The Radical Notion

Encouraging women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians

Terminology (or, This Isn’t Sex), Pt. 2 February 27, 2010

Terminology (or, This Isn’t Sex), Pt. 1 found here.

Note: I briefly had this post under password protection, as it dealt with some personal/intimate details and feelings. If you read the post and have strong opinions on whether or not it should be publicly published, please drop me a line in the comments (I can delete your comment after if you want).

[trigger warning]

This is a continuation of the sentiments expressed in the other day’s post, Terminology (or, This Isn’t Sex). In it, I describe how when I was younger, I assumed pretty much any sexual media to be “sex-positive” and empowering, as some sort of “take that!” to the social conservative, decidedly sex-negative movement. I conflated objectification and rape apologism with empowerment and sexual freedom and agency, in part because none of the former words were in my vocabulary at the time. I discussed how the lack of feminist terminology in popular discourse, or the misunderstanding of same, leads to the phenomenon of all criticism of pornography, etc. being labeled as prudish and anachronistic, and had I realized that at least some of the criticism was based on ideas I would actually agreed with, I would have come to certain realizations much earlier.

Today, I’m going to discuss more thoughts about sex I had at that age and how they were influenced by popular culture and education, so this is your fair warning to leave if it’s something you’d rather not hear about (Hi, Mommy!).

When I was a teenager, one of the paramount themes in representations and discussions of relationships was sexual intimacy (shocker, I know). I was lucky enough not to be in an area of the country or religion where abstinence-only sex education or purity pledges abound, but the impressions I got were still mixed, at best. In discussions with health teachers, other adults, friends, and of course almost all popular media, the following messages were disseminated:

  • Teenage boys are the horniest creatures on the planet. They are perpetually masturbating, or thinking about it, and this is both completely acceptable and very funny. In almost no situation can a teenage boy control his sex drive, whether this means becoming aroused at an inappropriate times or trying to “get” sexual activity from a hesitant (female) partner.
  • Teenage girls are boy-crazy, but any sexual contact with said boys is a result of peer pressure. The vast majority of girls don’t masturbate, which is why any discussion of it is both rare and considered much more”shocking”. Teenage girls can’t control their emotions and fall hopelessly in love with boys at the drop of a hat, which leaves them vulnerable to being “made” to do something they’d rather not (have sex). This is not a funny thing in the same way that boys humping apple pies is, but the girls aren’t pitied very much either, because as the possessors of a lower libido they are the Designated Kill Switch for any teenage sexual activity, which is universally considered to be bad unless we’re just talking about boys having sex with nameless figures, in which case it’s cool and funny. Any girl who fails to properly control her boy’s sexual urges is to be blamed and shamed; any indication that she might have actually invited or (gasp!) wanted said sexual activity should lead to even more blaming and shaming. The terms “fast”, “loose”, “easy”, “whore”, and “slut” should be employed whenever describing a girl that someone thinks might have wanted sex, or had sex, or been “made” to have sex, and are universally acknowledged as the worst things a girl could ever be.

People were not entirely without sympathy for the female half of the population, though. We also received frequent admonitions and instructions on how and why we should “resist” our potential boyfriends’ inevitable (and inevitably unwelcome) sexual advances. I remember distinct moments in health class, for example, where we all discussed what we would say if our boyfriend told us “you would [have sex] if you loved me” – the proper response was “if you loved me, you wouldn’t make me”. A boy who is trying to have sex with a girl who doesn’t want to (pretty much all sexual activity was assumed to fall into this category) is inconsiderate and not a nice person, and it might even be good for you two to have a Serious Discussion About Your Feelings, but breaking up with a boy who was pressuring you into sex was a last resort (don’t want to be a prude! And all boys are gonna do it anyway, so do you really want to be alone?). (more…)

 

Terminology (or, This Isn’t Sex) February 25, 2010

Terminology (or, This Isn’t Sex), Pt. 2 found here

There comes a time in every grown-up’s life when they have a sobering revelation: their parents were right.

Well, maybe.

One of the things I’ve noticed during my Feminist Journey ™ is how I’ve become critical of things that I used to think were totes cool. Well, okay, that’s not news, but I have more, I swear! I’ve become critical of things I not only used to be interested in, but used to support because I thought they were progressive, or empowering, or some vague force for good in the world. Case in point: Cosmopolitan Magazine.

15-year-old TRN: OMG there’s this magazine that talks about SEX and it’s right there in the CHECKOUT LANE and it acknowledges women’s libidos and doesn’t call them sluts and helps them have better sex and become Fun, Fearless, Females! Clearly this is not only hot, but AWESOME. I feel so morally superior to all those prudes who don’t want me to read it, because they’re afraid of SEX, especially premarital sex, and especially the ladies doing it. They just don’t like women being happy with themselves as sexual beings! I feel validated in being a female with an actual sex drive! Cosmo is the best magazine ever!

22-year-old TRN: OMG I immediately die a little inside when I meet someone who takes Cosmopolitan seriously. I can’t believe I ever liked that magazine. Sure, it does manage to stray away from the Madonna-whore dichotomy of women’s sexuality, but that’s about the only good thing I can say about it. Its sex tips are not only repeated every month, but completely ridiculous. It’s so heteronormative that I don’t think I’ve ever, in the dozens of issues in multiple languages I’ve read over the years, seen a single mention of a non-heterosexual romantic or sexual interaction. It promotes hackneyed gender stereotypes and “relationship tips” (I once read one where they advised women to pretend not to be able to do certain things, i.e. open jars, in order to help your man feel manly). Oh yeah, and they’re also rape apologists.

Obviously, there are many reasons why I think differently now then I did in middle and high school. But you know what? If someone had actually said the latter paragraph to me when I was at the height of my Cosmo phase, I might have listened – probably not as much as I do now, but I would have least understood the idea that there were objections to Cosmo other than OH NOEZ LADIES HAVING SEX AND LIKING IT. It’s gotten to the point (documented well by Ariel Levy) where the social conservatives in our society are demonizing sexuality and fetishizing virginity so much that any frank depiction of sex, particularly with women involved, comes as a relief (you think women should cover up all their skin? Well, I’m going to get NAKED!). Of course, it’s usually a false idol, as objectifying women and portraying them as perennially thin, hairless sex machines just dying for a good “pounding” is neither novel nor particularly helpful. But I wonder how much of the criticism that when I was a teenager I mentally labelled as “socially conservative” (or “prude”, or whatever the hip terminology was) was actually based on principles that I would agree with now. (more…)

 

If there’s one thing we can say with certainty about all college women… October 3, 2009

…it’s that they love hot pink!

Twelve housepoints to whoever can guess which entry this is from!

Twelve housepoints to whoever can guess which entry this is from!*

What better way to portray pioneers in women’s higher education (that are still producing better outcomes for female students than are co-ed colleges) than as rejects from Barbie’s Dream House?

Oh, if only. Can you IMAGINE how much more awesome our underwear pillow fights would be?

Oh, if only. Can you IMAGINE how much more awesome our underwear pillow fights would be?

(more…)

 

No One Cares September 29, 2009

[Trigger warning]

You know, you can think and write about patriarchy and rape culture and misogyny all day long until you think you’ve really got a handle on it, and all it takes is for someone to come along and give you a swift kick in the pants for everything to go completely to pot and you have to start all over again.

See, here’s the thing. Women are trained to fear rape. A lot. It’s something that women take completely for granted – it’s expected! – but that nobody who hasn’t lived as one can ever fully understand.

Don’t walk alone at night! Don’t get drunk in public places! Don’t wear revealing clothing! Don’t take a drink from someone you don’t know! Take self-defense classes! Walk confidently! Don’t wear your hair in a ponytail! Hold your keys in your fist so as to have a makeshift stabby implement to gouge out your attacker’s eyes! Don’t park next to big vans! Don’t sleep around with a lot of boys!

Yadda yadda yadda. One of the most chilling things we can realize is that rape is every bit as common as we were told it was – if not more – but that doing all those preventative measures really doesn’t do shit. Because by telling women that as long as we follow all of those rules – ALL of them – we’ll be safe, we lull ourselves into a false sense of security. Anxious security, of course, because there’s tension between “I’m not supposed to be drinking in public” and “I’m a grown adult who should have every right to do so”, but as long as we follow all. those. rules to the letter, we’re safe. And every time we hear about somebody who was attacked, a lot of people’s first instinct is to analyze the story and see where she went wrong. Was she drinking? Was she wearing a short skirt? Did she go home with somebody she’d just met? Well, there you go! Victim-blaming helps those who aren’t victims yet get on with their lives, because as long as you can pinpoint the “rapeable” behaviors, and keep from doing them – ta-da! Of course, not coincidentally, this also feeds right into the patriarchal narrative of women being responsible for men’s sexuality and not having the right to go around living their lives without running the risk of being assaulted, but hey – as long as we can sleep at night, right? (more…)

 

No Girls Allowed, Part 1 April 30, 2009

My female readers will surely be familiar with the following scenario: you’re reading something, preferably nonfiction and not very formal, so that the author frequently addresses the reader to explain things, joke around, relate anecdotes, etc. Obviously you, the reader, knows that said author has probably never met you in his life (and it is a ‘he’ in this case), but nevertheless, while reading the book it’s expected that you and the author will form something of a rapport – an imaginary relationship, if you will – wherein the author is relating facts or a story to you and you’re indulging him because you find the subject matter and his way of relating it interesting.

Most of the time, it’s also assumed that anyone with an open mind and interest in the book topic would be welcome to read the book – and ostensibly, that’s true. I’m sure most book authors – certainly the authors of the books I read – are happy to get all the readers they can. Even if royalties and publicity were not motivating them, I want authors of things I read to have at least a nominal commitment to empathy and openness, with a distinct lack of hate or hang-ups vis-a-vis any particular group. There are plenty of authors who wouldn’t feel that way, but I try not to read things they write.

So. You’re happily zipping along, learning new things, wrapped up in the narrative, and then – BAM! All of a sudden the illusion that the author was speaking just to you, or had you in mind at all when he was writing this, is gone. The author has, completely unintentionally, revealed that the only readers he had in mind when writing this book were people like him – in short, people who were straight males. It’s not his fault, really – one of the hallmarks of privilege is that the privileged group is viewed as the default. In a joke, it’s never a woman who walks into a bar – unless, that is, the joke revolves around her being a woman. The majority of characters in books, movies, TV are men – unless there’s a reason for them to be female (like a love interest or to act as a gendered foil to a main character). And so on.

One of the most common ways that an author can make me acutely aware of my own lack of male privilege is by invoking our old friend, the male gaze. This excludes female readers in two possible ways:

  1. It establishes the idea that everyone views women  – and ONLY women – as sexually attractive and appealing beings. Of course, there are many women who are attracted to other women, but a good deal more are not, and as we’ll see later, I think it’s pretty clear that these authors are not directing their words toward queer women.
  2. Much more insidiously, it communicates the message that a woman’s primary value is dependent on her physical appearance. If she’s attractive, than she’s wonderful and deserving of rhapsodic waxings-on about her breasts and thighs and rosy cheeks (she should be honored!). If she’s unattractive (to the writer, of course), then she is an affront to humanity who should be stamped out , mocked, or at the very least locked away where no one can see her. By forever bringing up the topic of how a female character, celebrity, or other personage appeals to the author sexually, he unwittingly reveals his subconscious belief that women exist primarily for male consumption.

Women who are not sexually interested in other women get hit with a double whammy here, but anyone who doesn’t fit the template of “straight male” gets some shrapnel. Anyone who isn’t attracted to women (for example, gay men) suffers from number 1, and anyone who identifies as female is slapped with number 2. As one of the aforementioned double-hitters, I feel confident in saying that number two is much worse. Better to be ignored than actively belittled.

Want to see some examples of what I’m talking about? I know you do. Here are just a few of the ones that have given me a psychological hypnagogic jerk in the past couple of months. (more…)

 

Body Hair In Commercials April 6, 2009

As apparently body hair is my bête noir, please allow me to share with you three FOUR recent commercials that dealt with the PHENOMENON that adults grow hair on their body on places other than their scalp and their perfectly arched eyebrows.

This first one is by Boost Mobile (via); the thesis of the commercial seems to be that their product is less “wrong” than others. The main character in the commercial says that her luxurious armpit is “not wrong”, but it’s ambiguous as to whether or not we are supposed to take that at face value (she’s right, body hair isn’t wrong!) or laugh at her (dude, her armpit hair’s three feet long! WTF?). In any case, insinuating that if women were to let their body hair grow, it would be even more rampant and uncontrollable than that of men is both idiotic* and does nothing to stop the perception that the only thing that stands between a woman and utter bestial hideousness is a Schick.

Speaking of which (via)… (more…)

 

The Social Construction of Femininity March 24, 2009

I’ve been super-busy this semester, and so haven’t blogged in a while. I’m going to try to rectify this by writing several posts that have been kind of mulling around in my head for a while. So – onward!

I’ve thought a lot recently about the relative importance placed on the physical appearances of men and women. And this post isn’t about the male gaze, or the fact that women’s physical appearance is deemed much more important and “relevant” in whatever social context they happen to be in – at least, it’s not only about that. I think it’s impossible to fully extricate oneself from these interconnected positive feedback loops of social mores, but I’m going to try and discuss a separate but related issue: the artificiality of a woman’s expected appearance.

Hopefully this isn’t too TMI (it wouldn’t be in a patriarchy-free world, but I digress), but as I go to a women’s college and rarely wear clothes that don’t cover my entire lower half, I sometimes go for a very long time without shaving my legs. This really shouldn’t be a big deal – but it is. It really is. Regardless of the fact that this blog is (somewhat) anonymous, it took me a minute to get up the courage to type that. What if one of my not-very-close friends reads that, and then they know? What if somebody stumbles on this blog from a random Google search, realizes that I’m the author, and then they know? What if I become suddenly inundated with antifeminist trolls, who are already far too eager to accuse one of being a “hairy-legged feminazi”? Or worst of all – what if somebody I’m interested in dating finds or is told about this blog, and reads this post? (more…)