"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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Listening to Sinnamon Love

"I was naive about the sexual liberation movement, and had never considered whether or not my decision to flaunt my sexuality on screen was a feminist act. I had never wondered whether fighting for the right to be both mother and sex worker was part of a greater fight for the rights of women around the world. I certainly had never given thought to whether my choice to be tied up, disciplined, and fucked by men and women on film contributed to sexual freedom.All I knew was that I alone was responsible for my body, my life, my sexuality, and my bills. It never crossed my mind that someone might tell me what I should or shouldn’t do with my body or my sex".--Sinnamon Love, The Feminist Porn Book

As I talked about in my post on Jiz Lee's contribution to The Feminist Porn Book, I find that listening to folks who work in and produce porn to be one of the best ways to understand how so many of the arguments from anti-porn feminists just don't hold up.  Once we listen to the folks who are actually doing this kind of work, it's easier to understand that this work can be inextricably intertwined with not only straight-up feminist work, but also social justice work around race, class, queerness and the like.  

Sinnamon Love has been in the industry for almost twenty years and, as a black woman, she has the nuanced, complex insight into the industry that one would expect from somebody so experienced.  Racism is rampant in porn (as it is in film, and society in general, of course), and Love gives us all sorts of insights into how her work from inside the system has helped to fight the good social justice fight around race, and in doing so she touches on how "feminism" sometimes needed to take a back seat because of the intense need to de-stigmatize black women's sexuality:
 "I’ve set a goal to enjoy my work so that my fans will enjoy it as well. I find myself more concerned with the representation of black women’s sexuality than making a statement only about my gender. Perhaps this is because so many people fight the good fight on behalf of (white) women and so few are fighting for black women like me. For example, there are countless examples of white women’s sexualities portrayed in porn, but very limited images of African American women. And when you do see black women in porn, they are often stereotyped or demeaned."
As she began to better recognize the negative elements in her workplace, she began to fight them, utilizing feminist ideas and methods (for instance: she became a producer!).  And, as was echoed in Jiz Lee's piece, agency is all-important as regards doing this kind of work:
"There is no doubt in my mind today that I am a feminist....[f]or me it is about agency. My black feminism is about helping women like me to be able to claim their sexuality in the face of decades of mis-education of African American women who were made to believe that they must choose between education, marriage, and family, or sexual freedom...I suppose, if I were to label who I am today, I would call myself a black feminist pornographer. Instead of accepting work merely to insure the bills get paid, I purposefully work for directors and companies that portray black female sexuality in ways that I feel are expansive, progressive, and interesting."
I encourage y'all to read the entire piece in The Feminist Porn Book, as it is packed with so many insights that it was tough to pick the ones I wanted to talk about here.  She covers 19 years in the industry in just a few pages!  It's also a thoroughly "positive" piece, talking about the practical ways that Love has worked to change things in the industry.   

Sinnamon Love's site
The Feminist Porn Book


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Listening to Jiz Lee

I’m wearing a bright pastel blue suit I hand-dyed myself to match the suit worn by David Bowie in his music video for “Life on Mars.” I’m a dapper version of Bowie, standing for photos with a golden glammed-up Adrianna Nicole in one of the biggest and most outlandishly decorated homes I’ve ever seen. Adrianna has handpicked her co-stars, creating scenes from her personal fantasies. She reclines on a white chaise lounge, gold lamé legs wrapped around me, wide eyes hungry. My large, flesh-colored strap-on cock juts out from the fly of my David Bowie blue pants and my hand pushes forcefully into her mouth. It all feels so good. Warm, wet, incredibly intimate. My fingers probe her wide mouth. I could do this for hours.--Jiz Lee, The Feminist Porn Book
Reading the opening of Jiz Lee's article in The Feminist Porn Book makes me wonder:  How is it that anti-porn feminists can so easily disregard the experiences of a person like Lee, who has consciously taken on porn as part of their exploration of self, utilizing their body as a "canvas for art"?  Sure, Lee's experiences in porn (and in life!) may not be run-of-the-mill, but they are the result of conscious choices that have led to, according to Lee themself, a set of positive growth experiences, along with being part of simply making art. 

I often hear anti-porn feminists declaring that positive experiences by performers in porn are not only few-and-far between, but irrelevant--it's the general masses of porn performers who are being harmed, they say, and happy, successful porn performers are the exception that proves the rule. I know there are issues, serious issues, with sex work in porn--similarly there are serious issues with work in nursing, in sweatshops, in teaching. I also understand that sex work is different (for some!) than other kinds of work, in important ways. But I would rather listen to the sex workers themselves.  I'd rather listen to them tell me how it can be different, how the negatives and positives of porn play out for them, than assume that I know, or should judge whether folks should do porn for work. 

Consent is sometimes complex (can women who have a dearth of options for employment be consenting to do porn in the same way that men, who have more options, consent?), but Lee's experiences opens our eyes to the cases where the consent is not only fairly obvious, but fundamental to what they are doing--specifically, in queer porn. Lee says: 
For example, the decision to shave my legs for queer films, like Superfreak, was my own. The key is that it is a choice, not an ultimatum...[c]hoice, or performers’ sexual agency, is one of the main differences between queer porn and mainstream genres...[I]f there’s one thing that makes queer porn different, it’s respecting a performers’ choice—the choice to safely fuck how they want and to look how they believe is sexy.
Lee's article is a perfect example of what listening to folks who do porn can do to one's ideas about working porn--I was always aboard with queer porn's politics (among other things!), but Lee solidifies things for me, because Lee is taking "the personal is the political" very seriously, as I think all feminists ought to do:  Where sexual identity and gender identity (among other identities) intersect with porn performing, there is much to be learned, Lee thinks, and I take them at their word:

My mixed identities have led me to conclude that there’s no right or wrong, no definitive experience, no one way of looking at the world. Nothing is black or white, and that fact is even clearer when you’re gray.
I think their article alone is worth the price of The Feminist Porn Book. 
Lee's site.
The Feminist Porn Book.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

First Steps in Yoga Pants

There are a lot of things that Nathan Graziano gets wrong in his recent article about his own struggles with lusting over women in yoga pants, but there are also some things that he is beginning, at least, to get right. What he gets wrong is covered pretty thoroughly in the twittersphere, but one of the things that strikes me most directly are his naive assumption that women wear yoga pants, in some sense, for him.  He just can't quite believe that they wear them for comfort: 
 And when I ask women about yoga pants—hoping they’ll tell me the trend will pass—most women tell me that it isn’t that yoga pants are fashionable, per se, but they are comfortable to wear. As a claustrophobic guy, I couldn’t imagine being comfortable in anything that tight, but I’m going to suspend my disbelief and assume they are, indeed, comfortable.
But baggy sweatpants are also comfortable, so I can only assume there’s more to it. There is an implicit game here—the age-old tease where women flaunt and men look.

Where to start?  Lots of folks don't find sweatpants comfortable at all--people who do yoga, for instance, find that sweatpants don't work so well--it helps to have something that is flexible, but also close to your skin; and, hey! some women like how that feels while out shopping, too. Just imagine. 

The above assumption isn't just a naive assumption, though--it is tied to a lot of the other assumptions that Graziano makes throughout his piece; assuming that women are doing something for men is directly related to the fact that he feels kinda douchey when he finds himself having trouble not staring.  It's directly related to his gender essentialist thinking ("men are pigs").  It's directly related to an over-simplistic nod to "biological components".  

All of this stuff makes folks who have done quite a bit of thinking about gender, and about feminism, cringe (ok, at least it makes me cringe, and lots of people object on twitter).  And all sorts of criticisms are justified. Hopefully he'll listen to some of the criticism and grow a bit (men who are feminists are needing to do this, pretty constantly, I've found).  

That said, I think there are some places where he's on the right path, if only a few steps down that road.  I recognize this could be "give me a cookie" territory (there is a tendency to give any man who has even the slightest feminist leanings more credit than needed), but I also think it's important for men to encourage other men to think these things through. So, here's my encouragement.

I was grateful for this passage:
Let me start by saying that women have every right to wear whatever they want, where they want, without having to be leered at and objectified. Intellectually and philosophically, I know this. And the ex-Catholic in me tries his best to recognize the lechery and look away as the minutes and miles tick off on the treadmill’s dashboard in front of me.
I know that acknowledging that women have every right to wear what they want is a low bar, but I like that he explicitly pointed out that he's discussing his issue, his problem (even though he goes off the rails and calls women "complicit" later on). 

I also appreciate how he ended the article:
And there I am, running like a gerbil on the treadmill. At 37 years old, I’m trying to ward off any impending middle-aged flab, trying to remain strong and youthful.
About ten yards in front of me, an attractive blonde with a high ponytail is doing step-aerobics in black yoga pants.

I stare and fear she knows, so I glance down at the dashboard on the treadmill. It reads, 29 minutes, 3.1 miles. Yet, somehow, I’m still going nowhere.
 To me, this acknowledges a reality that a lot of men feel--men who are trying to not be misogynist assholes, and yet still manage to be:   

Valenti makes it clear that she respects folks who want to educate this guy, but wants it known it's not her job--and I (of course!) agree completely. I think it's the job of other men, most of the time, actually. So here I am. I understand and support folks like Valenti who want to call this guy an asshole; I also think that almost all men who were raised in patriarchal society start out as "assholes" of this type (or worse!), and I want to acknowledge here when men are also working on it. Maybe not fast enough. Maybe not hard enough. But there he is, noting that he feels like he's "going nowhere", while trying to get to a place where he feels less douchey. I'm going to put that in the "plus" column for men trying to undo their own training. 

(That said, I also think this is the kind of watered-down feminist-ish bs that the Good Men Project is sort of famous for putting out, right?)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It Was Rape: New Documentary by Jennifer Baumgardner

First off:  I am well aware that as a man, "reviewing" a documentary film about specific stories of rape is something of an "iffy" premise--so I'm aiming at just talking about the film, how it made me feel, and why I think the feminist and pro-feminist readers of this blog would be interested in seeing it, with a nod to what a film like this means for feminist and pro-feminist men.  That said, I do feel the need to mention that this is a film with high production values (although there is one interviewee for which the sound seems to be a bit off).  Oftentimes films that have amazing content are also difficult to watch (for me!) because of poor sound/film quality, or poor editing--not this one.  This film is rock-solid. 

It Was Rape - Trailer from Jennifer Baumgardner on Vimeo.

A new film is (hopefully) coming to a film festival (or campus) near you:  Jennifer Baumgardner's It Was Rape.  Before I heard of this film, Baumgardner was already known to me as the author of one of my favorite books:  Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics.  (And I really do mean it's one of my favorites--I reread it again from time to time, even though it's from 1997.)  Come to find out she was already famous way before that--as both a filmmaker and an author--you can see a 15-minute preview of her film I Had an Abortion, here on her site.  Baumgardner continues her streak of powerful, personal, intelligent work with It Was Rape.

Diverse Stories

One of the most fantastic things about this film is the incredible diversity that Baumgardner achieves within a one-hour running time, while still managing to give us deep details about the lives of the survivors she interviews, and weaving in (through creative film making and editing) a subtext of the sort of things we all should be talking about as regards rape.    At the same time, the film does convey very particular stories, all of which are about rape, but also very different from each other; Baumgardner includes not only straight-identified white women (whose stories are more often told), but also queer folks, people of various ages, people of color (including, and this group of folks is so often overlooked, an indigenous woman), and people from different class and educational backgrounds.  There are a few exceptions--these folks all seem to be all cis-gendered women (though I could be wrong), so we don't hear any stories from trans women, or from cis- or trans men; also the film centers on folks in the United States.  But given these limits, we have to admit that no set number of stories in an hour will convey all stories, and acknowledge that Baumgardner has clearly made a strong attempt at inclusion and diversity.


I have had conversations with friends (too many friends) about them having been raped.  The conversation is never the same, though they often hit some of the same notes.  And that's one of this movie's strengths:  It allows us to be part of the beginnings of conversations with women who have been raped, and to be encouraged to have conversations with others.  These interviews are the beginnings of conversations that we all should be having with people in our lives--friends, sisters (and, I'd argue, brothers) and parents should all be talking about and listening to these sorts of stories.  The intimate nature of the interviews, including Baumgardner's questions being heard off-camera from time to time, makes the film difficult to watch, but of course at the same time that is what makes it so powerful.  Something in the way the film allows us to enter into these stories.  A mix of straight-up just listening to these women as well as short shots of visualizations from time to time made me feel like these women could be friends of mine, and I'm listening to them tell their stories.  As Baumgardner says toward the end of the film, this started as a film about speaking out, and ended up being a film about learning to listen. 

For Allies

Which brings me to the "allies" part of what I felt during the film.  While hearing any stories about rape can help feminist allies to begin to understand and dismantle rape culture, there are specific messages for men to be had in this film.  As a man who acknowledges and fights against rape culture, it's difficult to watch a film about rape without feeling really shitty about men in general.  I don't think this is an unhealthy reaction, though it's likely not healthy for this to be the only emotional reaction;  such a reaction perhaps indicates a deeper understanding of rape culture, and how men perpetuate it.  It can sometimes be difficult not to empathize so much with these women that I begin to lament if there are any men who really "get it", including me.  (Of course, men who have been raped understand more than most.)  Rape culture has deep, deep roots, and this movie digs down deep to expose some of them in a way that all men, and allies in particular can learn a lot from.

For instance, one of the women interviewed said something that resonated deeply with me:  She said that, if she could, she would ask her rapist to be strong enough to share his story, to help end the cycles of violence, to talk about what he felt during the time, and after, he raped her, because, hopefully, he would want things to be better for women and for men.  And, while I know that this film will reach out to so many women to help them feel less isolated in their pain, anger and suffering after having been raped, I also deeply hope that all the men who see this will begin conversations with their inner selves, and with other men (and women, and folks of all genders)--I think men need to do the work to dismantle rape culture, and I think listening to these stories is one step toward that.  

I'm not a film critic or a film maker, but I put the call out to male film makers out there who want to do some work in dismantling rape culture:  Please, please, please make more movies where men talk about how traditional masculinity, growing up in rape culture, and other factors have helped to create rapists.  (This is not taking away responsibility for being rapists, but instead is an attempt to look at all the causes.)  Or, if she felt like a sequel of sorts, I would welcome Baumgardner herself to take a shot at such a film:  Even though I think more men need to do more work in this regard, I'm certain the world could handle two such documentaries!   

There are, luckily, some films which do touch on rape culture with an audience of men in mind:  The Men's Story Project documentaries include stories about ending cycles of violence (full disclosure--I took part in this project).  Galen Peterson's piece, The Violence of Masculinity, is a strong call out for an end to violence by men, for instance: 

And perhaps there are many more films about rape than I know about aimed at men, attempting to work at eliminating rape culture! Names/links to such films would be more than welcome in the comments.

I applaud Baumgardner's film, and am very grateful for the strength and bravery of all of the women in it for telling their stories. 

Notes and Pleasant Surprises

Some related links, including links to sites by folks interviewed in the documentary:
Can a Film About Rape Have a Great Soundtrack? YES I also want to say:  How does a film about rape come off having such a great "soundtrack"? It's fabulous. It did feel a bit odd enjoying Amy Ray's Let It Ring as the credits rolled, after hearing so many stories that are difficult to hear.  I wonder if the soundtrack might be sold for fundraising?

 Also:  Mercy Bell!