"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

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.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Men and Feminism: Kind of Complicated

Isabelle Allonso interviewed John Stoltenberg for her blog, and Feminist Current was kind enough to publish an english translation.  It's an illuminating interview that is definitely a worthwhile read for feminist allies. When asked about men's place in relationship to feminist work, Stoltenberg said this: 
First of all I don’t think any man of conscience—whether self-identified as pro-feminist or not—can or should presume to speak in women’s place or “decide what feminism should be about.” That’s just a baseline principle. Many women have justifiable grievances about individual men who have disregarded it. Those “me too” men ought to know better, and they should not require scolding and hand-holding from women to figure it out, because exemplary life lessons abound: Individuals from the dominant class in other struggles have found countless meaningful ways to be of use while analogously abiding by that principle—for example, whites in the black civil-rights movement in the US, sons and daughters born to wealth in the movement for economic justice, non-Jews in the movements against antisemitism. Such sincerely committed allies always recognize and acknowledge the privilege that stems from their membership in the dominant class. And often such allies have found that their usefulness lies in deconstructing, disrupting, interrupting, exposing, protesting, and defying such systems of oppression from the inside. Same holds for any man of conscience who wishes to be of use on behalf of feminist revolution. It’s not complicated.--john-stoltenberg 
As with much that Stoltenberg has written, I find myself agreeing with the central points here, but disagreeing in important ways about how the execution of this stuff works; often my disagreements boil down to "but it's more complicated than that," something that one can almost always say and be correct about; still given that in this case Stoltenberg says "It's not complicated," I feel like I should chime in, because I think it can be complicated in important ways that we should acknowledge.

I think presuming to speak for women is something that allies constantly have to guard against doing--male privilege runs deep. But when Stoltenberg says pro-feminist men shouldn't decide what feminism should be about, we have to be careful to not equivocate: I agree that pro-feminist men shouldn't simply put out there what they think feminism should be about as if they are some sort of final arbiters of the definition of feminism.  However, pro-feminist men not only need to decide what feminism(s) make sense (to them), an argument can be made that they need to voice their views on this decision, perhaps even in the face of disagreeing with other feminists, regardless of the genders of those feminists.

Feminism isn't a monolith.  When folks of any gender first run into feminist concepts, we all begin to learn the conceptual frameworks involved.  Some find these concepts in academia, some through communities they are involved in, some even from pop culture.  To be clear: We all encounter what sexism is far earlier than that--but the conceptual frameworks around feminism come later.  Indeed, that is part of what feels so empowering for many of us--we finally have different ways of talking about (and hopefully changing) how fucked up sexism (and homophobia, and class issues, etc.) are, when we discover feminist frameworks, or lenses. Thing is, depending upon our own experiences, and upon how we first start understanding how we might work against sexism and the like, we almost immediately have to choose which feminism(s) seem to make sense to us. People of all genders do this, though of course they do it from different perspectives because of their gender (and for other reasons).  

So-called "radfem" folks, in the opinion of many feminists, are wrong about trans folks in important ways. "Mainstream" feminists are wrong about what feminism is about, according to many "radfems". Pro-sex feminists are wrong about sex work, according to folks like Gail dines (as well as the folks at Feminist Current, and Stoltenberg himself!) Womanists and other women of color call out feminists for racism underlying much of modern feminism. And these are just a few of the major disputes--there are myriad disputes around all sorts of issues. Where female feminists disagree, pro-feminist men may/must also disagree with at least some female feminists!

Now, because of various complexities, I also don't think that pro-feminist men need to be chiming in on every issue in every feminist space; even in spaces that welcome men explicitly (and there are many), I think Stoltenberg's general ideas here are true: There are so many ways that men can be of use to "feminist movement" (to use bell hooks' phrasing), and given male privilege, we ought to do much more listening than talking, more assisting and less leading. But I don't think it's "just that simple".  Men also may need to support the feminism(s) that we think make the most sense--and to do that we may need to also engage other men, women and folks of other genders in conversation about what we think makes the most sense.  That may mean (for me) mindfully talking about why I think some anti-pornography stances are wrong, or why I find the racism underlying much of modern feminism problematic. It might mean calling out other men on their sexism. It also means helping to create some feminist spaces that include men consciously and consistently in the movement--all the while acknowledging that some spaces will not and should not include men. 

And much of this work is complicated.  I think there is some harm that can come from the "it's just that simple" ways of thinking about men and feminism, because it can encourage folks to tend to ignore that feminism itself isn't a monolith, and to ignore that men, too, must understand, engage within and choose what feminism(s) make sense.  It's a good rule of thumb to defer to women in general as regards what feminism is, but because not all women agree on what feminism is, we're going to sometimes disagree with some female feminists--this may be read as "trying to define feminism," but if we back up what we're saying by acknowledging female feminists who agree with us, this is something valuable to do, if sometimes complexities abound. 

In that spirit, here's bell hooks:
 “A male who has divested of male privilege, who has embraced feminist politics, is a worthy comrade in struggle, in no way a threat to feminism, whereas a female who remains wedded to sexist thinking and behavior infiltrating feminist movement is a dangerous threat.”—  bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody.


Monday, August 19, 2013

bell hooks Monday: NOMAS and Ditching the Dominator Model

Been thinking a lot about whether men can get together with each other to work on shifting masculinities without falling so easily back into traditional masculinity and the misogyny that comes with it, partly because of the fucked up silencing that happened recently from NOMAS (details at Shakesville).

I'm starting to think that men, even really well-meaning men, should always work with women (and folks of all genders) when trying to transform traditional masculinities, or do any feminist work. (I recognize that this blog is guilty of that, and am thinking that through too.)  And yet that brings in other problems, of course: Men already ask women to do so much work in the world, and now we want/need to ask (some of) them to help us change? 

Not sure yet what to do, but it all makes me think of bell hooks infinitely deep contributions to men and feminism(s):
Before the realities of men can be transformed, the dominator model has to be eliminated as the underlying ideology on which we base our culture. We already see that within patriarchal culture men can be more emotional, they can parent, they can break with sexist roles, but as long as the underlying principles are in place, men can never be truly free. At any moment this underlying patriarchal ethos can overshadow behaviors that run counter to it. We have already seen that many men changed their thinking for a time when feminist movement was a powerful force for social change, but then when the patriarchal thinking that undergirds our society did not change, as the energy of the movement began to wane, the old order began to reestablish itself. Sexist thought and action that had been harshly critiqued during the height of feminist movement have once again become more acceptable. Clearly, ending patriarchy is necessary for men to have collective liberation. It is the only resolution to the masculinity crisis that most men are experiencing.--bell hooks, The Will to Change
The dominator model is so obvious in some of the exchanges between some folks at NOMAS and the women they're currently trying to gaslight--I also know that lots of men are working on ditching domination, and that (I think) they need feminism to do it.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

On Ally Work, and Men Creating Community

About a year and a half ago, I slowly, quietly, stopped reading Hugo Schwyzer's blog.  Over a few years, I had enjoyed his writing, though I so very often disagreed with him.  I liked that he appeared to want to build some bridges between folks who usually disagree; once I learned about his past murder/suicide attempt, of course, and how he reacted to the criticism of him as a "leader" in feminism given this past, there just wasn't enough good there to outweigh the fucked up stuff for me to keep reading his stuff. Hugo's meltdown has caused many folks to voice examinations of men and feminism that are always already in the background in feminism.  A lot of the questions I started asking in earnest a year and a half ago are, sadly, more than relevant today: 
I don't have answers--and in some sense I should be the one to come up with these answers. Lots of folks are talking about men and feminism now (this is one of many perpetual conversations that happens with feminist movement, so it's not all a bad thing). I, too, am reconsidering what I'm doing here. (Again, I kind of think that's something ally-ish folks have to do again and again.)

This blog has been around a while. It was originally conceived of as a group blog. I know that feminism(s) can help men, but I also know that "What about the menz!1!!" is a real issue. I thought that having a space for men to do some feminist work, and create a kind of community, without being intrusive in feminist women's spaces online, was something we all desperately needed.

By any objective account, this space represents a kind of failure--partly because there were already places in which pro-feminist and feminist men were keen to build community, and partly because I simply didn't have the skills to recruit and keep men writing for the group blog. And now, of course, there are kinds of male feminist communities on social media--one reason I don't post very much any longer is that the awesome feminist-leaning men on twitter say most of what I want to say.  And men can be/are part of various online feminist communities--there are good words for men on just about any feminist blog, and pro-feminist men are mostly welcome in comments sections. 

I still think men haven't yet created their own feminist communities (or I haven't found them!) in the way that I would like.  It's definitely possible these communities exist and I'm just not part of them, of course, but I think feminist men doing the work to create online feminist communities is inextricably intertwined with the work that feminist men need to do--without community, we are solo voices shouting out our opinions, aping a kind of traditional masculinity (a real man doesn't need anybody!) that we ought to be working on shifting away from.

Monday, July 22, 2013

bell hooks Monday: On Feminist Masculinity

Wonderful drawing by k funk. Please go buy stuff from them. 
"As interest in feminist thinking and practice has waned, there has been even less focus on the plight of men than in the heyday of feminist movement. This lack of interest does not change the fact that only a feminist vision that embraces feminist masculinity, that loves boys and men and demands on their behalf every right that we desire for girls and women, can renew men in our society. Feminist thinking teaches us all, males especially, how to love justice and freedom in ways that foster and affirm life. Clearly we need new strategies, new theories, guides that will show us how to create a world where feminist masculinity thrives."--bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love
 Yet another passage that demonstrates why bell hooks is a favorite writer of many a feminist man!  (I would also add that "feminist masculinity" isn't something that only men can benefit from, but people of various genders who think that traditional masculinity is long overdue for some seismic conceptual shifts.) 

I think it is interesting to re-read The Will to Change, a book that is only 8 or 9 years old, and to see how things have changed as regards men and feminism (and also, of course, how they haven't).  Certainly online feminism seems to have upped the ante as regards including men and addressing issues with traditional masculinity.  An article from 2012 on Feministing even addresses the issue that hooks is talking about directly.  Shira Tarrant's book, Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power is now in its second printing (full disclosure--I have an article in the 2nd edition).  I also see a lot of change coming online in the twitterverse--there are myriad feminist and pro-feminist men on twitter who are doing the day-to-day work of online feminism.  And IRL feminist men exist in some of what one might think are the oddest of places.  For instance, I had the good fortune to attend the "allies track" of the Ada Initiative's Ada Camp not too long ago, and met a bunch of feminist and pro-feminist men (and other folks!) who work in open source technology, and are vehemently interested in getting more women to work in open source software fields.  

All of which is not to say that hooks' point doesn't still hit home:  One of the reasons I'm still (occasionally!) writing on this blog is because there need to be various places where men and feminism get discussed, in part so that men don't "take over" feminist spaces that women create, but also simply because the more the merrier (and the more work we'll get done).

Monday, July 15, 2013

bell hooks Monday: Feminism Defined by Patriarchy

As all advocates of feminist politics know most people do not understand sexism or if they do they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.
—  bell hooks
 Yet another reason why bell hooks is the go-to feminist for many feminist men.

Monday, July 01, 2013

bell hooks Monday: From Personal Struggles to Systemic Change

From The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love:

"Even though not all men are misogynists, feminist thinkers were accurate when we stated that patriarchy in its most basic, unmediated form promotes fear and hatred of females. A man who is unabashedly and unequivocally committed to patriarchal masculinity will both fear and hate all that the culture deems feminine and womanly. However, most men have not consciously chosen patriarchy as the ideology they want to govern their lives, their beliefs, and actions. Patriarchal culture is the system they were born within and socialized to accept, yet in all areas of their lives most men have rebelled in small ways against the patriarchy, have resisted absolute allegiance to patriarchal thinking and practice. Most men have clearly been willing to resist patriarchy when it interferes with individual desire, but they have not been willing to embrace feminism as a movement that would challenge, change, and ultimately end patriarchy".--bell hooks
Some of what hooks says is here exactly why I think showing men how patriarchy hurts men can be such a powerful tool, but can also be a bit of a trap if you don't follow through.  Show men how traditional masculinity creates men who can't show feelings (other than anger), and some men get that. But if you don't continue to show/see that this fact also harms women, and then on to how women are harmed in general by patriarchy, then you end up with a Men's Rights Activist instead of another feminist. 

And it's a tough move to make--for all of us who have some kind of privilege, it can be a struggle to continue to recognize it, and divesting oneself of it even more of a struggle. (Which is not to compare it to the struggles of folks who are oppressed.)

In some meditation traditions, compassion for others begins with compassion for self; the way it spreads to compassion for others is (in part) by recognizing our interdependent relationships with others.  In the case of the harm of patriarchy, I can, at times, have compassion for men doing harm through patriarchy by myself recognizing how I have been harmed by patriarchy, but then by also acknowledging how we all have been harmed by it--even the men doing the damage right now. It's not a simple thing, of course, and part of the idea is that it's a process that may go on for a lifetime. 

I'm playing with ideas here, and may be way off base, but I suspect that one way of getting more men to understand and embrace feminism has to do with having compassion for the ways that men are harmed by patriarchy--even though this harm may pale in comparison to the harm that women continue to suffer (most often at the hands of men).  I don't claim this is what feminism is all about or anything--but I do think that we men who embrace feminisms need to have compassion for ourselves and for other men, even before those men have begun to understand the harm they are doing. In this way, maybe we can more easily move from what hooks notes is "individual" stuff to actually changing the status quo.   

Monday, June 17, 2013

Listening to Dylan Ryan: Authenticity in Feminist Porn

Still (slowly!) working my way through The Feminist Porn Book.  Every piece in it has so much going on, I sometimes feel like "summing up" articles here just isn't doing it justice--but I'll live in hope that readers will be tantalized by little tidbits here to read the book for themselves.  Dylan Ryan's piece, Fucking Feminism, is a dense analysis of feminist porn artfully disguised as a lovely memoir piece.  It's downright tricky, this piece, because you're reading along about Ryan's entry into the world of feminist porn, and before you know it, you've read something that takes on many of the main themes of discussing feminist porn, addressing all sorts of anti-porn critiques without vilifying said critiques, or dismissing them outright; Ryan manages to give room for a lot of the complexities of these debates that are often left to the side.  At the same time, she's kind of "just" talking about how she came to be in porn.  And she does all of this in just a few pages.  It's a great stylistic choice, because the more varied stories are told about (feminist and not-so-feminist) porn, the better.

A central theme of Ryan's take on queer and feminist porn is that of "authenticity", which she acknowledges to be a complex concept.  Noting early on in her life as a porn consumer that the sex in much of porn wasn't the kind of sex she was having, or liked to have, and that the bodies (especially female bodies) in porn weren't like hers in various ways, she knew that she could make better porn.  One way to make better (and, as it turns out, more feminist) porn was to better represent sex and the bodies of performers more authentically:
The films Nina [Hartley], Annie [Sprinkle], and others made represented a sexuality that was open, honest, and without shame; they showcased sex that was fun and consensual. They had a sexual agency that I found arousing. It was the first time that I saw sex that resonated with me and that I wanted to emulate...[e]ven with these films though, I still had issues with the bodies: the differences between theirs and mine. I couldn’t relate to the curvaceous body type of Nina Hartley or Annie Sprinkle. At five-feet-ten and 145 pounds, I have been athletic and sinewy for most of my adult life. My breasts are small A cups, and my look is often more androgynous than girly. Like many women, I experienced the simultaneous intrigue and revulsion that can accompany pornographic film watching: of being simultaneously captivated and repulsed by the performers as they embody stereotypical female “beauty” and “perfection.”
 I suspect that many men also feel a similar "simultaneous intrigue and revulsion", at least at times, though of course men have a different relationship to women's bodies, and to their own bodies, than women do.  Still, it's great that Ryan gives voice to this idea. 

Ryan got a chance fairly early on to do some practical tests of her ideas, when Shine Louise Houston asked Ryan to be in what was to be their first porn film.  The film also starred Jiz Lee(!), whose piece in The Feminist Porn book I talked about here.  (The way these folks met and got together to make feminist porn, by the way, is part of the "context" of feminist porn that Lynn Comella wrote about in her piece in the same book.)  As she has continued to make movies, she has continued to consciously use authenticity as a touchstone, which is part of what makes her work, she tells us, subversive of the traditional paradigm.  She says:
When Shine and I first talked, we both believed that the majority of mainstream porn was inauthentic and not in agreement with what we knew to be true of our sexualities and the sexualities of those around us. “Authenticity” took on a somewhat mythological quality and became the Holy Grail in our vision for pornographic filmmaking: if we could achieve it, we truly would have transcended the existing constraints of the known porn world. We considered authentic porn our goal. Even now, this far into my porn career, I still reference the concept of authenticity as a sizeable part of my rationale for the porn that I make. It is a term that I use frequently to explain my position and identity as a porn performer. By situating myself inside my understanding of authenticity and explaining that to interviewers and interrogators, I also protect myself from some of the criticism that dogs other porn performers. Of course, what is “authentic” varies among individuals. When I say I’m making authentic porn, it means I prioritize my sexuality, which has allowed me a much less-criticized position than a female performer who may not have thought as much about authenticity in sexual representation.
In true feminist spirit, Ryan also talks about the limits of her ability to transform porn as a cisgendered, white woman:  
I struggle to blaze a trail for women while accepting my own whiteness and privilege. I “get” to be in porn, to raise my conceptual fist to the mainstream because I am close enough to the mainstream to even be let inside in the first place. This has been a bitter pill to swallow, but it reminds me that the deeper work of change to the representation of women in porn has to occur beyond me. It will come when we have greater inclusion of women of all body types, ages, and ethnicities in porn to counter the dominant imagery.
See! Told you she is taking on all kinds of various complexities!

She even manages to quickly sum up her shift from 'I'm not a feminist, but...' kind of thinking to identifying as a feminist, and as a feminist porn performer:
 It was at some point in those next few moments, on stage in front of hundreds that I came to see myself as so many others had already: I performed in feminist porn, I was a feminist porn performer. I was a feminist. In all those years of crafting my work to represent empowerment, awareness, positive female sexuality, women’s choice, I was representing feminist ideals about sex. After years of believing that all or most feminists disapproved of what I was doing with my life, it took a moment on a stage beneath a bright spotlight to realize that many feminists not only approved of, but appreciated, what I was doing. It was also the moment I realized I had been setting myself up, through all my choices, to be seen that way—as a feminist porn performer.
Ryan is the kind of writer who has clearly thought things out so precisely that I had to resist just quoting the whole text--as it is, I kind of failed, as you see from the swathes of quotes above. I recommend reading the entire article:  The details of Ryan's entry into porn and the way she navigates these complex conceptual puzzles is half of the joy of the article. The other half being reading what is essentially deep feminist theory that reads like a memoir.

Ryan has several interviews which convey some of the themes of her piece in The Feminist Porn Book:
Here's one on HuffPo. 

One from backstage at the Feminist Porn Conference (I think):

And another:

Note: This is one of a series of posts about articles in The Feminist Porn Book. The other posts can be found here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Feminist Porn In Context

Note:  This is one of a series of posts about articles in The Feminist Porn Book. The other posts can be found here

Lynn Comella has a great piece in The Feminist Porn Book with the lovely (if academese-ish) title "From Text to Context: Feminist Porn and the Making of a Market" in which she gives us some of the historical of feminist porn as part of a way to contextualize current feminist porn.  Interestingly, this is done as a sort of response to some of the usual critiques by antiporn feminists, which are often "essentialist and reductionist".  Comella tells us:
Sex-positive feminists—those who make, watch, study, and write about pornography—are frequently accused by antipornography feminists of lacking any meaningful critique of the mainstream porn industry. And while antiporn feminists may occasionally acknowledge porn made by and for women, they typically do so only in passing before dismissing it as irrelevant. The reasons for this vary, but include the stance that pornography geared toward women comprises such a small segment of a much larger industry that its effects are virtually negligible, or that porn for women apes, rather than challenges, the dominant codes and conventions used by mainstream pornographers whose sole motivation, according to this narrative, is profit. The notion of “sex-positive synergy” challenges these arguments.
I must admit that the phrase "sex-positive synergy" makes me cringe--but "synergy" is being used as a technical term here:  Comella is making a case that the entire history of sex-positive feminism should be taken into account when examining feminist porn.  Feminist porn didn't arrive in a vacuum, and neither did it come simply as an aping of mainstream porn, as is often portrayed by antiporn folks.  It came as part of a cultural package that included other sex-positive facets of culture, including feminist sex-education efforts, feminist sex toy stores, lesbian feminist products and the like.  

Comella traces several threads of this cultural package which I encourage folks to read--I learned a lot about how many feminist porn creators came to be creating feminist porn--and the part that places like Good Vibrations played in all of this.  

In addition, Comella makes one of the most rigorous responses to Gail Dines, who is famous for armchair-analyzing things she doesn't know much about. Just a tidbit, to whet your appetite:  
The seminar Dines references—although did not attend—was one that I had moderated and helped to organize. In fact, joining me on stage were two feminist sex-toy retailers, Jacq Jones from Sugar in Baltimore and Mattie Fricker from Self Serve in Albuquerque, accompanied by Carol Queen from Good Vibrations, Diana DeVoe, a female porn producer, and Greg DeLong, the founder of Njoy, a sex-positive company that makes high quality, stainless steel sex toys. It was hardly the cesspool of women-hating “tricksters” and “predatory capitalists” that Dines describes; rather, the very composition of the panel reflects the kind of sex-positive synergy and entrepreneurship I’ve discussed throughout this essay.
I love that Comella points out that Dines was basically making shit up, while other feminists were actually doing feminist work.  I plan in the future, when folks who "critique" feminist porn by merely saying that it's aping mainstream porn, to quickly point to Comella's article, which soundly undermines such ideas with, y'know, facts and stuff. 

Bonus! Here's a talk by Comella with some of her research:
Lynn Comella, PhD from New View on Vimeo.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Allies of the Ada Initiative

Had the great fortune to take part in the allies track of the Ada Initiative's recent conference, Ada Camp SF.  The Ada Initiative, it their own words:

Open source software and data, like Firefox and Wikipedia, are the foundation of the Internet and modern technology. Companies like Google and Facebook depend on open source software, and popular web sites like Wikipedia rely on open data. Yet women make up only 2% of the open source software community and 10% of Wikipedia editors.

The Ada Initiative helps women get and stay involved in open source, open data, open education, and other areas of free and open technology and culture. These communities are changing the future of global society. If we want that society to be socially just and to serve the interests of all people, women must be involved in its creation and organization.
I can't sum up my conference experience easily, but it was powerful on various levels. This is the first time they've had an "ally track"--apparently in the previous two conferences, there were some issues with even well-intended men changing the tone significantly (one thing I learned at Ada Camp:  Even when men are trying to keep things equal regarding group conversations, they are often misjudging how "equal" things are), so the allies track was something of an experiment. For me, at least, it was a hugely successful experiment. Folks in the allies track had decided through email prior to the conference that women were explicitly invited to all sessions of the allies track, and that if we wanted a men-only session, it would be an exception. 

This played out well, I think. We had quite a few women come to our sessions, and as folks remarked then, it was more than helpful to have them there--it felt more like good teamwork when folks of all genders were talking about ally work.  That said, it was also nice to be surrounded by a bunch of smart men advocating for feminism in tech--I was outclassed a bit, because many of these folks were in some ways superstars of the open source tech world:  They're not only highly intelligent and logical, but they are also used to being advocates for open source, and the energy of that sort of advocacy carried into our interactions quite a bit.  

I hope to write a short series of posts about Ada Camp SF and the allies track, if I can get some of these very busy people to let me interview them, but until then, I'll share tidbits of my experience:

Random things I was pleasantly surprised by (in no particular order):
  • The number of women who came to participate in the allies track.
  • How smoothly an unconference can run, when everybody is earnest and open.  
  • How many folks there who were not only highly motivated and passionate about open source, but were equally as motivated to change open source tech environments so that they are more diverse -- not only along gender lines, but also around race, class, queerness, etc.
  • How many men with painted fingernails I saw. (I have my toenails painted at the moment, but nobody knew that, presumably.)
  • Awareness of the gender spectrum was pretty great, I think; where it wasn't, folks seemed comfortable pointing it out, and folks running things took constructive criticism as constructive.
  • The Julia Morgan Ballroom is feminist friendly. 
  • The levels at which folks want to take the theory (of women-friendly environments, and of feminism) into practice, and want specific guidelines about the best ways to do that (which is what the Ada initiative does! yay!)
  • How much community-building was going on.
  • I doubt I've been in a room with that many feminists who were not female-identified. It was pretty rad.
A few things that were surprising, but not quite as pleasant, exactly:
  • The complexities of implementing something that feels simple, on some level (make tech communities more friendly to women), but kind of isn't.  Even people who really, really want to make this happen have some strong differences of opinion on how to do so, and sometimes feel at a loss as to what, exactly, practically, to do first.
  • How hard a community embracing diversity in gender has to work to have diversity in other areas.  (There were a *lot* of white dudes in that room, just as an example.  The lack of racial diversity may have been only in the allies track, but I suspect that was not the case.)
  • I really don't know enough feminist men. Ok, this isn't that surprising, but hanging out with some really brought it to the forefront. 
Linky Goodness:

Monday, May 20, 2013


Rachel Kramer Bussel's Best Sex Writing 2013 is a particularly strong member of the pretty solid series where folks write about sex.  This edition has some of my favorite folks writing about sex (Patrick Califia, Melissa Gira Grant, and Madison Young!), but the piece I thought readers of this blog might be most interested in is Seth Fischer's Notes from a Unicorn, a memoir piece about being a bi-identified man.

Fischer's piece runs the gamut from sweetly comic to heartrendingly tragic.  He covers the traditional responses that bi-folks have to deal with upon coming out ("I don't believe in that! You're just not ready to come out as gay yet!"), and shows with personal experiences just how much harm such responses cause:

A year later, I sat at my desk with a knife, poking at my wrist. I had an impossible crush on a boy. Frank Martin and I were on the same basketball team. His locker was two over from mine, and I couldn’t help it—I was twelve or thirteen years old. I had twenty boners a day. It’s just the way it was—so when he changed, I kept sneaking a peek because I just wanted to see, because I could smell him, and it was amazing, and was it too much to smell and see?
And he caught me looking. But when he caught me, he wouldn’t look right back at me. Instead, he looked at the locker in front of him, and said, quiet enough so no one would hear, “I don’t give a fuck if you’re gay. I know it’s not your fault, but you better not fucking look at me like that ever again.”
I decided that day that I would choose to grow the part of me that liked women and kill the part that liked men. I poked at little parts of my wrist until they turned bright red, then I pulled the blade up and watched my skin turn back to its normal color, and then I pressed down again harder. But I couldn’t make myself do it hard enough, because I couldn’t stand blood, because I was too afraid to die right then. I tried to spell out words with the little red dots but they disappeared too quickly. I tried to spell out Frank. I tried to spell out tired. I took out a pack of stolen Kools and snuck outside and smoked cigarette after cigarette after cigarette.
Like several bi- or queer-identified folks that I know, Fischer even tried to convince himself that he was gay, since so many people kept telling him that was the only real possibility. Really, this article is worth the price of the book. 

What does this have to do with feminism?  I think that at least some of the difficulties that are thrust upon bi folks in general, and bi men in particular, are directly related to outdated notions of sex and gender norms.  (Of course, a lot of people reject "bi" as embracing traditional gender norms, and opt for a "queer" identification instead.)  And some feminisms are clearly pointing out that these sex and gender norms are often bogus, and aren't seen to be as malleable as they, in fact, are. 

 Fischer's heartfelt stories sadly show that both gay-identified folks and straight-identified folks are buying in to some of the traditional sex and gender roles when they reject the idea outright that anybody could be bi-identified. Stories of our actual lives are so powerful--how could anybody read this piece and still say "I don't believe in that" when someone they know comes out as bi?

Full disclosure:  I was asked by Cleis Press if I would consider promoting this book. I am totally happy to, since I was reading it anyway, and would have likely put something up about it in any case!

Some linky goodness:
Find the book at Cleis Press:

Rachel's personal website 

Friday, May 17, 2013

International Women's Football

Did you know there are women's football leagues in the United States? Neither did I, until I met an awesome woman (she was briefly my personal trainer) named Jen Deering, who plays as a defensive end in the WFA (Women's Football Alliance), who recently tried out for and got on the U.S. Women's Football team that will be competing in the Women's World Football Championships.  

So:  Badass. 

Like a lot of women who participate in high-level sports that have traditionally been male-dominated, she has to pay her own way, which is kinda patriarchal bullshit.  So, y'know, fight the patriarchy and help her pay her way, by checking out her Indigogo campaign:

I coach/train cross-training at The Perfect Sidekick - an LGBTQ gym in Oakland, CA and play football with a local WFA team - The Bay Area Bandits. I love playing football and earlier this year I attended a try-out for the U.S. Women's Football team to participate in an international competition as a defensive-end (that's the one on the end of the D-line that gets to tackle the QB!). And...I made the team, yay!!! 3 other friends and women who play football with me on our local team also made the roster! I couldn't be happier to share this experience with a few of my favorite people in the world.    Please help me make a life long dream of mine come true...to win a gold medal representing the U.S.A. as an international athlete in the 2nd International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Women’s World Championship. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pink Gun Oil

NOTE: Pretty much every link in this post is NSFW.

If you're not reading Erika Moen's new sex-toy review comic, Oh Joy, Sex Toy, you're missing out. (And, of course, if you haven't read her original memoir comic, DAR, you're doubly missing out.)  She recently reviewed her favorite lube, Pink Lube. Lube is a tricky, personal thing, and it was interesting to read about how much she likes this particular one.  One of Moen's strengths as a writer, especially as a person who writes about sex, is that she is fairly inclusive of various sexualities, genders, races, and body types, and she doesn't disappoint in her new comic about Pink lube.  But I'm not here to talk about how rad Erika Moen is--that would take up too much time.

I'm simply fascinated by the gendered marketing involved.  I went to the Pink site that she linked to (hey look, the comic WORKS, advertisers!), looked around a bit, and discovered that Pink is owned by Empowered Products, which also has a line of products marketed as Gun Oil.  Pink = for women, Gun Oil = for men.  Got it?  

Comparing the sites is a fascinating exercise in gendered advertising.

The logos:

The "Company Story":
Founded in 2001, Pink was created by Empowered Products Inc, an international sexual health and wellness company. Using the feedback and life experience of women, Pink was designed to offer a unique line of intimate lubricants that could be used safely and effectively by women who desired added lubrication for intercourse, toys and foreplay, and also to provide products women could feel confident and eager to use to increase intimacy with their partners or for their own personal pleasure. From intimate lubricants to arousal enhancers, Pink provides a selection of differing weights and uses of lubricants, so each woman can find the one that best meets the needs of her body. All Pink product packaging is presented in stylish feminine bottles that complement the bedroom and invite use by both partners.
Following a return from Kuwait, U.S. Marine platoon leader and founder of GUN OIL recalled soldiers using CLP liquid, that keeps firearms and other weapons clean and firing accurately, as a perfect personal lubricant when relief, better known as masturbation, was necessary to relieve stress. Knowing of CLP's long lasting properties, the founder greatly improved on this concept by changing the ingredients to a hypoallergenic, topically safe, user-friendly formula, ideally suited for heightening sexual pleasure when used for intercourse or personal use.
Working closely with scientists to come up with precisely the right look and feel, this team formulated a selection of unsurpassed GUN OIL products that always deliver a highly satisfying experience and elevate the vital expression of masculine fulfillment.
 I love that the "story" of the company for Gun Oil is about ONE MAN creating a company, and the story about Pink is that it was created FOR women, using "feedback and life experience from women".  At least the company story explains (kinda?) how lube for sex = GUNS. The sexualized-military stuff isn't hot for me, though I understand that I may not be their intended audience--it should be noted that Gun Oil is often marketed toward gay men (though this isn't really the case on their site).

 Also, apparently women want "education"...

While men want "Tecnical FAQs":

I'm not really bagging on Empowered Products --sounds like they make some awesome lube, and are marketing it toward men and women in the way that they think will make them the most money. I'm certain there are women who buy lube from the Gun Oil site (the silicone lube, which seems to be the same product, is available in greater quantities on the Gun Oil site, vs. the Pink site), and it's a positive step in a lot of ways to have lube marketed toward women; used to be lube was something you could mostly buy in a poorly-lit sex store, and now here is a site focused on selling products to women for their own pleasure. Can't complain there.  Also, I'll probably try the Pink lube because I like the packaging better than a big, penis-shaped fake bullet.  But still, I can't help but feel the the company is missing out on a bunch of us who would rather just buy lube.  Smitten Kitten does a good job of this--lube as lube for any gender.  And they sell Gun Oil and Pink lube!  Wouldn't it be cool if we lived in a world where the marketing of this stuff was more often as inclusive as Moen's wonderful comics? 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Received my copy of The Big Feminist But the other day, and finished it up last night. It's a consistently good comics anthology, and covers myriad topics of interest to feminist folks of various stripes (and polka-dots). One of its strengths is its inclusion of a few comics (and an afterward) created by feminist men.  I was going to do a write up of Barry Deutsch's piece, "How to Make a Man Out of Tin Foil", but it turns out that Bitch mag has already done that for me, and includes the entire piece here!  (Also, they review another piece, here.)

I highly recommend this book--it was a Kickstarter, but it looks like you can still pick it up here.  If you don't, at least try to borrow it from a friend!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dating While Feminist: Okcupid Sadface

 From an okcupid profile:

-also, don't message me if you are a cis-dude who is a self-proclaimed feminist and has ideas about what "feminists" should and shouldn't think.
I get why some folks say this, but it still makes me sad.  Ah well, it's a small little balsa-wood cross that male feminists have to bear...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Men! Gail Dines Wants to Save You!

Still working my way (slowly) through The Feminist Porn Book, and still really enjoying it.  I used to be an academic, but no longer consider myself one, so I appreciate how the different writers selected for this book approach the subject from different angles; some of those angles are more traditionally academic than others, as is the case with "Emotional Truths and Thrilling Slide Shows: The Resurgence of Antiporn Feminism", by Feona Attwood and Clarissa Smith.  Attwood and Smith are researchers who wrote this article in part to point out that antiporn feminist analysis has moved away from academic analysis (with, y'know, facts and stuff) and now relies more on the kinds of shock and awe tactics that the religious right has been known for using. 

I appreciate their take on things, in part because they zero in on something that has been bothering me for a while about antiporn analysis, but something I was unable to pinpoint myself:  Antiporn feminist analysis has as an underlying feature the idea that there is good, normal sex that good, normal people have, and there is bad, abnormal sex as is portrayed in porn.  This isn't anitporn feminists' explicit argument, of course, but as Attwood and Smith point out, it's implicit in their change of methods from more academic/scientific methods to methods which are used to get an emotional rise out of folks.  They point out that antiporn folks most often now do a comparative sketch of sexual development, comparing 'normal' sexual development which may or may not have included seeing your older brother's Playboy magazines, as up against current sexual development, which now includes easy access to modern-day porn.  In their analysis of Decca Aitkenhead's ideas, they note:
"In her address to a presumed audience of coupled, heterosexual women, male sexuality is naturalized as inquisitive, but in danger of taking a wrong turn if subjected to the wrong kinds of images at too early an age. Aitkenhead calls upon her readers to reflect on their own experiences of life with men who were schooled in the quaint transgressions of the Kays catalogue, and to envisage the tortured imaginings and sexual mores of future generations of men who, as children, have seen the excesses of bukkake. It is this mangling of what had seemed genuinely yet innocently transgressive in the halcyon days of the 1970s that renders contemporary pornography so potentially threatening, made all the worse by being too easily obtained...This complex narrative of nostalgia and futurology is a central theme of these accounts where pornography is acknowledged as an already existing feature of the landscape, but one that has developed outside the knowledge of “ordinary” adults and needs urgent redress."
Of particular interest to readers of Feminist Allies, however, may be Attwood and Smith's analysis of how antiporn feminists like Gail Dines see themselves as out not only to help women, but to "save men":
The “domino theory” of the passions is invoked here along with a search for increasing levels of stimulation that leads inevitably toward more misogynous and damaging material. Pornography programs men’s sexual instincts and can have only one possible trajectory—to ever more encounters with sexually explicit imagery and toward more and more “extreme” material. Men’s sexuality is figured as totally plastic, intrinsically so—a barely constrained appetite that has to be civilized and ought to be kept away from the inflammatory influence of sexual media for its own good...

...[t]he view that underpins this approach can be usefully compared to the “crystal clear set of guidelines” about sex, set out in evangelical Christian and other conservative antiporn campaigns: “sexual pleasure is for men and women to enjoy inside marriage,” but those who fall from grace and are willing to repent can be forgiven. Under the guise of a politics based on gender equality, antiporn feminist writings are increasingly modeled on this religious approach to porn, though using a medical model of “healthy sex” and discourses that encourage men to see themselves as addicts, or the victims of “grooming” by pornographers or popular culture, as “abused,” “consumed,” and desensitized.
I dig this analysis in part because it shows that many antiporn feminists are using one of the most egregious of patriarchy's fables about men:  That men are animals who can't control themselves sexually in the face of some skin being revealed (or, in the case of modern porn, in the face of seeing people enjoying anal sex, for instance).

They manage to fold in a brief criticism of Robert Jensen's work, which is always a bonus for me--Jensen is a darn good writer, and it's clear to me that his heart is mostly in the right place, which makes the stuff he says all the more frustrating.  Smith and Attwood point out that much of Jensen's analysis of porn is rooted in the idea that there is 'good, normal sex' and 'not-so-good, abnormal sex'.  Good sex is never public, but is always a deep, private experience:
This view of good sex as private rather than public, and clearly linked to love rather than to gratification, is also found in Robert Jensen’s work. Jensen argues that sex should involve “a sense of connection to another person, a greater awareness of one’s own humanity and sometimes, even a profound sense of the world that can come from meaningful and deep sexual experience."
Of course, some sex can include all of that, if we want it to. And some folks will really want to!  But some folks won't want to, or won't want to all of the time!  We are human beings--we create our culture, consciously and unconsciously; we create our sexual culture as well, and as such, there just isn't a normal/abnormal dichotomy that somehow exists apart from what we create. Sure, we can't make up any sexual ethics we want out of whole cloth--we have to consider our interdependence with other human beings and all of the ethical stuff that implies--but we can't look up 'healthy sex' in the dictionary and just do that; no such definition exists, and one definition certainly won't apply to all people.

And I want to thank Attwood and Smith for nicely pointing out that one thing that underlays much of antiporn analysis is the idea that there is some sort of writ-in-stone sexual morality that we need to 'get back to'.  There are good criticisms of some sorts of porn, but in general, folks like Dines and Jensen aren't doing it, and they are implicitly depending on conservative, normative tropes that are not based in the reality of beings that create what is normal.