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.


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).