October 24, 2010 § 7 Comments
“In my first book, Full Frontal Feminism, I opened by asking readers what the worst thing you could call a woman is (slut, bitch, whore, cunt), then what the worst thing you can call a man is (pussy, fag, sissy, girl). In both cases, the answers were some variation of ‘woman.’” — Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth
The word “slut” first originated as a Middle English word meaning a physically dirty woman, and has now evolved to mean a metaphysically “dirty,” or sexually promiscuous, woman. But how exactly do we decide who should be considered a slut? If sexual promiscuity is the mark of a slut, it would make sense to measure a woman’s sluttiness by the number of men she has slept with. In my experience, however, this is not actually the deciding factor. For example, when I was in high school, two of my best friends were considered “slutty” to some extent, but one was considered more of a slut than the other. I’ll call them A and B.
A was a white, thin girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, pearls and polo shirts. She lost her virginity when she was fourteen and had thirteen sexual partners before she entered college. She had several one-night stands and “friends with benefits” type of relationships. She never considered herself a sexual being and had little to no sex drive. Most of the boys she slept with were in the same social circle which we dubbed the “AP Boys”: a group of boys who were good-looking, athletic, popular, usually rich, and smart enough to get good grades without trying very hard. She didn’t particularly like sex, but she continued to have it for a variety of reasons, including to gain social approval from the AP Boys in order to continue to be invited to their parties, and because they wanted to and she “didn’t care.”
B identified as Middle Eastern; she was curvaceous and exotic-looking, with long black hair and darker skin than anyone else in our milky white high school. She often wore low-cut, tight black shirts and short denim skirts. She was visibly comfortable in her sexuality; she was unashamed of her body and unafraid to flaunt it. She lost her virginity when she was sixteen, and had six sexual partners before she entered college. She generally slept with the “bad boys” in our school, both because she liked the excitement and because she didn’t want to hurt a “nice” boy’s feelings as a result of her lack of interest in a serious relationship. Although she didn’t have serious relationships with these boys, she never slept with someone she wasn’t dating and she never had a one night stand. She enjoyed sex immensely and regarded it as a simple physical act which brought her and her partner pleasure.
Throughout high school, B was considered much more of a slut than A. A remained well-liked and still retained most of the respect she had before she had sex, and it was generally accepted that the girls who called her sluts were simply jealous of the amount of male attention she monopolized. B, on the other hand, was more often than not written off as a trashy whore. Not because she had slept with more people (A actually slept with more than twice as many people as B), but because she was comfortable enough with her sexuality to integrate it into her self-image and her public image. Essentially, B wasn’t being punished for having sex, but rather for enjoying sex. Sluts are not “proper women” because a “proper woman” is not supposed to be a sexual being; she’s supposed to be prim, proper, and repressed, and have sex because it is her duty. In the Victorian era, when sex within marriage was considered a patriotic duty for a woman, women in loveless marriages and brides frightened of the wedding night hijinks were told, “close your eyes, open your legs, and think of England.” Things haven’t changed as much as we’d like to think they have. Women are, to some degree, still expected to passively accept the sexual advances of men (especially of the men that will improve their station in life, such as the AP Boys) and fulfill their duty as hollow-eyed sex objects.
B was an easy target because she was precluded from living up to society’s ideal for a woman as a result of her race and body type. The archetype of a proper woman — pure, white, dainty, delicate — conflicts with society’s schema for women of color. Women of color are expected to be louder, cruder, and more sexualized — in body and demeanor — than white women. Where A was subtly pressured to live up to the archetype of the proper woman, B was pressured to live up to the stereotype of the exotic, oversexualized woman of color. People used to tell her she looked like Kim Kardashian all the time. Let me tell you, she doesn’t at all. The only things she and Kim Kardashian have in common are their black hair, big boobs, and Middle Eastern descent. Their eyes, noses, mouths, smiles and face shapes are drastically different. When I reminded people of this, they would say, “Yeah, that’s true, but they just have the same… look…” Many would go so far as to admit that their shared “trashiness” was a point of comparison.
Essentially, the idea of a “slut” is a myth told to women to keep them in their place. Just as Santa will not actually bring you coal on Christmas if you break a few of the house rules, you will not actually turn into an intrinsically tainted, unpalatable creature if you break one of society’s rules and have sex with one too many men. The word “slut” isn’t a criticism for having too much sex necessarily, but for being a woman: a real, living, breathing woman with quirks, foibles, normal sexual feelings, and personality; and failing to live up to the societal ideal for a woman: the passive, pliable, perpetually innocent, and sexually available Barbie doll.
October 6, 2010 § 7 Comments
Hey readers, we have a dope new contributor. Please welcome Janey! (Read about her here.)
The Twilight series was recommended to me by well-meaning friends who felt that, as a sentimentalist, I couldn’t possibly dislike these very sappy and romantic books. And I have to admit, I expected to like these books. As a shameless Buffyhead, I am a huge fan of the Buffy-Angel relationship, and therefore fully expected to fall in love with the very similar Bella-Edward relationship. But after reading the series, I was left completely cold. These books are unabashedly anti-feminist, and set the women’s movement back about twenty years.
The series follows the romantic relationship between Bella Swan, an “average” teenage girl, and Edward Cullen, a member of a family of reformed vampires who do not feed on humans. The first glaring flaw in the novels is the rampant sexism in the dynamics of the central relationship itself. Even though Stephenie Meyer attempts to indoctrinate the reader in the notion that Bella and Edward are soulmates with all the subtlety of a whac-a-mole hammer, I couldn’t get attached to their saga. The milestones in the beginning of their relationship consist solely of him saving her. She’s almost hit by a car, she faints at the sight of blood, she’s almost raped (and so on and so forth), and her knight in shining armor rides in with impeccable timing and an annoyingly smug attitude. Throughout the entire series, he has the audacity to believe that he has the right to make decisions for her as long as he’s trying to protect her, going so far as to pay his sister to kidnap her for several days while he’s away because he doesn’t think that she can survive a weekend without him looking over her shoulder. And of course he’s a better driver than she is, because where would a piece of sexist propaganda be without that stereotype?
Although there is no excuse for Edward claiming to love Bella while he clearly doesn’t respect her, Bella is not the easiest character to respect. She essentially has zero personality; she doesn’t think about anything besides Edward and, later, Jacob. She has no hobbies, no interests, no mannerisms besides being clumsy, and no goals besides being with Edward for the rest of her life. She claims to be an independent person, and yet she would sacrifice her identity and humanity in a heartbeat for a man who emotionally abuses her. And although they occasionally bicker, Bella’s never truly angry with Edward when he takes it upon himself to control her life. She even allows him to manipulate her into marrying him, against which she was originally vehemently opposed.
October 1, 2010 § 4 Comments
by KATIE E.
Via The Guardian:
“Wilders has won pledges to introduce legislation banning Islamic headgear, joining France, Belgium and Switzerland in a growing campaign across Europe to ban a veil that relatively few Muslim women wear.”
I’m not sure of the accuracy of the statement that “relatively few Muslim wear” the burqa, but, does it matter? Shouldn’t the law protect everyone?
I’m sick of the racist, sexist, Westernized idea that Muslim women don’t have agency and would never choose to wear a religious symbol without being forced by a man. As the article states, this is coming from a conservative government, but how long do you think it will be before this type of Islamophobia is again accepted by many as an aspect of feminism? The last time I checked, feminism was supposed to be about giving all women agency, not just when it’s convenient or when we can’t twist it to make ourselves look superior to another culture.
It can’t be ignored that this is coming from a new conservative, anti-immigration government, though. While many will interpret it this way, I highly doubt they’re doing it in the name of “feminism.” Growing numbers of Muslims do not threaten anyone except for white, usually Christian people who would like to remain a privileged group. If I were leader of The Netherlands, and I tried to ban all cross necklaces or nun’s habits, can you imagine the outcry in the country and all over the world? I would be told I was taking away religious freedom and agency from the same kind of people who support this legislation.
Putting the rampant racism, Islamophobia, and misogyny seen here for a moment, can I just ask what happened to personal freedom? What gives a country a right to dictate what its citizens should wear, and couldn’t this possibly lead them further down a bad road?
If you live in The Netherlands, please contact the leaders of the nation and voice how oppressive the legislation is. We cannot let this happen in another country.
September 28, 2010 § 9 Comments
I’ve heard people refer to the trend of woman wearing revealing Halloween costumes as “Slutoween.” I don’t particularly like this term, because I don’t like slut-shaming of any kind. However, both Victoria’s Secret, and Frederick’s of Hollywood seem to be promoting Racially-Insensitive O’Ween, which just plain fucked up.
On The VS website, you can purchase a variety of costumes under the “Sexy Little Fantasies” brand. These include Sexy Bride, Sexy Nurse, Sexy Flight Attendant, and Sexy Senorita:
Because being a stereotypical Latin American is an occupation, too. And it’s perfectly acceptable to co-opt and fetishize a growing population demographics clothing and culture.
One of VS’s rivals, Frederick’s of Hollywood, is guilty of this practice as well.
This “Three-Piece Shanghai Girl” getup is what would happen if someone took the 2 Live Crew song “Me So Horny,” and made it into a costume.
Frederick’s didn’t have an Asian model this outfit, and VS didn’t have a Latina model theirs. Frankly, this wouldn’t make these costumes any less racist, since they rely on fetishism and inaccurate stereotypes about Latin American and Asian women.
I’m also confused as to why VS and Frederick’s think that insulting and alienating their customer base is a good idea. Both companies rely on young woman for their business, and judging by the traffic these businesses get during any given weekend, their customer base is far from being exclusively white.
September 12, 2010 § 5 Comments
For those who don’t follow that strange beast that is video game journalism, the last couple weeks have been full of surprises. Among those: 1990s throwback Duke Nukem is (theoretically) actually getting released, and tons of games news has gotten unveiled at the booth-babe-free Penny Arcade exposition. And serious business not-lady gaming is coming to mobile phones.
I’m talking about the Unreal Engine, which was unveiled last week for the iPhone, a console which has already been derided as too feminine by marketers for competing phones. In an interview with gaming site Gamasutra, Epic Games head Mike Capps talks about his vision of “core games” for the iPhone. What are “core gamer” games? Well, the kind played by men:
Gamasutra: [iPhone game Broken Sword is] definitely a high-power, high-3D kind of experience.
Capps: Yeah. It’s a game for guys. Or folks who enjoy it.
G: People who like Xbox.
C: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it’s a core gamer game, right?
I don’t mean to excoriate Capps unduly about this. It’s not a large part of the interview, and I don’t think his intent was to deride female gamers or to imply that women are less capable of playing “core” games than men are. But it’s part of a larger trope, one about the femininity and dispensability of casual games, and now I’m in a bind. « Read the rest of this entry »
September 2, 2010 § Leave a comment
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.
August 18, 2010 § Leave a comment
ADORE WITH UNBRIDLED PASSION: Headline that reads “Male and female ability differences down to socialisation, not genetics” followed by subheading that reads “Behavioural differences between the sexes are not hard-wired at birth but are the result of society’s expectations, say scientists.”
DESPISE WITH NAUSEATING DISGUST FOR REASONS THAT SHOULD BE OBVIOUS (DOES ANYONE REMEMBER EVERYTHING MEL GIBSON HAS EVER SAID, OR HAVE PEOPLE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THAT ALREADY, IT SEEMS SO, THIS PISSES ME OFF, THOSE PEOPLE SHOULD GOOGLE MEL GIBSON AND DO A WEE BIT OF READING): Photo still of Mel Gibson in a scene from What Women Want that was selected to accompany the article. Because Mel Gibson doing yoga is the best visual representation of researcher Cordelia Fine’s findings that “there are no major neurological differences between the sexes.” And also because now is the best time to publish random pictures of Mel Gibson.