The Objectification Spectrum, and Where Flattering Meets Rude

This is obviously not my first post about objectification, consent to be gazed upon, or the concept of respect regarding sexual gazing. These are pet subjects for me, but I don’t want to re-cover ground I’ve already trod upon. However, I had a recent experience that made me question when and how one can and should give consent to being physically objectified, and the responsibility of the gazer in such situations.

Right, so that was incredibly vague. Here’s what happened:

A few weeks ago I went to a private BDSM play party, wherein I was generally comfortable and among friends, but the party was sufficiently well-attended I certainly didn’t know everyone. I was naked save for a piece of body jewelry, and received a lot of friendly comments toward my recently finished tattoo. At one point in the evening, a couple of men were standing behind me, one commenting on my tattoo, the other commenting on my body, making jokes to the effect of “oh, she has a tattoo? I didn’t notice.” They couldn’t have been more than a foot away, and I heard every word they said.

I was extremely uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable not because they were enjoying looking at my body, but because by commenting on it while so close to me, they either completely forgot that I was a person who was capable of hearing them, or they didn’t care. This I did not appreciate. I confess to being shy, and therefore generally unhappy with being spoken to by strangers, but at that close range I would much rather be spoken to than spoken about. I felt that my personhood was somehow being taken from me by being so freely commented upon without any nod to my living presence near them.

So, the next question in my mind was, what would have been the right way for that scenario to unfold? I suppose ideally, these men would have introduced themselves, and then shared their opinions with me, rather than simply near me. Second best would be to keep their comments to themselves until I was out of earshot, because while it’s generally considered rude to talk about other people, at least by avoiding being overheard they would be acknowledging that I am a person who can hear.

The other – much more complicated – question is, where on the spectrum does some kind of spoken communication need to happen to constitute consent? I’ve said before that I believe to make something visible is consent for it to be seen. To be looked at does not require explicit consent. Obviously, any thoughts that go along with looking also don’t. I can fantasize about whomever I want, whenever I want. Look at any part of me that you can see without touching – that’s fair game. Think your free personal thoughts about what you see, as innocuous or lewd as they may be.

But what comes next? To give consent of any kind involves some kind of spoken interaction, so it seems like speaking to someone should be a free action (to steal a term from RPG’s). On the other hand, street harassment often takes the form of words and is certainly not okay. I absolutely love this comic I found on the subject:

street_harassment1

Comic by Barry Deutsch – click through to read.

I’m constantly thinking about where lines are drawn, and the distinction here between what is a compliment and what is harassment gave me a lot of food for thought. It’s (mostly) not the words that make the difference. If a person at the aforementioned party approached me, made eye contact, and said “I think you have an incredibly hot ass,” I would not be threatened. I might be a little awkward, but I’d be flattered. It might even “make my day.” But when someone calls those words out to me on the street, it makes me very nervous.

The easy answer is that the line is about motivation, but since we can’t know someone else’s motives, it’s not a workable solution. I don’t know if the person talking to me wants to pick me up, assault me, or just offer me a compliment in passing. I can’t know, in either circumstance.

I really wanted a big “ta-da!” to close this out, but I’m honestly stymied. I can tell you with certainty that verbally expressing sexual desire toward a woman is not inherently harassment, but I can’t tell you exactly what is. Especially because there’s also a realm in between acceptable and unacceptable, and that is “rude.” What the men at the party did to me was rude. It was not harassment, but it wasn’t ok either. It was rude, which is somewhere between the two.

While I may not have a pretty bow to wrap this up in, I will say this line of thinking is making me realize how difficult it can be for men to honestly express their sexual desires toward women. If I was a good person who was often in fear of being labeled a predator, I’d err dramatically on the side of caution, and would thereby probably not have any sex ever. The lines are blurry, and as a woman I’m generally viewed as less threatening and therefore less likely to accidentally find myself on the wrong side of the line. As a woman, that line is interesting to contemplate. If I were a man, it would terrify me.

Advertisements

Ink

This is not a “here’s what I ate for breakfast,” daily life events kind of blog, and I like it that way. I really don’t think anyone cares about a snotty customer I had at work, or the weird conversations I have in bed with my boyfriend. That said, I recently had a pretty major life event that I want to share. Two days ago, I completed a full-back tattoo that I’ve been working on for over a year.

IMAG0533

The quote at the bottom, “existence precedes essence,” is an unrelated piece I had done several years ago. The quote is from Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism.” The fact that it looks like a caption to the image is coincidental.

There she is. This is Tess, or to be more specific a depiction of the climactic scene from Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Yes, I’m a big literature geek. I find it very hard to share the reasons that this scene is so important to me – there are many, but they’re only loosely connected.

I suppose the simplest is that this novel was my first realization that literature is challenging. English class always came easy to me, not because it is an easy subject, but because it’s made into a throwaway in public school. If you can read a novel and name the characters and a few major plot points, you pass. A question like “what is the tone of this passage?” is about as deep into a book as most classes delve. However, in twelfth grade I had a blessing of an English teacher who made us really learn from what we read, instead of just learning about it. She was the one who taught me what a thesis statement was – that writing about books didn’t just mean knowing what the book said, it was making an argument about what the book means. It was in her class that I read Tess for the first time, her class that inspired me to major in literature, and that book that made me passionate about Victorian novels.

The longer reason is why this particular scene of the novel moves me. For anyone who isn’t a big reader of Hardy (which is most people), here’s the world’s shortest summary of the plot of Tess:

Tess comes from a poor family, and in her efforts to support herself and her loved ones, she goes through some serious shit. She gets raped, has a child (who dies), endures horrible poverty, falls in love (yay!) but then is abandoned on her wedding night when she confesses to her husband those things from earlier about the rape and the baby. She eventually marries her rapist out of desperation, but when her true love returns to her she murders the new husband and runs away with her love, only to be arrested and executed for her crime. (I’d feel bad about spoilers, but the book is over 100 years old.) The end.

I know, happy story. In case you’re wondering, almost all of Hardy’s novels are about that happy.

2013-04-03_11.46.46

“I like very much to be here,” she murmured. “It is so solemn and lonely – after my great happiness – with nothing but the sky above my face. It seems as if there were no folk in the world but we two […]”

So, why is Tess napping in the middle of Stonehenge, I hear you asking impatiently. This scene occurs only moments before Tess is found and arrested by the police. She has gone through incredible torments, but has finally freed herself from the awful man who manipulated her throughout her life, and is with the man she loves. They have spent the last few nights together in flurries of passion, knowing their time is short as she can’t run from justice forever. Now she wants to rest, she’s ready to be captured and even to die because she’s gotten everything she ever really wanted. When she lays down, it’s not because she’s giving up, it’s because she’s content. And because Hardy has to have her go out with a flourish, she and her love find themselves in the middle of Stonehenge as the sun is rising, and Tess lays on a sun-warmed stone to sleep. When she is surrounded upon waking, her last words are, “I am ready.”

That scene has always spoken to me, and so after a little over a year’s worth of investment with one of St Louis’ very best tattoo artists, Amanda Pepper, it’s complete. As I’ve mentioned before, I consider body modification to be an important part of my deliberate body. I believe there is no more powerful way to take control of my body, and to display my mind upon it, than through mods, and especially tattoos. My piercings might give you an impression about me, but my tattoos tell a story. I’ve got a lot more on the drawing board, so to speak, and I expect they will be a life-long project for me as I’ll never run out of stories to tell.

This is my copy of Tess. It's pretty well loved.

This is my copy of Tess. It’s pretty well loved.

Cheating Confessions, Part 2: His Best Friend’s Penis

Cis-men – especially heterosexual cis-men – are widely assumed to be fiercely competitive, and in my experience this assumption has frequently proven true. In my poly lifestyle I find my male partners often take a long time becoming accustomed to one another and realizing they don’t have to fight for dominance. Mostly, though, this competition is subtle: scrutinizing each other’s behavior, being possessive of me, that sort of thing. I have only once, in my lifetime sexual history (which, I admit, is less than a decade), had a man directly ask me to compare his sexual performance, and specifically the size of his cock, to that of another man. True story.

45_505216325605_5394_n

I’m really enjoying posting photos corresponding to the phases of my life I write about. This is from fall 2006, at a friend’s birthday party.

The fall of my sophomore year of college, I came back to campus (after a very eventful summer which is a subject for another story) and to my boyfriend Alex who was at this time unaware of my sexual indiscretions. We only stayed together about two weeks into the school year; just enough time for one more cheat before the break-up. When I say this is “part 2” I’m really not speaking chronologically: there were two other men in the interim, but this story is related to part 1 so I’m telling it first. Yes, I hear you, get on with it. Right, so where was I. Just got back to campus for sophomore year of college, Fall 2006.

Scott had gone back to his parents’ house in north Florida to go to another college, and I found myself becoming closer with his best friend, Tyler. I had gotten to know Tyler pretty well the previous year, and our friendship was quite similar to the one I had with Scott. Tyler, though, was more fickle in his affections, and the year before I often found myself ignored by him for a month or more at a time. When he was interested, however, we spent a lot of time together, and I spent quite a few nights in his bed (which was, conveniently, across the hall in the dorms). Like Scott, we didn’t have sex at first; unlike Scott, I didn’t have sex with Tyler until sophomore year, and we then had the opportunity for repeat performances.

Only the first time he and I had sex was while I was still with Alex, so I suppose this is only partly a cheating story, and mostly just a bad-fucking story.

Tyler knew throughout our friendship that I was involved with Scott, and sometimes looking back on it I think they might have talked about me quite a lot, possibly even turned the whole thing into a game between them. I find myself wondering about that because the first time I saw Tyler’s cock he outright asked me if it was bigger/better than Scott’s. I figure he was hoping for an answer he could rub in his best friend’s face. Well, to be perfectly honest, I only ever interacted with Scott’s penis one time, the room was dark, and I didn’t get a very good look. That was my answer, and it was the truth.

Tyler, though, was damned proud of his equipment and wanted it flattered: not without reason, as it was sizable and very interesting looking when it was hard. That sounds like a left-handed compliment, but I generally don’t have a lot of comments to offer about the aesthetics of a penis. Interesting means I liked to look at it, and that’s about the best compliment I’ve got in that department. I was nonetheless a bit flabbergasted by his directness in asking about his best friend’s package in opposition with his own.

Unfortunately for Tyler, his cockiness (see what I did there?) got the better of him, and he failed to actually figure out how a woman’s body works. Apparently someone informed him that big dicks gave women orgasms, and he stopped reading the manual after that. Obviously he wasn’t completely hopeless or I wouldn’t have spent so many nights in bed with him before getting formally introduced to the aforementioned penis. Tyler was extremely seductive and arousing before he got into my pants – hell, with the amount of time and effort he put into being with me at that time, he was practically my boyfriend. And he was a good one, then. We spent loads of time together, often in his car (a Tiburon, which at the time I thought was bitchin’ but now I realize is the staple vehicle of douchebags…though he and Scott both had absolutely beautiful sound systems in their cars, and we would often just drive around with the windows open listening to music. I sometimes think that their cars seduced me as much as they did. Beautiful music and vibrating engines will do that to a girl. Aaaaanyway, this was the longest parenthetical ever.) since we were college students with no money for real dates. In public, he was affectionate – in private, he was very physically attentive. He could get me panting and desperately wet with his touch.

This part of the story is depressing for me - allow me to soften it with this funny picture of me climbing a dead tree. Also from fall 2006.

This part of the story is depressing for me – allow me to soften it with this funny picture of me climbing a dead tree. Also from fall 2006.

All that completely turned around when our relationship became directly – which is to say penetratively – sexual. His idea of sex was to kiss me long enough to get me naked, then the condom went on and it was time for penetration. I often wasn’t wet at all, because, well, why would I be? This was yet another reason I grew to hate condoms over the years – if I’m not moderately lubricated already, the condom will effectively parch me completely. And then, bad friction. Bad friction while he pumped away on top of me, in missionary position, on a squeaky dorm bed. I did my best to tighten my muscles around him to get some deeper sensation, but with no warm-up my vagina would have none of it. I have never in my life faked an orgasm, but I admit I played up my enjoyment with him quite a lot.

After we had sex a few times, our relationship changed drastically. No longer courting me, he didn’t go out of his way to see me or be kind to me. And apparently dissatisfied with my sexual performance, he would openly mock me in front of our mutual friends, saying that I would “just lie there.” I’m pretty sure the phrase “dead fish” came up once or twice (which, for anyone other than him who has ever had sex with me, is obviously laughable). Generally he was a complete jerk, and then would ask if I was coming up to his room at night – though he often sent me back to my own room afterwards, which this semester wasn’t even in the same building as his. I admit, I went up to that room more than once after this behavior started. It took some time for it to sink in that he really was going to go ahead and treat me like crap now.

Tyler also asked me about his sexual abilities compared with Scott’s, and I don’t remember what I told him, but in hindsight comparing the experiences is amusing to me. When Scott left our college, he told me that he regretted not being around to pursue a real romantic relationship with me. After I started having sex with Tyler, our relationship became significantly less intimate than it was before. Funny things.

The only overall positive experience of having sex with Tyler that I can remember was a threesome that we had with my best girlfriend at the time. She and I had a sexually active friendship, and on several occasions had threesomes with guys that I was involved with. We had a lovely sexual chemistry, so the experiences were universally pretty awesome, and this was no exception. I think we managed to get Tyler caught up enough in our pheromones that the encounter was a satisfying one for everyone. She later theorized that he was using me to get into bed with her, but I don’t necessarily buy that. I briefly considered posting one of the many photos I have of her and me together, but unlike the men in these stories I still care about her enough to be interested in preserving her privacy.

As usual, with these little stories and glimpses, there’s no moral or nice little tie-in to end the story. Though I think I will end that story with this one: not long after Tyler and I stopped having sex (which was less a direct break-up and more a tapering off of contact), Scott came to visit us on campus. We were sitting outside smoking, and I headed inside to go to bed. Scott got up, and gave me a hug, and we were generally happy to see each other and catch up that night. Tyler got up to hug me, and I blew him off. He said something about why didn’t he get a hug, he thought he was my friend, something meant to be comical but also was a little petulant. I told him of course we’re not friends, you’re not even nice to me. BA-ZING! Yeah, no, not a great burn, but I almost never say anything mean to anyone, so being honest like that felt really good. It was really nice to place being honest about my feelings over not being rude.

No Means No, Even When You’re Famous – or – Seriously Guys, Leave Jon Hamm’s Penis Alone

TCDMAME EC167

Love this show. Love it.

I am a proud and happy consumer of pop culture. I love television and popular music. While I’ve mentioned that my critical eye is hyper-active when I consume my pop-culture, consume it I do, sometimes voraciously. However, I admit that I am, generally speaking, not interested in the meta-pop-culture that is celebrities’ personal lives. While I love Mad Men, for instance, I could care less what kind of sandwiches Christina Hendricks ate last month, or who January Jones is having sex with, or how Vincent Kartheiser is styling his hair these days – off the set, that is.

But, when I came across this article entitled “Giant-Dicked Jon Hamm Really Wishes All Of You Would Stop Talking About His Giant Dick,” well, how could I resist that? It used the word dick twice in the headline alone – I’m obviously going to be interested. It turns out that Jon Hamm, the actor who portrays Don Draper on the aforementioned Mad Men, has been garnering a great deal of attention among the celebrity “news” media because of the visible bulge he creates in his pants.

tumblr_m8fuorJPSG1qeogsjo1_400

Taken from the “Jon Hamm’s Wang” tumblr.

And when I say “a great deal,” what I mean is that the article linked above is actually the second one on the subject by Uproxx, the first being called “Jon Hamm’s Penis Has Become a Disruptive Force on the Set of Mad Men.” (It’s a little scary to me how they phrased that, as if he was molesting his co-stars or something, rather than just looking more bulgy than his director would prefer.) Additionally, The Daily Beast referred to him as having a penis that is “Too Big For Clothing,” and, as if all the standard media attention is not enough, there’s also an entire tumblr dedicated to Jon Hamm’s penis. Seriously, I couldn’t make this up. A quick Google search revealed pages and pages of additional articles on the subject, as well as a long list of photos, many of which circled or highlighted the notorious bulge.

All of the attention Mr Hamm has been receiving, primarily in the form of tongue-in-cheek jokes about “Hamm’s ham,” has become rather too much for him, and he vented about it a bit to Rolling Stone magazine, saying that “it is a little rude. It just speaks to a broader freedom that people feel like they have – a prurience.” He adds, “They’re called ‘privates’ for a reason. I’m wearing pants, for fuck’s sake. Lay off. I mean, it’s not like I’m a fucking lead miner. There are harder jobs in the world. But when people feel the freedom to create Tumblr accounts about my cock, I feel like that wasn’t part of the deal.”

Screen-shot-2013-03-27-at-9.11.05-AM

Jon Hamm’s Rolling Stone cover

So, he’s telling us a lot of things here. First off, he is preemptively fighting the inevitable attack from we-the-non-famous-people, specifically that he lives a life of privilege in the spotlight and therefore can expect certain levels of gossip and exposure beyond that of the average private citizen, and that he views his privilege as paid for with that loss of privacy. That’s very big of you, Jon. I frankly disagree, but at this point despair of the possibility of ever rectifying the situation, so far gone are we in our love of celebrity. However, the more important thing he’s doing is telling the world that he feels uncomfortable about the way he’s being objectified, and that he doesn’t consent to it. He right out says, “lay off.” He tells Rolling Stone that being publicly hypersexualized without his consent isn’t a freedom that he thinks people ought to be taking, that it “wasn’t part of the deal” that comes with being famous. And he’s right. It is rude.

My opinion on the sexual objectification of another person’s body is the same as my opinion on any other sexual act. Its acceptability reaches only as far as consent. To be visible is to consent to be seen, but that’s it. If Jon Hamm is wearing tight pants, and you can see a bulge in them, you’re allowed to look. You’re even allowed to fantasize about it if you want. Rub one out, have a lovely time. But it doesn’t mean that he’s consented to this kind of public commentary based entirely around his genitalia. And in a free-speech-loving culture, yes, we do have every legal right to talk about it, to post paparazzi photos, and make jokes. These things aren’t illegal, but they are unkind, and they do create an environment where we believe it’s not only acceptable, but fun, to dehumanize celebrities.

So, annoyed with the disrespect being lavished upon his humanity, Hamm spoke out honestly and frankly with Rolling Stone magazine. Good for you, I say. But I seem to be the only one that said that. Uproxx, in the first article I linked to, had a totally different take on the situation. From word one, they mock Hamm for his affrontedness. No, really, I mean literally word one. “Seriously,” they lead off, before diving into a litany of sarcasm and mock empathy, calling his complaints to Rolling Stone “bitching,” and referring to him as “pissy.” They threaten his popularity, telling him that he’s “pushing it” by attempting to withhold consent to be made into a sexual object, and that “there are few things less endearing.”

The parallels here to victim-blaming are so stark they hurt my eyes when I read this article. How many times have women been sexually harassed and told to “take it as a compliment?” How many “prudes” and “ice queens” are there out there whose worst offense was being hurt when someone made an insensitive comment about their bodies? Now a man who, in his own words, wants his privates to stay private, is being decried as “pissy,” and is being threatened with social isolation if he doesn’t agree to play along with his own objectification. He’s being told, in essence, to “take it as a compliment.” Uproxx snarks “is there a worst lot in life than that of the handsome, famous celebrity with a giant penis, especially when the whole world knows about said handsome, famous celebrity’s giant penis?” The implication of course being that Hamm should be flattered by all the attention his cock is attracting. The world is looking at his huge penis, obviously that’s a good thing! And if Hamm relished in and encouraged the attention, then yes it would be a good thing. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t want it, and so that means the right thing to do is let it go.

“I’m a Social Farter” – Another Example of the Shock-And-Awe Anti-Smoking Approach

Untitled_8089595811_o

This is what I walked past at GenCon 2012, looking every bit like another video game demo, complete with line of eager participants.

Anti-smoking campaigns are notorious for being filled with little white lies, misleading tactics and outright misdirection to sell you their ideology. Anyone who’s a BFN (big fucking nerd) like myself and goes to conventions has seen the god-awful Flavor Monsters booth sponsored by Truth, where visitors enter a high-budget booth and are told that if they demo this fun new game they get a free tshirt. No commitment or investment required. Once you give them your email address and “play” through this “game,” however, you realize that the “flavor monsters” are the eeeevil flavors that eeeevil tobacco corporations are placing in their products to fool poor unsuspecting Americans into consuming their eeeevil products. Thanks, Truth, for the bait-and-switch, and for once again reminding us that you think Americans are too stupid to decide for themselves whether or not they want to give themselves cancer. I personally was pretty annoyed when flavored cigarettes got outlawed, and I’m pretty sure that the cigar-smokers and dippers out there would be equally annoyed if flavors were outlawed there are well.

430006826_640That’s not what I am posting about right now, though. The video that caught my attention today is less about the bait-and-switch and more about using charisma and humor to cover up bad logic. The ad is by a California anti-smoking campaign and features a woman who identifies herself as a “Social Farter.” She isn’t really a farter, she says, she only farts when she’s out with friends, when she’s drinking, or sometimes to break the ice and meet a guy. It’s an analogy, you see. The payoff, of the ad is the tagline “Social smoking is as ridiculous as social farting.” Oh, that’s so clever! You exclaim. Well, no, no it’s not. The problem is that farting and smoking aren’t analogous at all. One is a bodily function that frankly you must perform at some point or else you will experience pretty significant physical pain, and is socially unacceptable in public venues, much like many other bodily functions. The other is a mood-altering recreational drug that is acceptable to consume in many public venues. And it is, in fact, more pleasant to consume in combination with alcohol and socialization because of the aforementioned mood-altering characteristics. But we’re all supposed to be both amused and vaguely horrified at this woman farting in social settings in order to produce in the audience a similar feeling toward social smoking. The analogy doesn’t actually stand on its own, but if the creators can convince their audience of a connection, then the audience will view social smoking as equally ludicrous, and equally distasteful, as social farting. Fortunately, unlike Pavlov and his bell, the human mind is complicated enough that if you put two things next to one another we do not automatically decide they are related. No, social farting is not analogous to social smoking. Sorry, you’re just plain wrong, and being intentionally wrong to manipulate my thinking is even worse.

Public Service Announcement

I’m taking a brief hiatus from my usual feminist ranting and polyamorous ramblings to talk about two very important trans men in my life.

My coworkers and I have formed a tight-knit family. We call the shop owners Mom and Dad, (or “Ma” and “Pops” on occasion), and we’re all brothers and sisters. Two of my brothers are wonderful men currently in the process of transition.

dylan

The first, my little brother Dylan, has been taking testosterone for almost a year, and has raised about $4000 toward his top surgery. We’re continuing to work hard to raise funds for him. His indiegogo campaign ended last month, but I’m still trying to support him in his efforts, as the surgery and recovery are a large financial burden to bear. He’s a little over half-way to his $7000 goal, so we’re hoping to put him on a plane to a fabulous surgeon soon.

421883_829177185830_1409703436_nThe other, my Irish-twin brother Eliot, is just starting down this road. He started testosterone supplements last month, and just started up an indiegogo campaign for his own top surgery. We’re hoping in another month or so that idiots will quit calling him “ma’am,” once he grows some stubble and his voice drops.

For a lot of trans-men, having to look in the mirror every day and see a man, but then see a pair of breasts, is a heavy psychological strain. I’ve known men who wouldn’t even remove their binders to have sex, because their breasts made them that uncomfortable. Top surgery can seem superficial, but it is a huge step toward allowing these men to look in the mirror and see a reflection of the men they really are.

So, help my brothers out.

You can donate for Eliot here.

Dylan’s indiegogo campaign has ended, but if you want to send a donation, you can email me at starontheswingset@gmail.com and I’ll get you some details.

Nudity, Sexuality, Body-Positivity: Why my sexiness (or lack thereof) has no bearing on my body-positive viewpoint.

Obviously this is all sex appeal. Photo by Allan Crain.

There is an idea in our culture that a naked human body is somehow inherently sexual. This is a fact that we take for granted in our everyday lives, to the point that I would be surprised if at least a few people didn’t read that sentence and think “wait, it’s not?” When I marched in the 2012 Pride parade wearing denim shorts and a pair of pasties, myself and a few other girls in similar garb were berated on the grounds that this was not “family friendly.” The implication there being, of course, that we were sexually explicit and therefore inappropriate for children’s eyes. We weren’t performing any sexual behaviors – we weren’t making out with each other, caressing our own or anyone else’s bodies, or making lewd gestures or comments. We simply had a whole lot of exposed skin. And frankly, at Pride, I think that ought to be ok, especially since it happens in June which in my city is approximately a billion degrees.

When Congressman Barney Frank was interviewed by CNS News regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in December of 2010, he was asked to address the issue of straight and homosexual men being required to shower together. His response was one of mock dismay, and he goes on to refer to it as a “silly issue,” asking “what is it you think goes on when you shower with homosexuals?”

The interviewer was offering the implication that if homosexual men were to share a shower with other men, heterosexual or otherwise, they would inevitably become aroused by the presence of naked male bodies. Because these men are attracted to men, being around them while nude will surely result in arousal. Congressmen Frank’s rebuttal is that showering is not a sex act, and heterosexual men are not going to be threatened by the presence of homosexuals in their showers. He says that homosexuals, “don’t get [them]selves dry-cleaned, [they] tend to take showers.” He defuses the sexual innuendo of the interviewer’s question by comparing showering to laundry, and I am on board with his comparison. In many ways, showering is a lot closer to laundry than it is to sex, but because it involves naked bodies a sexual association is inevitably placed upon it.

883071_10151275739146721_1680991452_o

Pictured: Debi Laszewski, professional bodybuilder, personal trainer, and model.

This assumption is so far reaching that we take it for granted, but it has troubling implications. If the purpose of the naked body is solely to fuck, then its sexual appeal becomes the most important measure of its worth. This is not only utterly wrong but often downright foolish. Here’s a not-very-funny story: I have a friend who is a college professor and body builder. He told me a story about a 19-year-old male student who walked into his office one day and saw a photo on his desktop of an award-winning female body builder, a friend of his. The student’s immediate reaction was “I wouldn’t fuck THAT!”

Needless to say, the student got an earful from his professor, but my simple response to this mindless outburst would be simply “so what?” This woman is taking mindful control of her body, and winning awards for it. It is hers to design and build to her specifications, and she prizes it enough to pit herself against other bodies in competition – and comes out on top! Yet somehow this young man seemed to think that his sexual desire – or lack thereof – for this woman was a legitimate basis on which to judge her body. He intentionally disparaged her body solely because he did not want to have sex with it. That’s more than mean, that’s insane.

This train of thinking about nudity, sexuality, and sexual desirability, makes the body-positivity movement immensely more difficult to propagate. I’ve heard people issue “reassurance” to women about their bodies by telling them, in essence, “there’s somebody out there who’s into that.” If the best thing you can tell a woman insecure about her naked body is that there’s someone in the world who’d want to fuck it, you’ve got an utterly warped sense of the human body. Telling women that they don’t have to conform to the Western white-hetero-middle-class ideals of beauty is a good start. Tell women that they don’t have to look like a Victoria’s Secret model. But don’t tell them that the reason they don’t have to look that way is because someone will still think they’re sexy. It’s probably true, and it’s good to feel sexy. But how fuckable a person’s body is doesn’t measure the value of that body.

People’s bodies are constantly judged with a sexual slant. Men disparage female body builders because nobody wants a woman who looks “like a man.” A sexy photograph of a tattooed woman on Facebook got the comment, “Interesting post but someday she’s gonna want to just git nekkid with someone…” These comments are not only disparaging a person’s body based on its sexual appeal, they’re judging people based on the bodies they’ve created ON PURPOSE. This is important to me.

I think the judgment of a modded body is different from the more common (but equally reprehensible) activities of fat-bashing and thin-bashing and judgment of any sort of natural bodily design. Those kinds of comments carry the implication that the person being judged is somehow unfortunate, that they should change their body to improve it, because obviously no one WANTS to be “like that,” whether the “that” in question is fat, thin, small breasted, large-assed, whatever. There’s a different flavor of ignorance there, that the person is somehow incomplete or needs improvement.

When someone flings sexually-based judgments at a modded body, it’s as if they’re saying the person has done something wrong. “Your body is for my enjoyment, so what on earth compelled you to do that to it?” seems to be the question. It’s almost accusatory.

I know that distinction was a bit of a transgression from my point, so I’ll bring it back around. In both cases, bodies are being viewed in terms of whether or not people want to have sex with them. And really, the only people I care about when it comes to their opinion on my fuckability, are my partners. My body image ought not to be based on my “attractiveness.” (I say ought not to because I’ll admit I get hung up on it too.) It should be based on what I’ve done with it, and whether my treatment of my body is what I desire, and whether said treatment is obtaining the desired results. For example, I’m incredibly pleased and satisfied with the tattoo on my back. I’m less pleased and satisfied with the current shape of my legs, because I don’t run as often as I want to. I’m not displeased with my legs because they aren’t sexy: I’m displeased because I’m working toward a goal and am not achieving it to my personal satisfaction.

My sister likes to argue with me over the term body-positivity, and say that really it ought to be body-neutrality. Bodies are not inherently positive OR negative, and we do not have the right to judge or shame the bodies of others. Thus, neutral. I’ll agree with that; however body-positivity for me isn’t necessarily the same as self-love, -image, or -esteem. Body positivity is about accepting other people’s body choices as their own, and encouraging their intentional bodies. I will confess a distaste for people with apathy toward their own bodies. But if you are owning and creating your body to your personal specifications, you are what body-positivity is about for me. I don’t care if you love yourself, or if you look in the mirror and feel pretty, or whatever. It’s about acknowledging your body as your instrument, and owning its shape and maintenance. It’s about self-consciousness, rather than self-esteem. And it’s completely incompatible with the sexual objectification of the naked body, which is all about becoming desirable to a non-existent and unreachable public opinion. The non-consensual sexualization of my body destroys my agency by framing it in terms I didn’t choose or create, based on a standard that is ill-defined and worse-understood. It cannot possibly coexist with my idea of body-positivity, and frankly I like my opinions better.

Drinking and Kinking in Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight”

I wrote this several years ago, and never really had anywhere to put it before now. And now, I have a venue where I get to write about WHATEVER I WANT. So, I tidied it up a bit, and now you’re getting a critique of a sexy music video.

If you haven’t seen the video I’m talking about, the song is “Not Myself Tonight” by Christina Aguilera.

This is an example of a surprisingly common phenomenon where the imagery of a music video has almost nothing to do with the content of the song. The song seems to be about a girl who’s getting drunk, grinding on the dance floor, and making out with strangers. Pretty standard fare, really, with the exception of Christina Aguilera employing the word “fuck” – something I don’t recall her ever doing.

notmyselftonightImage-wise, this video is PRETTY. It’s a bit of a kink clusterfuck, ranging from kitten-play-style crawling on the floor in a collar, with a bowl in front of her; to playing dance-floor dominatrix, pulling hair and making a room full of back up dancers kneel around her. You also see such costume gems as a high-fashion gimp and what appears to be a drag queen in a vinyl teddy and big big hair. Also, my personal favorite, the blinged-out ball-gag.

So, yeah, ok, I’m not telling you anything you wouldn’t know watching this video by yourself. However, there’s something else going on in there. Most of the song doesn’t match up with the imagery Christina is presenting, but what does align is lots and lots of kink with lines like “I’m feeling unusual,” “I’m out of character,” etc. The implication, of course, being that sometimes nice girls want to get naughty. As the type who likes to be naughty pretty much all the time, I’m not sure how much I like that message. I think Christina is trying to dance around kink, not quite embracing it, but showing it to us so we believe she’s edgy.

rihannasm

Say what you want about the much more popular Rihanna song “S&M” (which took a lot of judgment from the vanilla and kink communities alike when it came out), but she went all out with her message. She said, shamelessly, “Feels so good being bad, there’s no way I’m turning back.” Christina is saying “I’m out of character.”*

“If you really knew me you’d know it’s not the norm,” are Aguilera’s words. What I hear is, “If I don’t embrace this fully, then you can’t judge me.” She’s walking that fine line that appeals to the vanilla man: she’s a freak SOMETIMES. She thinks that vinyl is sexy SOMETIMES, but she won’t threaten your manhood by being a dominant woman. She likes to make out with girls SOMETIMES, but don’t worry, your manhood is not threatened because she’s still straight. “If you don’t like it fuck you,” she says, but she also says it’s just for tonight. In the long term, she’s safe, vanilla, heteronormative Christina.

I just stuck this photo in here because I have a shoe fetish. Ballet heels. Yum.

I just stuck this photo in here because I have a shoe fetish. Ballet heels. Yum.

It also plays to the more dangerous stereotype of the sexually uninhibited drunk woman. She says “I’m taking shots,” and “I’m normally in the corner just standing,” but because she’s drunk she’s “getting crazy.” Yes, alcohol does reduce inhibition. Obviously I’m not saying that it doesn’t. But perpetuating the image of the girl who acts wild because she’s drunk sucks for many reasons. First, is the problem of guys who intentionally get girls drunk to create this effect and thereby get laid. The logic is, it’s not that the girl doesn’t WANT to have sex, she’s just uptight and needs to get loosened up with some drink. Feminists and other people with brains call this acquaintance rape or, at best, coercion.

The second problem is that it feeds the idea that women AREN’T sexually free when they’re sober. A normal, sober, woman ought to be standing in the corner. And when you’re sober you shouldn’t want to kiss the boys and the girls. But when you’re drunk you get a pass. That both encourages permissiveness of bad behavior while drinking (“I didn’t mean to cheat on you, I was drunk”) and discourages sexual freedom while sober. Sexual uninhibited-ness, within the confines of safe, sane, consensual activity, is a GOOD THING. It’s not something to be excused away with drink.

After watching this video a few times, my feelings remain mixed. I do have all of the previously listed moral qualms with her message. At the same time, I think the costumes, the choreography, the whole production, are all breathtaking. I could watch her pour liquid latex on herself all day and never get tired of it. Freeze the video at 1:09. Thank me later. Aesthetically, I am in love with this video!

notmyselftonight2

You’re welcome.

So I am left ambivalent. Perhaps I’ll superimpose another song onto the video for this one, so my eyes can be happy while my ears are left unoffended. I wonder how “Hotel California” would line up?**

*Fun fact regarding timelines: Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight” video was released in April 2010 (the full album “Bionic” was released in June). Rihanna’s “S&M” video was released in January 2011 (the album, “Loud,” was released the previous November). In every way, Christina’s song was first. So obviously Christina was not riding the coat-tails of Rihanna’s successful video. And “Not Myself Tonight” was nowhere NEAR the hit that “S&M” was, so we certainly can’t say the opposite. If the two influenced each other at all, maybe Rihanna saw Christina’s video and wanted to take it one step further? Who knows?

** The “Hotel California” thing was totally a joke, but if you play “S&M” over the video for “Not Myself Tonight,” it almost works. Sadly, “S&M” is almost a full minute longer, so that kinda fucks that up. But other than that, the music and choreography look uncannily good together.

Throwing Out The Baby With The Bathwater – Sexual Hygiene and Advertising

One of the issues that often gets all wrapped up in feminism and empowerment is vaginal odor. How are vaginas supposed to smell? How are we supposed to clean them? These are surprisingly fraught questions, considering we don’t think that hard about any other part of our bodies. I don’t see a lot of political groups campaigning against deodorant or shampoo, though sexism is rampant in those ads as well. But feminists get really angry about advertising for any sort of vaginal hygiene product. I’m not going to say that those ads aren’t regularly sexist, because they are. The difference is that instead of attacking the sexist ad campaign, people are opposing the product being advertised.

deodorant adHere’s an example. This is a men’s deodorant ad. It’s a fairly typical sexualized rendition of a woman, with the added bonus that she is rendered non-threatening by cooking a turkey in a 1950’s style oven (subtle, right?). The tag line, “Can she make you lose control?” tells us how desirable she is, and that this deodorant is SO amazing that you can look at her and not get all sweaty. Right. I’m not going to even bother with the issues of male sexuality and their depiction in mass media in this post, so that’s enough said for that ad.

deodorant ad2

Click through to see the full-size image and read the text.

Switch to a women’s deodorant ad. Here we have…well…a fairly typical sexualized rendition of a woman, though in this case she is posed to be less “come-hither” and more “look-at-me!” But here we’re supposed to want to BE the woman, because she is brave, and look at how she waves that scarf around. We’re ready to expose our skin because this product has made that skin acceptable to be seen in public. (Don’t even get me started on advertising for razor blades along those lines.)

My point is, we can look at these ads and say “why yes, those are sexist and stupid,” without throwing away all our deodorant.

Here’s my stance on the whole line of vaginal hygiene products. Douching, and anything that is designed to rinse out the inside of your vagina is scary and dangerous and bad for you. Don’t do it. However, a lot of the companies that make douches also make body washes designed to be used externally, that clean your vulva without interfering with the natural pH levels the way soap does. I think that’s pretty great. Eve Ensler wrote, in the ever-famous Vagina Monologues, “I don’t want my pussy to smell like rain.” I don’t either, Eve. However, I also don’t want it to smell like I just came home from the gym – you know, after I come home from the gym. I don’t want lingering male fluids getting unpleasant after I have sex. And I don’t agree that “just water” is the right way to clean it. It’s true that soap is harsh and you shouldn’t use it. But for fuck’s sake, it’s 2013, and science has produced products that you CAN use on your vulva and not screw up your pH balance. And you can buy ones that smell like nothing. Not like roses, or rain. They have no scent at all. They just clean off the gym-sweat or the cum or the stubborn blood stains during shark week, without making me smell like I’m trying to perfume away my natural vaginal odor. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

summersevead

Click through to see the full-size image and read the text.

On the other hand, there is something very obviously wrong with the way these products are sold to us. They aren’t pitched for the uses I described above – they’re not just another soap or deodorant. Having a clean vagina, we are led to believe, makes us better women.

This is not an article in a magazine that just happens to have a Summer’s Eve ad underneath it. This whole page is the ad. Yes, that’s right, they wrote up an entire bogus article on being a strong professional woman, only to turn it around at the end and tell you that the best way to be successful is to have a pleasant smelling vagina. Thank you, Summer’s Eve, for reducing my worth to my sexual organs and their hygiene. Fun fact: unless a woman is suffering from a serious infection, a vagina cannot be smelled from across the room. I promise, no woman’s boss will ever judge her based on vaginal cleanliness, unless said boss is fucking her. And that just made this ad go from annoying to creepy.

Summers-Eve-Helen

Click through to see the full-size image and read the text.

This one I just…I hardly know where to begin. Helen of Troy was already the most beautiful woman in the world, but if only she had tried OUR products! Really? Did that really make it into print? The most legendary beauty in Western history: well, she was pretty great, but she would have been better if she douched. A woman’s value, in this case her beauty, once again dependent upon how she cleans her vagina. What the hell.

My point is, these ads are stupid and terrible, but so are those deodorant ads. Just because the ideology that a product is trying to sell us is complete sexist tripe doesn’t mean that the product itself is worthless. A woman shouldn’t measure her value by how much her vagina smells like flowers, or soap, or vagina; but that doesn’t mean she necessarily ought not to use a cleaning product. The Secret ad is trying to sell me self-confidence, and I reject their shallow notion of confidence, but I’m still going to buy deodorant. Summer’s Eve is trying to sell us self-worth, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t just buy body wash.