Monday, October 30, 2006

Trick or Treating

Over the weekend I attended the Great Salt Lake Book Festival and heard Elizabeth Clement speak, a history professor at the University of Utah and author of a new book titled, Love for Sale: Courting, Treating, and Prostitution in New York City, 1900-1945. In this book she explores how courtship first developed and left a lot of questions in my own mind about what that might mean for my politics. Early in the twentieth century prostitution was incredibly widespread in urban American culture. Most men were consumers of prostitution on a regular basis, as in once or twice a month. Yet, as different cheap entertainments started to become available such as the movies and burlesques, and as working class girls started getting out into the world a little more, a new trend began to develop called "treating." With treating, girls would pick up a guy they met at a dance hall or just on the street, they would go to dinner and a movie for which the man would pay, and then, at the end of the night, the girl might fool around with him in return.

"Treating" girls were very keen on distinguishing themselves from prostitutes of course, never accepting money for sex outright and believing they remained morally above prostitutes because they could still grow up and settle down with a husband some day. However, as this activity rose in popularity, prostitution experienced a dramatic decline and became a much less prevalent part of American culture. Further, by the 1950's at least 50% of women were engaging in premarital sex, even if these women rarely talked to each other about it and even if at least some of this premarital sex was happening with only one man who the woman at least intended to marry. The practice of "treating" layed some important groundwork for this shift and opened up a gray area between prostitution and chaste virginity. Further, as you may have already noticed, "treating" sounds an awful lot like that peculiar custom of our own day, "dating." Embedded underneath the squeaky clean, mainstream practice of dating are at least some distinct echoes of prostitution.

Which raises the question in my own mind, as a sometimes-heterosexual radical feminist who opposes prostitution and sees it as a replication of many of the worst aspects of patriarchy, how do I think about something like dating? A.K.A. am I just a total fucking hypocrite after all? Good question Reader. Now, I do understand there are some differences between dating and prostitution. Presumably with dating you go out with the same fellow several times, presumably you sort of kind of like this fellow, presumably there might be something you could term an "emotional bond" there.

And I also realize that since the sexual revolution did such a grand old job of liberating us women, our sexuality is no longer just a commodity for exchange. It's about our own pleasure, our own choices, our own needs damnit! Or at least we sure like to think so. And maybe I'm being a little old-fashioned in the first place bandying about a word like "dating" which is like sooooo outdated. I'm informed that those of my generation prefer "hanging out" and "hooking up" and that we're all liberated enough nowadays that we can even have sex without dating or love or anything with NO PROBLEMO WHATSOEVER. But I also think that sexual obligation remains a big part of whatever the hell you want to call dating. Many women still use sex to get men to like them and many still use sex to achieve economic or financial gain. And many men still feel that if they pay for your dinner, they oughta get sex in return. Indeed, many men seem to feel that they should get sex in return for, you know, existing.

But back to the point, is this kind of sexual exchange ever anything but anti-feminist or at least non-feminist? Is it ever anything but a betrayal of ourselves as women, a survival tactic that we employ to deal with the ever present burden of patriarchy? Where do us holier than thou heterosexual feminists get off thinking that the kinds of sexual exchange we engage in are any different from those that prostitutes or porn stars or strippers engage in out of economic necessity? How do we Other these women to make ourselves feel better and how do we lie to ourselves about what sex means to us and how we use it? In the end, I'm against women being forced into situations where they must trade their bodies to live whatever the circumstances may be, whether you're a prostitute trying to pay the rent or you're Mollie Sue trying to be nice so your man will like you. The spectrum may not be as wide here as we would like to believe and I think it's important that we're honest with ourselves and we stop pulling any punches when it comes to recognizing and revolting against patriarchy in all it's forms.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Can a radical feminist be bisexual?

Can she? Because if not, I am totally fucked.

Let me back the hell up.

So, for the past five or so years of my life, I have identified myself as a lesbian. My first semester of college, when I met Ms. Vicky Vengeance, and fell madly in love with her (because really, who wouldn't?) I finally came to terms with my own simmering Sapphistry (nice, right? I know) and came out to myself, my friends, and eventually, my family. So by the time I was 19, I was a DYKE, damn it, and PROUD. OH YEAH.

Oh, yeah.

But lo, I was never really considered to be so incredibly butch or anything. A friend of mine once helpfully said my look was, "Like nerdy-tomboy, except that you hate sports and such." In other words, I wear clothing that is comfortable and enjoy ponytails -- with scrunchies, no less. Clears things up, right? Basically, coming out for me meant not-at-all altering my fashion, my gender presentation, my general attitude towards men which has always been, you know, functional, female, and boredom, respectively.

But being a young lesbi-thing, I certainly tried on different hats. I tried on INDIE ROCK ANDROGYNOUS hat, which worked swimmingly well with my alarmingly large breasts, hips, and thighs. I tried on I AM FEMME AND YOU ARE BUTCH hat, until I realized that, ultimately, that required more work than any hetero relationship I had ever been in. I tried on, I AM SOME WEIRD COMBINATION OF CASUAL FEMININE AND STONE TOP but that just really came about because I hate bad hand jobs and am Hitachi-spoiled, so it is like, why bother.

My latest incarnation has been I AM CELIBATE BECAUSE I AM SO ABOVE THIS SHIT. Which honestly, has been working out just fine ... or so I thought.

Because now my new therapist has broken the hard news to me that I am probably not as against the idea of making out with a XY-human as I thought.

Of course, my first reaction was to laugh, consider getting a new therapist, and laugh about it with Vicky (who's first reaction was to IM me, "you told her you are a LESBIAN, right? [emphasis on the LESBIAN]"). But really it didn't bother me all that much, because it's not like the lesbian thing is a really big part of my identity? Right?

Well, apparently, it did. Because now I am in the middle of a 100% freak-out, courtesy of my friend bipolar disorder by way of my new pal, identity crisis.

I fell in love with a boy once when I was institutionalized and once when I was in high school, which is pretty similar to institutionalization, so I chalked up both incidents as Crazy Shit From the Past. Oh, well, guess not.

The point of this post though wasn't just to keep you all updated on my post-adolescent angst but to mention a real problem I'm having -- if I am going to accept the bisexual label, how can I possibly educate myself what with all the stupid fucking genderqueer lovin', sex-positive, fuck-all-labels CRAP that apparently every single bisexual on the planet is in love with? Also, another thing, who do I ally myself with, when so many bisexual women activists seem to be really coming from a place of, LOVE THE PERSON NOT THE GENDER, when I'm like, fuck no, I love the FEMALE gender, I am a WOMAN-identified woman, I just happen NOT TO BE A LESBIAN APPARENTLY.

For the record, I DO believe that I may (gulp) NOT be a lesbian, but I am very hesistant to find a new label for myself. And if you say labels don't matter, fuck off, seriously. The day labels don't matter will be in the post-patriarchal, post-racist, post-awful society that might exist right around the time the sun fucking crashes into the Earth, which I think is supposed to happen at the earliest next June.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Get Your Gore On! Literally!

So I got my period yesterday and as an accidental experiment that occurred to me today, I am planning on wearing a red item of clothing every day until it's over. Yesterday I just so happened to pick a red button-down shirt (that I absolutely adore! It has four pockets! Maximum pocketage!) and today I decided I would wear my red shoes. It got me wondering, what would it be like, if during the time women menstruated we all wore something red? Sure not everyone would do it, and sure people could still wear red on non-special non-menstruation occasions, but it could be like the LGBTQ rainbow. The minute you see those adorable shoelaces, you're in the know. What would it be like to suddenly be aware of this oh so womanly, biological fact of daily life? To look at the women you know and realize their vagina is bleeding AS WE SPEAK. I'm getting chills just thinking about it.

Today at my KRCL training we listened to a clip from Kathryn Stockton, big wig at the Gender Studies department at the University of Utah and feminist author. Part of what she talked about was the gendered significance of what we wear, that we wear our genitals on the outside through the clothing, hair cut, and accessories we choose. What if we took the point a bit further and in a dramatic flash of pride, we all started wearing red, or wearing t-shirts with witty slogans about our periods? For example, I like "Blood Power!!!" (written in a drippy, oozy font) or "Got Blood?" on the front, and on the back: "In YOUR PANTS?!" I'm picturing the simple, heroic image of a tampon, bright red, replacing the S in the Superman logo. How fucking awesome would that be people?! You could look and see when you and a friend of yours are on the rag simultaneously, thus graduating to that unholiest of bonds: BLOODY BUDDIES. OH. YEEEEEEAH.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Are Women Human?

The next time someone tells you that we don't need feminism anymore, that sexism no longer exists, that your concerns as a woman are whiny, without basis, stupid, or WHATEVER, send them this passage from Catharine MacKinnon's new book and cross that someone off your goddamn list of people worth talking to:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines what a human being is. In 1948, it told the world what a person, as a person, is entitled to. It has been fifty years. Are women human yet?

If women were human, would we be a cash crop shipped from Thailand in containers into New York's brothels? Would we be sexual and reproductive slaves? Would we be bred, worked without pay our whole lives, burned when our dowry money wasn't enough or when men tired of us, starved as widows when our husbands died (if we survived his funeral pyre), sold for sex because we are not valued for anything else? Would we be sold into marriage to priests to atone for our family's sins or to improve our family's earthly prospects? Would we, when allowed to work for pay, be made to work at the most menial jobs and exploited at barely starvation level? Would our genitals be sliced out to "cleanse" us (our body parts are dirt?), to control us, to mark us and define our cultures? Would we be trafficked as things for sexual use and entertainment worldwide in whatever form current technology makes possible? Would we be kept from learning to read and write?

If women were human would we have so little voice in public deliberations and in government in the countries where we live? Would we be hidden behind veils and imprisoned in houses and stoned and shot for refusing? Would we be beaten nearly to death, and to death, by men with whom we are close? Would we be sexually molested in our families? Would we be raped in genocide to terrorize and eject and destroy our ethnic communities, and raped again in that undeclared war that goes on every day in every country in the world in what is called peacetime? If women were human, would our violation be enjoyed by our violators? And, if we were human, when these things happened, would virtually nothing be done about it?

The ringing language in Article 1 encourages us to "act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." Must we be men before its spirit includes us? Lest this be seen as too literal, if we were all enjoined to "act towards one another in a spirit of sisterhood," would men know it means them, too? Article 23 encouragingly provides for just pay to "everyone who works." It goes on to say that this ensures a life of human dignity for "himself and his family." Are women nowhere paid for the work we do in our own families because we are not "everyone," or because what we do there is not "work," or just because we are not "him"? Don't women have families, or is what women have not a family without a "himself"? If the someone who is not paid at all, far less the "just and favorable remuneration" guaranteed, is also the same someone who in real life is often responsible for her family's sustenance, when she is deprived of providing for her family "an existence worth human dignity," is she not human? And now that "everyone" has had a right "to take part in the government of his country" since the Universal Declaration was promulgated, why are most governments still run mostly by men? Are women silent in the halls of state because we do not have a human voice?

A document that could provide specifically for the formation of trade unions and "periodic holiday with pay" might have mustered the specificity to mention women sometime, other than through "motherhood," which is more bowed to than provided for. If women were human in this document, would domestic violence, sexual violation from birth to death, including in prostitution and pornography, and systematic sexual objectification and denigration of women and girls simply be left out of the explicit language?

Granted, sex discrimination is prohibited. But how can it have been prohibited for all this time, even aspirationally, and the end of all these condtiions still not be concretely imagined as part of what a human being, as human, is entitled to? Why is women's entitlement to an end of these conditions still openly debated based on cultural rights, speech rights, religious rights, sexual freedom, free markets--as if women are social signifiers, pimps' speech, sacred or sexual fetishes, natural resources, chattel, everything but human beings?

The omissions in the Universal Declaration are not merely semantic. Being a woman is "not yet a name for a way of being human," not even in this most visionary of human rights documents. If we measure the reality of women's situation in all its variety against the guarantees of the Universal Declaration, not only do women not have the rights it guarantees--most of the world's men don't either--but it is hard to see, in its vision of humanity, a woman's face.

Women need full human status in social reality. For this, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must see the ways women distinctively are deprived of human rights as a deprivation of humanity. For the glorious dream of the Universal Declaration to come true, for human rights to be universal, both the reality it challenges and the standard it sets need to change.

When will women be human? When?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Testing 1 - 2 - 3

So, here's the pitch for my radio gig. For the next few months I will have my own radio spot for two to three minutes every week, which different KRCL DJs can then play on their shows. The format and content of these mini commentaries will be entirely up to me. I have complete creative control over the spots. I'll be the writer, reader, and producer. If you've ever heard the little commentary bits done by Jim Hightower, that's a good example of the kind of thing I will be doing. Right now my concept for it is providing little facts and jabs about feminist issues of the moment and also giving some recommendations and reviews of different movies, books, or cds which I find interesting. But I definitely need some suggestions on what to talk about. My not-so-hypothetical question to all the people who read this blog is: if you had three minutes to talk about any feminist thing you wanted to, what would you want to say? What has the mainstream media and even mainstream feminism been missing lately? What facts are out there that you think everyone should know? What issues get you the most upset lately? Oh and if these radio spots go well, in a few months I may get my own full radio show. Wish me luck ladies!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Victory for Vicky?

So there's good news on the radio station front today. After sending my second response letter to KRCL, I received an email from the Program Director asking me to call him so we could talk about it more. I was pretty busy the last few days and didn't get a chance to do so, but then he sent me the following email on Monday:

Hello Vicky,

I was hoping to be able to speak with you. In lew of a phone conversation, I will pitch my idea to you via email.

I spent last Thursday evening reading your blog, Sometimes Feminists Aren't Nice. I was very impressed. I'd like to speak with you about Vicky Vengeance participating with KRCL.

Last year my producer Troy Williams and I brain stormed an idea for a new anti-assimilationist queer program. We felt that the contemporary Queer Liberation Movement needed a radical counter balance. We felt that the modern incarnation of queer rights was a Trojan horse for conservative values: marriage, army and children. Thus, Now Queer This was born. I want to use Now Queer This as a model for other public affairs programs. I want a stronger feminist presence at KRCL. I want this presence to be younger and more radical than the traditional discussions currently held in the media. I'd like to speak with you about helping to bring these discussions to the broader public. If you have any interest, please contact me.

Thank you for your time.

Ryan Tronier
Program Director
(801) 363-1818

That's right people. KRCL has now offered me a job doing radical feminism on the radio because of my letter and because of this blog. WOAH. Now you see why they're my favorite radio station? Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about this. Who could have guessed that being my usual uppity, bitchy self would lead to this? Certainly not me!!! Anyway, we're going to meet this week so I can find out more of the details. Right now I'm totally picturing myself as one of the badass Lady DJs in the awesome feminist movie Born In Flames (which came out on DVD just this summer and sells for the low low price of 22 dollars!). If this does indeed turn into an actual radio program, I will of course keep you updated about it. Thank you for all the support you've given Edith and me over the past few months on this blog. I hope this cheers you all up about whatever feminist battle you're currently fighting and keeps you blogging up a storm.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Masturbation is a Gateway to Feminism; Or, What Pro-Porn Feminists Got Right

Over at Twisty's there is, as always, some discussion about some stuff. She took some silly potshots at girly-femme-inist mag BUST, and some discussion ensued about, among other things, vibrators.

First of all, Vicky and I have this to say about making fun of BUST: it's too easy. That's why here at Mean Feminism, I am working on an overdue post making fun of Bitch, and another one making fun of off our backs -- because yes, here at Mean Feminism, we go for the jugular.

This is not to say that we are more hardcore than Twisty. (That would be impossible.) I'm just pointing out that, obviously, this BUST post was fluffy filler fun (F^3) and really, all ready too many people have taken it as super serious (S^2).

But I do take a little bit of an issue with the whole hating on vibrators. Understand, I am not a fan of the sex industry. Understand, that I am not immune to the creepy, unfeminist, or even misogynistic factor to many a "sex toy" and I am fully able to critique the so-called "feminism" of many large feminist sex toy emporiums and stores that have vibrators sitting right next to corsets sitting right next to porn DVDs.

But hating on the Hitachi Magic Wand is pretty much hating on everything that I'm about, and that's this: being able to orgasm quicky, efficiently, whenever you want by yourself and NOT having to rely on another human being to "give you" your orgasm is a vastly preferable situation.

Also, understand this, Hitachi-haters: not all of us are gifted with the powers of being able to masturbate efficiently enough with our own hands. I know a woman who can orgasm by thinking her way through it alone, and while I applaud her fully, I'm going to make a random guess and say that 99.9999% of women can't do that.

In fact, there's this Buddhist principle that talks about masturbation in the kind of terms I like: if you can make yourself orgasm manually or with a vibrator and you DON'T do any kind of fantasizing or "use" any kind of materials to "help" you, but are able to simply orgasm on the strength of your body alone, then you're pretty awesome. Or that's the basic gist of it, anyway.

I mean, seriously, what is better: having sex with another human, a human you are using in part for sexual purposes, a human you may very well be exploiting or may be exploiting you, or having sex with yourself? What is the problem? Do you think if you're a lesbian, like me, that we're immune to this problem of sexual exploitation? Have you considered your last few dozen masturbatory sex experiences compared to your last few dozen "partnersex" (to use the Betty Dodson term -- I know, I know) experiences? Well, please, do.

I think that for feminists to condemn masturbation, or say that it's okay but only in moderation, or say that it's okay but as long as we don't use vibrators, or say that it's okay but it shouldn't be our ultimate "expression" in sexuality and it's really way better to have sex with another person and choosing masturbation as, like, a LIFESTYLE option is just WEIRD ... well, I think I die a little inside every time I hear that kind of talk.

We talk a lot, us anti-porn folk, about a day in which sexuality can be brought back into the discourse and discussed happily in the post-porn utopia we will all likely never live to see. I think that this is way too apocalyptic, because first of all, our sexuality is still there REGARDLESS of how corrupted and abused its been by the pornographica nation, and second of all, if we condemn sexuality ITSELF as a form of pornography then quite frankly, pornography has won.

If we want to critique vibrators for anything, let's critique them for being so expensive, for being made overseas, for being phallic, etc. But let's not throw up our hands and call fucking with a vibrator "fucking the patriarchy." Fucking WITH the patriarchy, I say. Dildos over dicks, any day.