Tag Archives: sex

It’s Thursday: Have Some Links

Debbie says:

Danielle at One Black Girl. Many Words. has some words for the New York Times, in particular the comment that Viola Davis is not “classically beautiful.”

vdavis

I suppose I dislike two things: (1) that the need to be “classically beautiful” is held over the heads of women due to patriarchy and (2) that dark skinned women such as Viola Davis are automatically cast outside of “classic beauty” because of white supremacist standards.

It shouldn’t be my or any woman’s job to be classically beautiful. And yet, classic beauty shouldn’t be denied of any woman.

I’m right there with Danielle on both counts. Davis is, of course, an absolutely stunning woman by most standards. “Classically” is an interesting word. Dictionary.com gives a lot of definitions, only a couple of which are at all relevant. One is “modeled upon or imitating the style or thought of ancient Greece and Rome,” by which standard no one with particularly dark skin can be classically beautiful. Another is “of or adhering to an established set of artistic or scientific standards or methods,” which only works in this case if there is an established set of artistic standards.

So we can only conclude that the New York Times columnist was 1) sloppy with her words, and 2) not looking at the real Viola Davis.

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MariNaomi at Midnight Breakfast has a long collaborative piece on “Writing People of Color (if You Happen to be a Person of Another Color).”  In the same vein as Kristen Radtke’s “Women Cartoonists Draw Their Bodies,” which Laurie and I wrote about in September, MariNaomi enlisted a wide variety of cartoonists for advice. Most of the pieces are too large to reproduce here, but here’s a lovely one by Maré Odomo:

11mare-odomo

Odomo says:

Don’t make your Asian character carry a katana and don’t put chopsticks in their hair (this isn’t a real thing, by the way). Ask your PoC friends to read your stories. If you have to ask if something is racist, it probably is. Base your characters on real people, but don’t just project your own feelings into a stranger’s life. Don’t assume that because someone is a minority that they’ve lived a certain kind of life.

Basic advice, always worth following. (For a less visual resource, don’t forget Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, currently on sale from Aqueduct Press.)

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Here’s a cautionary tale illustrating “nothing about us without us.”

Sarah Silverman, a prominent comedian, made a video for the National Women’s Law Center’s Equal Payback Project, in which she pretends to be considering a sex change to increase her income. As Zack Ford points out at Think Progress, mainstream (progressive) media thinks this is the bomb.

E! Online praised the ad as “humorous” and “thought provoking.” US Weekly joked that Silverman found the “perfect solution” for beating the “vagina tax.” Even Time Magazine highlighted the “risqué” ad, describing its plot as Silverman deciding that “it’s easier to just get a penis.”

But transgender people frequently see the question differently:

Rachel See, a transgender lawyer in Virginia, told ThinkProgress that “being used as the punchline of a fundraising campaign by a group that should be our ally made me sad.” Though the ad suggests Silverman’s salary would go up, See explained that “transgender people routinely face discrimination for transitioning. Many lose their jobs, or find that they have a harder time getting a job.” Indeed, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) found that in 2011, transgender people were four times more likely to be living in extreme poverty than the general population and faced double the rate of unemployment. As activist Janet Mock quipped on Twitter Wednesday, tagging the NWLC and Silverman, “Sex reassignment doesn’t help one advance in workplace. Ask one of the most underemployed populations: trans people.”

Ford goes on to further recomplicate the question and bring up important related issues. Read the whole thing.

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Speaking of transgender issues, Tim has put together a fine collection of links about why (and how) biological sex is a social construct. Here’s just one quotation, from Natalie Reed writing at skepchick:

In truth, sex is a loose aggregation of a variety of variables. Chromosomes, yes, but also hormonal levels, genitals, secondary sexual characteristics, skeletal structure and so on. We consider each of these traits to be male, female, or not quite either, then collectively make some kind of rough, relatively subjective determination as to whether it is a male body, a female body or an intersexed body. This is not unlike the daily process of gendering we engage in every time we come across another human being. We make a quick, subconscious, intuitive weighing of the feminine cues against the masculine ones and make a judgment call on how we should mentally categorize that person. But even in a medical situation, where we are strictly looking at an individual’s anatomy, it can still be just as much of a subjective judgment call based on the relative weight being given to individual traits, and there’s no real reason to say the karyotype gets the final say.

Bookmark Tim’s list for your next pitched battle on this topic.

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Finally, Harris O’Malley at Kotaku takes on some gender stereotyping, and gets it mostly right. In response to a letter from a man who believes he’s not finding dates because of his weight, O’Malley says, in part:

First: you’re assuming that women are a monolith and all want the same thing.

… Just as with men, women as a whole have a wide range of body types that they find sexy, from the skinny geek to big – not just husky but fat men. Look at how many women went absolutely bugfuck over Prince Fielder’s nude pictoral in the ESPN “Bodies” issue. [I wrote about that Prince Fielder phenomenon here in July.] The man is rocking a 50 inch waistline, and there are a lot of women who want to rub themselves all over that.

He goes on to talk usefully about the complexities of attraction. He’s too glib, and too locked into the physical nature of attraction as if it were a whole story, but he makes enough important points clearly enough to be worth reading.

Most links you find here are from Feministing, Feministe, io9, Shakesville, and Sociological Images, plus assorted other blogs I read (including Tim’s journal).

Long Overdue Links

Debbie says

So the site was down, and various things happened, and we’ve been posting a little less frequently than usual, and the links have been piling up like nobody’s business. I’m going to trim off some of the old ones from the list, but this will still get long …

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This will come as no surprise to many regular readers here, but the visuals are powerful, and apply in slightly less dramatic ways to so many of us:

The current World’s Strongest Man, Brian [Shaw] is 6’9″ and 420 pounds, and traveling can be a bit more difficult for him than it is for the average person. Especially when you fly commercial.

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You can read a lot of Internet without finding news as good as this:

Arunachalam Muruganantham was horrified to learn that his wife (in a rural area in Southern India) couldn’t afford decent menstrual pads and was using soiled rags. It got worse when he found out that other women were using even less hygienic substances. He went to great lengths to study the issue…

Four-and-a-half years later, he succeeded in creating a low-cost method for the production of sanitary towels. The process involves four simple steps. First, a machine similar to a kitchen grinder breaks down the hard cellulose into fluffy material, which is packed into rectangular cakes with another machine.

The cakes are then wrapped in non-woven cloth and disinfected in an ultraviolet treatment unit. The whole process can be learned in an hour.

Muruganantham’s goal was to create user-friendly technology. The mission was not just to increase the use of sanitary pads, but also to create jobs for rural women – women like his mother. Following her husband’s death in a road accident, Muruganantham’s mother had had to sell everything she owned and get a job as a farm labourer, but earning $1 a day wasn’t enough to support four children. That’s why, at the age of 14, Muruganantham had left school to find work.

The machines are kept deliberately simple and skeletal so that they can be maintained by the women themselves. “It looks like the Wright brothers’ first flight,” he says. The first model was mostly made of wood, and when he showed it to the Indian Institute of Technology, IIT, in Madras, scientists were sceptical – how was this man going to compete against multinationals?

You have to love this man:

“Imagine, I got patent rights to the only machine in the world to make low-cost sanitary napkins – a hot-cake product,” he says. “Anyone with an MBA would immediately accumulate the maximum money. But I did not want to. Why? Because from childhood I know no human being died because of poverty – everything happens because of ignorance.”

He believes that big business is parasitic, like a mosquito, whereas he prefers the lighter touch, like that of a butterfly. “A butterfly can suck honey from the flower without damaging it,” he says.

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It’s no longer Black History Month (I’m in the camp that believes we need twelve months of that every year), but it’s not too late to be horrified by how racism and fatphobia can go hand in hand as co-opting partners:

"Celebrate Black History Month: 1-800-GET-THIN"

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It’s no longer National Eating Disorders Week either, but it never hurts to have good resources on this difficult topic.

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And then, there’s sex: A surprising number of my current links group under the subject of sexuality. First, I don’t know when I’ve read a better or more thoughtful article than Rich Juzwiak’s piece on Truvada, barebacking, and safe sex:

For those, like me, who were unaware of or uneducated about Truvada, it is an antitretroviral cocktail that was approved in 2012 for pre-exposure HIV prophylaxis (PrEP):

For some—say barebacking enthusiasts, sex workers, or people in serodiscordant couples (in which one person is HIV positive and the other is negative)—Truvada is a no-brainer. There are plenty of us, though, who occupy a gray area, in which barebacking isn’t exactly a lifestyle, and in which contracting HIV doesn’t exactly seem like an inevitability. For those of us in that group, the kind of introspection that Truvada requires is hard.

The understanding that I might benefit from using Truvada dawned on me slowly, like I was stuck permanently at 6 a.m. for a few months. It was other guys who helped prompt my decision, like the ones I had the sense not to fuck raw when they assumed that’s what we’d be doing on first meeting, or the ones who tried to fuck me bare so casually, it was like they were going in there to check their mail. It was the guy who told me, “Yes, I’m negative—I was tested in February,” in October. It was the guy that I hooked up with who then proposed a threesome via text: “My friend said he wants to fuck raw.” This was a few texts after I told him, “I play safe,” and he said, “Yeah, me too.” A few texts later, he admitted he’d already fucked raw with our prospective third.

And it was the condoms that have come off or broken during sex, rendering that session raw anyway.

Juzwiak combines his own experience and thoughts with careful statistics, analysis of the ethical/moral questions involved, consideration of the drug’s long-term side effects, the meaning of “barebacking” in a heterosexual context,” and more. Read the whole thing.

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I was pleased to see the work of Terri Conley, re-examining the differences between men and women in hook-up culture. Conley directs the Stigmatized Sexualities Lab (how cool is it that that exists!) at the University of Michigan:

“I like to look beyond conducting research that confirms existing stereotypes,” Conley told the Cut over the phone last week. “These gender differences that everyone knows exist, and they know they’ll always exist and they’re biological — when I started pressing on them I found that a lot of those assumptions hadn’t really been tested.”

… We have a paper under review that says there are no differences between men and women if you control for two factors: pleasure, which we define as how capable they perceive their partner to be, and stigma, which we define as someone believing you’re a bad person for engaging in casual sex. I like to think of my research as trying to rule out alternative explanations in a way that evolutionary psychology doesn’t bother to do.

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I don’t agree with everything Claire Dederer says in this article on women, sex, and writing about sex, but I like how she’s breaking down the questions and thinking about things. She’s at her best when she’s writing about herself (and, not surprisingly, at her worst when she generalizes from her own experience to what’s true about “women”):

Hell, I wanted to be having sex. I liked sex. Didn’t I? Well, actually, I was never quite sure. Growing up in a world where the adults were busy trying to find themselves and the kids roamed unsupervised, I loved the adventure of sex, and I loved the attention, and sometimes it felt great. But did I want it enough? How good did it truly feel? Was I doing it only because the other person wanted to? My desire was real, I could feel it there at the core of the experience, but if I let myself, I could also feel doubt braided tightly with the desire. As a middle-aged married person, I’m still, you know, very pro-sex, but even now that’s how it is with me. Second thoughts come right on the heels of first thoughts, and am I really supposed to be having thoughts during sex anyway?

Her analyses of Anais Nin and Erica Jong, later in the article, are also worth reading.

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Finally for the sex section (say that three times fast), Grace Annam, not writing so much about sex as about sexual organs:

Hi, it’s us. Trans women who use bathrooms.

We know that you’re not comfortable sharing a bathroom with us, even though all the nakedness happens behind a stall door.

… We get it. There’s that penis in the room, and the whole entourage that can come along with those goddamn things.

We get it. Because when we go to the bathroom, there’s a penis in the room, too. Every time.

It’s right there in the stall with us.

She goes on to discuss trans women’s relationships with their own penises, a topic that is almost never addressed. And she does it without stereotyping or assuming that all trans women are the same. Here’s her unforgettable ending:

So we’d like to go to the bathroom, just like you. Ideally, we’d like to do it alone, but if we must have company, in that vulnerable moment, sitting over cold water with our pants down or skirt up, holding our clothes so that they don’t touch the floor (because, gah, ew)… we would like that experience to be gentle and brief, rather than nasty, brutish, and possibly followed by a stint in the hospital or the morgue.

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Finally, here’s a bit of black, sex worker, and American history that I didn’t know, very timely for this week.

1942 photo of Mardi Gras baby dolls

Calling your lover “baby” had just become part of the English language. Meanwhile, actual baby dolls, the toy, were rare. By dressing up this way, they flouted both gender and race rules. Women were largely excluded from masking for Mardi Gras and African Americans were still living under Jim Crow. Black women, by virtue of being both Black and female, were particularly devalued, sex workers ever more so. Asserting themselves as baby dolls, then, was a way of arguing that they were worth something.