that there is no scientific definition of virginity.
3. Get involved in the movement to make sex ed comprehensive far and wide! Check out RH Reality Check, Shelby Knox’s work, and other great blogs for the best way to do that.

Great advice. She even uses this series’ moniker! I’m particularly struck by the importance of being conscious of how we talk about our own sexual experiences, both to combat internalized sexism and slut-shaming and to set an autonomy-positive example for those younger than us. I’ve been reminding myself to use the phrase “when I had sex for the first time” instead of “when I lost my virginity” or, in my opinion even worse, “when I gave it up.”

Commenter Caro13 adds,

A note on linguistics: I’ve recently been thinking about how many women will say that they “lost their virginity TO x-guy,” rather than saying “lost their virginity WITH x-guy.” Saying “with” at least implies that having sex for the first time was an experience that you shared equally with a partner (whether or not it was also their first time). Saying you lost it “to” someone seems to say that you’ve passively allowed someone to take something important away from you, and now they hold a piece of your identity because they “took” your virginity.

I agree. The linguistic implication that sex is a commodity that we give to other people, instead of a collaborative experience that we share with partners, inherently lends itself to inadvertently heavy statements about the “value,” “worth,” and “price” of said interaction.

Previously in Language Matters: Part One: “Hey Guys!”; Part Two: Choice and Life

Should Sexting Be Illegal?

April 20, 2009 § 1 Comment

Common Sense Media (a media watchdog group for and comprised of parents, from which I inexplicably receive emails about once a week) asks the title question in a recent newsletter, and THIS TEEN SAYS NO!

“Sexting”—a word which, by the way, I’ve never heard any real-life teenager use without a hefty dollop of irony—if you haven’t heard about all this madness, is essentially “the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones,” which I’ve lifted from Wikipedia’s brief primer. Supposedly, one in five teens is doing it, and the recent rise in high-profile cases has sparked fascinating legal and moral debates. In Pennsylvania, six high school students face child pornography charges for their involvement.

The female students at Greensburg Salem High School in Greensburg, Pa., all 14- or 15-years-old, face charges of manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography while the boys, who are 16 and 17, face charges of possession, according to WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh, which published the story on its Web site on Tuesday.

So the girls are being punished for taking and passing on pictures of themselves, and the guys are being reprimanded for possessing photos purposefully shared with them within a consensual exchange?

Sounds like a fucking shame-based waste of time and resources.

And it certainly is, considering another case in which a student forwarded pictures of his ex-girlfriend to his friends without her knowledge. In other words, sexual assault. Isn’t it more important to address this violation of boundaries than to tell girls to keep it covered? Sure seems like we’ve misplaced our “concern.”

Cara points out that the real problem with sexting isn’t that teens are taking sexual pictures of themselves and purposefully sending them to people with the consent of everyone involved. The problem is that people are forwarding those pictures to others without the consent of the photographed. And sadly, I’m not at all surprised that my peers are confused about what consent means.

Why? Because we’ve gotten so damn many opposing mandates about attraction and desire that our heads are spinning almost as fast as our hormones.

Young people are simultaneously not allowed to be sexual and pushed to conform to a hypersexualized, stereotypical idea of what it means to be desired. We’re told that engaging in any sexual act sex is a dirty, dirrrty decision, despite the widely accepted fact that the vast majority of adults are doing it in some form or another. From there, we’ve got three basic paths to navigate – and I’ll tell you right now that none of them end well:

a) If we don’t have The Sex, we’re prudes, geeks, goody-goodys. We’re abnormal and utterly devoid of passion. We’re the four-eyed nerd, not the bikini-sporting cheerleader. We’re pathetic.

b) If we do but fail to use the right precautions – which is hardly surprising, given the ghastly prevalence of health curricula that 1) omit lessons on preventing pregnancy and STIs; 2) rely on blatantly sexist stereotypes and even flat-out lies about the purpose and efficacy of condoms and contraception; 3) fail to address the very real sexual health concerns of folks who are getting down with a partner of the same sex; and/or 4) skip right over the Sex chapter in the manual – we “should have known better.”

c) If we do and use the right precautions WE GET SUSPENDED.

What the fuck?

Conveniently, we are also shamed for sexual acts whether or not we consent to them, and this is especially true for young women. Think about it: if a girl is raped, she is often told that she was “asking for it” because she had the audacity to walk through the park alone/wear a short skirt/get drunk at a party (read: the audacity to live). And if she has the opposite experience, if she purposefully and insistently seeks sexual pleasure, then she is a laughable, desperate caricature. She’s a slut.

There is shame literally everywhere we turn. So is it any wonder we’re experimenting sexually through phones, in the dark, in secrecy, instead of out in the world? The media talk about sexting hastens to turn young women from keepers of our own sexual power into victims. Sure, texting pictures of yourself naked is a stupid choice in our media-saturated world where everything – everything – can and will come back to haunt you, but that’s cause for reflection, not a criminal record.

Cross-posted at Shakesville!

Doctors for Teens

April 14, 2009 § 2 Comments

Hey folks – my posting has been light this week since I’m in San Francisco visiting family. But here’s some quick information passed on by Tara from NARAL Pro-Choice New York (one of my fave organizations!).

I thought you’d be interested in this new resource for teens in NYC that NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health are unveiling: Doctors for Teens. This website helps teens find providers they can talk to openly and honestly, who specialize specifically in adolescent needs, and who will respond to teens’ needs confidentially and without judgment. Teens can search by borough to find which providers near them offer things like low-cost service, birth control, HPV testing, and primary care. The site is also available in Spanish.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for young women to speak without shame about sex. If you’re uncomfortable talking to your parents or regular doctor about sex, these websites are fantastic resources.

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