December 9, 2008

Subtle sexism: analyzing The Witcher

Posted in entertainment, entitlement, gaming, gender, heteronormative, objectification, phallocentrism, representation, sexism, sexual politics at 8:00 pm by LB

This post is about the PC game The Witcher, which someone I know has just started playing. But this post is less about the game and more about cultural representations and assumptions about gender and sexuality. He and I had a conversation around it today, which got me thinking a lot about female sexuality, male entitlement, and homophobia in our culture. So please bear through my discussion of the game to get the “big picture” analysis.

In browsing around the internets and reading people’s discussions around gender and sexuality in the game, I very often read these reasons for why the game isn’t “that bad” vis-a-vis women and (women’s) sexuality: the sex scenes are well done (they are in fact pretty tasteful) and the women aren’t represented as all dumb bimbos (as if commodifying women’s sexuality is only sexist if the women are represented as idiots.) My friend mentioned that in reading reviews, many women said the sex in the game wasn’t “that bad.” But in the game, it’s not really the sex that’s the problem.

At first, I thought that gender and sexuality in the game wasn’t so bad, but the more I was told the more troubled I became. Originally, I thought the sex in the game was just optional, with no reward attached, and the sex scenes aren’t gratuitous or very objectifying. Point one for the game?

Well, that’s not exactly it. Read the rest of this entry »

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November 25, 2008

Commercial Critique: Guitar Hero World Tour

Posted in advertising, body politics, Commercial Critique, double standards, gaming, gender, objectification, representation, sexism, television at 10:00 am by LB

I was originally pretty pleased at the Guitar Hero World Tour commercials. I liked that the first one, at least, showed a group of guys hanging out in comfy, even kinda sexy, clothing, rocking out like dorks. Typically representations of masculinity perform “boundary maintenance” (see “Fraternal Bonding”, which interestingly enough specifically talks about athletes), which is about displaying masculinity through sexism and homophobia; so often in commercials, the “cool guys” are the womanizing-objectifying type (not that the first GH didn’t have at least one of those in there), not the male bonding through semi-sexy fun type. So the initial commercial, at least, thwarted my expectation by not giving into the the sexist-homophobic construction of masculinity typically seen. The first one featured several male athletes (Plelps, A-Rod, Tony Hawk, Kobe Bryant) rocking it out in someone’s living room a la Risky Business, and several more have followed including American Idol stars David Archuleta and David Cook, High School Musical actor/singer Corbin Blue, and most recently model Heidi Klum. Except they’re not really a la Risky Business.

In Risky Business, Cruise dances around the living room in a long-sleeved button-down t-shirt, barely long enough to cover his ass, and nothing else is visible until the end when you see he has skimpy tighty whities on. In the GH commercials, the guys are dancing around in replica dress shirts and long, white boxers. Not 100% authentic, but I didn’t think anything of it because it’s a daytime commercial, and I figured they probably didn’t want it too seductive. That logic only held until I saw the Klum ad, where she wears (big surprise!) only the barely long enough dress shirt–no white shorts.

Why the discrepancy? Does this go back to the idea that sexualizing women’s bodies is acceptable for general consumption, but men’s bodies are (generally) off limits? What’s especially interesting to me here is that the original context of the parody was the sexual one–it’s not like they changed the commercial to make the one with the woman more sexual; rather they specifically desexualized the men’s commercials, and in doing so, deviated from its original context. It doesn’t bother me that they deviated; it’s that they deviated from, and desexualized, only the ones with the men.

But wait–it gets better. Because they actually did make the women’s one more sexual. The version of Klum’s commercial aired during Monday Night Football featured Klum with the button-down shirt unbuttoned, displaying black lingerie underneath. During her GH “performance”, she strips her shirt off, gyrating around, shakes her boobs while leaning back–all very stripper-like moves; again, this version is way off from the original they are supposed to be parodying. Celebrity Smack has this characterization of the commercial:

Close-ups of her ass and her boobs come next, followed by Heidi jumping down on the couch and holding the guitar between her legs as though it were a 2-foot long sex toy.

It is indeed a very sexualized commercial, Klum is turned into a quasi-porn star and the guitar seems more like a phallus than a fake guitar. This still is particularly telling:

Before anyone points out that “it’s not that bad”, the point is that for a series of commercials that are supposed to be citing a famous film scene, the ad makers go out of their way to increase the sexualization of the one commercial featuring a woman, and decrease the sexualization of the many commercials featuring a man or men. The only ad they made that is an accurate representation of the film is the “family-friendly” Klum ad. And until now, I haven’t even pointed out the 3:1 male:female ratio of the ads, nor the vocations of the genders represented (athletes and musicians: supermodel, how original!).

Let me point out, that there have been more “successful” replications of the Risky Business scene. Exhibit A: one of my favorite shows, Scrubs, had a JD fantasy sequence with the guys imitating Cruise. Now they don’t go through and dance–the fantasy is cut short–and the scene is much more goofy than sexy, but there we had 4 guys on non-cable TV early prime-time (and syndicated now during the day) with the same shirt some Cruise-like much skimpier undies. No reason GH couldn’t follow suit.

But maybe our only women’s-bodies-should-be-objectified/men-looking-at-men’s-bodies-makes-you-gay society can’t handle the swooning that would ensue if we were able to see as much of A-Rod, Phelps, and Kobe’s athletic physiques as we see of JD, Turk, Dr. Cox, and The Todd. For a game that appeals quite equally to female as well as male players, GH sure didn’t aim to give men and women equal ad time and representation.

(For other posts in this series, click here)

November 21, 2008

Two standards of “sexy”

Posted in beauty culture, Celebritocracy, double standards, gender, hot lists, objectification, representation, sexual politics, sexy at 9:10 pm by LB

From the world of “top lists”:

via Yahoo!’s OMG! department, that gives me pop culture news when I’m trying to access my e-mail via the Yahoo! homepage that I’d really rather not know about, comes 2 male “hot lists” that I find rather interesting.  First, People magazine name Hugh Jackman the sexiest man alive.  Nothing new here: People’s “sexiest man” regularly is permitted to be and look much older than “sexiest women” are (the last 3 were Damon @ 37, Clooney @ 45, and McConaughey @ 36; Maxim’s ’08 “Hot 100” #1 is 30, and the last 3 were 21, 31, and 30).  

No, what I found interesting was the accompanying pictorial on the sexiest fathers in Hollywood.  

  1. The photos used were shots of the fathers in action, playing with their kids.  So lovely and sweet, but not quite the MILF-esque treatment given to editorials about “sexy moms.”  Sidenote: I do think that “sexy parent” editorials are horrible:  I’d rather read about good parents period, sexy or not.  To me, that makes as much logical sense as having a pictorial about the best brunette parents–hair color has about as much to do with being a parent as being sexy does.  But if they’re going to have the them at all, they should focus both kinds of editorials on their parenting creds (since all it takes is a personal trainer, a stylist, and a decent photographer to be sexy in Hollywood).  But even still, if they’re going to take the MILF angle (ugh, I shudder each time I even type that), can we at least evaluate the dads and the moms in the same sexified manner?  FILFs, anyone?  
  2. It seems that what counts as being a sexy mother is having the expendable time, money, and energy to put the work into getting your body back to a pre-pregnancy state, tasks that become so much easier with hired help–nannies, personal trainers, stylists, makeup artists, post-pregnancy photo shoots with favorable lighting, etc.  But what counts for being a sexy dad is in spending time with your kids, which I suppose is either an expected given for mothers or is irrelevant to their sexiness.  Hmmm…women judged on how they look, men judged on what they do…where have I heard that before??

 So the second thing I saw was again from OMG! breaking news about the 25 Hottest Hunks in Hollywood.  Again, we see the age discrepancy here, with is nothing new to celebrity men’s and women’s hot and sexy status.  Looking at the photos, I just want to know: why do they have so much clothes on?  How can we call them “hot” when men’s clothing gives us little indication of what’s underneath?  There seems to not be enough information to evaluate these men by…. yes, I’m joking but also not.  I’d say, if we saw a Hot list of women with so much clothing on, I think there’d be rioting in the streets.

September 3, 2008

Worst piece of flare at the RNC

Posted in objectification, politics at 10:52 pm by LB

Just saw this on someone’s blazer during Palin’s speech tonight (still in progress).

How fucked up is this? Democrat or Republican, whatever and whoever, a woman’s (or man’s, for that matter) appearance is completely irrelevant to her political capabilities or qualifications.

Politics is not the Maxim “Hot 100.”

August 29, 2008

“A woman is a sex object when she wants to be”

Posted in empowerment, entitlement, objectification, sexual politics at 12:57 am by LB

So, again, I haven’t been writing like I’d like to.  Classes start next week and I am very busy prepping for those.  I hope to start posting more than once a week within the next month.  I was browsing through the new edited book Men Speak Out, and I came across this provocative snippet from one of the articles that is quite pertinent to the themes of this blog, so I thought I’d share.  From “Trying To Be Sexy and Anti-Sexist….At Exactly the Same Time” by Andrew Boyd:

And that seems to be the basic rule: A woman is a sex object when she wants to be.  Not when I want her to be one, not when the culture wants her to be one, but when she wants to be one.  When she chooses to be a sex object, she is deliberately adopting a limited part of who she is.  She’s playing a role and she’s looking for someone to play with.

That seems pretty in-line with much of what I write here.  It’s so simply, and so obvious, yet so opposed to our cultural ideology of women’s sexuality.  This is the response to those who don’t get it when they say, “well, what’s so wrong with appreciating sexy women?” when they watch they watch beach volleyball at the Olympics to check out the ladies’ butts, or by consistently recognizing first the desirability of businesswomen and female politicians.  This is what’s so troubling about Playboy drawing attention to the female bloggers they deem to be “sexy” as worth reading, or offering them cash to pose nude (since I guess they’re not truly useful to modern men until/unless they’re nekkid, since the next logical thing after discovering an interesting and intelligent woman who’s decent looking is to request–and expect–to see her naked).  This is what’s so wrong with photographing a woman’s body in public, sexualizing it, and distributing it all over the internets.

It’s not that there’s something inherently “wrong” with seeing women’s physical sexiness as desirable and beautiful.  But denying her agency by imposing it on her when she wishes to be a whole human being, or even more, when she’s “deliberately adopting”, as Boyd phrases it, another part of her person that is not her sexuality (say, in politics, acting, art, sport, etc.), is where the “wrong” lies.  Part of what’s so fucked up is that sexuality has become synonymous with female personhood and value that we–as people and as a culture–seem utterly incapable of separating them.  Indeed, often we as women cannot separate them either, or many times even when we can, we know that it is to our social advantage not to.  The recent Olympics is simply an obvious case-in-point.

August 20, 2008

Theorizing privacy and copyright: addressing “fair use”

Posted in activism, empowerment, entitlement, ideology, objectification, representation, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources, victim-blaming at 12:00 pm by LB

For those of you who have missed it, I blog fast and furiously on women’s privacy in public places and online, and am very concerned with the lack of control women have over the use of their images. Of course, women don’t have any less control than men do, but in my previous posting, I have stated why I think this is more of a problem for women–including that in a culture that has historically deemed women’s bodies as for public consumption, there is much less respect for a woman’s privacy period, much less if she dresses/acts in a “certain way” or appears in a “certain place”.

The crux of my concern is: How can we really experience sexual liberation (that I maintain has not been accomplished yet) if we, as women, cannot control the terms by which we are turned into public sexual objects?

The most recent example of this is, of course, is with Olympic gymnast Alicia Sacramone. Several others have posted very nicely on this, and I was a bit bust this weekend, so please read their excellent posts. Let’s hope there’s no repeating last summer’s experience of a track athlete.

One issue I have had is, aside from changing cultural attitudes–the ultimate problem-solver–how do we go about making any practical change? Until I started reading online more this past fall, I honestly had no clue that guys would peruse Myspace and Flickr pages, looking for women to ogle, objectify, call names, produce fantasies of, etc. on their own sites, denying these women the right to just live their life. As a reasonable human being, it never dawned on me that someone would feel so entitled to photographs of a birthday night-out with friends that I needed to protect myself. And it’s not like I exactly live under a rock–I have done Myspace and Facebook, use Youtube sometimes (usually to find something specific, not to check out the most recent and ridiculous videos). But I haven’t altered my life all that much around the internet, so it is more of a resource for me, and not where I live my life. And since I don’t do Google searches for “sexist asshats displaying male entitlement to women’s sexuality,” I hadn’t stumbled on this phenomenon until I began reading more and more online in the past 9 months or so. And now that I see this happen regularly, each time breaking my heart, this is something I can’t not comment on, and something I’m determined to work on in activism.

So getting to the point of this post: I was on the Creative Commons website, and I noticed that you can copyright your images and prevent downloads on a site like Flickr, a perhaps little-know fact which is blog-worthy all in itself. So I did a little more digging.

From The Creative Commons website:

Creative Commons licenses give you the ability to dictate how others may exercise your copyright rights—such as the right of others to copy your work, make derivative works or adaptations of your work, to distribute your work and/or make money from your work. They do not give you the ability to restrict anything that is otherwise permitted by exceptions or limitations to copyright—including, importantly, fair use or fair dealing—nor do they give you the ability to control anything that is not protected by copyright law, such as facts and ideas.

Creative Commons licenses attach to the work and authorize everyone who comes in contact with the work to use it consistent with the license.

If such photos were subject to “fair use” by these asshats, their being under copyright makes me think their source would need to be cited. Would it really be so hard to have web software require to link to a source in order to upload photos? (which would only mean your own photos would have to be hosted on a photo sharing site first). I use WordPress for my blog, and whenever someone links to me, it shows up in part of the admin functions. Would it really be that hard to require photo-sharing services such as Flikr, Picasa, etc. to offer that feature as well? With requiring links and providing notification of linking back (“trackbacks”), this would at least give people the power to know where their images are showing up and help stop their unauthorized usage, even if it can’t be prevented.

But what is “fair use” even? From the U.S. Copyright Office: Read the rest of this entry »

July 23, 2008

Guest post: A feminist gamer looks at gender issues in the gaming industry

Posted in entertainment, gaming, gender, gender stereotypes, guest posts, objectification at 12:00 pm by LB

I have asked Cassandra from No Little Lolita to do some occasional guest blogging about gender and gaming. It is an area I’m very interested in, but not being a gamer myself, can’t give it the treatment it deserves. So I’ve asked Cassandra to fill in that gap here at Don’t you wish your girlfriend was smart like me? Please engage her ideas in the comments with respect.

-lindabeth

Hi, my name is Cassandra – I post on No Little Lolita, a blog about popular culture, teenage years and feminism, gaming, and the pursuits and hobbies of a young Canadian feminist. I’m guestblogging to talk a little about the huge problems in the gaming industry, and why they affect women – even those who aren’t gamers.

We’ve recently entered a ‘new generation’ of gaming, and it’s only show how persuasive the siren song of gaming is. The Nintendo Wii broke records when it was launched – it was the first console that appealed to people beyond gamers, and the inventive remote with add-ons seemed more welcoming and approachable than the controllers of their competitors – the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360. In contrast, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 seem to be in a market of their own – both of them are powerhouses that appeal to the ‘hardcore’ gamer and boast libraries of games that’ll last you tens upon tens of hours full of deep storylines and complex gameplay.

With this new interactive art form taking center stage, it would be great if we could shed the tired tropes and disgusting stereotypes that show up constantly in movies and on TV. Gaming is a medium that boasts large amounts of interactivity and choice – wouldn’t it be great if the writing was excellent without leaning on racist or sexist stereotypes, the action was tight without being pandering or offensive, and the characters were engrossing and sympathetic and yet realistic and enjoyable to play?

Unfortunately, it seems that most studios either don’t have the capacity or the willpower to create games that fulfill these expectations. Most games have either a shallow story, with the main objective being ‘blow this up’, or rely on stereotypes and tropes when they bother to develop the characters or the storyline at all. Female characters are reduced to simpering, slender sexpots relying on the main character while being just feisty enough to rile him up more often than not – that is, when they even exist. Even when a female is the main character of a game, she is usually designed to be attractive, available and open to possible advances – she’s tough, but not so tough that your average gamer would be threatened! The main character of a game is more often than not white, male, and straight. Often he’s taking down terrorists or criminals or some unsavory group while some female sighs over his hunkiness, and his POC sidekick serves as comic relief. The art form, so far, is heteronormative, overwhelmingly white, and sexist.

The gaming market has produced some feminist-friendly games for sure – the Mario games are a safe bet, the Metal Gear Solid games have a large cast with both genders, and even though the games are set around the American – Russian – Chinese conflict, the third game had a black support member who helped the protagonist on his solo mission talk about his experiences facing racism from the private corporations in America in the 60s; not something you would hear discussed in most media forms of any sort. But for the large part, games are like a gigantic soggy sandwich: you watch the preparation as you starve and drool, you rationalize “It’s still good! It’s still good!” even after the waitress dumps a glass of water over it, but you give up after having a few bites and mourn over what could have been.

There has to be reasons for this: it’s not like a game is somehow functionally incapable of being feminist. Let’s examine some of the prominent reasons as to why we have these complaints: Read the rest of this entry »

July 18, 2008

Women’s bodies are not public domain: how many times does this need to be said?

Posted in assholes, body politics, entitlement, objectification, privacy, sexual politics, victim-blaming at 12:00 pm by LB

A really great post at Hoyden About Town on a recent incident of a man photographing an “upskirt” shot in public, and posting it online. The comments she lists in the post are really great…the first set makes you smile and the second makes you pissed.

But reading these particular comments from the skeevy guy’s post got me thinking:

  • “He photographed in public a nice pair of legs and he added the photo onto he’s [sic] PERSONAL blog”

I read a lot people justifying various breeches of privacy with the excuse of “well, she’s in public.” What is it about public space that means anything goes? “Public” space only means anyone can be there–no one can be refused to be in public space. How does “anyone can be there” translate to “anyone can be there and should understand that at any minute they could be photographed or videotaped doing whatever they are doing and wearing whatever they are wearing and can be distributed in any context for free and by entering public space people are consenting to this.”

You know honestly, I don’t care whether some dude videotapes a woman bending over to pick up something she dropped or a person eating their lunch on a bench, both are wrong. Both are invasions. Why do people feel the right to photograph people they don’t know and post them online? Photos of any content, displayed in any context. Why does anybody think this is ok? And why does being in public mean you cede the right to own your body? I’m starting to get really irritated with the arrogance and entitlement of these justifiers.

And it’s not as if people can help being in public. You can’t feasibly survive without leaving your house.

  • “Nicu didn’t try to photograph anything that the girl wanted to keep hidden.”

For the nth time, since when is allowing to be visible for fleeting glances the same as allowing to be visible for photographic capture and display online? This would be like saying that all women who go to the beach are consenting to or want to or wouldn’t mind photos of them in said suit posted online. All together ladies: “HELL, NO!” How asinine is this reasoning?

I mean geez, how hard is it to just leave people alone? Live and let be? Seriously?!

Addendum:

So I had scheduled the above post for Friday. On Thursday, I checked back on the Hoyden thread’s discussion, and sure enough a douchebag had entered the discussion, reeking with male privilege. I really couldn’t let his fallacious comments go unaddressed, so I commented on the thread, and wanted to post what I wrote here as well, since this is a topic I am very passionate about and I write about often.

So again, from Hoyden About Town (and I encourage you to check out the thread and the blog, it’s good reading):

Anders FederNo Gravatar

Pete:
Apart from the lameness, there is absolutely nothing wrong in posting a picture of an unidentifiable person’s legs.

Suggesting that I am a ‘fellow sociopath-wannabe’ for standing up for reasonable freedoms of expression, on the other hand, is highly questionable.

Oh, and by the way: I demand that you all ask for my permission before responding to this post directly or indirectly. Anything else will offend me.

My response: Read the rest of this entry »

July 4, 2008

More sports and sexism

Posted in body politics, gender, objectification, privacy, sexism, sexual politics, sports at 12:00 pm by LB

I’m starting to wonder if sports has become the “it” terrain for blatant sexism and creating a hostile climate for women.

In the last year…

Sexual Harassment of female fans by male fans at Jets’ games: nothing like a good ol “you don’t belong here until you have something you can give me, like the view of your tits that I’m clearly entitled to due to my possession of a penis.”

The blowup doll incident in the Chicago White Sox locker room welcoming objectification, violence, and sexual violence, while being rather inhospitable to female, and non-sexist male, journalists wanting to do their job. Not to mention any conscionable player being upset by it would have a hard time speaking up, lest he be accused of being gay, as is often the case in locker-room situations: just see the comments on sports columnist Mike Wise’s article against the display (see also Michael Messner‘s excellent work on masculinity, homophobia and sport). The doll and the accompanying baseball bat strategically placed in a certain orifice with the sign “You’ve got to Push” and all its encompassing sexism was intended to “encourage” the team. Great.

Now this…

via Feminocracy

The Morning Joe show on MSNBC this morning retold the story of a man who got a signed baseball for throwing nude pictures of his ex-wife into the bull pen. The pictures got the man a ball signed by everyone in the dugout courtesy of Johnathan Papelbon of the Boston Red Sox […] Nothing is more classy than giving out nude pictures you obtained during the course of a relationship and spreading them around once the relationship is over. Likewise, its very classy to accept random nudes from fans–lovely.

This is absolutely deplorable behavior, on the part of the guy and the players. The Bo-Sox dugout should be ashamed for accepting these images that were made in the context of an intimate relationships that this guy is exploiting for this own profit and without the consent of the woman in the photos. How is this not illegal? Is this not the “sale” of pornography without the consent of the model? Code 2257 anyone?

Combined with the way female athletes are written about in the media, the sports industry is telling me loud and clear where I as a female belong: on the sidelines, displaying my tits.

(cross-posted to The Reaction)

June 13, 2008

Owning our bodies’ representation

Posted in body politics, double standards, exnomination, objectification, phallocentrism, privacy, representation, sexual politics at 12:00 pm by LB

This post from Ms. Naughty (blog NSFW) got me thinking. She wrote a post about the Topfree Equal Rights Association, and their argument that it should be legal for women to bare their breasts in public since men can: that not being able to amounts to discrimination since it’s the “same” body part. Ms. Naughty quotes this bit from Topfree’s website, which struck me:

“This is a rebellion against a woman’s body being considered everywhere and always a sex object. As women we want the right for ourselves to decide when our breasts are sexual. That isn’t going to be in a swimming facility, and therefore they must not have to be covered. We want permission to bathe topfree, as men do.”

I’m really seduced by the idea of women being able to assert when our bodies are and are not sexual. This is something that has bothered me for some time, and was a large part of what I have written previously: that representations of women’s bodies are usurped and posited as sexual/sex objects despite what the woman herself desires. Women’s bodies seem to be by default sexual. They are subject to sexualization and sexual (or “beauty”) evaluation simply by existing. So I really like the theoretical argument presented here about women being able to own the sexualization of their body.

But while the argument is seductive, I’m not sure that it’s practical. Because the cultural reality is that women don’t own our sexualization. We are constantly evaluated and sexualized. We are catcalled; we are told to put clothes on. Celebrity women are subject to Hot Lists and 25 Unsexiest Women Lists. We do not exist publicly as people, but rather as women. And I don’t think that women baring their breasts publicly will radically change the way that our culture perceives women and their bodies.

I’m actually afraid it might do the opposite. Read the rest of this entry »

June 5, 2008

Sometimes Cosmo readers say interesting things

Posted in double standards, objectification, pornography, sex work, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 1:00 pm by LB

The problem this Cosmo reader encountered is one that I have always been irked by.

From a semi-related post on Female Impersonator:

This attitude was shown in one of the “Cosmo Confessions” featured monthly in Cosmopolitan magazine:

“Once a month, my boyfriend has a guy’s night out with his buddies. Normally, they shoot poll or go to a ball game. But last month, I overheard him making plans to go to a strip club. It really upset me that he didn’t bother asking how I felt about his sticking dollar bills in other women’s G-strings. Instead of confronting him, I did some investigating and found out that the night he was planning to go to the club happened to be amateur night, which meant that any girl could get on stage and dance. So I called a few girlfriends, and we headed to the club. After a few drinks, I surprised my guy as one of the novice strippers. He was so shocked that he just froze–until I started undressing. Then he jumped on the stage and begged me to come down, promising me he’d never go to a nudie bar again.”

I think it’s great that the male partner in this story realized how his female partner must feel about his being there by how he felt seeing her up there. I wish more men could have the visceral experience this one did. Many men say that they should be able to go to strip clubs, but wouldn’t want their girlfriend to strip. They justify this by saying that they themselves would not strip, and that they wouldn’t care if their girlfriend saw a male strip show. This is not a equivalent comparison to me, and I’m going to try to elaborate a little on why I think this. Read the rest of this entry »

May 20, 2008

“Open Season” for ‘Peeping Toms’; or, musings on “privacy”

Posted in heteronormative, news, objectification, patriarchy, privacy, representation, sexual exploitation, sexual politics, victim-blaming, WTF at 3:02 am by LB

This post has been a long time coming, but this recent news put me over the edge: Remember back in March when I wrote about the Oklahoma Peeping Tom? He took cel phone photos up a minor’s skirt while shopping at Target; the charges were dropped because their Peeping Tom law only applies to situations where privacy is expected, and according to the ruling, privacy cannot be expected in public.

Well, it happened again. Via feministing, a Florida court dropped charges against a man for using a mirror to look up a woman’s skirt at a Barnes and Noble.

The key in these cases is “a reasonable expectation of privacy.” We ladies should be getting the message loud and clear now: we cannot expect bodily privacy in public. We cannot merely exist in public. In public, our bodies are subject to public ownership. We can only expect privacy in our homes. And in a marriage situation, some people don’t even think we should have that.

Twice now in the courts, and resonant with a culture that sees catcalling as a compliment or that thinks women like Uma Thurman should be flattered at stalking and unwanted sexual advances (because I s’ppose we should be thankful we’re oh so irresistable?!), it is becoming more and more clear that women appearing in public are open for the business of sexual consumption via harassment and now even more violations of physical privacy and integrity. The assumption is that any woman who is attractive or dresses sexy desires ogling…otherwise she wouldn’t dress that way, or wear a skirt short enough to photograph up it. (Gee, isn’t this all starting to sound an awful lot like most rape apologists?) And that women who dare to exist in public or online or anywhere where they can be viewed by someone are fair game for subsequent sexual remarks, objectification, physical criticism, circulation of images…

Because apparently:

  • all women are heterosexual (since they dress “like that” for male attention)
  • all women dress themselves according to how and when they want their physical appearance to be evaluated
  • all women’s public existence is primarily and ultimately for the benefit of men

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, mostly regarding how people seem to lose all personal privacy upon public existence. In a culture like ours that sees women primarily as sexual objects, that any woman becomes subject to harsh criticism or objectification regarding their appearance (regardless of its relevance), this is becoming a huge problem for women. Pragmatically, we seem to have very little expectation of consent to our images being taken, and also taken out of context.

For example, if a woman signs a model release for nude artistic photography, she is consenting to a particular context of the images. The images cannot then be sold as pornography, or she would have grounds to sue. This type of consent does not seem to operate in the real world in the age of the internet. And if it does, considering the vastness of the internet, it seems hard to keep tabs on.

Let me provide some actual examples that have gotten me pissed off: Read the rest of this entry »

May 11, 2008

Recent sports articles remind us that female athletes are (sexual and maternal) women first

Posted in beauty culture, body politics, exnomination, feminism, gender, gender stereotypes, mass media, objectification, representation, sexual politics, sports at 1:00 pm by LB

First, from Feministing:

The Chicago Tribune online story with this headline:

“WNBA offers advice to rookies: Trying to expand fan base by marketing its players, the WNBA for the first time offers rookies lessons in fashion and makeup”

Yes, you read that right. According to the story, one-third of the WNBA rookie orientation offered makeup and fashion tips. Other seminars included “financial advice, media training and fitness and nutrition”.

“I think it’s very important,” said Candace Parker, the Naperville product who was the league’s No. 1 draft pick out of Tennessee. “I’m the type who likes to put on basketball shorts and a white T, but I love to dress up and wear makeup. But as time goes on, I think [looks] will be less and less important.”

[…]

NBA rookies go through a similar orientation, although their off-court conduct is stressed far more than their wardrobe or physical appearance.

What’s unfortunate is it’s true. Female athletes are not only judged as athletes but are also judged for their adherence to conventional “femininity” (as I’ve written about elsewhere). Some of this happens in the way women’s sports is reported and discussed, and some of it is brought on by the ad campaigns female athletes participate in. While part of their participation in objectifying ads is likely for the income opportunity, I think part of it too is as a way for female athletes to “prove” (via social validation) that despite their physical strength and athletic bodies, they are still “sexy” and “feminine”. Since, of course, being sexually desirable according to socially prescribed standards is the ultimate standard of a woman’s worth.

From the Tribune:

Susan Ziegler, a Cleveland State professor of sports psychology, said disparity in wages and media coverage between male and female athletes, along with a battle against perceived negative stereotypes, are factors in marketing female sports figures for their physicality rather than their athletic assets.

Need examples? Read the rest of this entry »

May 8, 2008

Read this post.

Posted in body politics, Fat Acceptance, identity, objectification, recommended reading, social justice at 11:30 am by LB

Read this post by Kate Harding at Shakesville. Please. Normally I’d just add it to my links but this deserves special attention. The article is primarily adressing the question Kate gets about how she can advocate “fat acceptance” when she’s “only” 1 or 2 sizes larger than the “average American woman.” Her whole article is quite moving and poignant.

But this “the average American woman wears a size 14!” shit is utterly meaningless in terms of defining what’s “fat” and what’s “normal” in this culture […] You’re right, of course, to want to get the message across to this woman that there is nothing wrong with her body. She could probably stand to hear that. But telling her she’s not fat is not the same thing. It denies her the anguish she feels about having a body that deviates from the ideal, however slightly–and believe me, deviating even slightly is plenty to cause legitimate anguish–and worse yet, it reinforces the message that her being fat by some other standard would mean there was something wrong with her body. That’s the underlying problem here–not whether the woman is officially “fat,” but that so many of us automatically equate fat with a host of other negative characteristics, with there indeed being something wrong with your body. The hilarious thing is that just before this wankstain yelled at me, my Pilates instructor–a student teacher who’s not used to me yet, let alone to how all sorts of different bodies work–had been falling all over herself telling me how amazingly strong and flexible I am. (Thank you, yoga.) In the space of ten minutes, I went from being praised up and down for what my body can do to being cruelly insulted because it’s not a socially acceptable size. And if that doesn’t drive home the point that the real problem is not anybody’s fucking fat but a culture that insists fat bodies are intrinsically worthless, I don’t know what will.

May 6, 2008

Where are all the sexy men?

Posted in gender, mass media, music, objectification, representation, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources, sexy at 1:30 pm by LB

OK, so I’ve been writing a bit about sexual representations recently. It’s not on purpose, just what I’ve read about recently. I’ll try to get to a new topic soon :-). Yesterday I stumbled on 2 articles that speak to the post I’ve written recently about the disparities in publicly eroticizing men’s and women’s bodies.

The first one speaks to the idea that concepts of ‘sexy’ by default refers to women’s (not men’s) bodies. Forbes.com has an article titled “Hollywood’s Sexiest Celebrities.” Guess what? They’re all women.

My first thoughts were: Is it because when we’re making top lists of sexy people, sexy “people” implicitly and really means “women”? Or is it because Forbes.com doesn’t think any men are sexier than these 15 women? But no, these were taken from an E-poll, not a single person’s choice–and the top male, Matthew McConaughey weighed in at only 41st. What does this say about what or who we consider ‘sexy’? Is it that women are “really” sexier than men? Or is it that “sexy” has been defined in terms of women? I at least think part of it must be that we are provided with sexualized images of women quite frequently, where actual images of celebrity men all sexy, posed, and scantily clad is significantly rarer. So why would we even think of men when asked about who’s “sexy” when their bodies are less than accessible (in magazines or films) and hardly on the radar? Read the rest of this entry »

May 2, 2008

Tom Ford comments on the lack of male nudity

Posted in gender roles, mass media, objectification, representation, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 1:13 pm by LB

I stumbled on this New York Magazine article via Ms. Naughty’s blog (NSFW), and I am truly intrigued. Not because I think that one (or even 100) pictorials of nude men will change the way male and female bodies are/not produced as ‘sexual.’ As with many many gender and sexuality issues, the problem is not (only) with correcting misrepresentations by merely adding to the ones we have, just like more women as corporate CEO’s is not all that is needed to change the way business and economics are centered around the worker as male. It’s a start, but it’s not the whole story, not even close.

I’m more interested in what Ford said.

[…] the male nude is one of our last taboos. There’s a double standard at play here: magazines that are happy to fund ads featuring an artfully lit female nude will balk at an image of her male counterpart.

Bodies themselves may be, for the most part, natural raw material. But the value societies gives to bodies, what we see those bodies as useful for, what uses are appropriate for which bodies, how bodily qualities (i.e. beauty, strength) are defined, are all socio-cultural and ideological, thus also political. Read the rest of this entry »

April 29, 2008

Fighting Against Breast Cancer…and Also Against Breast Cancer Campaigns

Posted in body politics, breast cancer, language politics, objectification, representation, sexual politics at 9:00 am by LB

I don’t remember exactly what brought this issue to my attention– it may have been this blog post I read, which prompted me to do some additional research. But I’m pretty irritated. And frustrated.

It’s the Breast Cancer awareness campaigns and anti-breast cancer t-shirts that are being manufactured, bought and worn. Disclaimer: I am 100% in favor of fund-raising, awareness, education, what have you, about breast cancer.* That’s not what this is about. However, the way advocacy is framed is just as important as the advocacy, for the “way you say it” speaks just as much as “what you say.”

Why am I annoyed? The message of recent campaigns, advertising, and t-shirts are centered around the idea that we need to catch breast cancer early and research for a cure in order to save breasts. Silly me, I thought we fight against cancer to save lives. And if that weren’t bad enough, the reason “the breasts” must be saved will make you puke a little in your mouth. Because men love ’em. Read the rest of this entry »

April 25, 2008

Sexualized Ads Become "Obscene" When Guys are the Objects

Posted in advertising, ideology, mass media, objectification, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 10:39 am by LB

So this video and news issue is a wee bit old, but the idea it raises isn’t at all.

Apparently an in-store Abercrombie ad campaign (see video below) received complaints for being too sexual/obscene. Abercrombie has been doing this for years, for example, depicting cartoons of topless girls (yeah, they looked awful young) in pools and having threesomes in their catalog back when I worked in the mall 10 years ago. And in this day and age of hypersexualization of women’s bodies and the general pornification of everyday life, you would think these ads must be awfully revealing to be so scandalous.

The thing is, the ads aren’t that revealing. Not by far, and especially not compared to most ads we see everywhere. we. look.

Except that most sexualized ads we see are of women’s bodies (I said most-I am well aware of the sexual and homoerotic tones of several cologne ads). However, the Abercrombie campaign includes some sexy images…of guys. And the marketing target is upper-middle class, heterosexual teens, both female and male.

via msnbc.com:

This is the part that struck me most:

“there’s half naked guys running around–it’s obscenity–is Playboy able to hang naked pictures in their store?”

Um, sorry dude, but the half naked men shown in Abercrombie ads is not the same as fully naked Playboy pictures. Like, at all. It’s more like Victoria’s Secret ads (and even then not quite the same there either)…and oh yeah, they are able to show those, and not only in their stores, but on billboards, the sides of buses, every f*cking magazine you pick up, not to mention, the goddamn TV!! Read the rest of this entry »

April 18, 2008

Mother-daughter bonding over waxing? At age 8 ?!?!

Posted in beauty culture, body politics, gender, objectification, sexualizing youth at 10:04 am by LB

First, a really good article at blogher by Mir Kamin about the new trend of mothers taking their 8 year-old daughters to spas…to get bikini waxes. Seriously.

She quotes the fuck shaving livejournal community, where one person commented:

It’s sad that all these moms can’t think of anything else to do to bond with their daughters but go to the spa. What about taking a walk every evening to talk about their day, or cook together, or take up art classes or fucking something else.

[…]

Also, do any other these daughters have fathers? Do any of these women have husbands?
Don’t they have some influence in their lives telling them that they’re beautiful no matter what?

I thought these were great points. Daughters need their fathers and brothers reiterate their personal value beyond their physical appearance. Even more, fathers need to not be hypocrites when it comes to valuing women, having a complex and meaningful ideal of beauty and sexuality, and assigning a health place in life for appearances. Children pick up on non-verbal and implicit cues more than we think. Mothers need to bond with their daughters in ways that don’t feed the patriarchal capitalist beauty machine. Girls should not be sex-objects-in training, despite what synonyms thesaurus.com gives for “girl.”

Philadelphia Magazine had a nauseating article about the spa happenings of the pre-teen rich and famous, enabled by the moms and the almighty dollar-greedy beauty industry.

Melanie Engle was trying to just pluck the stray hairs here and there. She was trying to deliver an age-appropriate eyebrow wax to her client. It was hard, though, because there was a foot tapping next to her, and a voice shouting in her ear: “No! Not like that — like a supermodel’s. I want them arched.”

“It’s like, ‘Okay, you’re becoming a woman now, here are the things you’ll need to do as a woman.’”

Except, of course, they’re not women. This new, unstoppable desire of mothers to pluck and paint their daughters has created an unexpected conundrum for spa owners and aestheticians, who can’t afford to lose the moms’ lucrative business — but who also don’t want to be partners in crime.

The world has changed since my ’tweendom. Look at the media, and its obsession with fame, beauty, youth, celebrities, debutantes, celebutantes. It’s in our faces all the time. It’s in our kids’ faces, too. “It’s like this keeping-up-with-the-Joneses thing has stretched to our kids,” says Dasha Klein, a Main Line mom of an 11-year-old girl at Baldwin. She knows multiple teenagers who’ve gotten boob jobs for Sweet Sixteen presents, and a 20-year-old who gets Botox. “Except they’re trying to keep up with Hollywood — and Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus and whoever else they’re looking at. Well, guess what? You’re in Philadelphia. And you’re a kid. You’re not Angelina Jolie.”

Indeed. And I found this particular part to be especially interesting:

When I was in my teenybopper heyday, there were no pop chicks who I aspired to be. There were boys I aspired to marry. The media world surrounding us made us boy-crazy — maybe not a fabulous thing for a 10-year-old, but at least it didn’t lead my friends and me to inject botulism into our foreheads before we could legally drink. It was innocent: We giggled, swooned, hung posters of Joey Lawrence and Luke Perry, giggled some more. And our moms were … uninvolved. They didn’t drop us at the playground with instructions to bring home the boy who looked the most like Kirk Cameron. They rolled their eyes, bemusedly shaking their heads as they passed by our rooms: Oh, you silly girls. End of story.

Not anymore. Today’s girls aren’t looking at posters; they’re looking in the mirror. They have a new obsession — a self-obsession — and it’s being aided and abetted by their mothers. “It’s like this focus on their outer life is trickling down to their daughters,” says Rescue’s Albert. These women have to look a certain way, so inevitably, their young daughters, still under their control, do, too.

When I read this, I thought: that’s it! Recently especially I have been struggling to recall what my 10-16 years were like. All I can seem to come up with is that they are nothing like the pornification of girlhood right now. But the author’s point really resonated with me, and from her boy-crush examples, she is probably around my age. When I was younger, reading Teen and Seventeen, there was a much greater emphasis on the “cute boys” in your fave sitcoms. And the Preferred Stock model, Joel somebody-or-other. As the writer says, that isn’t necessarily something to glorify, but it is quite distinct from what’s happening now: there was indeed more a focus on girls’ (teen) desire, fantasy, and imagination. The focus was less on making yourself the perfect porn-star object of desire. Now, the focus seems to be more who to look like, not whom to look at. It’s a matter of passivity vs. activity, objectification vs. agency, self-scrutiny vs. desire. It’s what feminism has tried so hard to steer against. And somehow more opportunities for girls self-development has been co-opted and become the freedom…to get bikini waxes at age 12. And pleasure has become derived from being pleasing rather than being pleased. At this is where is begins.

This should be a wake-up call for us. Unfortunately, it has all just become part of the game.

Oh, and this I just read about, and I don’t know what to do with it…via Jezebel, “a plunging padded bra for 7-to-8 year olds.” Seriously. And to connect this back to my growing-up years too, as adolescents, we were embarrassed about our bodies, and I don’t think that was a good thing. At all. But it’s interesting how attitudes have swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, yet still has not yielded a more substantial notion of sexual independence and autonomy. It’s a “yes, but…” kind of situation, where yes, we do (have more ‘autonomy’), but in our (still sexist) society, women’s sexual independence still gets defined by (self) objectification and her value for-another. Are we (as women) able to have sex more freely than we used to? Yes. Does this mean society has achieved “sexual liberation”? Nope. Sexual “liberation” through a culture obsessed with visual sexuality (or being visually sexual) has been bought with socio-cultural (although not legal) sexual regulation. That’s all I’m going to say on this now…but more to come on this topic.

further reading: History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault, Female Chauvenist Pigs by Ariel Levy. (both in my Amazon picks)

April 4, 2008

Some comment-worthy articles about sexuality and body image

Posted in body politics, cosmetic surgery, objectification, PIV, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 6:52 pm by LB

The British Daily Mail reported that men–especially single men–who read “lad mags” (the mags for (hetero) Men that equally objectify the newest babe in lingerie alongside the latest in electronic gear) are more obsessed with their own body image.

“The message in typical lads’ magazines is that you need to develop a muscular physique in order to attract a quality mate,” said Dr Giles.

“Readers internalise this message, which creates anxieties about their actual bodies and leads to increasingly desperate attempts to modify them.

“Some of the most worrying findings were that heavy consumers of lads’ mags think about taking anabolic steroids or use protein or energy supplements as part of their diet and exercise regimes to improve the way they look.”

Forgive me if I’m slightly amused by this, but, um, DUH! These magazines have the same kind of effect on women (not to mention on men’s expectation of what a particularly beautiful woman is). At least the men who read these mags don’t have the have the message that body=worth thrown at them from every which way like women do. While body image can be one aspect of success, men have many more valued ways to be successful than women do.

I also find it interesting that the researchers thought the men were internalizing the ideal images of men found in the mags–maybe the British versions are significantly different than the U.S. ones, but I don’t recall any real emphasis on male bodies; the male physique seemed to be just one aspect of men’s lives they covered (as opposed to the portrayal of the women which are presented as eye-candy first–ya know, the important function of women in a man’s life–then maybe the reader gets to see others aspects of her life). My guess? Men who consistently objectify women, and see their worth first in terms of their value to the guy as an object of sexual desire, tend to start to see themselves in the same light, despite that women’s mags don’t tend to portray guys in that way.

______________________________


These men shouldn’t worry to much, however, because what consists of “sex” and “good sex” is still measured in terms of PIV sex (aka intercourse). A new study has concluded that how long good sex should last:

1) is measured in terms of time the penis is inside the vagina;
2) doesn’t include foreplay (which, for women, is much of what they consider “sex”);
3) can relieve most men that their lasting time is “satisfactory.”

What’s interesting about this is that “how long is optimal intercourse?” gets translated into “how long does it take to satisfy a woman?” For most women I know, these are not the same question. My equating these two ideas, the assumption is reinforced that a woman’s satisfaction comes from sex defined as PIV intercourse.

And while it’s nice that men get to feel all “normal” and stuff, that women’s pleasures actually contradict conventional wisdom and representations in porn (while women still seem to be held to ridiculous standards of what their sexual pleasure should be and should look like), it would be nice for a study to come out (and receive as much press as this one has!) that actually talks bout what women’s sexual pleasure consists of. My guess is if one did come out, it’s findings would make the findings of this study a lot less relevant. Check out this too on Slow Sex Movement (part of the Slow Movement).

______________________________


I am really delighted that Babeland employee (a women and queer-oriented sex shop) has been hired by Cosmo to dole out sex advice. Maybe her presence can help work against the cult of sexuality that Cosmo espouses that thinks good sex advice is primarily about how to please your man, do a striptease, perform like a porn star, fulfill his ultimate fantasies. Perhaps instead we’ll see a little more about experimenting to find your own pleasures, how to communicate what you want and ask him what he wants, how to use sex toys in couple sex. I mean, totally revolutionary stuff!

______________________________


Lastly, in late March an 18-year-old high school senior died after elective breast surgery from an albeit rare surgical complication. Two things from the MSNBC story stand out to me:

Stephanie Kuleba’s friends called her “Sunshine” because that was the perfect nickname for the outgoing and bubbly girl who was everybody’s friend, the cheerleader with the near-perfect grade-point average who was too nice and too perfect for anybody to resent.

This is all too typical–that women can be accomplished in all sorts of ways, but they are never “good enough” unless our bodies “match up” (according to cultural expectations) with the beautiful person we truly are. She wasn’t getting implants, but rather “corrective surgery,” which many feminists who loathe implants might be willing to overlook. But in reality, breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re all normal. The image we see in film, magazines, and porn is a result of some intense photoshopping (not to mention all the implants), even when they purport a “natural” look. Check out this great site that shows what actual breasts, in all their variety, look like. (site isn’t porn, but it’s also NSFW)

The death has focused attention on elective breast augmentation surgery, a procedure that 347,500 women of all ages chose to have in 2007 alone. That number is 6 percent higher than in 2006 and 64 percent higher than in 2000.

D’Amico repeated the FDA recommendation that no one under 18 undergo breast augmentation surgery. Despite its popularity, the procedure does have a high rate of complications and often requires additional surgery within five to 10 years of the original surgery.

The point is, that women are getting elective breast surgeries, which, like all surgeries, have significant risks (not to mention the risks related to the material in implants) in droves. It isn’t that these women are stupid and don’t understand the risks. It’s that they overwhelmingly do, and the potential complications of the surgery outweigh the social risk of a “failed”‘ feminine body and the risk of not being deemed appropriately sexually worthy. Of course, the health risks to women in surgery is coupled with the risks to a woman’s sexual pleasure through decreased nipple sensitivity from the augmentation.

Do think that men would submit themselves in significant numbers to a surgery meant primarily to please actual and potential sexual partners, while risking decreasing their own sexual pleasure? Do men submit themselves in huge numbers to penis enlargement surgery and other procedures that could increase staying power? Then answer is, no, they don’t. But they don’t need to, because we’ve already squashed the “size matters” and “lasting longer is better” myths about female sexual pleasure. When will start acknowledging our unhealthy obsession with bigger or “perfect” (whatever that means) breasts, and show that an awful lot of guys are happy with many kinds of breasts, and those who aren’t need some reeducation, and there are a lot of ways they can be pleasurable to a partner. But ultimately, we need to remember that the primary sexual function of breasts (or we could be talking about vaginas, for that matter) is for the person they belong to–the woman. And you can’t enjoy them if you have few nerves left, or worse, if you’re dead.

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