Archive for feminism

Pink for Girls, Blue for Boys. Also, Ballerinas, Monster Trucks, Barbies, Gendered Lego, etc.

As I have pontificated testily in the past, if there are inherent differences between boys and girls, we don’t really know what they are, and where differences between genders do exist they are small, and significantly dwarfed by the difference within a gender. In fact, as regards social behaviour, I would contend that it is impossible for us to measure this because children do not grow up in a vacuum. There are gendered messages for children to take in every single day of their lives, from the moment they are born, and unconsciously or consciously, parents, caregivers, older children, other family members all subtly reward behaviour that fits the gendered stereotype, and subtly discourage, ignore or redirect behaviour that doesn’t fit. I spend my time pontificating testily about these topics, and I’m certain that I still do this, because I grew up swimming in the patriarchy just like everybody else. It’s inescapable.

So here’s my theory for boys and girls and gender: boys and girls (and frequently even the kids who fall outside that binary) are very similar in their ability to be socially sensitive to these cues. They are very similar in their desire to please the people around them and to do what is expected of them socially, to fit into their community/pack, to please their elders/protectors, to get along with their friends. There is variability within the genders, and individuals who, for whatever reason, find this fitting in more painful than others. There are communities and families that more harshly reward gendered conformity and others that strives for more individuality in expression, but the children themselves universally try to respond to all of these subtle messages so that they can fit in with their communities and be what it is they are expected to be.

There’s a reason that social ostracism feels so life threatening after all, why our emotions come on so strongly in response to rejection, why we can feel desperate to fit in, and that’s because social rejection was life threatening when communities/family groups were literally the defense against death. It makes sense that kids would come in acutely sensitive to fitting in. They are told they have a role based on a physical characteristic, and they are told each and every day how to perform it. So they do.

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Gender, toddlers, me pontificating testily

Wouldn’t it be nice if I had the time or energy to write a big long post about this and my thoughts thereon? I mean, it would if you like reading the posts I write when I write like that, I suppose. Supposing you don’t, I’d keep it to yourself – I hardly need more encouragement not to write.

Apparently J Crew sells clothing or something? In the states apparently? Whatever. Apparently they decided to put up an ad with a mother and her young son who likes pink nail polish on his toenails. People are all “Yeah, woohoo, buy stuff at J. Crew!” and “OMG, they’re pushing trans-ness on kids, for shame” and so on, because the internet is full of people, giving a shit.

I live with a toddler who loves nail polish and likes nothing more than demanding that the roommate apply it, in specific colours on specific fingers. I have no interest in this, but hey, what they do is what they do. Toddlers like to do stuff with colours. Playdough. Paint. Crayons. Socks. As adults we might code this as feminine but there’s nothing inherently vagina-uterus-clitoris-possessing* about it.

I have a friend or two and family members who seems to delight in pointing out to me when he conforms to gender stereotypes. I’m not sure why. They’re just so pleased by it, and it sometimes feels like they wants to rub my nose in it a little. See Kenzie? There really is something to gender stereotypes!

I never said that there were no differences between boys and girls. All I’ve ever said is that if there are, we don’t know what they are. Not really.**

And one kid conforming to one stereotype is not even data. It’s not even interesting in the bigger picture. Maybe he’s well-coordinated as regards large muscle stuff not because he’s a boy, but because he was carried so much when he was an infant – babywearing and carrying seem to contribute to better balance and physical development of kids at 6 months and a year in some studies. Or maybe because he was born so very very full-term and well-developed and 9 1/2 pounds and he got a head start. Or maybe because that’s the body he came with, part of the normal variation inherent in bodies. Who knows.

So pointing it out and thinking that we know the explanation for it because, you know, penis and testes and a Y chromosome is just so much buying into the concept of the patriarchy. And it’s not neutral. “Boys develop large muscle coordination earlier than girls” feeds right into “boys are more rough and tumble than girls” which feeds right into “boys are more aggressive than girls naturally” which feeds right into all of the horrible narratives about adolescent and adult sexual aggression by boys and men, about men’s natural dominating assertiveness in the workplace, and so on (including all of the complementary narratives regarding girls and women). It’s all of a piece.

And of course, these same people don’t sit around commenting that he’s empathetic like we tend of think of girls being. That he’s a peaceable kid who most of the time likes to get along, like we think of girls being. That his language development is not at all delayed the way we think of boys’ language development being. That he likes pink frilly dresses and his stuffed animals and every baby doll he encounters the way girls are supposed to and boys aren’t.

I frequently feel that people are being unscientific, picking and choosing their data to fit their preconceptions, but that in their opinion I’m the difficult and unreasonable one for not going along with it and just declaring this feminism thing a crock because the kid climbs well.

* I mention these body parts that not all women possess not because I believe that these parts are what make a person a woman (I do not), but because the sort of person who tends to consider maleness and femaleness to be these massive irrefutable inborn and opposite things also tends to believe that being born with these parts is what makes someone a woman and therefore inherently feminine.

** I’ve also said, and will continue to say, that as regards almost everything we think of as dude, so male, and woah, so female can almost always be plotted as two significantly overlapping bell curves. And that there is almost always more variability between two members of the same gender than there is between the genders in general. Height. Strength. Hip to waist ratio. Body hair quantity (before shaving and depilating and lasering). Levels of so-called sex hormones like Estrogen and Testosterone. Even boob size.***

*** Seriously, look around at the men you know. There are a lot of A and B cups around on men. And larger. They’re just not as noticeable as the equivalent ones on women because they’re not propped up on a shelf under a form-fitting shirt. And we’re not looking for them. Sure, most of the very flat-chested people you meet will be men. But not all of them! And sure, most of the D+-cupped people you meet will be women. But not all of them!****

**** Bodies are awesome in all their shapes and sizes and conformations and abilities. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

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Homophobia

The poster for the joint concert, including a picture of very old style military type people holding instruments.I’m not American, I’m Canadian, so that means that I live in a country with an integrated military, at least as regards sexualities. Heck, I play in a queer* concert band, and we played a joint concert called “Sounds Like Freedom” with the local army band ten years ago, in part because our conductor was an openly lesbian trombone player and a seargeant in said army band. And for those of us in this situation (you know, in a country where having out gay and lesbian service people did not destroy the armed forces), all this wacky fuss in the U.S. regarding whether or not it’s okay for queer service people to be queer just seems bizarre and nonsensical. And of course, full of very real consequences for people’s lives, like any enforced closet has, including for straight people.

Melissa over at Shakesville just posted about a republican threat to filibuster the new sorta kinda repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. As usual, she’s right on the money, but I did have an interesting thought when I read this bit:

When he says he’s going to “support the men and women of the military,” naturally he means only the straight ones.

You know, when people are homophobic shitheads, they probably hate homosexuals so much that they think they’re doing them a favour when they enforce the closet. Like, queer folk are probably deep down inside grateful that they don’t have to come out and tell their shameful secret to world. So in a sense, they probably do think they’re supporting queer people. They’re dead wrong, of course.

* I’m using “queer” here, as I often do, to indicate the broad LGTBA community.

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Feminism and birth, said better than I could ever say it

When changing birth culture meets fighting rape cultureSpilt Milk gets this so right and says it so clearly. This is a must read. In particular, this is the part that really got my attention:

When a woman has a hand or an instrument inserted into her vagina whilst she screams and thrashes out her non-consent, and when this action is sanctioned by society because it occurs in a medical setting (and because it is believed it must be for the ‘safety of her baby’ if carried out in this setting, regardless of whether or not it was medically indicated or evidence-based care), we have a problem.

But read the whole thing.

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Cutting the Genitals of Children, Part 1

I committed to writing a post a week for the month of May on the above topic, because I attended a session called Social Media, Social Justice at the Northern Voice 2010 conference, and we were asked to make a concrete commitment in some area of social justice that was near and dear to us. This is post #1.

Although of course these posts are going to be about the medical and religious procedure most commonly know as circumcision, but let me first speak about values.

When I use the word values, I mean the moral weight and reasoning that we use to evaluate the world. We all have values, most of which are unspoken and unacknowledged, and they aren’t universal, even though it feels very much like they are. Values also aren’t entirely logical, though we can usually rationalize them, and our values can over time change through education and experience. I think it’s important to be able to speak our values so that people know where we’re coming from, so here’s a few of mine.

Value 1: People who choose to parent children have a responsibility to protect them from harm. This seems perhaps obvious, but there’s a lot of uncertainty on what that protection means. And what harm means, for that matter*. Nonetheless, once you know or suspect that a harm is occurring or likely will occur, it seems to me that by choosing to be a parent (an undoubtedly complicated choice) you also make a choice to take on the responsibility of protecting your child from that harm.

Value 2: People are more important than concepts. Concepts, including values and religious ideas, are intangible. And of course, they can be important. But for instance, it’s very difficult to say whether a concept has been harmed by someone’s actions or how great that harm is. Concepts need people to define them, to explain them and to speak for them. Concepts do not and can not exist without people.

Value 3: Actions should be judged by their effects, not by their intent. Good intentions do not erase the actual bad effects of the things we do. Knowing that a friend meant only good when they served a meal full of allergens doesn’t make the allergic reaction any less, for example. Unintended bad effects are no less bad.

Value 4: Adults, in my world, get to do whatever they want to do with their own bodies. Any marking, piercing, modification or amputation that an adult wishes to do or have done to their own body is or should be their right. There is nothing we possess more totally than our bodies, they are entirely our own.**

Given that these are my values, I know very clearly where I stand with regards to medical or ritual male or female infant or youth genital cutting, sometimes known as circumcision or mutilation. It is, quite simply, wrong.

My values tell me that it is wrong to permanently alter the bodies of children and infants without their consent (and as children and infants they cannot consent to this). It is wrong to cause them pain for no medical benefit, perhaps the most excruciating pain of their lives, and this is true regardless of what the reasoning behind the pain causing is. It is wrong even when “pain relief” is used, as this is rarely sufficient to remove all pain and can cause further problems and damage. It is wrong to risk their lives, their health and their sexual future for aesthetic reasons.

Next post: Some musings on religion and the clash with values.

*I suspect the concept of harm in parenting is based on another set of values. For instance, if you believe that children are inherently “sinful” and/or inherently inclined to be uncooperative, then you’re going to view things like punishment and rigid parenting practices and a child’s behaviour very differently than if you believe that children are inherently community-minded and inclined to want to get along with others. For the record, my beliefs re: children and therefore my practice as a parent tend more along the latter values set.

**I want to state this because I don’t want to be misinterpreted as saying that cutting/amputation/body modifications are a wrong in and of themselves. In my view, these are neutral acts, and their morality is decided by the context in which they take place.

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In which I avoid my NaNoWriMo commitments by blogging

In particular, I kind of felt like I needed to respond to a comment that’s been sitting in my moderation queue for far too long. As could have been predicted, posting critically about the topic of pornography in my Utopian Promise of Porn post induced at least one dude to feel the need to hugely overshare about his masturbation habits in a defensive way. Who could have called that development? Aside from everyone I mean.

Said dude, who goes by the handle “Chris”, had a heck of a lot to say, and I don’t really feel like having descriptions of his masturbatory behaviour up on the blog permanently, but here’s a few quotes. He starts off strong, not able or willing to speak directly to me, the writer, but still wanting The World In General to know how he feels about what I’ve written:

I think the author is making a leap of faith on this article. The release of Oxytocin during orgasm has just recently begun to be studied. The kind of reactions that the release of oxytocin combined with degrading or abusive images cause on our psyche is completely speculative and would be difficult to impossible to prove.

Thanks, Chris. The author was positing a theory, not quite the same thing as a leap of faith. I can see you’re hoping to out-intellect* me with your quasi-academic style of writing here, which is fine. I have a tendency to want to come across all academic-y myself. It’s a distancing technique for me, a way of hopefully putting my words up above dispute, because once I’m convinced of something I’m admittedly a bit impatient with dispute, especially from people I perceive (rightly or wrongly) as uninformed. We all need hobbies I guess. Nonetheless, I thought I’d respond to a couple of points.

It’s true that oxytocin and orgasm have only been studied for a short period of time. Are you suggesting that nobody should ever write about things that haven’t been thoroughly studied by lots and lots of scientists who have come to consensus? Or does this standard only apply to to things like pornography?

However, sociological and anthropological studies on human behaviour have been going on for a long time and will likely continue, and it seems to me that those would be better avenues for testing my theories. As for impossible to prove, I don’t think that my original supposition would fall into that category. We have science! We can design studies!

In fact, off the top of my head I could think of some pretty basic experiments which would suggest whether orgasms produced while consuming “good”** porn vs. those produced while consuming “bad” porn vs. those produced while fantasizing with no visual stimuli vs. merely viewing any of these sans orgasm had any effect on attitudes expressed in, for instance, subsequent interviews or questionnaires. A study of this type would not “prove” or “disprove” my original hypothesis, but it could offer some interesting insights regarding the effects of porn viewing on, perhaps, attitudes. Heck, I’m sure some studies have already been done. More studies along these lines including ones with a longer term focus or measurement of hormone levels would provide an aggregate of data and would likely eventually suggest certain conclusions.

I’m afraid, of course, that the only people likely to get the funding to do this kind of research would be Evolutionary Psychologists (i.e., people like this irritating misogynist), and they would undoubtedly find some way to use their results to forward their own wacky aims, but what can you do. If I won the lottery I’d squander my  millions doing research on all my pet theories and interests, such is my enthusiasm.

I think the opposite is true that people that have a degrading view of women to begin with enjoy watching degrading porn. Treating women like that has been something they’ve picked up from their parents and friends growing up.

The chicken or egg argument. You’re suggesting that it is not the isolated Chicken of bad porn affecting the way people treat women, but the Egg of environmental factors that makes such porn enjoyable. I would suggest to you that it might well be both chicken and egg at the same time. Let’s agree that the Patriarchy exists and that we are all swimming in it. I would suggest to you that people, not just men, who have been raised in a non-patriarchy-questioning way are probably more likely to be unconcerned by pornographic depictions of unwilling or degraded or victimized women and disaffected and detached or abusive men. However, we are all raised in a patriarchy. We are all surrounded by problematic imagery all the time, and it often takes an added effort to recognize how problematic a specific image is.

I also feel like I need to point out, again, what was in essence the main (though poorly articulated) thrust of my original post: people talk about pornography as though there is a “good” kind and a “bad” kind, but in my experience, there is very little at all that could be classed as “good” in the ways that people mean. Most porn, almost all porn probably, contains problematic images and portrayals. You speak of “degrading porn” as though there was in actual fact another kind that was common and readily available and that this awesome non-degrading porn was the kind that most people sought out to watch, with only the nasty deviants damaged by their upbringing wanting to watch the degrading kind. This is the Utopian Promise of Porn again!

From here on I got to learn a lot more about Chris’ sexuality and masturbatory practices than I ever wanted to know, so without the explicit bits, here’s his next point:

… It certainly does relax me and calm me afterwords [sic]. It relaxes my physiological drive to procreate and it calms my natural mental obsession to have that connection on a regular basis.

Maybe I am a sex addict, or orgasm addict. But, I can control it. I can control doing it on just myself, instead of cheating. I can control it if there is no privacy.

Porn contains men’s sexualities? I guess this is your point? Porn stops men from becoming Cheaty McCheatersons? Porn saves relationships? Porn prevents overpopulation? Although, again, we’re conflating porn and masturbation and they’re not the same thing.

When you use phrases like “natural mental obsession”, “sex addict”, and “orgasm addict”, there’s something a bit false feeling about that, as though you’re declaiming responsibility for your own sexuality. Indeed, the suggestion that without masturbation you would be cheating, that’s a cop out. I’m unconvinced that most people who cheat do so because they’re just not getting enough sex at home and can’t masturbate. That’s nonsense. It’s refusing to take responsibility for your own choices. Not a scientific observation by any means, but in my experience (and I know this is shared by many of my friends) the more you think about having sex or have sex, the more sex you want to have within certain limits – a positive feedback loop. The reverse is also true, within certain limits. Times when you’re not thinking about or having a great deal of sex, your interest also wanes.

Here’s a proposal for an experiment for anyone to do on their own. Stop consuming porn for a finite period of time. Only you know what would be an appropriate time period for you. If you look at it daily, then start with a week maybe. If you ordinarily don’t look at it but once a week, stopping for a week wouldn’t be terribly meaningful, so maybe try three weeks or a month. Do you feel your attitudes to sex, men and women change? What if you stop for longer, what then? I don’t know what these answers will be for you.

Astonishing as this may be for some folks to hear, it’s okay to not always be interested in sex. Yes, even for men. Sex is important for many people, and I don’t mean to say that it isn’t. But there is a rhythm to our interest in it, just as there is with everything else. Sometimes it’s the only game in town, it’s the cat’s meow, it’s everything good in life. And other times, it’s a total take it or leave it kinda thing. And this is totally okay, not pathological, not a problem. I think there’s a fair bit of societal pressure on everyone, but especially on men, to have a constant minimum interest in sex and that this, in part, is one of the things that drives the demand for pornography.

Okay, so absolutely my favourite line:

I don’t think there is anything that is going to seriously affect my real life watching bare chested girls jumping on trampolines, or the “perfect? start to finish sexual encounter (like we ever watch the whole thing).

Bare chested “girls” jumping on trampolines: an ordinary background for an ordinary life with no effects at all on the watchers. How the girls themselves feel about the matter: not important to Chris.

*Learn to logic!

**If there is such a thing as “good” porn, which is really part of what the original Utopian Promise of Porn post was about. I am undecided on this point, but often lean no-wards.

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2 out of ~350

It just occurred to me that one of the odder anecdotes about my life that I don’t think I’ve commonly recounted is that when I was a “troubled teen” with self-harming issues I was, out of the blue, given the opportunity to go to feminist girl camp (for girls 13-17, I think).

It was a couple of days with a bunch of other teenaged girls at a local camp with only a few women mentors. There was a self-defense workshop; the specific methods I remember learning there are actually clearer in my mind than the ones I learned in four years of karate training. There were all sorts of workshops on topics related to self esteem, self confidence, overcoming eating disorders, depression, suicide. There were job and career counselling sessions.

There was some kind of workshop for coming up with a message or greeting to send to the upcoming 4th World Conference of Women, and encouragement was huge to find some way to attend the conference in person – recommendations on finding sponsorship in your community, and so on. It was absolutely assumed that wonderful things would come out of that conference and that it was a given that anyone would want to be there.

There were movies in the evening, a choice of Fried Green Tomatoes and Joy Luck Club, and just lots of sitting around chatting with other girls in a context where our experiences as people were important, were valued, where we were assumed to have interesting thoughts ourselves, where we weren’t assumed to have value based only on what we brought to the table in performed femininity.

All of the girls wandered around in what seemed to be the uniform for the event – loose flannel or cotton knit pyjama pants and loose t-shirts – I can’t remember if this was a recommended ensemble, but I think it was. It gave a pyjama party feeling to the whole thing. There was very little supervision, but there was this strangely earnest quality to the whole event. This was a refreshing break from our day to day lives, and I had the feeling that we, in general, knew how precious that was.

If this sounds a little bit too good to be true, I assure you it felt that way at the time. I wandered through the event shy but strangely outgoing at the same time. I was comfortable in the uniform, comfortable with the company, intrigued by the messaging. Surrounded by young women like myself I felt very free – it was a huge relief from the sexual bullying I was experiencing in school at that time.

And I won’t say that this one weekend changed my life profoundly. How could it, when I had to leave this and go back to my same old life, called a dyke by people who clearly thought that was an insult, threatened with sexually explicit violence in notes taped to my back or my locker or slipped into my binder, verbally and physically bullied in the hallways at school, groped by the asshole whose locker was near mine (and who, strangely, is one of the very few of my graduating class who was dead by our ten-year reunion – I’m still processing that one).

But it was a gift. It was a start. It was a moment. And it was important.

And that’s where we get to the two out of approximately 350, because that’s how many teenaged girls in my school got to go to this event that year. And everyone who didn’t go didn’t get told that there was a women’s conference in China, and that they should go, and that if they went they could make a difference in the world, that they were agents of powerful change in their communities. And that’s too bad.

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Days late, but still pertinent

Hey, did you know that the latest resurrected Carnival of Feminists is up? True ’nuff, it is! Birthcycle got a nod, and there are other interestin’ posts, so go check it out.

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Utopian Promise of Porn

Nursing a cosleeping baby and lying next to a partner who snores sometime combine to leave a person lying awake with a spinning brain at 5 in the morning.

It occurs to me that part of the problem with porn is that all of that icky emotional negotiation stuff takes place off screen (if it is assumed to take place at all). In porn it is absolutely INCONCEIVABLE that anyone would change their mind halfway through, would decide to withdraw from the encounter, or take a pause in the encounter, or renegotiate their intentions for the encounter – “I’ve changed my mind, let’s not do penetration tonight.” No. Porn is not about fluid expression of sexuality between real thoughtful people with bodies that tire, or get sore, or simply stop feeling like sex.*

And since “sex” isn’t a monolithic concept free from the complications of people, the fact that it is portrayed that way in pornography is quite possibly a contributor to some of the major problems that we have, sexually, in our society. As a society, we actually tend to equate pornography with sex, when perhaps it is something entirely different. This feels like an important idea.

I came of age in the era of the internet. That means that like a lot of folks my age some of my first sexual explorations came online, with folks in chat rooms, or with downloaded sexual stories or pornographic pictures or (extremely short, fuzzy) videos. And when you’re 17, interested in exploring this sex thing, but certainly scared of having to be involved with real people who could potentially hurt you, pornography certainly seems like it could have its pluses. And certainly, many folks were very enthusiastic about it. I was so inexperienced and, up till then, sheltered that as regards sexuality I felt like an alien dropping into an entirely new world. I took it on faith that the idea of pornography I saw online was the truth.

There was this concept that I now think of as the Utopian Promise of Porn. Oh my, yes. I recall being told by many people that porn was a good thing because it could be a teaching tool for people who didn’t know how to please each other in bed, or who wanted to learn new ways to please each other. I remember being told that porn was just “hot” or arousing, or pleasurable to watch, or funny. I recall being told that there was good woman-centered porn that was respectful of women, even orchestrated by women. I seem to recall a lot of claims like these that added up to the Utopian Promise of Porn. But I never actually saw pornography that lived up to this Promise.

After all, as I started off by saying, if you’re using porn as a teaching or learning tool of some kind for real people having real sex together, surely it would be important to include real negotiations, real situations where real people change their mind about sex, and that’s okay, and even still a part of an enjoyable encounter. And although I haven’t seen All Porn Everywhere (thank goodness), I certainly explored enough porn in my late teens and early twenties to know that for all the claims that porn could be a teaching and learning tool, I never saw any that actually taught anything worth learning.

And after a while I started to wonder if I was just somehow always seeing the wrong porn (obviously they were hiding this “good” stuff somewhere I wasn’t seeing). My porn-friendly friends tended to indicate that I was just missing the good stuff, but recommendations always fell just as flat. And so my willingness to be porn-friendly  became a bit strained.

After all, pretty much all the porn I ever saw** showed people in uncomfortable-looking sexual positions, performing sex acts which seemed unlikely to be pleasurable, with poses with camera-friendly, but very much person-unfriendly qualities. Men commonly seemed disdainful, uncomfortable, not particularly aroused (except physically), disconnected. Women were commonly called unpleasant names, or spoken to in disrespectful ways, or dominated unpleasantly, or coerced, or tricked. Or women acted obviously bored, uncomfortable or were actively in discomfort at various points but all without renegotiating, pausing, stopping, changing their minds – a major problem, because it perpetuates the idea that sexual discomfort is unimportant, that women need to “suck it up”, grin and bear it, that it will get better or the pain will pass and pleasure will come, such damaging ideas!

So pornography may well be a teaching or learning tool, but I think the lessons are not as advertised. And I think pornography is powerful because of the ways in which it is used. I think a lot of very well-meaning folks use pornography (where use means masturbate to), see some of the problems inherent in it, but discount the effect of those problems, because after all it’s just something they’re doing by themselves and it doesn’t affect anyone else.

But masturbation is such a powerful thing, too often discounted it seems to me. We are producing in ourselves surges of powerful hormones.

Oxytocin is know as the love hormone. Mothers and babies both have extraordinarily high levels of this hormone in the period just after birth, when they are experiencing a period of powerful bonding, falling in love, and mothers produce oxytocin at lower levels when nursing, reinforcing that bonding, and when they hold their babies skin to skin. Oxytocin is one of nature’s answers to getting babies through the difficult period of dependent infancy – it has to be powerful to counteract all the work that babies take (remember that it isn’t just humans that have babies). It’s also the hormone we produce when we hug, when we kiss, that wonderful warm feeling we get at those times, and it’s the biggie that we produce when we orgasm.

And so it seems to me that we are fooling ourselves if we think we can repeatedly orgasm, producing high levels of a powerful bonding, falling-in-love hormone, in response to portrayals of sex including disrespect, coercion, lack of connection, possibly even pain, and not have that affect us, perhaps profoundly.

This is such an uncomfortable idea.

In part that is because of course we’re societally also very used to the idea that masturbation is somehow difficult or impossible without pornography, combined with the idea that masturbation is necessary and/or good for you. And I guess, right now, I don’t have an answer or even much to say about that, except what I’ve already said. I don’t know that difficult problems have easy solutions, since if they did they wouldn’t be difficult, or uncomfortable, or problems (assuming this is a problem – I’m not sure).

There’s a whole lot more I could say about pornography, about the problematic aspects of the production of pornography (there are many), or more about the portrayals (lots of problems there too), or my own use of pornography, but this post is already rather long.

What do you think? Due to spam problems, all comments are moderated, but I’m busy with my 6-month-old baby, so give me a couple hours to respond – sorry about that!

* If your first response is something along the lines of “but it’s a fantasy” or “it’s an ideal”, well, isn’t that just the point? Wouldn’t sex ideally include people being free to change their minds? And wouldn’t sex where people changed their minds and negotiated different ways of being together than they first intended ideally still have the potential to be awesome?

** A lot, primarily heterosexual in focus, but not entirely. Let me state for the record, if it’s not clear, the fact that I am not looking for recommendations for porn that fulfills the Utopian Promise of Porn. Hey, maybe you found the perfect portrayal of consensual sex between two (or more) people. I don’t know. Perhaps its possible. But a) I think, based on what I’ve seen, that it’s very very unlikely, and b) this theatre is no longer screening films or images of this type, thankyouanyway. Besides which, the existence of one or more films or images fulfilling the Utopian Promise of Porn doesn’t eradicate the vast majority of porn which don’t. Exceptions don’t prove rules.

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Babies and the Cultural Performance of Femininity

Babies. I recently birthed one. A boy, which surprised me far more than I thought it would, but nonetheless a welcome and planned little bundle.

On the whole, parenting a new baby has been pretty much exactly the way I thought it would be. And I’m growing to like his little self very well. He loves to laugh, loves to smile, loves to just sit back and watch the world and and he seems to find each and every moment and individual to be utterly delightful. He has no inhibitions.

But here’s the thing I’ve been thinking a lot about babies: boy or girl, babies “perform femininity” with ease. Think about it; the cultural performance of feminity involves conforming to and producing the following markers, among others:

  • hairlessness,
  • softness,
  • vulnerability,
  • lack of obvious muscularity,
  • helplessness,
  • higher voices,
  • emotional lability,
  • dependence,
  • confusion regarding complex issues,
  • physical weakness, and
  • to a certain extent, paleness of skin relative to other individuals of the same ethnic background (this is an intersection of performed femininity, racist assumptions re: beauty, and classism).

Babies are, according to our assumptions regarding what feminine is, remarkable feminine, and without even trying.

Now, on the one hand that says a lot about what women are expected to perform when they’re expected to perform femininity. Feminine performance is, to a certain extent, infantilizing for women.

But, on the other hand, it helps to explain to me why folks are so very caught up in making sure little baby boys are dressed up and recognizable as boys. Their essential  femininity must be masked.

This is absolutely essential for some folks, and I can’t help but wonder if the sheer obviousness of their femininity isn’t part of why it sometimes seems like people need to go so far in the violently oppressively masculine direction with boys – not just blue as a neutral and value-less identifier of gender, but blue with sharks (killers in the ocean), blue with depictions of violent sport (war games, with many real life injuries), camoflage for calling up images of war – people killing each other, with guns, often at close range, to be clear about what that imagery is about. On baby clothes.

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A post that never got posted, June 13, 2006: Fat

(I’ve been writing this entry, off and on, for most of a month now.)I have tried to rejoice in the body I had. I’ve tried very hard. But in the end I fell into the same trap, that of excusing my fatness by comparing it to the fatness of others. You know that one, the “I’m chubby, but I’m not as fat as/fat in the same way as so-and-so. And, you know, I exercise, and eat healthy… so…”All of which really means, “I’m fat, but I have a good attitude, and it’s not like I’m *trying* to be fat, so you should all forgive me and treat me in the privileged way you treat skinny people.”I’ve never dieted, officially. There are a lot of reasons why that’s pointless and punishing. I can honestly say that I have no real idea what I weigh right now. Something over 200 lbs, I think, but beyond that I don’t know.Of course, having said that, I’ve had days where I secretly rejoiced in the fact that I had eaten less, or nothing, or forgotten to eat until evening, as though that made me virtuous. Conversely, on days when I’ve been very snacky, I try to hide this fact from myself (and certainly from others), and felt ashamed, because if I say that I’m eating healthy I can’t possibly slip like that. Whenever I go to someone’s house with a scale, I do weigh myself, but then discount it as unimportant and pat myself on the back for not caring. The process leaves me feeling shaky and uncomfortable, but I do it anyway.

I equated “not dieting” with having a healthy attitude about my weight. I equated not obsessively weighing myself and worrying over any ounce gained or lost with having a healthy attitude about my weight. I equated being comfortable telling people my weight with having a healthy attitude about my weight.

But in revelling in the idea that I was being “good” (not dieting, not being obsessive), and of course revelling in the praise I did receive when I told people my weight (usually along the lines of “Wow! You’d never know you weight that much! You carry it so well!”) I forgot that I really was focusing a lot of energy and concern on exactly the issue I prided myself in not caring about.

And also, in so doing, I still managed to put myself in a place of judgment around other people and their fat. I was “good” because: I wasn’t as fat as they were (some kind of invisible line I always stayed just this side of); I didn’t care about being fat the way they did (not caring is “enlightened”); I wasn’t succumbing to some kind of brainwashing about needing to diet the way they were (I was smarter); etc.

Issues of weight and fat make me feel angry. There are days when I just wish that absolutely would just SHUT UP ABOUT IT ALL ALREADY. I don’t want to hear about your Atkins diet progress or the list of things you’re permitted to eat today. I don’t want to hear anyone say they just want to lose 10 pounds when they’re already beanpole skinny.

I especially don’t want you to tell me that you think I’ve lost weight, and so I look good (this happened just yesterday, actually). On the other hand, sometimes I do. And then I feel guilty for feeling good.

I moved past some of this, but some of it is still current. I’m more confident about my weight (right now probably a bit above 270, including those pounds put on for baby) , and my right to weigh what I weigh and be in the world and take up space. And I’m more and more convinced that our obsession with weight loss as a society has a lot to do with shutting women up (and down) and making sure their focus isn’t on anything important or radical. I still don’t always know how to talk to other people about weight, about their weight, about issues to do with weight, and I managed to get into a huge fight with my sister on the topic of weight over the summer – she was trying to play devil’s advocate to my HAES, who are we to judge, etc., screed. I really wanted to say, “Look, you *can’t* play devil’s advocate by parroting back everything that the mainstream says. I’m the bleedin’ devil’s advocate here!” but instead we just yelled at each other and cried a lot and I wish it hadn’t gone that way.

And I’m trying to find that balance between empathizing with folks re: their unhappiness about weight – “You’re right, it sucks when you don’t have clothes that fit. That feels very frustrating.” – so that they feel heard, and yet not compromising on the basics – “If your clothes don’t fit, it’s time to get clothes that do fit.” rather than “If your clothes don’t fit, it’s totally reasonable to try dieting until they do.” This stuff feels especially hard with family, because these are the folks who I love, and who I know love me and have actually never criticized me for being fat or encouraged me to diet except in the backhanded “You look great, have you lost weight?” way. So I can’t be quite as flippant as I am with some other folks: “I just want to lose 10 pounds.” “Really? *looks them up and down* Your leg below the knee should do it.”

And pregnancy, by heck, is a full-on adventure in body acceptance every day. As a pregnant fat person I’ve been struggling with finding comfortable clothes that fit, struggling with finding representations of my body in pregnancy illustrations (all pregnant women apparently start out slightly underweight and have no discernible fat layer, aside from breasts), and struggling with my own body image not quite being what my current reality is.

And every pregnancy site on the web is full of exhortations not to gain too much weight or it’ll be hard to drop those pounds later. I find myself completely unworried on the topic of the weight I’m gaining (it’s clearly going to a good purpose), almost completely unworried on the topic of my exciting new collection of stretch marks (a good purpose, again, has clearly been served, despite the actual physical discomfort of popping new stretch marks), and yet strangely weirded out and uncomfortable with my entirely benign and non-painful little wobbly belly underneath my firm pregnancy belly. It’s the same old wobbly belly pooch I had when I was just a non-pregnant fatty, and I was fine with it then, but somehow it’s different in its current position, and I’m not sure I could explain why. Ah well.

This post = much rambling, and I’m not sure if there’s a point. But does there really need to be?

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My discovery of the day, and what you can do about it

Goods 4 Girls.

When I first heard about Tampax and Always donating disposable menstrual supplies to girls in africa who were otherwise using very unsuitable materials or missing school entirely because of their periods my first thought was, “But that doesn’t solve the problem! If anyone’s giving them anything it should be well-sewn reusable cloth pads!”

After all, giving them a tampon or pad here or there doesn’t solve the long-term problem (it’s the old teach a man to fish/give a man a fish problem… kinda), because once used that particular gift cannot be used again. Disposable one-use products keep people dependent on the giver as long as the giver deigns to give, and then back where they started afterwards. They are a problem of disposal in areas without the kind of trash collection that happens here, and even here they’re a problem because they decompose, if at all, only very slowly, and contain chemicals and plastics which are environmentally very problematic. So that seemed to me to be at best only slightly better than no help at all.

Cloth pads seemed like a superior solution, in areas with a dependable water supply for washing anyway. They can last years and years (I’ve been using the same cloth pads for six or seven years now, and I used them travelling in Australia, India, and Japan, soaking and hand-washing as I went and it worked well. It certainly felt more convenient to carry my 6 cloth pads and keeper/diva cup than it did to either carry a pack of disposables (more needed because they’re *not* as absorbent and certainly not reusable) or try to purchase them wherever I was, and then to dispose of them, especially in areas where I knew that the main method of trash disposal was burning.

Well, that’s what Goods 4 Girls is all about – supplying girls with cloth pads. The cloth pads will be collected here in North America (Seattle, WA, actually) and then will be distributed by aid agencies working on the ground in Africa. Check out their frequently asked questions to answer all those nagging questions you have, and then just do it.

There’s a list of pad makers on the site who are eager to help with donations, and a bunch of links to patterns for making them from scratch. After looking through the list, it seems the best bang for your buck for donating is from Dianne’s Diapers. She is local to the main group and will throw in a fifth pad if you buy four for $5.50. That means you can donate 5 pads for only $21 US, no shipping needed. That’s a decent donation!

All of the rest have pads starting at closer to $10-$12, so it costs more for less. Party in my Pants Pads (which name, by the way, I adore for sheer unself-conscious goofiness) will throw in a freebie if you donate two, but with their base price of $12 that means you’re only sending 3 for $24, not quite as good a deal.

Making them yourself would be even cheaper, if you have the time and a good serger and machine.

What I’ve done:

What I’d like you to do:

  • tell other folks
  • donate, some way or another, if you can ($21 for 5, seriously! How can you go wrong?)
  • comment and let me know if you’ve donated or passed it along

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Choice and Gender

This is an older post that I’m reposting from my personal blog.

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I spent some of my break-time reading this post over on Alas, a Blog, ostensibly on the concept of “Choice for Men” (i.e., the choice of men to decide post-conception not to support children they participate in creating). I’d be more in favour of something like this if they were asking for the ability to officially declare this preference prior to having sex, and back it up with sterilization, and then not pay child support, but hey, that’s me. Regardless, the vitriole and fuzzy logic can be interesting and instructive.

Here’s how choice regarding conception and birth go for men and for women, ‘kay? And I dig that I’m talking about ideal human relationships where neither party is being coherced into sexual activity, people actually think about this stuff instead of just rut like bunnies, and both parties are respectful of each other.

First off there’s the near infinite time period prior to engaging in sexual activity for both parties to decide a) whether or not they want to have sex with someone of the opposite sex, b) what sorts of sex (vaginal vs. non-vaginal to have) and c) what sorts of contraception to utilize. They can also meet each other and talk about these issues together.

Men and Women have equal potential ability (in a relatively perfect world without abusive relationships/etc.) to choose not to be responsible to a child during this time period. Men and Women do have different options for contraception which is caused caused by both biology and politics. However, they do have three options to choose from in common which virtually guarantee a lack of responsibility to possible future children in this time period: not having sex, not having vaginal sex, and being permanently surgically sterilized (tubal ligation and vasectomy).

Then there’s the time period of the sex act itself. Men and Women have different choices that they can make during this time. Women get to choose whether to have vaginal sex, whether to have vaginal sex during what may be a more fertile time for them, whether to have vaginal sex with a fertile man (vs. a provably sterile one), whether to use condoms or a diaphragm or another barrier method, whether to use spermicides, whether to have the male ejaculate in her vagina or not, and so on. Men get to choose whether to have vaginal sex, whether to have vaginal sex with a fertile woman (vs. a probably sterile one), whether to use condoms or another barrier method, whether to use spermicides, whether to ejaculate inside the woman’s vagina, and so on.

Of course, all of these choices have varying degrees of risk for pregnancy, and the people involved in the act choose their own level of risk. Obviously, a man and a woman relying on the withdrawal method alone for contraception have a higher acceptable level of risk than does a couple relying on oral contraception, condoms and withdrawal together. Ostensibly, this means that one couple is demonstrating greater reluctance to support a child.

Post-ejaculation/sex, the man no longer has any options for whether or not he’s willing to create a new life. Sorry, it sucks, but hey, that’s how biology works. Pregnancy is a thing that occurs in a woman’s body. Men don’t get to say what happens in/to women’s bodies.

Post-sex, women have the choice (at least in Canada) to use at least two varieties of morning-after pill, if they feel their precautions weren’t sufficient or broke down at some point in the process.

They can also, should they end up pregnant, choose one of several methods of abortion (if it’s accessible/affordable/safe in their area) should they not wish to carry the pregnancy through to term for any reason. I’m not sure when their legal right to do this ends in all areas, but in North America it’s usually somewhere between three months and just pre-birth.

Yup, this is a choice that women have that men don’t, but then, men don’t get pregnant. This doesn’t mean that in this ideal and respectful situation men can’t talk to women about what choices are and so on. But as one man said, men can only really be pro-support, not pro-choice. This means they can only choose to either support a woman’s decisions either way, or not, because the choice isn’t theirs to make.

This means that women have a longer period of time to make a choice about whether or not to support a possible child. Please note that this longer period of time is really only three to nine months longer. Considering that both parties have the near-infinite period of time prior to having sex in common to make that choice, and that this longer period of time is based in the reality of biology – women get pregnant and men don’t – this isn’t really unfair.

And yes, women can choose to give babies up for adoption post-birth (which requires the father to also give consent for this, if he can be found, usually). Realistically, this doesn’t often happen, just as abortion doesn’t often happen. Most unexpected pregnancies become births and babies, not abortions.

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My Journey to Feminism, part 1

When I was young I was brought up with the general idea that that whole sexism thing was over and done with and we didn’t need to worry about it anymore. This left me pretty unprepared for and ill-equipped to deal with the misogyny inherent in North American popular culture. Every time I ran up against sexism I just chalked it up to some kind of bizarre holdover from a previous era, and thought that likely the person just didn’t realize what they were saying or hadn’t meant it or that they were isolated in their sexist beliefs.

Like many young women of my generation I was indoctrinated by my peers and by the social atmosphere of schooling into believing that “feminist” was practically a dirty word and an insult. This wasn’t entirely conscious, but I do remember being tauntingly asked if I was one of those feminists and defensively declaiming the possibility; “Me? No! Of course not… I just believe that… *insert blatantly feminist belief here*.”

I was raised by two parents who took a mostly egalitarian (and in fact feminist, though they wouldn’t have called it that) view of gender relationships.

In our household and on the farm we lived on, my mother did the things she was good at and enjoyed, like gardening, cooking, mowing, irrigation, fruit picking, canning, preserving, childrearing, sewing, and knitting (she’s an incredibly talented knitter and sewer).

My father did the things he was good at and enjoyed, like chopping firewood, fruit picking, cooking, car repair, vacuuming, dusting, childrearing, pruning, and plumbing.

The necessary tasks that nobody enjoyed, like dishes, were split relatively evenly (though perhaps a little heavily on my mother’s side, because hey I’m not trying to pretend I lived in a feminist utopia). The most important thing in all of this is that I never got the idea from them that things were divided up the way they were because that was the way it had to be. While it’s true that many of my parents tasks were divided along traditionally gendered lines, they never communicated to me that this was why they were divided that way.

Then I went out into the so-called “real” world.

And you know, it wasn’t quite the egalitarian utopia I’d been brought up to expect. I met people with such complicated ideas of gender relations that I felt completely out of place and confused. Why on earth should this or that be true of me just because I am biologically female? It made no sense. But because I wasn’t brought up with the language of feminism I didn’t even have the tools to express what I was experiencing.

For example, when I was in a relationship with a man who insisted that having sex at a certain frequency (defined by him) was pretty much his right and my responsibility, I couldn’t figure out how to express what was so wrong about that. The thing is, when he wasn’t bullying me about his sexual needs and actually acted in ways more in keeping with his ideals (which were definitely proto-feminist, though he preferred the term “egalitarian”), neither could he. Yet, at some level, we both knew that it there was something wrong with that dynamic, even if we couldn’t express it or figure it out.

No amount of discomfort stopped the bullying from going on, of course, though only for a couple of months because I broke up with him soon after that began. It occurs to me now that the hardest bits of privilege for men to let go of sometimes seem to be the ones related to being able to treat sex with women as an inherent manly right. Frankly, coerced sex with a less-than-willing partner certainly seems pretty unattractive to me. Perhaps it is only in comparison to the perceived possibility of no sex at all that this sounds good.

I’ll leave the journey here at the point of confused non-comprehension, because after all, it’s late, and I do have work tomorrow. But I promise promise promise (mainly to myself) to continue this very soon indeed.

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It happened then, why is it still happening now?

So I was catching up on my blog reading after a couple of busy weeks when I ran across this post: Lord of the flies, over at I blame the patriarchy. Yeah, too true.

I remember all too well the near constant sexual harrassment that I and others endured at high school. In the course of my grade 8 and grade 9 years (I was aged 12-14 at this time) I endured the following:

  • being touched and grabbed on the bum and the breast by boys I hadn’t invited to touch me there, who were touching me only to humiliate me and make me feel bad and to assert their own power;
  • having signs posted on my back in classes and in the hallways, the most memorable of which read, “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw!”;
  • general rude unsolicited comments about my body to do with the fact that by god I had *breasts* (A-cup, fer gawd’s sakes) and my breasts *moved* when I walked or ran (like any other normal part of my body), also, if I wore a bra, that I was wearing a *bra* and this meant that I was all ready for sex (hmm, might this have something to do with my dislike of bras? other than the uncomfortableness, of course);
  • general rude unsolicited comments about my body to do with the fact that I was wearing a menstrual pad and they could see that through my clothing and did I like having something touching me “down there”;
  • general rude unsolicited suggestions that what I really needed was a good fuck, or to suck them, and that would make me happy; and so on.

At the time I walked around in a state of near-constant baffled suppressed rage, ignoring everybody and jumping down everybody’s throat (whether they were nice or not) if they tried to talk to me, because they might just be pretending to be nice so they could get close enough to harrass me some more, as happened when I started receiving “love notes” from a boy, and then a phone call at home which quickly turned to “You have great tits.” and similar not particularly complimentary comments. However true that might have been (and fer gawd’s sakes, I was 13 and had not much in the way of breasts one way or another), it was still unwelcome, and the choice of language used didn’t portend respect or hope for a relationship. I just hung up, and then endured being teased about how so-and-so “liked” me and I was mean not to go out with him for the next two weeks.

I didn’t tell my parents about much of this because I knew that even though they loved me fiercely they were ineffectual on the topic of bullying, having both been bullied as kids themselves, and knowing about my bullying just brought that back for them. Their saddened advice was always just to ignore them and not give them the satisfaction and eventually they’d go away. But this didn’t address the fact that a) it was impossible to really ignore them when they were touching me without somehow giving them tacit permission to do so, b) I didn’t really know and neither, I think, did they what ignoring them really meant (not reacting outwardly? not hearing them at all? walking right past them when they’re taunting you? avoiding the places where they would be and where the harrassment would occur?) and c) ignoring them didn’t work and they didn’t go away. They just tried harder and harder to get a reaction to know that they’d won.

In fact, in putting the pieces together now from a more educated feminist perspective, my weirdness and antisociality in high school is pretty understandable. And you know? I wasn’t over-reacting, or making much of something that didn’t matter. It mattered. It matters now and it’s still happening. The more I learn the more I get actually seriously angry. But it’s a very freeing anger. The anger of my teenage years was often anger at myself for doing something wrong that made the harrassment happen, or for not being able to make it stop, which is a very hard anger to live with.

I just want to add to all of this, perhaps defensively (I acknowledge), please don’t comment with some dismissive comment about how you would have done this or that or the other and the situation would have disappeared *poof* and that’s what I should have done. You know, when I was a shy, lonely, harassed 12-14-year-old. I get that there are reasons I was harrassed more than some people and was more sensitive to it (or perhaps the word is “conscious”) but that doesn’t make it my fault, or okay. The idea that every young woman has to have superior harrassment-evasion techniques mastered by the age of 12 or she deserves what she gets is ridiculous and only comes out of the fact that we take it for granted that young men will sexually harrass them, as unpredictably but inevitably as the rain. This attitude releases them from all responsibility.

*deep breath*

Also, boys, I would just like to give you this gift when wading into feminist arenas/debates/spaces. It will serve you well. Just remember the following: If it’s not about you, it’s not about you.

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