"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Monday, June 16, 2014

Grateful for Female Friends

Found myself this week feeling especially grateful for all of the female friends I currently have in my life, and also for the female friends I had growing up. Been thinking a bit about it because of two stories that dug deep into my brain: Gus Van Sant's film Paranoid Park, and the graphic novel Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm, by Percy Carey, wherein the male protagonists seem almost wholly separated from women as friends.

Paranoid Park is a fictional account of a white, middle class high-school skater boy navigating not only his parents' divorce, but also the aftereffects of a severe trauma. No spoilers here, but he is surrounded mostly by his male skater friends, who aren't particularly good at even noticing he's been through a trauma, and who respond to any deviations from traditional masculinity by wondering if somebody "is a faggo".   The only girls his age in the film he interacts with are his girlfriend, who really only sees him as something of a fashion accessory, and a friend-who-is-obviously-smitten-with-him that he mostly blows off. (To be fair, this second girl is one of the only positive influences in his life.) The movie does a good job of conveying the isolation he feels because of the secret he doesn't feel he can divulge, but also the basic isolation that kids growing up can feel--and especially focuses on the isolation boys feel as they try to fit into the straight jacket of traditional masculinity. 

Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm is a beautifully illustrated autobiographical comic about Percy Carey, otherwise known as MF Grimm, who was/is a hip-hop star of some renown. (Carey is now president of Arch Enemy, a comic company that puts out some interesting stuff, which goes to show this man knows how to create success in just about whatever he does.) He pulls no punches in the telling of his story (and his story includes a lot of literal punches), and my favorite aspect of his writing was that he sets the tone by explicitly laying out some of the culture he was immersed in to those of us who might not be familiar with it-- the culture of a not well-off black kid in the United States. One of the only women he talks about in the book, his mother, is central to the story of his life: She always has his back, and is the central person in his life who teaches him to take shit from no one. (The scene where she punches out a stranger who pinches her ass was one of the best parts of the book, if also heartbreaking.) But that one page on his mom, with the exception of a few words about his grandmother's death, is basically the only time any relationships with women are talked about. Carey seems to have lived a life among men, to the extent that almost all of the formative moments he has chosen to tell about were about the men in his life. If he had friends who were women, he left them out of this book. 

Which brings me to what I have always been grateful for, but feel more strongly these days: All of my female friends. A few of them are ex-girlfriends, but most of them are just people I clicked with on some level, and they have offered me (as I look back) lenses through which to look at the world that I would never have had access to if I had kept my friendship circle to mostly men. Sure, as a man who is romantically interested in women, sometimes friendships with women are sometimes more...complex. There's the sentiment, which I learned from When Harry Met Sally, that men want to sleep with all of their women friends:

And of course this sentiment isn't limited to movies from the 80s. Here's the same idea, in a relatively modern discussion:

To whatever extent that stereotype may hold true, I'd say it's partly because we don't encourage men to be "just" friends with women. ("Just"--because somehow friendship is less-than romantic relationships?) There are too few blueprints for and examples of mixed-gender friendships, especially among straight folks.  

So a thank you to all of my women friends, past, present, and future. 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

You Don't Get to Be Kathleen Hanna

It hasn't quite even been a year since the whole Schwyzer meltdown, and we already have the newest "top feminist dude" showing his true misogynist colors. When Schwyzer's truths became impossible to ignore (and, sadly, I did ignore them for far too long), I began some deep rethinking of how I go about practicing feminist ideals in my daily life, and online. Clymer's bullshit has pushed me back into rethinking things, yet again.

I came to feminism through theory (women's studies classes), through lived experience (raised by a bad-ass single mother), and through folks like bell hooks who provided both theory and insight into practice (Feminism is for Everybody).  I knew enough women who wanted men to do some of the hard work of feminism that I began to consider myself an ally. Enough women thought I was an ally that I felt justified in that. Now I see lots of women supporting a dood like Clymer who (to me) clearly isn't fit to lead a gender equality site that I'm starting to doubt (as many other have before me) whether "ally" is even a useful term.  For quite a while I didn't see why men can't be leaders in some feminist fights, but I'm starting to get it now, with slow, dawning understanding. 

And after all the good ideas put forth by many people around why men shouldn't lead anything in feminist movements, it was finally this rather simple analogy that brought it home to me, for which I'll forever be grateful to @heatherurehere on twitter:
"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hanna."--@heatherurehere on twitter
Sure, sometimes men listen more to men, and that's one reason why men have to be a part of feminist movement. And patriarchy harms men, which is another good reason for men to be pro-feminist. There are myriad important reasons for men to support feminism. But do we need men to lead gender equality sites? Nope. Do we need men to lead Slutwalk? Nope. 

I still think that men need to connect with other men, and folks of all genders, to build communities, to support each other, all while doing feminist work. I still haven't found that supportive community, really, though lots of new friends on twitter do a good deal of that work.  So I'll keep blogging, and talking with people in Real Life, and amplifying the voices of women, but I'm not even comfortable calling this thing Feminist Allies any longer. I'll call it Feminism Helps Men for now, and see where that takes me. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Quick Review: Daddy, a Memoir from Madison Young

I feel oddly mixed about Madison Young's memoir, Daddy. It starts off strong with insights into Young's art, work and relationships with family, other artists and her partners--and she really bares her soul, which almost always makes an interesting memoir. Very intimate details about her relationships are given, with some thought, but something about the style of writing left me wanting a good deal of the time. The book begins and ends with much self-examination, and these are the parts I liked the best. Yet the bulk of the book is a series of loosely related life events, which is kind of how we all live our lives, but that choice didn't give me the meaty, explicit connections that I like in memoirs.

On the other hand, it is this style that lends the books some of its strength--when we look back at our lives, we can try to force a simple, coherent narrative, but that's always a bit contrived. Young leaves her life messy in this memoir, and that's to be commended, even if as a reader it sometimes wasn't as satisfying.

I suspect that future memoirs, if she continues writing them, will be better than this one as she hones her writing craft--a book centering on the founding of Femina Potens would be most welcome, for instance, as the bits and pieces we get about it skim the surface. I want to hear (even) more about how feminism, art, submission and motherhood have intersected (or not!) in her life. There is a conceit here that the book is about Young's Daddy, yet is also about her, and that works for what this book is. But I also would love to hear more about her feminism, art and porn work apart from her partner's place in her life, though it's possible that separating her partner from all of that isn't possible(?).

The book's site: http://daddythememoir.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

50 Shades of Kink (A Little Review)

Tristan Taormino's Fifty Shades of Kink starts out with an honest explanation of why a book like this may be needed now more than ever:
 "Let's say you read Fifty Shades of Grey or another erotic, kinky novel like Carrie's Story by Molly Weatherfield or The Marketplace by Laura Anoniou.  You Enjoyed these fictional accounts of dominance and submission, power and lust, pleasure and pain, hot sex and incredible orgasms. You enjoyed them a lot."  
Instantly setting the tone and at the same time letting the reader know that this isn't just a book written to jump on what must be the money bandwagon of titling something "50 Shades of..."  Instead, this is a book written for the throngs of people who have been recently introduced to kinky ideas from the explosion of kinky fiction that has been happening for the last few years. Kinky books have been around a lot longer, of course, but I think nobody can contest that their popularity has reached a tipping point. And this book is a great way for folks riding that new wave of kinky books to explore what playing in a kinky world might look like for them.

Why is this sort of book feminist? Or, is it? I know enough kinky feminists of various genders to believe pretty deeply that kink can definitely be one tool in the toolbox for feminists. (See also recent-ish posts about The Feminist Porn Book.  I also understand that this is not a universally held view among feminists (what is?).  The straightforward, gender-neutral style of Taormino's book makes a good implicit argument for the former.  

The first section tackles a bunch of myths that sometimes surround BDSM and kinky culture--she explains that myths about all submissives having low self-esteem, about all BDSM being straight-up abuse, that all dominants are sociopaths and like like are just that: myths. She then dives right into how important consent is, and, more importantly, gives a few examples of how folks can begin to conscientiously navigate consent in a kinky relationship. To me, that's feminist as hell. 

This book is definitely a primer. It's written as a solid intro, in quick, plain-language sections without a lot of special jargon (and explanations when jargon is used):
"Play is a common term used to describe the practice of BDSM, as in, "I want to play with a bondage expert so I can learn more about it." It can also be used as an adjective:  "My play partner caned me really well at Susan's play party.  I'm glad I set up that play date!"
Because I Love Wonder Woman, and Couldn't Resist
Taormino doesn't stop there though--I suspect even seasoned kinky folks could get something out of it (aside from buying it for prospective play partners!):
"Cowhide floggers are versatile, and they can create a soft to medium sensation with a tiny bite.  Elk is thicker than deer, and an elkskin flogger creates a heavy, deep, penetrating thud, so it's better for experienced floggers..." 
Another nice style choice for the book is the fact that, unlike some kinky books I've read, Taormino doesn't default to the men-as-dominants, women-as-submissives (mythical) stereotypes, even leaving much-needed room for genderqueer folks by generally steering clear of gender pronouns throughout. This isn't a book for straight people, or queer people, for men, women or genderqueer folks--it's a book for anybody with a growing interest in kink. All this and an into from another favorite feminist writer, Rachel Kramer Bussel

Highly recommended.

Linky goodness:
Buy directly from Cleis press here
Buy from Amazon here.
Taormino's website is here.
Tristan also has a fantastic podcast that I listen to a lot: Sex Out Loud

Friday, January 10, 2014

Listening to Lorelei Lee

"I didn’t choose this profession as a political act. You will not hear me say that I decided to get naked because I believed it would be sexually liberating or empowering. I’m not going to tell you that when I took off my clothes in front of the camera for the first time, I immediately knew I was on a path to self-discovery. The journey of the last ten years was not something I planned, and the truth of my experience is much more complicated than the public discourse on pornography and sex—shouted out in large, bright headlines from magazine and newspapers—would have you believe. What I can tell you is that as I continued to do this work—as I came up against my own ideas about femininity, power, and sex—I found strength in the part of my identity that developed out of my experiences as a sex worker. I found a manifesto of my own ethics, and I found that, to my surprise, I believe deeply in the positive power of sexually explicit imagery.
I am a feminist, and I am a pornographer. I have been paid for sexual performances of every kind. After a lot of reckoning, I’ve come to believe that the work I continue to do makes the world a better place for women to live in."--Lorelei Lee, The Feminist Porn Book
I can't see how any anti-porn feminist could read that and reject Lee's experience as genuine. Also don't know how you could read that and not want to read the rest of her piece in The Feminist Porn Book

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Taste of Power

Reading Elaine Brown's autobiographical A Taste of Power, and it's a fantastic read.  Learning a lot about some history of the Black Panthers, and of my town, Oakland. It's also a bittersweet reminder of how things have changed, and how they haven't, and of how difficult it is to even conceive of revolutionary change.  In her first speech to party members after taking (really, she did have to take it) control of the party, she maps out what revolutionary change could look like:

"We're going to set a revolution example here.  And the example we lay down in Oakland will be the spark that lights the prairie fire.  We will carry our torch to another city, and then another.  Each time, each place, the people will take their lead from us, the revolutionary vanguard.  Just as the people have demanded and institutionalized our Free Breakfast for Children and sickle-cell-anemia programs, they will demand socialized medicine and decent housing.  Soon they will begin to take control of their local political machinery.  Then they will attack the economic structure in each city.  Bit by bit, city by city, they will whittle away at the capitalist foundation.  Eventually, a time will come--not in our lifetimes, Comrades--but a time will come when the people will understand their power and the pigs' machinery will be unable to accommodate their demands.  That is when the people, black people and poor white people and oppressed people all over America, will rise up like a mighty tide and wash clean this beachfront of capitalism and racism, and make the revolution!"

Friday, November 08, 2013

Fantagraphics Conversation: Why Are So Few Women Being Publsihed in 2014?

I really like comic books. I really like independent publishers. I really like gender equality. These three things kinda don't go together sometimes. Comic books have historically had a gender equity problem, both in terms of the creator-side of things, and on the side of the buying public. This is not a new truism.  It's one of the reasons that we want and need great sites like The Mary Sue and Women Write About Comics.  Things are sloooowly getting better: I can now buy several mainstream comic books written or drawn by women every week, something that just wasn't happening 20 years ago.  

Fantagraphic Books is a fantastic publisher of comic books. They're having some financial difficulties, as many (many!) independent publishers are, and they came up with a great way to have their fans support their upcoming publishing season with a Kickstarter that allows folks to basically pre-order a book, with lots of bells and whistles attached (signed copies!).  It sucks that they have to do things this way, but it's great that it looks like they'll almost certainly make their goal.  Go check out their Kickstarter and support them.

Having said all of that:  It looks like only 4 or so of the over 30 books they are publishing in 2014 are created by women. (This could be off by a few, as I'm just going by first names.)  I would feel much more motivated to support them as an independent publisher if their roster reflected more diversity than that. Luckily, Kickstarter allows one to email a project creator, so I did: 
Love this idea, but why so few women creators? Makes it harder to shell out support $$ (though I'll still preorder some on Amazon) when editorial choices around gender are out of touch with your readership...
Fantagraphics publishes a lot of fantastically odd stuff that wouldn't otherwise get published, and I suspect (though I don't know) that more women read their books than read the more "mainstream" comics.  I think their creators should better reflect that. Also, I like to read books made by women, and when there are only four to choose from in an upcoming season of publishing by Fantagraphics, that's not much of a choice (though, let's be honest, the four they are publishing are AWESOME).  

Gary Groth from Fantagraphics responded with a surprisingly boilerplate response that one might hear from Marvel or DC (or The New York Times) when called out on it:

We appreciate your support but the season was created based on the work we have lined up as well as the books people have submitted to us. Please don't discount the amazing work of Eleanor Davis, Ester Pearl Watson, Carol Swain and Joyce Farmer who have work in this season (which is half of our publishing year). All four in this season are veteran Fantagraphics cartoonists with several books out from us, meanwhile a few of the men are new to the publishing world like Lane Milburn and Conor Stechschutle. Fantagraphics also has many women in editorial and managerial positions who influence the season as well make sure we are printing the comics you want to read created by the best cartoonists in the world.
We are publishing these books based on the quality of the work, not the gender of the creator. We would publish amazing comics like those of Eleanor Davis if she was an inanimate object.
This ticks off all of the boxes regarding what amount to excuses for not getting more women on the creators' roster:
"Hey, we have published women in the past!" --Check
"Hey, we are publishing four books by women this year! They've all worked for us in the past! -- Check 
"We're publishing cool stuff by men who wouldn't otherwise be published, maybe!" -- Check
"We employ women as editors!" -- Check
"We're genderblind! We just publish the best stuff. Who knows why men do comics better than men!" -- Check
I know it's difficult. You have to make a shift in thinking when trying to diversify as a publisher, or as an editor. You have to do some footwork to encourage a more diverse pool of people to submit stuff. And for a small publishing house that is already struggling, that's a lot to ask.  But geez, if we can't get more diversity out of independent publishers, where should we try to get it?

Jen Vaughn, a cartoonist who also (at least) blogs for Fantagraphics also had a response:
As a working female cartoonist, I probably know more than you do about this particular issue than you do unless Jeff is progressive name.
There is now a list of many, many, many cartoonists we've published on the front page. Feel free to look through all those and if you see some female names you don't recognize, check out their artwork and comics!
As always we appreciate the debate, let me know if you have any other questions.
-Jen Vaughn
In a way, this is more of the same, but with the "added value" of having come from a working female cartoonist.  Unfortunately, it doesn't answer my question at all--it's just a variation of the "but we DO publish SOME women" response, and I responded with that in mind:
Hi Jen--
It's great that Fantagraphics has published women, and is publishing women (yay!). That doesn't explain why only 4 out of over 30 books coming out in 2014 are by women. It's basically saying (and Gary echoed this in his reply to me) "Hey, we publish the best comics, no matter who they are by. Looks like dudes just submit better stuff!" -- which is the kind of cop-out reply that we've heard from Marvel, DC and, well, The New York Times book review (so, ok, you're not alone).
In your experience, and I do value that, of course(!), why would a publishing company publish mostly books by men in a year?
 Again, I love Fantagraphics. I'm happy they're likely going to make their Kickstarter goal easily. I also think that having the female to male creator ratio so low is crappy, and avoidable. Perhaps not easily avoidable, but avoidable. Editorial staffs in all kinds of publishing are slowly making these changes, or at least becoming aware of them. I want Fantagraphics to be held to the same standard--I'll support y'all more the more diversity in gender you have on your roster each year.