July 24, 2009 § 4 Comments
It’s summer, and though I’m busy working my tail patience off as a camp counselor, I also have quite a bit of downtime. I’ve seen a bunch of movies lately: some silly ones with my family (The Proposal and Year One) as well as films that I actually wanted to see (Away We Go and, last night, 500 Days of Summer — both excellent, the latter mostly because of my enormous crush on Zooey Deschanel). But one movie that I’m certain I won’t spend $12.50 on is The Ugly Truth, starring part-time feminist Katherine Heigl as a “romantically challenged morning show producer” and Gerard Butler as a professional douche. I’ve seen some previews that warned me of its knee-slappin’ “humor,” and then this morning I read the excellently scathing New York Times review by Manohla Dargis, fabulously titled Girl Meets Ape, and Complications Ensue.
When it comes to the old straight-boy-meets-straight-girl configuration with big-studio production values…the romantic comedy is nearly as dead as Meg Ryan’s career. In the best of these films, the women aren’t romantic foils, much less equals: they’re either (nice) sluts or (nicer) wives, and essentially as mysterious and unknowable as the dark side of the moon.
Which leads to “The Ugly Truth,” a cynical, clumsy, aptly titled attempt to cross the female-oriented romantic comedy with the male-oriented gross-out comedy that is interesting on several levels, none having to do with cinema. Katherine Heigl plays Abby, a producer for a ratings-challenged Sacramento morning television show, the kind that specializes in empty smiles, cooking tips and weather updates. She’s single and therefore, in the moral economy of modern Hollywood, unhappy. Her life goes into a tailspin when her boss hires a professional ape, Mike (Gerard Butler), who delivers loutish maxims on camera about the sexes that basically all boil down to this: Men have penises, and women should accommodate them any which way they can, preferably in push-up bras and remote-controlled vibrating panties.
…Ms. Heigl doesn’t do perky all that persuasively, but she does keep her smile and relative dignity even in scenes in which Abby is forced to play the fool, which is often, as when she’s hanging upside down from a tree in her skivvies. She even survives the scene that finds Abby writhing spasmodically during a dinner with her corporate masters, because, well, she’s wearing those pulsating panties, the boy at the next table has the remote, and there’s nothing funnier (or, really, scarier) than the spectacle of female pleasure.
I am SO. TIRED. of media that portrays women’s minds as murky, our bodies as property, and our desires as hilarious. A woman’s sexuality is not so damn difficult to understand — if you talk to and listen to her, which society is apparently loath to do.
And another thing: no one seems to get that these movies are as offensive to men as they are to women. Commenters on IMDB rave that it’s a “comedy for both sexes,” one you can “bring your boyfriend” to. Men should not be like Butler’s skeevy character; and what’s more, they aren’t. But movies like this convince the public that guys are practically children, and we shouldn’t expect to hold them accountable for atrocious sexist behavior.
“The Ugly Truth” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).
The language is consistently crude and includes the apparently now requisite antigay slurs.
Yeah. Because straight = manly, manly = asshole, and asshole = sexy.
July 15, 2009 § 4 Comments
Via Tracy Clark-Flory’s excellent takedown of yet more conservative fear-mongering, news of a sex education pamphlet published by the National Health Service of the United Kingdom titled “Pleasure.” The word doesn’t quite inspire hives for me, but for some, it sure seems to: conservatives are calling it “deplorable” and — wait for it — “nothing less than encouraging child abuse.” Because apparently safe, consensual experiences that make us feel good are somehow akin to abuse. From Clark-Flory at Salon’s Broadsheet:
Beyond having the audacity to suggest that educators tell students that sex can feel pleasurable, the booklet says that teenagers have “a right” to sexual satisfaction, so long as it is in a safe and consensual situation. It also advises honesty about masturbation being perfectly healthy — it winkingly says that “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away,” which strikes me as a cheesy attempt to be cool — and that sex isn’t always about procreation.
The guide also celebrates enthusiastic consent. Instead of promoting sex as something that you must resist “giving up,” if you’re a girl, it’s framed as something that you do because it feels right and you actively want to — it isn’t a bargaining chip, an operatic act that is performed to keep a guy around. “Far from promoting teenage sex,” says Steve Slack, director of the Sheffield Centre for HIV and Sexual Health, which published the handout for NHS, “it is designed to encourage young people to delay losing their virginity until they are sure they will enjoy the experience.”
Promoting the idea that teens should respect their partners and enjoy sexual experiences? Just like adults?! I’M APALLED.
Young people are certainly not the only group whose bodies are subject to public scrutiny and moral debate, but this backlash against the use of appropriate protection and enthusiastic consent to seek pleasure is an almost laughable example of the “keep your legs closed, you silly youngsters!” mentality. Is there a magical button, somehow pressed when a person turns 18, that suddenly allows them to experience sexual desire, pleasure, and satisfaction? Of course not; you and I know this is a ridiculous idea. But conservatives are all caught up in it when they act as though teenagers are across-the-board immature and utterly devoid of agency.
It’s not a secret: we know — because we’re doing it — that sex feels good.
This makers of this pamphlet, in my humble opinion, should create a curriculum and get it taught in middle and high schools everywhere. I know it’s not easy to convince school boards to actually mention S-E-X in their sex education courses; for crying out loud, there’s no mandated sex ed — beyond a brief discussion of HIV/AIDS — for public schools in New York City. But I would love to see it happen.
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.”
June 10, 2009 § 23 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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!