My Feminism

My Feminism is a collection of blog entries written by Lilith which talks about thoughts, opinions and concerns in our daily lives. At times it is a compilation of randomness and at others a seething criticism of today’s social issues. Enjoy!

Commercializing Sex Positivity

By: Lilith

The term sex positivity is thrown around a lot both online and among peer circles whether feminist or not because is seems rather self explanatory. Especially considering our neo-liberal system where the individual needs rule, of course we are sex positive, sex is good—if not necessary.

In fact, our culture is saturated with the idea that pleasure is not only good but necessary to one’s general well-being—we should expect it in relationships and the rise masturbation as a fulfilling pastime (within reason) only grows. Yet where does sex positivity come from as an idea?

Not surprisingly for many, sex positivity as an idea comes from the feminist second wave movement during the 1960 and 1970s in the United States. Largely it came to be understood through one of the main debates among feminists during this time, cutely nicknamed by academic feminists: the sex wars. This debate focused on pornography and BDSM and is mainly where our negative stereotypes of feminists is breed from. The debate melted down to sex-positive feminists vs. anti-pornography (and anti-BDSM) feminists, where one side argued that pornography and BDSM does not have to be oppressive for women and other minorities and the other arguing that pornography and BDSM is inherently by its nature—oppressive.

Popular stereotypes of feminists such as man-hating, lesbian, and bra-burning is born from the wide backlash to the anti-pornography feminists of this time. While this huge debate is so much more complicated then many women studies classes and casual feminists would have you believe, this debate made visible the discussion of pleasure in sex and where that pleasure does and should come from.

During this time, lesbian middle-class white women began to open sex stores which embodied their sex positive politics through being female centered and often clitoral focused as well. One of the original store of this kind was called Good Vibrations and set the precedent for many more to open thereafter.

Many of these stores originally refused to carry any kind of pornography but slowly opened up to feminist made pornography. Likewise, some refused to carry dildos because of their phallic nature and the vaginal penetration obsession they viewed as ultimately hurting women’s exploration of their pleasure. These stores which are widely popular today function on a need to distinguish themselves strictly from the “regular” sex stores of yesterday—that being male-dominated stores, often specializing in pornography.

These stores were understood as uncomfortable and objectifying for many women, whereas the “Good Vibrations” model of sex store sought to be the exact opposite with bright, welcoming spaces, usually female identified staff and an education based model. Through an education model of sex stores, the sex positive revolution can be fully realized because these stores are about opening up dialogue and space for women wanting to explore their sexuality and pleasure.

The sexpositiveojst“Good Vibrations” model therefore, commercialized the sex positive politics of the second wave partly because its originators were very much those feminist fighting within the sex wars. Rather then buying a product in a “regular” sex store, you buy an idea of feminist sexual liberation and sex positivity when you purchase from a “Good Vibrations” model store. Yet these stores are not exempted from being problematic because their mission statement seems so great.

At the core of the sex industry including sex stores whether the “regular” or feminist is consumer capitalism. It is easy to forget this when who or what you are buying from makes you feel good. For instance, fair-trade coffee and chocolates or buying a ribbon to support breast cancer research. This is not to say you should not support these causes but rather to be aware that you are buying into an idea with your money as an “ethical consumer” or “feel good” consumerism, which means that often as consumers we do not look deeper into the causes or companies we are buying into. This can be said for the “Good Vibrations” model stores as well because we often do not think of the classed aspects that go into taste politics.

When these stores set themselves as completely opposite to “regular” stores they do so by using words like seedy, dirty, cheap and objectifying to describe these stores. These words very much set up a kind of taste politics where not only is the potential for feminist and ethical buying undermined within the “regular” store spaces but the idea that you should buy from the” right” place, for the “right” reason. “Good Vibrations” model sex stores have set themselves apart based on quality and education which sounds fantastic but also alienates people because quality within consumer capitalism is synonymous with expensive.

Sometimes these stores are too expensive for the average consumer and at other times the language used is often academic and inaccessible because of it. Feeling like you will say the wrong thing within these spaces is a real fear for some consumers. While education is arguably never a bad thing, when it is used to create hierarchies of who is supposed to be in a certain space or how you are supposed to exist within that space can be incredibly problematic and counter-productive.

This is not to say all “Good Vibrations” model stores are problematic but rather to talk about how when sex positivity becomes commercialized we must investigate how within a capitalist system—not all sex is positive and how sex positivity does not apply equally to everyone.

We must be critical of how we create hierarchies even by using feminist concepts meant to break down other kinds of hierarchies. Even originators of the “Good Vibrations” model stores where conscious and justly critical of their capitalist needs to stay open and eventually came to an understanding that to continue spreading their message, money was necessary.

In fact, in our heavily saturated sexual marketplace, stores cannot ignore their financial needs and put the “message” first anymore. As consumers we must also find a way to support the businesses which both suit our financial and ethical needs because consumers have an incredibly amount of power.

What you want to see from a business, either through their selection of products, the space itself or the customer service, changes how a store functions because within consumer capitalism if the consumer isn’t buying—the business won’t stay open. Furthermore, while this brief piece has portrayed the “regular” sex store and the “Good Vibrations” model store as distinctly different, there are so many variations in between and increasingly it is becoming difficult to clearly distinguish the two.

These difficulties are especially true when considering the growing online shopping for sex toys. In the case of online sex stores, there is very little power given to the consumer as power is sacrificed for inexpensive products.

The important part is to be critical, ask questions and to support those businesses you believe in. Furthermore, understand that ideas like sex positivity are great but we must go deeper—interrogate how they actually play out in our lives and in the case of sex stores, in our capitalist system.

This blog was written for Wicked Wanda’s Adult Emporium and for an independent Ottawa Zine

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2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Jenny’s Wedding is lesbianless- Movie Review

I just watched the movie Jenny’s Wedding which some of you may not have even heard of but it stars Katherine Heigl and Alexis Bledel as a lesbian couple getting married. The description for the movie is:

“When Jenny (Katherine Heigl) decides to marry a woman (Alexis Bledel), her conventional family must accept who she is or risk losing her forever.”

While this movie will never be an Oscar winner frankly because of its sub-pare plot, characters and over usage of music overs on people being sad, this movie was most disappointing because it featured no attempt at making a lesbian couple real nor relate-able. Furthermore, the story is far more about the straight couples around them than about Jenny and Kitty (Bledel) themselves. This is only one example of the multitudes of movies as of late which capitalize on the growing popularity of being liberal “and accepting the gays” but fail to portray real queer people with real full lives. One only needs to see the various boycott hashtag campaigns surrounding the upcoming Stonewall movie to see that queer characters are not getting the full character development and realism they deserve.

However Jenny’s Wedding had the makings of being a stellar female focused film with writer and director Mary Agnes Donoghue who wrote the screenplays for Beaches and White Oleander, however just because a writer/ director is women-centric does not mean she can pull of an authentic queer story. The couple in question, Jenny and Kitty lack any chemistry between each other, which is slightly understandable as there are four total scenes where they are seen showing affection towards each other and not all of those scenes feature them kissing. There is no presentation of their domestic lives together regardless that they have been in a commit relationship for five years. Furthermore, it is difficult to feel any authenticity or connection with these characters and their relationship when the love interest is lacking all resemblance of character development. You don’t even learn her last name! The description of the movie doesn’t even say that her name is Kitty. You have no idea what her family situation is, nor her job or anything about her except that she supposedly loves Jenny and is willing to “go along” with whatever Jenny wants as Kitty herself has no opinions or a personality. The first time you see any kind of affection between the characters is 25 minutes into the movie! Don’t get me started on the fact that this is movie is completely without any sex! The only mention of sex in the movie is during a blowup scene with Jenny and her father when he alludes to being confused about how to act because he doesn’t know how they have sex. Jenny then proceeds to humiliate her fiance about who wears the strap-on to make a point to her straight father.jennys-wedding1

Really this movie is not about Jenny’s Wedding or anything to do with Jenny and Kitty but is instead all about the straight people in her life. Of course, I specifically talk of her family because Jenny and Kitty apparently have no friends and Kitty appears to have no family of her own. While arguably this story is about Jenny’s relationship with her parents, very little is focused on the real grappling of Jenny’s revelation. Just a whole lot of sad montages covered over by music and her mother yelling at her father saying “We have to talk about this”. We get to see Jenny’s sister Annie come to terms with her unhappy marriage through the deepest and most moving part of the movie… her grass on the front lawn… (no sarcasm). The most developed characters in the story are Jenny’s parents and they lack any real dimension.

I have no real problem with the acting in this movie because frankly when you are given an steamy pile of hetero crap to act from, its hard to do a good job.  While this movie passes the GLAAD Bechdel test for queer characters called The Russo Test, it only passes because the main character is gay. Frankly, if you are testing whether the gay characters themselves are full characters with lives outside of their sexual preference and that a supposedly gay film is in fact about gay characters, this movie would fail miserably. As someone within the rainbow, I am tired of Hollywood capitalizing on this trend of “gay loving” without giving any real characters or reflecting pieces of people’s real lives. On another note- there is only one person of color featured in the film and they are in the last couple of minutes and have a non-speaking part and there are no differently able characters.  And would Hollywood stop playing Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s song Same Love in every gay movie they can! Seriously, could you pick a song written or sung by gay people to symbolize that you should not be a bigot while watching this movie instead of a white hetero guy telling you to love the gays cuz they are just like us…

Wohoo, we have a film about gay people… but not really because no one lives in a shiny white world where everyone can afford anything they like and everyone is a picture of perfect health and body. I want a film about gay characters which are featured as real people with real lives, seems too much to ask right now.

Lilith Out!

Not convinced? Check out these reviews:

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jul/30/jennys-wedding-lesbian-drama-katherine-heigl

http://variety.com/2015/film/reviews/film-review-jennys-wedding-1201538808/

Forced Sterilization, Black Widow and Disability

Femme Fatale

!Spoiler Alert! Avengers- Age of Ultron

The overwhelming outrage Marvel studios felt after the release of Avengers- Age of Ultron from feminists across North America largely focused on the demeaning nature that Black Widow was portrayed as representative of the sexist problems riddling Marvel’s comics and movies. Yet, while as a character Black Widow was perhaps written into the script using cheap, obvious jokes, is no one going to talk about the revelation that she was forcibly sterilized? Furthermore, that she believes she is a monster because of it?

As a Marvel fan I was shocked at the scene between Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) and Bruce Banner (The Hulk) where they are playing with the idea of running off together and Banner flips and reveals that he cannot have children and thus there is no future with him. Romanoff then reveals that as a part of the graduation ceremony in…

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Forced Sterilization, Black Widow and Disability

!Spoiler Alert! Avengers- Age of Ultron

The overwhelming outrage Marvel studios felt after the release of Avengers- Age of Ultron from feminists across North America largely focused on the demeaning nature that Black Widow was portrayed as representative of the sexist problems riddling Marvel’s comics and movies. Yet, while as a character Black Widow was perhaps written into the script using cheap, obvious jokes, is no one going to talk about the revelation that she was forcibly sterilized? Furthermore, that she believes she is a monster because of it?

As a Marvel fan I was shocked at the scene between Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) and Bruce Banner (The Hulk) where they are playing with the idea of running off together and Banner flips and reveals that he cannot have children and thus there is no future with him. Romanoff then reveals that as a part of the graduation ceremony in the Red Room where she was trained as an assassin/ spy, she was sterilized. It is implied that she tried to avoid it but could not and was strapped to a table for the procedure. Then the line…

“You know what my final test was in the Red Room? They sterilized me, said it was one less thing to worry about. You think you’re the only monster on the team?”blackwidow2

 

Before I lose my feminist shit, lets take a moment to clarify and look to the back-story of Black Widow. Firstly, while this article is critiquing the way that sterilization is casually tossed into the mix, that does not mean that I am criticizing the entire movie, nor all of Marvel comics-nobodies perfect. Now, looking at the back-story of Black Widow we see that there was two main ways that the Marvel big guys could have taken her character. In 1964, Natasha Romanoff was introduced as the villain Black Widow in the Tale of Suspense Vol 1. and in later comics it was revealed that she was orphaned by a Nazi attack and was then adopted by a Russian solider. Her skills developed under his training and caught the eye of the KGB, eventually making her the best assassin/spy and later coming into contact with the avengers and joining them. However, it was when her back-story was revisited in the Ultimate Avengers that this sterilization business comes in. Again orphaned by Nazis, adapted by Russian solider, she was tricked into thinking that she was training as a ballerina. Instead, the Red Room was a KGB training facility where they brainwashed, experimented, enhanced and trained young Romanoff among others to become KGB assassins/spies. Pregnancy was thought to be a weakness and family was considered the only thing that could get in the way of following orders. Thus, it became the graduation ceremony to sterilize these women. I want to clarify why this is a forced sterilization. Regardless if you think that the flash-back scene in the movie showed that Romanoff was forced or not, all of the women in this program were brainwashed, thus there is inherently a drastic power imbalance and a lack of choice.

To see all of her Back-story check out this                                                       Check out an article on Choice at HitFix

So Marvel writers chose to go with the sterilization/ Red Room route regardless that there was no real mention of this back-story in any of the previous movies. I’m not a mind-reader so I don’t know why they chose this but I would argue it is partially to make her character more human. Romanoff is kind of robot in her efficient, militaristic attitude and what Age of Ultron does, is bring her into being a soft squishy, womanly character that is deeply flawed and you can feel bad for.

We have to acknowledge the use of sterilization to further demonize the Russians as the greatest gift and job a woman can have is motherhood (note some sarcasm). Yet, looking at the history of comics in helping people to identify the “real” enemies in throughout history (Nazis, Russians, machines), using sterilization is an old hat in the comic world. Stay tuned for a blog about this!

Yet what can we say about the monster quote? I argue that this scene in particular is a struggle with ableism. It is fairly easy to see how Bruce Banner/ The Hulk has a disability- his split personality, uncontrollable anger, not to mention the infantilizing done in Age of Ultron when they use a lullaby to calm him down. Whether you believe that sterilization specifically is a disability, most can agree with a rather simple definition of disability as not being able to function at the level of “normal” (please note that this definition is problematic in many ways). What is the most “normal” thing about being a woman? To have children and Romanoff cannot do that. io9 noted that they wanted more from the back-story and character development of Black Widow then a sad story about how she can’t have kids and must adopt The Hulk as a giant baby to make up for it and I partially agree. Yet I think looking at this interaction between these characters as the interaction between two individuals who struggle consistently with a disability is a more powerful possibility. In fact, many people were stunned, including hardcore comic fans at the romance that blossomed between Banner and Romanoff as that is not in the comics. Perhaps their kind of companionship is more a companionship of those in similar communities, feeling similar feelings of Otherness and difference rather than because a guy and a girl must fall in love in Hollywood. While this idea gives me a warm, happy feeling in my belly, we cannot deny Romanoff’s statement about both of them being monsters in light of her sterilization reveal. Is she a monster because she can kill without emotion or because she can do this due to being sterilized. The statement is a little vague but still alarming. Perhaps, Banner and Romanoff’s characters will understand one day that being disabled is not a monstrosity but is instead another way of living. Navigating ableism is the bitch, not disability itself.

Lilith Out

Time Machines, Refrigerators, Supers and Sex An Analysis of Comic-book Troupes Through Barbara Gordon

Femme Fatale

Original Essay written for a university course on Disability and Sexuality-

Using popular culture to analyze a moment in time from the dominant societal perspective can be a powerful tool of cultural analysis and comic-books are arguably one of the most lush bodies of this kind of evidence. Comic-books have been criticized for the sexist and racist imagery over the course of their existence and yet there is very little scholarly critical analysis of the medium. Yet when exploring the cultural analysis surrounding comic-books, bloggers and online reviewers are diving into the deep intersectional problems and triumphs of their beloved literature. When considering sexuality and disability within comic-books, one character is commonly regarded as the treasured disabled heroine: Oracle. Irwin and Moeller identify the top ten stereotypes used commonly in the media to depict disabilities including the object of violence, the “super crip”, the nonsexual and the invalid (3). By…

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A Horrifying Representation of Comics *Trigger- Warning*

I have written about Barbara Gordon, Batgirl and Oracle before as being a disabled heroine and how sex and disability can interact in interesting and possibly damaging ways (Click here to see post). Yet, once again I felt compelled to write about the beloved character because of the horror inflicted on her ONCE AGAIN. As some may know, Batgirl or Barbara Gordon was shot and paralyzed in the story-line The Killing Joke by the Joker. What many don’t like talking about is the hours of gang-rape that was implied after the shooting. Yet as Batgirl dawns the cap again in a bizarre turn of events, where she no longer is disabled, she is still terrorized. This cover shows the kind of grotesque imagery DC is willing to put out as an embodiment of the Women in Refrigerator trope.  My reaction to this picture is one of immense distress and disgust. The proposed cover of a upcoming comicbook by Rafael Albuguerque in promotion for the Batgirl comics, this cover is disturbing. To be noted: Albuguerque did not originally make this cover until DC asked him to make one more extreme and it was at the artist’s request that the cover be removed (Click here for article).

Why do I find this so disturbing? The blatant sexualized violence against Gordon is reflected in the gun being pointed towards her crotch and the close proximity of the most insane and murderous villain to be featured in the history of comics. As he is putting lip stick across her face, her outright fear and the tears on the edge of her eyes is telling of the kind of situation this cover is trying to depict. The image of violence against women in this picture is horrifying and frankly triggering.

While I hope that this post does not trigger anyone else, i felt the need to share it because of the horrific turn that comic art has come too. One which sacrifices the well-being and emotional safety of its female audience for shock value.

This is a very desperate time for action to end violence against women. If it weren’t a problem anymore, do you think art like this would still be made?

If you or others that you know need help or someone to talk to, please see the organizations below:

SASCOttawa

ORCC 

The Sexual Assault Network

The Theory of Everything is Sexless!

What  a powerful film focusing on the great Professor Stephen Hawking and his badass wife Professor Jane Hawking! Isn’t is great when the story of love through adversity triumphs! Except that this movie is a load of shit. I will recognize that the cinematography in it is beautiful and the acting isn’t half bad but I cannot forgive another portrayal of a disabled man as utterly desexualized.

The Muff- Honest Thoughts on Pubic Hair

Femme Fatale

Article written for Wicked Wanda’s Adult Emporium, as Sexpert Lilith

The muff, bush, patch, forest, trimming and gift-wrap, to the carpet, happy trail, lady garden and pubes, pubic hair is a wonderfully strange aspect of one’s life and identity. For something which everyone thinks about at some point in their life, no one really wants to talk about it. From the historical roller-coaster of necessity and practicality, to the religiously informed aesthetics we see in pornography, pubic hair is complicated. My first vivid memory of pubic hair that I can remember was when I was some where around 12 years old and I was in the kiddy pool that my next door neighbour set up on the lawn in front of their house. It was a hot day and my best friend at the time and I were attempting to cool down in the sweltering heat when I look…

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