Category Archives: sexuality

Retro Creepiness

The return of leggings, asymmetrical haircuts, and the donning of the keffiyeh as fashion and not Palestinian solidarity—ah, the 1980s are back and show no signs of abating (at least on this side of the pond in London’s East End and Topshop). I won’t be caught dead revisiting my ’80s hairdo (a juicy jheri curl for the early 80s, if you must know), but 1980s music is the music of my youth and I refuse to forsake it.

But, then, forsaking is entirely different from revisiting some tunes, singing along, and then <<screeech of brake>> WTF?!

Herewith, a 1980s pre-feminist awareness trip down memory lane. Or more like a tiptoe down creepy Memory Alley.

Oingo Boingo, “Little Girls”

In all honesty, I’d never blocked out this song by Oingo Boingo. It’s (gross) meaning was clear and Danny Elfman’s nauseating leer skitters through my brain like a crab whenever I encounter someone with that certain…erm…pedo-vibe. I think Oingo Boingo was supposed to be punk, but their consistent presence on MTV would indicate that they were merely trying to provoke-for-profit.


Grown women dressed as schoolgirls had a history in Britain before Britney’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”  “School Disco” is an unfortunate, persistent theme night for parties and bars.

Rick Springfield, “Don’t Talk to Strangers”

This one may seem like the ultimate betrayal to anyone who knew me as a teen when I inserted Rick’s last name into mine with some clever parentheses (“Spring(field)er”—postmodern at 13!) and had a football jersey printed with “Springfied” on the back in Rick’s favorite color (purple, duh).

However, the fatted calf must be slain. Upon reflection, most of Rick’s songs have a stalker edge to them, but “Don’t Talk to Strangers” wins hands down. The admonishment not to talk to strangers shifts from urgings to preserve one’s sexy ladyness for the ex-boyfriend mooching around the shadows to menacing invitations to bed en Francais. The stalker element is in full force in the video.

The end of the video’s police cars and flashing lights would seem to indicate that either a) Rick committed a crime against fashion with all those ring-pull zippers on his jumpsuit (!) or b) Stalker Rick killed Effette French Girlfriend Stealer. Whatever the case, while my teen self might’ve boasted that, “Rick so fine I creamed my jeans,” older feminist self says, “Teen self, your language is foul, you don’t even know what “creamed your jeans” means, and you’re pining for a reprobate.”

While we’re on stalker songs, and before I get overwhelmed with the urge to hear Synchronicity, The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is surely a picking-through-your-garbage, steal-your-password-and-check-your-email ode to relationship dysfunction. And, yet, it gets played at weddings and included on many a mellow love songs station playlist.

My final ’80s ick also involves Sting. I’m pretty sure this was in his hot, rising star phase and not his competing with Bono for the crown of thorns self-righteousness bid. In the Dennis Potter television play, Brimstone & Treacle, Sting plays a young man who ingratiates himself with a couple whose daughter lies on the sofa, having been paralyzed in a hit-and-run accident. The parents, exhausted from caring for their invalid daughter, let this seemingly charming man into their lives and he soon rapes their paralyzed daughter. Ick. Double ick. The BBC banned the Potter TV version in 1976, but somehow the 1982 film with Sting made its way to Michigan on VHS.

Sting’s character, Martin, has got all kinds of sinister overtones and breaking of the fourth wall that lead the audience to believe that he’s the devil incarnate. Nonetheless, to my chagrin, I recall whole packs of us Michigan girls watching the film and oohing and ahhing over Sting’s “strong” performance and thespian creds. Did we just ignore the rape? Were were turned on by it? Disturbed by it? Diary excavation must ensue.

On the one hand, there’s a lot of be ashamed of about the 1980s, such as sartorial choices like legwarmers and Units. And, yes, there’re probably many more examples of music that was sexist, homophobic, and racist. But rather than being a misery guts about it I wanted to remind myself, when I question young sisters’ sanity for enjoying music that degrades them, that I know from whence they came. With any luck, they’ll find feminism or feminism will find them, and they’ll create their own beats to dance to.

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Filed under feminism, girls, music, sexism, sexuality, women

Parsing Polyamory: anti-Capitalist Feminist Conference, pt. 2

Last week’s anti-Capitalist Feminist Conference took the form of working sessions in the morning and afternoon. Session one included discussions of Reproductive Freedoms, Challenging Domestic Violence, Learning from Feminist History, and Penetrating sex: a queer discussion. I went to the latter discussion because a lot of my past writing’s been on black women’s sexuality and I wanted to see if I could add some dimensionality to my thinking beyond representation, as well as hear others’ views on the meaning of queer.

polyamory1

I’ve been torturing my students with group work for who knows how long, so karma came round and bit me in the ass: in this, and the afternoon session I attended, there was a lot of breaking up into pairs and groups for discussion. Misanthropy aside, it was good to speak to a range of people about their definitions of monogamy, non-monogamy, polyamory, sex, and intimacy. Each group I was in seemed to arrive at a cul-de-sac of imprecise definitions and more questions, which is a good thing when it comes to deconstructing heteronormativity.

I’d say I got two things out of this workshop. Most of the women, in their twenties I’d guess, are trying to live out their sexual and intimate lives differently than the standard heterosexual script. This could be in whom or how many one chooses to be intimate with. Yet, despite this divergence from the usual path, we seem to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to explain it to parents and other people. How to make a queerly lived sexual life translatable seemed to be a big concern. I don’t think it’s condescending to say that this may be a “time of life” issue, when one makes a number of decisions about how to live and how to be accountable for those decisions. Not that women in their thirties and older don’t grapple with similar issues, but this workshop was a good reminder to me that no matter at what age one comes to feminism, you have to figure out how your life meshes with the ideology and that it’s a process that is continuous. Which, in a way, leads to the second insight…

This session was, though it was never called as such, a good old fashioned consciousness-raising session. I kind of pre-empted the workshop leaders’ segue into the question of how our personal decisions are politicized, but don’t feel like we quite got to the concrete ways in which we define our sexuality and what that means politically. When I say politically, I suppose I ended up meaning “legally.” Since the passing of Prop 8 in California—actually, even before then—I continue to question marital privilege and the rights accorded to people because they choose to live as a legally-defined married couple. I actually don’t believe anyone should get special rights just because they choose to co-habitate. So there are two of you in the home? Yea, you! Split the bills and be done with it. Goods and utilities don’t cost less for single people. There seemed like no better place than an anti-capitalist conference to point out the discriminatory nature of legal benefits for coupledom, which are clearly geared toward re/productive families with the assumption that singles (increasingly the norm) don’t contribute to society. The larger point being we don’t contribute off-spring to The Machine.

So, even if we are engaged in non-monogamy or polyamory, it was telling that the words “primary partner” were a reoccurrence that, in many ways, capitaluates to capitalism’s desire for functioning families no matter the gender of those constituting the family. One member of my group discussing polyamory made the observation that the State will often attempt to co-opt difference, so differently defined families will be offered “family” discounts or benefits, depending on geographic/nation-state location.

This has me thinking about the ways in which we’re bought off to ignore our own oppression and perhaps one thing progressive needs to do is some empirical work around the costs of being bought? If my individual queer family is incorporated into, say, a health benefits structure, what do working class and poor people lose out on by my acceptance of this piecemeal bribe that falls short of universal health care?

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Filed under anti-consumerism, economy, feminism, marriage, sexuality

Shameless self-promotion

I just wanted to take a mo and let y’all know about a new book, Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape. Disclosure being that I have an chapter in it called “Queering Black Female Heterosexuality.” And while that’s exciting for me, I’m psyched the opportunity it offers to talk positively about sex and to add some specifics to vague notions of “empowerment.”

I’d noticed, in the last few years, my own weariness with always looking for/finding the negative in politics, pop culture—hell, in everything. A great deal of my work focuses on stereotypes of African American women’s sexuality and I, admittedly, detected a myopic view that was leading to apathy on my part. “Nothing ever changes, blah blah blah.”

Trying to get my attitude in check, I wanted to take notice of black women who I thought were saying really interesting things about sexuality despite continued tensions and controversies. So, while we grappled with the race, class, and sexuality issues that the ugliness the Duke assault raised, I also decided to look closely at how women such as performance poet Sarah Jones and fine artists Renee Cox and Kara Walker pushed historical boundaries around black women and sex. One result was the essay in Yes Means Yes in which I propose that straight women would do well to take a cue from queer theory and figure out how black women, who are always already defined as Other, can define our own sexuality without fear of falling into traps of the jezebel, the Sapphire, or the Mammy. In short, what have we got to lose?

The anthology is just out from Seal Press and attempts to reclaim the terrain of the discussion around rape by tackling consent, media, sexual taboos, race relations, and a host of other topics. There will be book events happening across the U.S. in the next few months. Contributors are also blogging at Yes Means Yes.

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Filed under African Americans, Books, feminism, race, Rape, sexism, sexual health, sexuality, Uncategorized

I saw mommy mounting Santa Claus! Ick.

The Office Christmas ‘do seems to be a uniquely tragic and tacky British affair. Perhaps this happens around the world, but since many folks here seem to take pride in “having a piss up” and stumbling about in the gutter as a distinct badge of national pride, I can only assume that this advert from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS has special holiday resonance in the UK.

bpasadvert

This eye-catching, decorum-eluding advert’s meant to catch the eye and remind women to stock up on the morning after pill. Usually on offer at the chemist (pharmacy) for £26, the BPAS is giving the pill along with condoms and contraceptive advice in a special Chrimbo pack.

The media reportage was, of course, hysterical and one-sidedly sexist. Women shouldn’t use the morning after pill for contraception! Shouldn’t they be thinking about contraceptive before they get so blindingly drunk at the office Christmas party and cop off with Stewie from IT that they don’t need the morning after pill?! This story, along with one about Devon police handing out flip flops to drunk women on ridonculous heels, created a regular little tempest in a teapot about female impropriety, trampy women of today, and raising the alarm about unwanted babies clogging up the Social (services).

And what of men? You know, the ones who also participate in the unexpected, unprotected sex? What responsibility does Santa have in this scenario? Just shimmy on down the chimney?

<crickets>

I suggest Dr. Miranda Bailey’s approach because a) I love her, b) she is the only moral compass I have since Homicide’s Detective Frank Pembleton, and c) the media makes me as weary as the residents of Seattle Grace make her.

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Filed under reproductive rights, sexual health, sexuality, Uncategorized, women

Parliament on the road to eugenics

The U.K. media today is reporting that Ministers of Parliament are trying to push GPs to give the contraceptive jab to girls to stem the tide of teenage pregnancy. The hysterical, scare quotes media is putting emphasis on age (“girls as young as 13!!!”) and rasising the spectre that there’ll be a crazed Nurse Ratchett running around school sticking girls with anti-baby drug-filled needles.

In fact, when you look more closely at the reports, what the Ministers are advocating are school-based contraceptive clinics and developing sexual health services. Callers to BBC Radio London were egged on by the host’s characterization of the jab as “mandatory for all girls age 13 without parental consent leading to unfettered promiscuous sex.” Way to extrapolate (read: tell bold face, yellow journalism lies). There’s, of course, no mention in news reports of better, sustained sex education or even a gender-conscious approach to respectful and consensual sexuality education.

Far more disturbing, however, is the complete absence of concern about the eugenicist air of such a scheme. Take, for example, the report in The Times:

“The policy of offering [the contraceptive jab or implants] to teenagers is likely to prove controversial. In the past, some doctors have been criticised for offering them to poorer women and those from ethnic minorities without explaining possible side-effects, which include headaches and weight gain [emphasis mine].”

Erm…can we just stick with the first part of the last sentence for a mo? While side-effects are of concern, perhaps we might draw on histories of women of color and poor women effectively being sterilized without consent as the real issue here? Given that the jab makes one sterile for up to three years, I think explaining the primary effect of sterilization might take precedence as a human rights issue over weight gain.

I’m far from advocating doing nothing, but this sounds like an unethical attempt to revisit sterilization abuse in hopes of saving money on social services.

The blog Mississippi Appendectomy is doing great archival work on sterilization abuse.

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Filed under African Americans, race, reproductive rights, sexual health, sexuality, Social Justice, Uncategorized, women

What Does Obama’s Presidency Mean: Symbolic vs. Structural Change

Barack Obama’s election is a significant symbolic victory, as the first break in the white-man-parade that’s defined the office thus far in American history.

We look better now, don’t we, as a nation? Especially to the rest of world, who were white-manned-out by the uber-Caucasian who’s been in office for the past 8 years. It’s been like watching a bizarre, tragic reality show (“Hee-Haw: The Presidential Years”).

We are all overjoyed that Bush is being replaced by Obama, a man so visibly different from what we’ve had to endure over the past almost-decade.

But symbolic victories do not typically result in structural victories. In fact, symbolic victories often paper over significant problems that remain unsolved, like when the success of Condoleezza Rice in the Bush administration was held forth as proof of Bush’s equanimity, and the end of the need for affirmative action.

Are you already thinking about Nelson Mandela, or is it just me?

Mandela was, in a way, in a much better position to achieve structural change than Obama is today. Apartheid as a system of government had been newly broken, and was ripe to be radically mended. And, unlike Barack Obama, Mandela was actually a progressive leader who sought profound change.

There are limits to what even the most extraordinary people in the most extraordinary circumstances can accomplish, as the example of Mandela, and the tattered remnants of Apartheid that continue to structure South Africa, suggest.

As a nation, we expect too much of Obama. We need to to our part; he can’t do it all.

As intellectuals, we insist on miscasting Obama as a liberal. This miscasting is antithetical to doing our part.

Perhaps this mistaken insistence is still in justification of slapping down Hillary Clinton in the primary, which, as my progressive peers argued, was merely support of a more progressive agenda.

As a former Hillary supporter, it’s absurd that I’m the one saying this, but really: Get over the fucking Clinton thing already. Obama wasn’t a progressive then, and he’s not now. If admitting that gives you pause and makes you consider your screwed up gender and race politics, well, all the better.

But the point, really, is this: We as progressives need to understand that, despite the fact that he’s a powerful symbol of the successes of civil rights, which was a progressive movement, Obama is not one of us.

We need to formulate a progressive agenda for him if we want his candidacy to result in progressive change. So get off your asses at progressive media outlets, stop making excuses for your poor politics during the primary season, and start making some suggestions, RIGHT NOW, for what a progressive agenda might look like.

Let’s use this symbolic victory to create structural change.

htg03

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No on H8

Jeffrey Lowery and David Kramer, domestic partners from Fremont, hold candles in Dolores Park. (Mike Kepka / The Chronicle)

Jeffrey Lowery and David Kramer, domestic partners from Fremont, hold candles in Dolores Park. (Mike Kepka / The Chronicle)

After days of feeling beat up and bruised, the gays, as we’ve been described on numerous radio call-in shows this week, took to the streets to yell, scream, and dance. I cried on election night and felt those tears once again when I turned the corner and saw hundreds of people streaming into Dolores Park. The cheers were passionate and the signs were funny. One of my favorites: I moved to California and all l got was this lousy ballot initiative! I was like, me too! The plan is to take the fight to Sacramento and to the steps of the Mormon Church, which reminds me of another sign that read “No more Mr. Nice Gay!”

blfmstprof

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Filed under election 2008, sexuality, Social Justice