Peeping Thomas

Tucked in the back of the Philadelphia Art Museum‘s modern galleries is a peculiar, enigmatic piece by Marcel Duchamp. Etant donnes was the artist’s final work*: he spent the final two decades of his life working on the piece after telling the world that he had retired from art-making. Upon his death, the work was discovered and, as per the stipulations of Duchamp’s will, installed at the PMA never to be moved or lent out to other sites.

Continue reading “Peeping Thomas”

Avert Your Eyes

I lead a strange sort of double-life when it comes to things popular and pop-culture-like. On the one hand, I feel as if I live my life on the “geek culture” fringe — as evidenced, I’m sure, by past references to Comic-Con staples like Joss Whedon, True Blood and Game of Thrones. There’s lots of big “mainstream” hits and trends — Survivor, American Idol, Real Housewives all spring to mind — which have in their own time and place saturated the airwaves, and yet which I have never ever seen. Quite frankly, sometimes my monastic schedule, with its endless cycle of work, write, study, sleep, even keeps me from staying up-to-date on geek culture. (This many weeks later, and I still haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy. Guess that’s another membership card I’ll be handing in…)

On the other hand, my continued engagement with mainstream morning news (GMA) and print journalism (Entertainment Weekly) means I have a pretty good sense of what the pop culture trends and happenings are, moment to moment.

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The Games We Play

(a.k.a. Gaming the System, part 2.)

spy_vs_spy_by_ragdollnamedgaryThere’s times when I feel as if, when writing my “flagrantly feminist” posts, that I’m veering uncomfortably close to dividing the world into two teams: men as the “black hats,” the villains, the aggressors, the colonizers; and women as the “white hats,” the heroes, speaking truth to power and conscientiously standing up for what’s Right and True and Good.

And if I’ve ever implied that I’ve sorted the world into those two teams, please let me say clearly for the record: that would be bullshit, ’twere I to do so. Unmitigated, odiferous bullcrap.

Though I can see how it might happen. Continue reading “The Games We Play”

Gaming the System

I’m not really a gamer. At least, not as I understand the term.

videogamesYes, I spend way too much time playing iPad games, but it’s all amateur hour stuff: endless runners, connect-3 games, nostalgia favorites like Tetris. That kind of thing. Whenever the topic of gaming comes up, I jokingly say that I have the videogame tastes of a 9-year-old. Earlier in the summer, my nephew saw me playing Jetpack Joyride and said “I remember that game! My friends and I used to play it back in 7th grade.” So maybe my tastes are that of a 12-year-old rather than a 9-year-old, but the basic point stands: I’m not a gamer.

A gamer — to my understanding of the term — is someone who plays those extensive role-playing and/or immersive first-person shooter games. Stuff like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Grand Theft Auto, or Halo. (The fact that I don’t have any current titles/examples springing to mind is yet another sign of how not-a-gamer I am, so there you go…)

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On Porn and “Potterotica”

I guess it’s my week to talk about sexualized body parts?

This Button Poetry video from this year’s National Poetry Slam caught my attention yesterday:

The title of Brenna Twohy’s spoken-word poem Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them is a punnish play on the title of a volume about the Potter-verse, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (emphasis added), published by J.K. Rowling some years ago as a companion to the 7-book saga of “the boy who lived.”

Twohy articulated the goal of her poem to Buzzfeed thusly:

I wanted to highlight how unrealistic most pornography’s portrayal of sex is, and how that creates really damaging expectations for both men and women.

twohy-ask-me-whatMission accomplished (at least for the most part) to hilarious and devastating effect. Particularly pointed is Twohy’s observation that a taste for fan-fiction erotica is to be considered “unrealistic” — while mainstream porn is somehow seen as more real. Which is about as laughable a deception as I’ve heard since… well, unfortunately, just since yesterday, when folks were declaring that public breast-feeding is immoral. (Seriously, y’all. The patriarchy just needs to shut up and die in a fire. Now.)

In yesterday’s Independent, Jonathan Owen discusses a recent poll of British teenagers that reveals:

the majority [of poll participants] warn of the “damaging” and “addictive” effect of sexual images and videos readily available online. 80 per cent say it is too easy for young people to stumble across it and most recall “accessing pornography was seen as typical” while they were at school.

At least 70 per cent agree that “pornography leads to unrealistic attitudes to sex” and “can have a damaging impact” on views of sex or relationships.

A quick visit to Professor Google turned up a wealth of other articles unpacking the sexual myths and unrealistic expectations fostered by the mainstream porn industry. For example:

The gist of all these different articles is perhaps most entertainingly summarized by Noah Brand and Ozy Frantz in Alternet:

The problem is, learning about sex from porn is like learning about firearms from action movies. Action movies sacrifice realism for the sake of storyline or a really cool explosion. Action movies don’t teach you gun safety. Action movies don’t talk about alternatives to violence. And action movies use some tropes—such as the infinite ammo supply—that may move the story along but don’t reflect reality. That’s not a problem, as long as everyone treats them as entertaining fantasies.

Unfortunately, for many young people becoming sexually active today, the entertaining fantasies of mainstream porn are the teacher they’ve spent the most time with, and mainstream porn is a terrible teacher.

Even more than the general unrealistic nature of mainstream pornography, Twohy chooses to highlight a particular strain of misogyny and violence against women that runs through so many adult films.

[SIDEBAR] I will admit to having some level of discomfort over a piece that lambastes porn culture for allowing men to fantasize about sex with barely-legal teens while offering — however ironically — the “more empowering” alternative of a book series where the main characters are under-18 for a majority of the time. Also, having quickly perused some of the titles and advertised pairings in the “mature” section of the Harry Potter stories on fanfiction.net, I see the potential for a lot of uncomfortable power dynamics (Snape & Hermione) and Stockholm syndrome (Draco & oh, everybody).** Blurred lines of consent all over the place… [/SIDEBAR]

Nonetheless, the general thrust*** of Twohy’s piece feels really true and honest and on-point about the culture that mainstream porn participates in and which it helps perpetuate. To quote HuffPo (who also quotes part of Twohy’s poem):

a 2010 Violence Against Women study found that 90 percent of porn video content online and off included verbal or physical aggression towards women.

“I know a slaughterhouse when I see one,” Twohy says of the porn industry. “It looks like 24/7 live streaming, reminding me that men are going to fuck me whether I like it or not, that there is one use for my mouth and it is not speaking, that a man is his most powerful when he’s got a woman by the hair.”

Twohy suggests that the “slaughterhouse,” an uneasy analogy where the slicing instruments aren’t knives but part of a video editing suite, does more than just provide shots of women’s segmented body parts. It also creates a culture where domestic violence isn’t only expected, but accepted.

And more than that, Twohy steps — for an uncomfortable, searingly honest moment — into the ways that we all internalize these messages about how men and women are expected to perform in romantic and sexual situations — men, rough, cruel, aggressive; women, compliant and sex kittenish.

The first time a man I loved held me by the wrists and called me a whore, I did not think “Run.” I thought, “This is just like the movies.”

I have seen that training, on film and in real life.

It everybody fucks over, the patriarchy does.

* Yes, I dare say it has.

** You know how yesterday I took a bullet and read the comments sections on things so you wouldn’t have to? That favor-doing stops tonight — I was not going down that particular rabbit hole. Not for anything.

*** Sorry, couldn’t resist.

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Image credit: http://iwatchforsasha.tumblr.com/post/95066205780/fantastic-breasts-and-where-to-find-them

 

 

Form vs. Function

So, as someone who is child-free by choice, I’ve had an informal policy of staying as far away from the “mommy wars” as it is possible for me to stay. Breast-feeding vs. formula, maintaining external employment vs. becoming a stay-at-home-mom, “mainstream” product choices vs. natural/organic ones — every choice has its costs and benefits, and every mother has her own unique circumstance that leads to a particular set of choices (some of which may even be forced-choices determined by economic or other constraints).

Since I have never faced these choices and I am never walking a mile in these particular stirrups, my general approach has been to hold an attitude of respect for each mother and her parenting choices,* on the belief that each mom is doing the best she can in any given moment.

But then there’s that moment when the mommy wars play out very personally in the life of someone in my circle of acquaintance:

Ingrid Wiese-Hesson was shopping at an Anthropologie store in Beverly Hills when her 6-week-old son, Xavier, began crying because he was hungry.

Wiese-Hesson then sat down in the store to breastfeed the infant, and that was when the store’s manager reportedly intervened.

“The exact words to me were ‘I’m here to escort you to the ladies room so that you can finish breastfeeding’,” Wiese-Hesson said. “She opened up the bathroom, and she said ‘sorry, there’s no chair’, and of course the only thing in the bathroom was the toilet seat.” (CBS Los Angeles)

Ingrid posted her experience on Facebook and it blew up and went viral almost instantly (as one might guess from seeing the clip from last night’s 11’o’clock news).  More details and slices of analysis are available at a number of places online, including information about a “nurse-in” that took place today in the store (LAist); an AdWeek post that connects the uncomfortable dots between this real-life incident and a recent student-designed public awareness campaign aimed at preventing exactly this sort of harassment; and a CBS Money Watch post that gives really good snark:

At high-end retailer Anthropologie, shoppers can select from body-baring items like its $118 see-through Gladiolus Sheer Silk Blouse. But when it comes to breastfeeding, one store location deemed a woman was showing just too much of her body.

Assuming AdWeek’s excerpt from and analysis of CA state law is on-point —

The Anthropologie manager’s actions were not just unwise, they were also in violation of Hesson’s legal rights. From the California Civil Code: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present.”

— then there’s a certain open-and-shut nature to the legal question here. Ingrid was absolutely, 100% within her rights to breastfeed her son in the Anthropologie store, and the store manager broke the damn law by  interrupting her and escorting her to the bathroom.

david-horsey-breastfeeding-moms-20120705-001So I’m going to set the legal question aside from now and just let my mind boggle from the fucking insanity of this all. What rational and reasonable objection would anyone have to a woman breast-feeding her six-week-old baby?

Answer: objections a-plenty, but nothing rational or reasonable, as far as I can tell. I know the first rule of following feminist stories in mass-market media sites is “don’t read the comments!” — well, I did, so you don’t have to. (Taking one for the team.) There were a few different rhetorical tactics, but objections pretty much all fell into being one flavor or another of this: breastfeeding should be done in private because it’s immoral/unseemly/inappropriate for it to be seen in public.

And here’s where I go into a sputtering place of incoherent rage and puzzlement. Because, to paraphrase Henry Rollins when talking about racism: these folks are tripping over an entry-level concept, a curb about 6 inches high. It’s inappropriate to publicly use your boobs to feed an infant? Feeding babies is actually the main purpose for which women’s breasts were invented! How can it be deemed immoral for babies to be fed in public?

Because, as Anna Quindlen said way back in 1994:

[T]he subtext of the public breast-feeding battle is the inability to make a distinction between what is female and what is sexual, what is indecent and what is utilitarian. And maybe it’s epitomized in a letter that The Albany Times-Union got from an irate citizen who asked whether women who nursed in public would be having sex on the streets as well, as though the connection between nursing and fornication was self-evident.

(Yes, 1994. Twenty years ago. The more things change, the more they fucking don’t.)

After all, I bet no one would object to a baby being bottle fed in public, and I bet the same judgmental asshats complaining so voraciously about Ingrid’s choice to publicly breastfeed would also be giving her the judgmental side-eye if she had chosen to delay her son’s feeding and “subjected” the other customers to hearing the sounds of an unhappy, hungry, crying baby. It’s only because someone’s mammary glands are involved that this has become such A Thing.

I know that the policing and sexualizing of women’s bodies is pretty stupidly crazy even on the best of days. But still. What is it about breasts? How did these secondary-sex characteristics become so thoroughly fetishized and sexualized in the culture? Why is Anthropologie okay selling see-through shirts for the sake of showing off in the attractiveness/sexuality game, but not okay with a woman discreetly using her breasts for their actual, original biological purpose?

I know, I know: it’s the damn patriarchy again. After all, no one’s having a fit about all those exposed Adam’s apples…

* Aside from those that are obviously neglectful and/or abusive.

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Image credit: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/12/nation/la-na-tt-breastfeeding-moms-20120705    (David Horsey at the LA Times.)

Beyond the Filters of Human Decency

Back during JALC’s first lifespan, I took some small enjoyment from watching my WordPress dashboard to see what sorts of google searches brought readers to my posts. (I even used that as an excuse for a quick one-liner-type post way back when.) Google has since redone its programming, so there’s much less of that possible on JALC’s current life cycle.

Nowadays, most everything is hidden behind an “unknown search terms” privacy curtain. I haven’t the slightest level of understanding as to why certain terms making it out from behind the curtain to appear on my dashboard, but since I know the dashboard list is a mysteriously reduced and redacted version of the “real” list, I just haven’t really paid that dashboard feature much attention this time around.

Until I got back form my trip Sunday night and saw a new phrase in that screen field:

we hate ragen chastain

In case you don’t know, Ragen Chastain is a fat activist, someone I would say is out helping lead the movement. She has a book, an active speaking calendar and is currently co-organizing an online Fat Activism Conference that will take place from August 22-24. And she has a blog, a blog that is one of my go-to sources to continue expanding my awareness and evolving my thinking around fat acceptance and health at every size.

I would wager that Chastain and I wouldn’t see eye to eye on everything. For example, my guess is that she would consider my recent HCG journey simply to be a capitulation to diet culture, even though I contextualized it for myself as a detox experience. And, you know what? If she did have some questions about my motivations, and how mixed they might have been, I can respect that. ‘Cos Gaia knows, I had to do a lot of my own inner discernment to keep unwinding my old weight loss programming so that I could keep the goals of my HCG journey distinct from losing weight. And the uncomfortable reality is that no matter how hard I worked to keep my own focus in the detox lens, my decision to do HCG meant that I financially supported a company that makes its living off of diet culture, women’s insecurity, and size policing. (Ugh.)

So yeah, I can respect how Chastain and I might have differing opinions on some things. But the level of puzzlement and shock I felt about that search term being used to find this blog is largely driven by the great level of respect I feel for Chastain, her work, her voice. (My best guess, looking back at my old posts, is that the phrase must have made contact with one of my own FA/HAES rants where I quoted one of Chastain’s posts and then talked about “hating” some fat-shaming shenanigan-or-other.)

SPmobThe other piece of my upset about having been, even ever-so-peripherally, connected to that phrase is the general sense of despair and discouragement I feel about the ugly way that people treat each other, out here on the Interweb.

Often, I see the most virulent, soul-staining ugliness in misogynist response to feminist writing of some sort or other. For further commentary on this subject, see Chastain’s blog, Shakesville, Jezebel, Pacific Standard, Forbes, and the Washington Post.* To quote Shakesville:

Every time, the people with whom I share this experience express shock. It is always, always, a surprise that a woman who does public advocacy is subjected to this sort of abuse.

And it shouldn’t be. Because every single woman I know who does public advocacy is subjected to it. . . .

And then we are told not to talk about it. We are told that we empower the people who do this to us. No. NO. Victims do not empower abusers. People who refuse to acknowledge that abuse do. People who tell victims to be silent do.

I am not going to be silent. I am tired of people being surprised. I am tired of hearing “I’m sorry this happens to you.” I don’t want shock and I don’t want pity.

I want your fucking awareness and I want your fucking anger.

I want us to talk about the real costs of being a woman who does public advocacy. I want us to acknowledge how the costs of providing a safe space is that we stand on the line and absorb massive amounts of abuse. I want us to make noise about the people who create an atmosphere in which women are discouraged from participation.

And I want people to stop telling me to be quiet about it.

In addition to the politicized, misogynist harassment, there’s the general garden-variety flavors of awfulness.

Actress Zelda Williams, daughter of comedy great Robin Williams who died Monday from an apparent suicide, has quit social media after receiving taunts from Internet trolls.

Williams abandoned her Twitter and Instagram accounts Tuesday after saying at least two people were sending her Photoshopped images of her father’s dead body and other disturbing messages.

“I’m sorry. I should’ve risen above,” she wrote in her final tweet. “Deleting this from my devices for a good long time, maybe forever. Time will tell. Goodbye.”

The episode proves that, with the anonymity of the Internet, some people will be horrible no matter the situation. (CNN)

buffy_hush1Though I don’t know enough of the facts to say this for sure, I can’t help wondering whether Williams’s daughter was receiving more online harassment than his two sons, and whether she was targeted for that higher level of harassment because — well, because we live in a fucking kyriarchy, that’s because. And if my vague suspicions are true, well then there’s a very fine line indeed between “garden-variety” Internet awfulness and the misogynist endeavor to silence women’s voices.

I don’t often use the word “hate” to describe my feelings for people. Cultural trends, political positions, social patterns, even individual actions — those I’ll use the term for often enough, but not so much for referencing an individual person, in their entirety. So suffice it to say that I’m really kinda hating the way that JALC was connected (however temporarily, however peripherally) to someone on just that sort of hate-filled trip.

* PS– Am I the only one who found it odd that the WaPo’s main angle was to talk about how online harassment was viewed by or affecting the female writer’s male partner? I’m not saying, I’m just saying…

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Image credits: 

South Park: http://designaterobertson.blogspot.com/2012/05/your-south-park-tigers.html

Buffy: http://mentalunlockdown.com/2014/04/19/hush-ed-or-hearthstones-positive-result-from-the-gentlemens-visit/