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Saturday, May 3
If you read this through a feedreader or email subscription, those subscriptions will be transferred over to the new blog. If you bookmark this blog or blogroll it, please update your listings.
I have started doing my "recommended reading" lists through a feature on my delicious bookmarking account. This way, I will be posting here on my blog the articles and posts that I bookmark on delicious each day, rather than doing my bi-weekly reading list posting. This is the first post using that feature.
Friday, May 2
I stumbled on this New York Magazine article via Ms. Naughty's blog, and I am truly intrigued. Not because I think that one (or even 100) pictorials of nude men will change the way male and female bodies are/not produced as 'sexual.' As with many many gender and sexuality issues, the problem is not (only) with correcting misrepresentations by merely adding to the ones we have, just like more women as corporate CEO's is not all that is needed to change the way business and economics are centered around the worker as male. It's a start, but it's not the whole story, not even close.
I'm more interested in what Ford said.
[...] the male nude is one of our last taboos. There's a double standard at play here: magazines that are happy to fund ads featuring an artfully lit female nude will balk at an image of her male counterpart.Bodies themselves may be, for the most part, natural raw material. But the value societies gives to bodies, what we see those bodies as useful for, what uses are appropriate for which bodies, how bodily qualities (i.e. beauty, strength) are defined, are all socio-cultural and ideological, thus also political.
To Ford's point, women's bodies have been constructed as inherently sexual, beautiful, and visually appealing. The sexualization of women's bodies in advertising, "erotic art," and a slew of forms of entertainment are symptoms of gender hierarchies that objectify women, and they also reproduce and reiterate their objectification in defining the 'inherent' sexuality of the female body. In our culture, women's bodies are for being looked at; they are for someone other than themselves. While these representations are a symptom of inequality and don't directly cause it, the system of representation is circular and feeds itself.
Men's bodies presented as sexual is considered an anomaly, and often is scandalous. Men's bodies are constructed as useful, instrumental things-- men's bodies do. They do work, (they 'do' women! or men!), they perform feats of strength, athleticism, agility; for most men they are means to an end-- they are incidental. The only real eroticization of male bodies is in the sex act itself, only in front of lovers. Their bodies are typically not something to be looked at and criticized publicly, causing a self-policing among men about their own physical appearance. Ford asks,
Why, he asks, is it "gay" for another man to comment on another man's figure, when women can freely tell other women their boobs look great?The beauty of male bodies, in our culture, is supposed to be limited to sexual intimacy, whereas the beauty of female bodies is for public consumption and commentary. The femininity (sex appeal) of the female body is tied to women's identities, and complementing a woman's body (in the appropriate context) has the effect of reinforcing and praising her feminine identity. Further, when women's bodies are posited as the inherently sexual ones, we are used to women's bodies being desired by both sexes: they are the ones men desire to have and women desire to be. In our cultural context, for what purpose would a het man comment on a man's body? Visually possessing women through the gaze is part of the production of masculinity and is a privilege of it; looking at bodies is tied to sexual desire. Under such a limiting construction of sexuality and "the look", what other explanation can we provide to men looking at men's bodies but an assumption of gayness?
Alanis Morisette said, " I like to think of my body as an instrument, rather than an ornament." I don't think the idea of body-as-ornament is close to the top of the list of things men are concerned with regarding their masculinity.
Because these ideas are reinforced throughout various arenas (sport, film, art, fashion, 'sexuality' as represented in pornography, etc.), and are linked to ideological power structures (gender dominance, or patriarchy), this isn't just a matter of representation. Sexual asymmetry is one of the last acceptable gendered power differentials in western society. And it's also not a matter of prudishness. My critique sexualized images of women objects to the fact that the only valued social space available for women in the realm of sexuality is being the object on display. Thus simply adding some naked men here and there does not change the structure of how sexuality is produced through particularly gendered bodies and the resulting sexual assumptions and sexual possibilities. It's lip service and a way to say, "see, they do it to men too." But in the presence of social norms and expectations that define sexual gender roles in a way that reproduces patriarchal power hierarchies, images of nude men and women are not equivalent in meaning. This is oh so apparent in comments I've heard from guys saying:
"girls [sic] are so lucky they can get paid so much to take their clothes off," or
"if I was a girl [sic] I'd love it that everyone would want to see me naked," or my favorite,
"I don't get the big deal about rape-I wish girls would force themselves on me."
Sexualization of bodies does not mean the same thing for women as for men. And since what 'sexy' looks like is also something we learn, and since we are not taught how to see men's bodies as sexual nor is it easy to find representations of eroticized male bodies (it's no surprise that lots of het women watch gay porn!), for the most part, viewing men's and women's bodies is also a different process, signifying differently to different genders.
Representations of the body as sexual are not plopped into an otherwise neutral social context, and therefore are loaded with meaning from the get-go. This quote of Ford's is rather indicative of contextual difference I have been trying to elaborate:
Imagine … if our suits were entirely designed to show off our penises. Imagine if contemporary fashion demanded that you left your cock hanging outside your trousers, with perhaps just the head trussed up in a tiny pouch like a dick bra. Everyone would see our cocks all the time, in the same way that fashion features women's breasts.Part of the problem is that women want to look...and have little to look at. Meanwhile, women's bodies are exponentially increasing in availability at the click of a mouse. And the cultural policing of women's bodies as properly sexual is undeniably inescapable. This isn't an issue of adding more naked men to the mix. I'm not sure even having an equal number of visually sexually available men and women on the internet and in film and advertising would necessarily "fix" things is the values and meanings attached to sexed bodies remains static.
Lastly, how unfortunate that this is in Britain's GQ, and not the U.S.'s.
**also, I understand that I am speaking of these issues in terms of heterosexuality, as sexuality is constructed through heteronormative culture.
This is a big pet peeve. I have many times written about language politics. Language matters-we think through language. In an earlier post, I wrote about how girlish is part of the definition of 'female' but boyish is not part of the definition of 'male.' We seems to see boys and men as different in kind whereas girls and women are the same...and women seem to be dull, old, boring girls.
Our culture has a word to describe males who are not children (boys) but also not in the context of responsible, mature, traditional behaviors of 'men' (i.e. 9 to 5 work and nuclear family): they are guys. Males over 18 who are not being spoken of as leaders, or family-men, or who are much older males are guys. Referring to themselves in the familiar are guys. 'Men' are either old, powerful, or traditionally 'male'-burly, virile, etc. Guys have fun, joke around, go out to bars, ogle women...they're 'guys.'
We don't have an analogous word for females in that same category. In earlier times, it was 'gals.' I know this isn't news to probably any of you. Our only options to describe females are 'girls' and 'women.'
Why is this a problem? After all, lots of females themselves use the word 'girl.' Well, given the options, it's understandable why. But that doesn't make its usage unobjectionable. Don't forget, we internalize gender expectations too. Culturally, a 'woman' refers to an older female, or a female that is wifely or motherly. In usage, it seems to refer to a female who is no longer (or never was) sexually available. Your mom, your aunt, your friend's mom are women. Moms in general are women. 'Older' females (which these days seems to be over 35) are women. Girl is, of course, supposed to be minor females (under 18) or female teenagers. Girl refers to a not-yet mature female, with the requisite naivete, not fully autonomous, and not-yet independent.
But a woman over 35 posed nude in for porn is a girl. Anyone sexual or sexualized is a girl, as part of female sexuality is vulnerability and a certain innocence (who's also oddly experienced). And other, non-sexual uses of 'girl' are completely unexplainable to me. Girl seems to be any female who isn't an older mom or wife. The key term in a girl as a not-yet mature, independent, autonomous, intellectually developed woman is "yet." Yet, we persist in defining females who are still sexually available (via age and/or status) as remaining in the "not" phase of young girlhood...females are only seen as mature, intelligent, strong, powerful autonomous females when they are too-old, unsexy, undesirable "women." As seen recently in the case of Chancellor Merkel, sexuality and real power are incommensurable.
So critiquing the use of 'girl' is a political gesture. My suggestion for using it as a Random Act of Feminism? Nonthreatening, yet provocative. For example,"
Person: "I was out the other day, and I saw these three girls standing in a corner..."
Me: "Seriously? They let teenagers into the bar?"
Person: "What do you mean teenagers?"
Me: "Well, you said they were girls..."
Then you can remind them that girls are minor females, and thoughtfully explain the conceptual lack we have for a familiar term to refer to adult females.
Thursday, May 1
A (humorous) reminder that women and black Americans (not to mention black women!) actually vote for who they think is the most qualified candidate-- shocker, I know. And what a f*cking insult that the media persists in insinuating they don't. And funny, no one appears to be asking white men voting for John McCain if they're voting their gender or race. Oh that's right, McCain gets to be an unmarked "candidate" while Senators Clinton and Obama are marked as sexed and racial 'others.'
(Cross-posted to The Reaction)
The “D.C. Madam” has committed suicide.
Opinions among feminist about sex work vary widely, but I think we probably all agree about one thing: no just system would make things worse for the women that do the sex work, than for the men who act as customers. Yet, this blog has covered before, in this case, the johns were spared public humiliation, but the sex workers were dragged up on the stand and asked painfully invasive questions. This is not the first suicide in the case; according to the story, one of the women who worked for the service previously killed herself. A culture that puts women in a position of doing sex work and then so shames them and persecutes them for it that they take their own lives is deeply sick.
Wednesday, April 30
I tend to agree* with this analysis of the photos of Miley Cyrus in Vanity Fair that we've seen so far from Vanity Fair, that they're not "that bad."
*sidenote: Except that the bare skin and sultry looks are for your prom friends, not the American Celebritocrical Gaze. And typically you go to the prom at 17-18, not the age of 15. Mir Kamin makes the distinction quite well between these images and simply wearing a backless dress:
For me, my problem lies with the fact that she's underage and I find the picture intentionally sexual. It's not her naked back -- it's her tousled hair, her come-hither look, and the bed-sheet-esque cover; all of those things together combine to portray a post-coital vixen.(end of side-note)
But the whole thing still troubles me for a few reasons I know, and probably some I can't articulate yet. And I think the question of whether the images themselves are "that bad" isn't the real issue here.
And I've really become disappointed in Annie Leibovitz who, back in the day, took this amazing image of Yoko Ono and John Lennon that surprised our gender expectations. She has recently become more known for replicating racist images of the recent past, and now this. And while, as I said "they're not that bad" (isn't is sad we have a world of sexualized teen girls to compare this image to that we can make the judgment, 'it's not that bad'? Ugh)
This comment on Female Impersonators is quite striking and right-on, and I think it sums up what was really giving me anxiety:
a fifteen year old girl should be beginning to discover her sexuality. She should understand how her body works and why. She should appreciate her body's feelings and responses, but she should not be doing it in front of the world. To sell magazine covers.That's exactly it. In a world where women's desirability matters more than her desire or that she desires at all, this is sad yet unsurprising. This 15 year-old girl is learning the very real and 'truth' of our modern culture that posing and being socially stamped as 'sexy' is an important (if not the important) part of women's 'sexuality'. That her being sexy is defined through, well, this. I'm not denying that a 15 year-old can be a sexual being. But the problem is that our culture perpetually defines sexuality and sexiness in terms of public validation of public sexual display. And hers being a sexuality-in-process...sigh. And what were you saying about 'The Sexual Revolution'?
And Gawker's provocative take on the photos is pretty interesting: grooming for pedophilia. I would never argue that's what is consciously and absolutely going on, but it's a compelling suggestion.
And it also makes me think about how our culture "grooms" women to become public sex objects, to desire the validation it provides, to justify it to themselves until it's "no big deal." We don't live in a vacuum, and women (or girls) don't one day jump out of bed and say "I think I'd like to show my tits to strangers while I'm drunk next spring break."
I think I'm just going to leave this here for right now. Thoughts?
Recommended articles and blog posts from the week so far...
Seeking Inspiration, a really nice post from Carol @ The Reaction about inspirational people on the net.
"I think life is easier for men" says an MTF transsexual on Postsecret, as written about by Female Impersonator.
Actress Juliet Binoche commenting on European sensibility of beauty vs. American Hollywood via AdFeminem. And this observation from Adfeminem is a brilliant connection:
FHM Magazine published its list of the world's 100 sexiest women today. The average age of the top ten choices, all Hollywood actresses (could there possibly be a sexier profession?), is 26. Daisy @ Daisy's Dead Air has a terrific post about the complexities of race in her Having a Black Name.
The Triple Standard of health care by Deane Waldman @ Huff-Po.
Angry Black Woman On Feminism
Sudy's post about feminism and racism. (H/T Feminist Allies)
Why does the media insist on using "sex" to describe rape? As in "forced sex with a child"? See Hoyden About Town's post on this.
Hugo writes about a interesting sounding article I'll have to get a hold of on self-objectification.
A great post from the Lizard Queen about a woman's sex work sticks with her identity in media reporting even after she leaves the biz.
The effect of Danica Patrick's historic win on aspiring girl racers. via feministing
And this is absurd: a pray-in for gas prices, via Pandagon.
Tuesday, April 29
I don't remember exactly what brought this issue to my attention-- it may have been this blog post I read, which prompted me to do some additional research. But I'm pretty irritated. And frustrated.
It's the Breast Cancer awareness campaigns and anti-breast cancer t-shirts that are being manufactured, bought and worn. Disclaimer: I am 100% in favor of fund-raising, awareness, education, what have you, about breast cancer.* That's not what this is about. However, the way advocacy is framed is just as important as the advocacy, for the "way you say it" speaks just as much as "what you say."
Why am I annoyed? The message of recent campaigns, advertising, and t-shirts are centered around the idea that we need to catch breast cancer early and research for a cure in order to save breasts. Silly me, I thought we fight against cancer to save lives. And if that weren't bad enough, the reason "the breasts" must be saved will make you puke a little in your mouth. Because men love 'em. Or in sexuality-neutral terms of some of the tees, your sex partner enjoys them, or needs them to attain a sexual conquest status:
This tee is also interesting in how it appropriates a "sport" theme, used as a metaphor for sex that is wholly centered on what the male "gets" the female to do, especially considering the objectification of women in sport. Compare to this tee, also on a sport theme:
So to recap, not only are saving the breast not the woman, the focus of the campaigns, but the reason for doing to isn't even about preserving the sexual pleasure that the woman's breasts give her, but is instead about their benefit to others, predominately to men--not only your (presumed male) partner, but to the community of men at large. "We men" love 'boobies' so we'll work real hard so you don't have to have them surgically removed. And we women should be "responsible" and look after them because the dudez love 'em. And we all know women should do things about their body because it's what men love. Not because, well, women might die!
I prefer this one:
100% absolutely wrong. It is an unfortunately and troubling result of how women's bodies are seen: as first and foremost for someone else's pleasure, as something to be looked at and not something that works, that does things, that has a functional purpose, and that gives the woman herself pleasure.
Rethink's "Booby Wall" starts off saying about it's call to upload images of your breasts: "this isn't Maxim...this is beautiful" only to be followed by "this is worth living for." Excuse me? Um, no, my breasts are not worth living for, my life is worth living for! Yeah, let's display all sort of breasts as examples of the beauty in the variety of breasts to prove that your breasts are important, valuable and worth living for. Gee, that sure sounds like an awesome initiative!
And no, this is not a case of Aw, just lighten up!-Whatever will get people to fight breast cancer-What's the Big Deal? No, sorry. This is the message women get ev-ry-where. And now when the issue is supposed to be about women's lives, we're appealing to save women's bodies?! Women's bodies are valuable regardless of what they mean to men and the male gaze, and women's lives are important regardless of their bodies. End of story.
Reasons why we fight breast cancer?
Because it kills women.
Because it takes a chunk of your life away.
Because a woman losing her breasts can make her lose out on sexual pleasure.
The "because a woman's partner may lose our on sexual pleasure" is at the bottom of the list.
That "men like looking at as many breasts as possible and anything that makes them go away should be fought against" is not on the list.
In addition to my disclaimer above, an ending disclaimer. I am not criticizing men that are involved in breast cancer organizations whatsoever. Please keep it up! I am criticizing the way that action against breast cancer is framed, and I am not saying men involved are doing so with the motivations presumed by the campaigns. Instead, I think this tee better describes these men:
The campaigns rely on a sexist framework regarding the female body and what/who it is for, and they perpetuate such sexism in the design of their campaigns.
*Even though the way breast cancer has been produced in medicalization has a very gendered element to it, in the way that the comparative silence around prostate cancer and prevention is also quite gendered. I'll write on this in the future. But for now, ponder on why it might be that we encourage women to do self-breast examinations monthly--and this is a common-knowledge thing--and we don't advocate men doing self-testicle exams. Even though considering the various tissue obstructions in the breast, it would be much easier to discover lumps in the testicles than in the breast.
(Cross-posted to The Reaction)
Monday, April 28
I don't normally blog on equal pay. It is for sure not an area of expertise. I did a short post two weeks ago for Fair Pay Day, because I was so struck by the tangibility of the day in April where men's and women's wages would be equal, and how that day is so close to Tax Freedom Day. But it really isn't an area I'm extremely knowledgeable about (as far as studies go), and I know that the notion of "equal pay" is often contested-- studies often come to conflicting conclusions, people often don't make their terms clear, and there are many different opinions as to who should get equal pay and what counts are equal pay.
These debates are not what this post is about. This is about the Fair Pay Act--the one that on the 23rd a motion to advance it was passed by a majority in the Senate, but didn't get enough votes to have a debate and vote scheduled on the bill itself. It's called the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and Suzanne Reissman has an excellent explanation about the history of the bill and what this bill is actually about--check it out here.
Regardless of whether you 'believe' that pay discrimination as a result of sexual identity exists or not, there is no reason not to support this bill--because the bill addresses the terms by which pay discrimination can be redressed--and if there is no pay discrimination, then the law won't need to be utilized!
The next steps for advocating this bill is to contact your Senators. See the National Women's Law Center for more information on pushing your Senator to get a debate and vote on the bill scheduled.
Saturday, April 26
Your dose of weekend reading material!
A really excellent post at Shakesville, "Feminism 101: 'Sexism is a Matter of Opinion'". It's long, but it's really, really worth it. Some bits:
We're all biased—either because we are the potential targets or potential beneficiaries of sexism, whether we want to be or not. A woman who rejects the existence of sexism is no more unlikely to be oppressed by it than a woman who spends her days documenting it. A man who acknowledges and fights the existence of sexism is no more unlikely to passively benefit from other people privileging men over women than a man who actively marginalizes women. That's the reality of institutionalized sexism; it compromises us all.A commentary at Feminist Gamers about the recent "open source boob project" which I also read about here, and rightly proclaims, One more time: Women’s bodies are not public property. And also this take from Alternet, and this parodic response from misia.
Like the Matrix, which Morpheus described as "everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room… It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth," the systemic sexism known as the patriarchy is so comprehensive and profound that "seeing it" actually takes some effort, some willingness to see it. And, like those who find themselves awakening from the Matrix, people who find themselves awakening from the patriarchy learn to identify its patterns, upon which it is dependent for the transmission of its ideals and its continual self-generation.
The Kinsey Confidential reports on a new study (that I'm interested in reading, and can hopefully write about later) that states, news flash! Men's sexuality is complex and varies; it isn't unidimensional or homogeneous. Says study's author Erick Janssen,
one of the main conclusions of the focus group study is that, just like women, men are different. Sex researchers tend to focus a lot of differences between men and women, while not giving as much attention to the differences that exist among men, and women.This is pretty sad that we need studies to tell us these things. But we do. With how ubiquitous damaging, homogenizing, pathologizing presentations of "normal" sexuality are in all aspects of society, these kinds of studies need to happen more often, with a broader sample (this study only had 50 participants), and needs to be shouted from the freakin' rooftops.
5 Resolutions discusses a new study which says 65% of women ages 25-45 have disordered eating. Not surprising when our culture equates "health" with "skinny".
f-word's posting about a study of why men 'interpret' women's behavior and language as "yes."
Friday, April 25
So this video and news issue is a wee bit old, but the idea it raises isn't at all.
Apparently an in-store Abercrombie ad campaign (see video below) received complaints for being too sexual/obscene. Abercrombie has been doing this for years, for example, depicting cartoons of topless girls (yeah, they looked awful young) in pools and having threesomes in their catalog back when I worked in the mall 10 years ago. And in this day and age of hypersexualization of women's bodies and the general pornification of everyday life, you would think these ads must be awfully revealing to be so scandalous.
The thing is, the ads aren't that revealing. Not by far, and especially not compared to most ads we see everywhere. we. look.
Except that most sexualized ads we see are of women's bodies (I said most-I am well aware of the sexual and homoerotic tones of several cologne ads). However, the Abercrombie campaign includes some sexy images...of guys. And the marketing target is upper-middle class, heterosexual teens, both female and male.
This is the part that struck me most:
"there's half naked guys running around--it's obscenity--is Playboy able to hang naked pictures in their store?"Um, sorry dude, but the half naked men shown in Abercrombie ads is not the same as fully naked Playboy pictures. Like, at all. It's more like Victoria's Secret ads (and even then not quite the same there either)...and oh yeah, they are able to show those, and not only in their stores, but on billboards, the sides of buses, every f*cking magazine you pick up, not to mention, the goddamn TV!!
The ads are only 'scandalous' because guys are being (mildly) depicted as erotic objects of heterosexual desire. And this just doesn't happen. Even when there's male (frontal) nudity in movies, it's typically either goofy or is not eroticized. Women as sexual objects, as seen as serving a sexual function for men (being sexually desirable rather than having sexual desire) have functioned in a particular way in western patriarchy, along with wife/mother, to produce female ideals whose value relies on seeing women in terms of how they function for men's benefit. This is the very definition of objectification--defining (a person) in terms of how you already see them to be, in how they're useful for you, rather than seeing them on their own terms. Men are really only able to objectify women in this way because such narrow and all-defining judgment is never returned to them; they are rarely, if ever, made the objects of female-centered desire. It's awfully hard to objectify someone when you recognize they have their own desire--and that you might not be up to their standard.
I'm getting a bit off track, and I'll continue to blog about that in the future, but getting back to the anxious guy...his comments are screaming male privilege. The fact that these images bother him so much can be attributed to him rarely having to be faced with the eroticization of his own body, even in the mild Abercrombie images of guys in jeans showing a little buttcrack. What's fascinating is that he is so bothered by it. I'd like to say that he's finally getting a small taste of what women go through, but that's not even close to the truth: he has the luxury of being able to avoid dealing with the images by walking out of the store. These kinds of images (and so much more) are simply unavoidable for women--we can never just walk away, because they're there whenever we turn around.
Another fascinating thing about his comment was his analogy of these images to Playboy images. On an obvious level, he's so wrong, because, um, come on, they're nowhere near close: they're not the same degree of nudity, not the same degree of sexualization (there's little about the Abercrombie poses that are seductive or vulnerable), and not the same intent. On another level, they are similar, because sexualized women's bodies are so commonplace these days, that we wouldn't even blink an eye if we were to replace the guy in the Abercrombie ad with a woman. We probably wouldn't even think it was racy, or even that sexual. So his analogy, in a way, speaks very much to the ubiquitous sexualized female body and the rarely eroticized male body.
Finally, what I'm also quite interested in regarding this video news story, is that the campaign included images of girls, depicted in much the same way as the guys are...yet he never mentioned being bothered by the "obscenity" of those! When we take this reaction, and think about the male anxiety around male nudity in general, and especially gay male sexuality (but of course, not lesbian sexuality), it it very clear that, in popular culture, sexuality becomes 'obscene' when it does not reinforce heteronormative masculinity. Images are only seen as improperly sexualized when it's the male body on display for a (presumed) het female audience.
(Cross-posted to The Reaction)
Thursday, April 24
Labels: Carnival of Feminists
Wednesday, April 23
This article from last week on Salon's Broadsheet just cracked me up. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader of the German nation is...a woman!!! And not just that...she has breasts! OMG!
Apparently her appearance at the German Opera in an evening gown with a plunging neckline cause quite a furor. Just more proof that:
And it's not even sexual!! It's just some cleavage!! Evidence of having a female body!! Sheesh!
(cross-posted to The Reaction)