sexist

A Vindication of the Rights of Pin-Ups

hilda

“America’s Forgotten Pin-Up Girl,” Hilda

 

I am really feeling the sting of woman on woman deprecation today.

And in the name of feminism no less!

First there was the article on how straight feminists hate lesbian feminists, (which, thankfully, was sufficiently rebutted by others’ comments) and then almost immediately after, I came across this post condemning women that are fond of pin-ups and/or like to dress up in the pin-up style. The following words are in response to the currently trending popularity of this pin-up character from the past, “Hilda” (pictured above).

 

Here’s what the post said (taken from this article):

“We currently live in a “pin-up” culture where women are only granted visibility when they display their bodies for public consumption; therefore, most women are groomed and disciplined from young ages to have pin-up ready bodies.

That’s what white-centered postfeminism is all about. A vision of sexual liberation that hinges on the male gaze and male approval. Now we can sit here and have that long, uncritical, derailing conversation about women who “choose” to strip and enjoy being “pin-ups”; but I’m going to spare myself a stroke and move on, because talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony.

When women fight to end negative media representations of women in contemporary culture, yet still circulate vintage images of white, female, pin-ups, they’re missing how the culture surrounding vintage pin-up girls largely informs the sexism that we’re trying to fight today.

This is what happens when we only focus on the individual and not the system that conditions the individual.

If we have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression, then we will have superficial surface-level solutions. It’s that simple. Posting up any sized sexualized woman on your wall, originally created for men, won’t solve the reality that systemically, women are degraded, dehumanized, and are robbed of understanding their sexualities organically. It also teaches men that sexualizing “diverse” or “alternative” bodies is progressive and therefore acceptable.

Additionally, as I reiterate all of the time, the idea of publicly displaying your sexualized body is largely a white enterprise and endeavor. Black women are not granted the same privileges when we showcase our bodies because we’re viewed as public property; evidenced through our high rape rates and low pay-rates in spaces of sex work, etc.”

 

I think it goes without saying that I do not like this attack on pin-up girls/pin-up culture.

More importantly than what I do, or do not like, however, is the fact that saying, “talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony,” ignores the very multi-faceted world of pin-up culture as well as the individuals participating within it— which is relevant. (Since when is talking about the parts of a picture irrelevant to the picture as a whole?) While the author’s critique invokes the rhetoric of “hegemony,” he or she is creating a hegemonic feminism of their own, in which all other feminists who like to participate in and enjoy pin-up culture are castigated.

The feminism I learned about was more accepting than this. While I do understand the perspective from which this author is writing (I did study gender politics at Berkeley after all), I choose to not make such sweeping generalizations about people, or groups of people (except Republicans, of course… Just kidding! I actually do really like Meghan McCain, so there). To imply that just because someone likes to wear pretty dresses and curl their hair, they “have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression” is extremely insulting.

For me, the recognition of various forms of subjugation (via studying feminist theory) has meant the ability to see through such cultural patterns and influences, actively resist them, and perhaps even become self-definitional if such a thing is possible. Just because I indulge in pin-up fashion on occasion does not mean that I don’t know the history behind it, nor does it mean that I don’t understand the gendered, sociopolitical implications of it. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one (okay I know for a fact that I’m not). As a matter of fact, there is a vast array of modern day pin-ups out there that take the original concept of pin-up beauty and culture, and turn it on its head, thereby subverting the entire set of traditional notions behind it— the very sexist “white enterprise” that the above author is citing. Just look at the Suicide Girls (started by a woman and still largely run by women) which, may I remind you, began as a counterculture of “alternative” beauty.

Moreover, my brand of feminism is about choice. Just as I’m not going to castigate any woman, feminist or not, for being a stay at home mom, I’m also not going to do the same to a woman that chooses to delight in her femininity through replicating pin-up looks. Not only does it not, in my opinion, seem in keeping with the basic tenets of feminism (though, yes, I know, there are a myriad of different feminisms) but honestly, it’s also just not polite.

 

 

Book Review: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

how-to-be-a-woman book cover

Three word synopsis:

Hysterical, Intelligent, Contentious.

Here’s the deal: I really enjoyed this book. The entire first half had me in stitches. I was laughing out loud in the break room at work, on the BART train home, and in my own living room. She is hysterically funny. Both the stories in and of themselves, as well as her sense of humor. I was so thoroughly entertained I wasn’t even taking notes. And I am ALWAYS taking notes. Or, at best, resisting the urge to notate any and every book I read.

Here’s a glimpse at one of the parts that had me beside myself cracking up at work—on the topic of naming your vagina, naturally. I ended up sharing it with my coworker:

 

“But, let’s be honest, “pussy” is the least of it. There is a panoply of slang words that are, in their ways, just as truly awful as “vagina.” Let’s bullet point!

  • Your sex: sounds like a preemptive attempt to shift blame.
  • Hole: a bad thing that can happen to stockings or tights. My Johnnylulu is a GOOD thing that happens to stockings and tights.
  • Honeypot: inference of imminent presence of bees.
  • Twat: an unpleasant melange of cow-pat, stupidity, and punching. No.
  • Bush: the band of the same name are tiresome. The vegetation has spiders. No.
  • Vag: sounds like the name of a busybody battleaxe, a la “Barb” and “Val.” Suggestion also of chain-smoking Marlboro Lights, and borderline addiction to bingo. No.”

 

I mean, really—”Vag”—she is so dead on with that description.

Oh, and then she goes on to list a few of the names that she does like, and that bit may actually be even funnier (especially if you like Star Wars and/or came of age in the 80s).

 

Moran is a British writer, born and raised in the countryside of Wolverhampton, who at 16 gets to go work for a rock magazine in London. Her upbringing is interesting, to say the least, especially to someone born and raised in LA like myself. It is not only foreign geographically, but culturally. She grew up in a small house, in the English countryside, sharing what little space they had with 5-6 siblings in addition to her parents and a dog. (She not only shared a room, but a bed, with one of her many sisters.) On her 13th birthday she gets, instead of a cake, a baguette filled with Philadelphia cream cheese. And the cultural, class, and gender differences just continue on from there.*

*note: there is not much said, or discussed, in regards to race throughout the book. end note.

Her chapters go from pre-adolescence to present-day womanhood, in chronological order, and one of my favorite aspects of this journey is her chronological commentary on sexism. Ironically, the chapter titled I Encounter Some Sexism!—found dead center in the book—is also the point at which I wanted to bang my head against a wall out of frustration. Really, it boils down to the fact that:

(a) she says “You couldn’t find a woman making music for love nor money” in the early nineties. Hello?! L7, Verruca Salt, 7 Year Bitch, PJ Harvey (whom she does mention, at least), Tori Amos, Hole, The Breeders… and I’m sure many of you can think of even more amazing female artists, both rock and otherwise.

(b) she furthermore states that we’ve “had little more than a handful of female geniuses” since women got the right to vote (“There was still no female rock band to rival Led Zeppelin…No female hip-hop artist to rival Public Enemy…”) *Ahem* I’d say Janis Joplin earns at least the right to rival Led Zeppelin, and as for female hip-hop artists: TLC, Lil Kim, Da Brat, and SALT N PEPA. And don’t even get me started on [musician] female geniuses between the 1920s and 1990s: Nina Simone, Billie Holiday (whom she does mention), Peggy Lee, Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane), Sarah Vaughan, Wanda Jackson, Alice Coltrane, Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the Banshees), Kate Bush, Nico (The Velvet Underground), and I COULD name more…

finally, (c) I’m not sure whether it was in this chapter or the preceding one, but she does state at one point that she probably learned most about being a woman/how to be a woman from her husband; However, in this chapter she is upset at her boss saying, “You wouldn’t know what it’s like to be a fat teenage girl, being shouted at in the street by arseholes,” when, as she says, she in fact is “a fat teenage girl, being shouted at in the street by arseholes.” Well, Mz. Moran, given that you just stated you probably learned most about “being a woman” from a man, perhaps it is not so unfeasible for your male boss to know more about being a teenage girl than you. It just seemed a little hypocritical to at one point say you learned most about being a woman from a man, but then say, well, this guy is a jerk for thinking that he knows more about being a teenage girl than I do (because, once again, apparently your husband knew more about “being a woman” than you did…? Perhaps she could have at least expanded on this in order to clarify…) I just found those two aspects of the narrative a bit incongruous and I was miffed.

With that bit of criticism stated, I did love her “Is this polite?” sexism test (as I’m sure most people would- men and women alike), as well as her chapter on strippers and strip clubs. It’s a really delightful, laugh-out-loud funny, and insightful take on the whole sex work/sex worker debate. Something I’ve yet to decide on myself, but I do like what she has to say. One of my most favorite aspects of the book is the pairing of the two chapters, Why You Should Have Children, followed by Why You Shouldn’t Have Children (Chapters 12 & 13). Maybe it’s due to my legal studies background, but I do so enjoy how she is able to argue for each side, and quite deftly at that. My only point of criticism here is the last paragraph of the former chapter (chapter 12). Having studied childbirth, and having a midwife mother-in-law, that last paragraph made me give the book a sideways glance while thinking, “ummmm….ok, Moran, sure. uh huh.” But it’s a trivial piece of criticism, really. This book is truly and sincerely more than the sum of its parts.

She decides to almost end the book (it’s the second to last chapter) with abortion, and wow. It’s profound. It’s clearly well thought out. And of course, it’s contentious.

In spite of my pieces of criticism it really is a great read. I am so glad I read it and would definitely recommend it. I love her intellect, and perhaps most especially her humor. It will keep you entertained, and make you think, and I don’t think a book lover can ask for more than that.

 

He’s My Man, and I’m His Lady

he's my man i'm his lady

My man generally (on the day-to-day, when in conversation with others) refers to me as his ‘lady,’ (and I do indeed refer to him as ‘my man’ quite frequently) and it has come to my attention that this can, in fact, bewilder some of those who know about my feminist leanings. And it’s funny actually, because now I’ve come to see it as almost a kind of epitomizing symbol of us as a couple. It kind of encapsulates our whole dynamic. After all, we are, I suppose—when I really think about it—liberal, yet traditional. We’re like “traditional radicals,” if that can even be a thing. (Yeah, you know what, it is a thing. Because I just said so. We’re it, so there it is. Done.)

We have democratic leanings, to be sure. We engage in thoughtful political discussions and debates. We share a secular belief system as well as what some might call “radical” socio-political ideals and morals. He is, of course, aware of my feminist perspective, and moreover, he welcomed the thought of possibly becoming a house-husband/stay-at-home-dad if I was to be a full-time (i.e. working 70-80 hours/week) lawyer.

But then on the other hand:

We got married (which does, in my opinion, infer some degree of “traditional” deference). I did say I would take his last name (though I have yet to change it legally). I do, in fact, do the bulk of our domestic housework (laundry, dishes, coordinating puppy-sitting and vet visits), and he does, in fact, handle all of our finances, as well as anything that involves power tools or heavy lifting (& killing bugs).

So, does this make me any less of a feminist?

Does it mean my husband is a sexist?

I think not.

As sexist or stereotypical as it may sound (which it shouldn’t, because I am simply talking about myself here—one singular being—not the whole of women everywhere) the plain fact is, I’m just no good with numbers, I’m no good with money, I’m not skilled in the arts of fixing or building things, and you know what, I’m effing TERRIFIED of spiders. So there. And as for my husband, well it’s as simple as this: he wasn’t raised by a total neat freak like I was, he is gifted in all the aspects of intelligence of which I am not (he went to motorcycle mechanic school/ I studied feminist jurisprudence), and while I seem to be able to effortlessly oversee the “domesticity” of our household, he seems to be able to effortlessly develop amazing financial planning strategies and build things like planter boxes and a dog house for our two large hound dogs.

Is this sexist? Are we gender stereotypes? Is this offending you???

Hey, it’s just who we are.

I’m not saying it’s biology. I’m not saying these are the roles we are meant to play. And I’m definitely not saying this is the way it “should” be. It’s just how we ended up, it’s just what turned out to work for us, and trust me, the irony is never lost on me.

So in spite of the fact that I’ve referred to him as my partner for years now (& still do on occasion), yes, I like calling him ‘my man’. I mean, why not—he’s “manly”! It doesn’t mean he relies on it (being manly), or thinks it’s essential to his persona, or his being. He isn’t dictated by his masculinity. He just happens to have some very masculine attributes. Conversely, as I have mentioned in a certain previous article, I relish in my feminine side. I delight in the gender performance that is femininity. So I like that he refers to me as his ‘lady.’ It’s very old school/old-timey charm, if you ask me, and I’m into it. Why not. We are, after all, traditional radicals.

“WALK A MILE IN HER [gendered, sexist, high-heeled] SHOES”

Image source: http://unews.com/2011/09/26/walk-a-mile-in-her-shoes-men-raise-awareness-of-violence-against-women/

“Different though the sexes are, they inter-mix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above. ”
― Virginia Woolf

The following was posted to the MFB Facebook page by a reader the other day:

“My school, George Washington University, is holding a “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event. While I understand and support the point that this event is trying to get across, I have an issue with the high-heeled shoes part. According to the website “men will literally walk one mile in women’s high-heeled shoes (from Mid Campus Quad to the Lincoln Memorial) in order to help them gain a better understanding and appreciation of the experience of being a woman in today’s society.” High heels play a very very (very!) small part of my life as a woman, and I think that the mere symbolism of high heels can be seen as more of a sex-symbol than empowerment for women’s rights.”
http://gwsasawalkamile.eventbrite.com/

This is what I deem to be a case of “their heart is in the right place but the idea’s very half-baked.”

As a matter of fact, the idea is detrimentally half-baked. To quote the aforementioned MFB reader, “I understand and support the point that this event is trying to get across,” but the inference that wearing high-heeled shoes is somehow intrinsically, or perhaps even innately, linked to “womanhood,” or is somehow a fundamental aspect of being a woman is not helpful. It’s actually quite harmful.

In fact, it’s predicated on a very gendered and somewhat sexualized notion of what it means to be a woman. That is to say: femininity does not equate being a woman, nor does being a woman mean being feminine.

One more time:

FEMININITY DOES NOT EQUAL BEING A WOMAN / BEING A WOMAN DOES NOT EQUAL FEMININITY.

A straight woman can be masculine, a gay man can be masculine, a gay woman can be feminine, a straight man can be feminine, many of us can, and do, express both masculinity and femininity, perhaps even simultaneously, and let’s not forget the factual presence of androgyny among us humans, as well. In addition to this gendered notion of womanhood, this “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event also speaks to a sexualized (think: “male gaze“) concept of being a woman due to the inherent sexuality ascribed to the high-heel. It is, after all, a piece of sexual symbolism in itself.

I have to here stop and say, once again, that I applaud the young men that take part in these events across the country. Their hearts are in the right place, as are those of the people that created it. However, it does unfortunately propagate gendered and sexist notions that we women would do better without, and moreover, it doesn’t really accomplish anything in the way of helping young men “see what it’s like to be a woman.” But then I have to ask: Can such a goal even be accomplished? Can a man ever truly understand the experience of what it is like to be a woman?

Something to ponder, from the amazing Cherrie Moraga:

“…a gay male friend of mine once confided to me that he continued to feel that, on some level, I didn’t trust him because he was male; that he felt, really, if it ever came down to a “battle of the sexes,” I might kill him. I admitted that I might very well. He wanted to understand the source of my distrust. I responded, “You’re not a woman. Be a woman for a day. Imagine being a woman.” He confessed that the thought terrified him because, to him, being a woman meant being raped by men. He had felt raped by men; he wanted to forget what that meant. What grew from that discussion was the realization that in order for him to create an authentic alliance with me, he must deal with the primary source of his own sense of oppression.”

(Taken from Moraga’s essay, “La Guera.” Bold added by me, for emphasis)

BANDZ A MAKE HER DANCE

blah

The priorities of this country never cease to amaze me.

GET IT TOGETHER, U.S. OF A!

Did you know that *apparently* words such as, “nigga,” “niggerish,” and the like are actually allowed on the radio…

yet in the song, “BANDZ A MAKE HER DANCE,” the word “stripper” is bleeped out.

?!

This is what first struck me when I heard it on the radio.

For those of you that don’t know, this song is about “BANDZ,” that is to say, rubber bands, that make strippers DANCE, as in, the rubber bands around the stacks of bills they are unwrapping to give the strippers money is making those girls dance. Hence: “BANDZ A MAKE HER DANCE.”

Now you probably just think I am going to launch into a tirade about how sexist and disgustingly misogynistic this song is. But is it? Well in my opinion, yeah, it is. But what complicates my attempt at a feminist analysis of this song within our sexist social context is what I am just going to go ahead and call “the stripper paradox.”

Here’s the deal: Women have been concomitantly revered and subjugated throughout history and modern day rap is highly reflective of this longstanding history. So my question is: Are strippers (or perhaps more appropriately, sex workers, in general) exacerbating this dichotomous confluence of reverence and subjugation? (<—does what I just said even make sense???)

Simply put, do sex workers help, or hurt, the feminist cause?

Are they examples of strong, independent women that are in control of their own sexual agency? Or are they just propagating the longstanding tradition of women being revered, yet ultimately subjugated?

If you can believe it, this is something that I’ve never actually been able to form a solid opinion on. I have been sitting on this fence for one heck of a long time now. I have seen both sides to the argument and have never swayed in one direction or another. I have leanings, to be sure, but I’m not even going to share that, as I’ve no conviction behind them. What I would really love- and I’ve been saying this for years now- would be for someone to convince me.

Any takers?

Having my cake and eating it, too.

That’s right-

I’m a lipstick-loving, romantic comedy-watching, fashion forward, yet card-carrying feminist.

(But no, we don’t really have cards. It’s just an expression. Though if we did, that’d be pretty fun. I’d probably want mine to have a pinup on it. Actually, individual cards would be really fun, because then we would all end up having such wildly variegated cards, showing the very multi-dimensional and diverse nature of feminism itself! This woman, however, would not get one. But I digress…)

Who said we couldn’t have feminism and lipstick too?

Look, I know there have been centuries of social conditioning of women to look a certain way for the visual pleasure of men (i.e. women being socially constructed by, within, and for “the male gaze,” if you wanna get all sociological about it) BUT, there also happens to exist in this wonderful world the sociological concept of gender fluidity. That is to say, there is femininity, masculinity, and a number of other nameless categories in between. As a former professor of mine used to always say, “Gender is fluid,” meaning it is NOT, as many of us are used to thinking, dichotomous (i.e. masculine/feminine). It is not discrete, but is continuous. It is not black and white, but contains within its spectrum many shades of gray. (And no, I haven’t the read the book, so don’t think I’m trying to hint at it with that analogy!)

Here’s the deal: I, personally, delight in femininity. I spent years of my life being a self-loathing misogynist (can you say, “internalized oppression”?) and ironic as it may sound, it was a job in fashion many moons ago that ignited the feminist within me. Working for a certain eccentric but longtime established female designer, with her uber-flirty, fun, and feminine designs, in an atmosphere of female camaraderie I had never before in my life experienced (or thought possible) changed my life forever. Everything about this experience turned my once sexist perspective upside-down. It not only paved the way for my own self-acceptance as a woman, but allowed me to relish in my femininity if I wished to do so as well.

*Disclaimer: To be clear, this does not mean that being feminine equals being a woman, nor does it mean that being a woman means being feminine. Hell to the no. That’s called a logical fallacy, people, and there are tons of those out there, especially with regard to gender and sexuality, so beware!*

This designer’s signature use of the word “girlfriend” (know who I’m talking about yet?;) almost drilled the concept of sisterhood into my head in a way. It made me see myself and other women as, well, “girlfriends.” As in, we’re all women and we can be friends (and in fact are), so what’s with all the self-hatred, competitiveness and sexism anyway? Us women were, and are, so much more than the dresses we sold or the makeup we wore (or chose not to wear for that matter). We were an amalgamation of queer, straight, Mexican, White, Black, Native American, poor, and privileged women.

We loved fashion and makeup, quoted The Big Lebowski on a daily basis, and probably passed around about as many dick and fart jokes as any fraternity. (Not that that’s a great thing, but I’m just sayin’- it sort of undercuts traditional notions of femininity, does it not? A bunch of high-fashion wearing women belching loudly and talking about farts?) We did not fit into neat, discrete gender categories, in spite of our physical appearances (“physical appearances” meaning looking very “girly”).

I suppose what I’m getting at with all of this is, there can exist women who like lipstick and feminism (same goes for men, too!). You can simultaneously subscribe to fashion and feminist ideals. If you have a predilection for all things feminine, there is nothing wrong with that- you can still be a feminist, too. I am!

After all, wouldn’t it be antithetical to feminism to denounce as feminists all women who like expressing what we know as traditional notions of femininity? If they are down with the feminist cause, who cares about their sexuality or how they choose to portray their gender? And really, isn’t that a large part of what feminism is all about- accepting and loving ourselves as women and having the freedom of choice to be butch or femme, a feminine lesbian, or androgynous heterosexual, etc.?

I’m having my feminism and wearing lipstick, too.