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 »

November 17, 2008

Contemplating the significance of Playgirl’s end

Posted in double standards, entertainment, gender, phallocentrism, pornography, power hierarchy, representation, sex work, sexism at 10:00 am by LB

There was an article today in the New York Times about the recent end to Playgirl magazine.  Recently it’s publisher cancelled the magazine’s distribution.  I pulled out a few things from the article that I felt were very telling:*

 
So [in trying to rebrand Playgirl after the emphasis on gay imagery by previous ownership and editors] she and her fellow editors, all women in their 20s and all relative neophytes to the world of magazines — and pornography — resolved to fill Playgirl with something different. They aspired to bring Playgirl back to its roots, back to a time when the magazine covered issues like abortion and equal rights, interspersing sexy shots of men with work from writers like Raymond Carverand Joyce Carol Oates.

All the while, the editors juggled the demands of the publisher, Blue Horizon Media, which they said pushed to fill Playgirl with even more nudes and fewer words.

[…]

“I’m not a publishing expert, but it seems to me like it would be impossible to sustain a magazine on the quantity of ads Playgirl sold,” Ms. Collins said.

Although the Playgirl Web site is still running, the graphic content is geared more toward gay men. None of the magazine’s editors are involved.

Ms. Caldwell [one of only 3 editors] said Playgirl magazine suffered from the twin malaises of rising costs and declining sales.

[…]

Playgirl was started 35 years ago as a feminist response to Playboy and Penthouse. (Playboy sued Playgirl in 1973 for trademark infringement; the suit was settled amicably.) Over the years, the magazine changed ownership, began catering more to gay men, and whittled its operations down. Still, the magazine drew an avid readership, Ms. Caldwell said, selling 600,000 copies per issue in more than three dozen countries.

[…]

“For better or worse, this was a real blow for feminism. We were the only magazine that offered naked men to women.”

In the end, Playgirl was run by a skeleton crew of these three editors, along with what Ms. Caldwell described as “a whole horde of eager unpaid interns.”

[…]

The magazine had no marketing or public relations budget, so its editors sought to revive the Playgirl brand themselves, throwing parties at a Lower East Side bar. After Blue Horizon denied a request to finance a blog, Ms. Collins built one herself, starting it on WordPress, a free platform.

Their efforts, the women said, got virtually no support; indeed, their higher-ups, all of them men, usually resisted their push to give the magazine editorial heft.

Early in 2008, warning signs surfaced. While newsstands sales were up, Ms. Caldwell said, so were production costs. 

[…]

The magazine’s editors said they were never told why the magazine was shut down. But, they said, they were always struck by the paucity of ads.

 

I quote these segments, because I can see the writing on the wall: Read the rest of this entry »

July 29, 2008

Transgressing sex and gender

Posted in body politics, gender, heteronormative, identity, phallocentrism, queer, sexual politics at 2:00 pm by LB

This is an provocative post at Jezebel about Buck Angel, a popular adult film actor who is a transman who hasn’t had, and doesn’t want, genital surgery. Author Megan argues that he is a feminist hero, and I find her discussion compelling.

But this comment was the best:

I want to understand. Really, I do. Brain is just not computing “man who doesn’t want a penis”.

The idea of a person who feels they’re a man but does not feel that a male identity depends on having a penis is extremely transgressive and threatening. Our society conceives of sexuality and attraction/desire in terms of genitals. Thus desiring men=desiring penises. In terms the cultural construction of male sexual activity, penises are absolutely crucial. Many feel that technically, no “sex” takes place without penile penetration

I’ve never really outlined this on my blog, but my personal ideas about sexuality and desire are along the lines of sexuality as fluid (not a permanent identity), that there are “a thousand tiny sexes” (not just binary male/female and gay/straight/bi), that sex acts are not definitive of sexuality, and that homophobia is a big part of heteronormative masculinity…and more.

Sure, I think sexual parts are important. To a degree. But I have also had discussion with people who say they are more attracted to x people (personalities) but to y bodies. Yet in mainstream notions about sexuality (same-sex or hetero), these ought to align. But why should they? And why can’t personality or physical attraction play different roles or emphases in our intimate relationships? I would argue that they already do…but not across gender lines.

For all we talk about transgression, seeing the response to Buck Angel made me realize that perhaps only transgression within certain boundaries can really be tolerated, by hetero and LGBT communities alike. If that’s the case, how transgressive are those actions really?

So I’m really intrigued about the impossibility of comprehending why a (“real”) man wouldn’t want a penis…in our culture, what does that make him? And what does this anxiety say about our own phobias about sexuality?

July 16, 2008

Fleshbot: where men are for ‘gays,’ lesbians are for ‘straights,’ and the viewer is MALE

Posted in double standards, heteronormative, phallocentrism, pornography, representation, sexual politics at 12:00 pm by LB

I was reading a post on Violet Blue’s blog (NSFW) and she mentioned that Fleshbot (Gawker’s Sex and Porn blog) was doing a series on requests for sexual material that the readers want to see. I thought “cool” and checked it out, only to disappointedly discover the series has only been of women bodies. Sure, they had redheads or small-breasted women, but considering how hard impossible it is to find decent quality free pics of het guys for het women, I would have expected some of that.

But, as I would soon find out, my expectations were based on faulty assumptions. Because curiously, the tabs at the top of the main page say “gay” and “straight.” Guess what images are in the “gay” section? Naked men. And to their credit, just glancing down the 1st few archived pages, it seems like most of them are either actually gay or at least do gay male porn. The images in the “straight” section? Glancing at the first few archived pages, all women. One het couple, that was clearly focusing on the woman’s dirty bits. And several female couples or groups.

Silly me. Why should I have expected that “reader requests” would include het men on a site where gay=male viewer and straight=male viewer, and where lesbian imagery is classified as straight, not gay, just like the malestream Adult Video Awards. If my math is right, when men are shown in the “gay” section and women are shown in the “straight” section, that means that the assumed Fleshbot viewer=male, even thought their tagline, “Since 2003: where sex, porn, and the web collide,” doesn’t specify: mostly for if you’re a dude or a chick who only likes mainstream porn made for dudes. I mean, kudos (I suppose) for having a site with both gay and straight porn; if only your definitions of gay and straight weren’t so, well, male-centered.

I’m so f-ing sick of the blatant ignorance and erasure of female desire (het or queer) when it doesn’t comply with the “liberated girls [sic] take off their clothes!” and “liberated het chicks [sic] think other chicks are hot!” bullshit. Not that those aren’t/can’t be true. But there’s much more to women’s sexuality than what appeals to het men’s sexuality. And I find the refusal to allow het guys for het women to mingle in the “straight” section with all the stuff made for men, lest the het men might get threatened, or even worse, turned on! Heaven forbid a guy might actually have to look at a sexualized man’s body, or find out he might actually admire another guy’s sexuality. Or have to deal with his female significant other looking at porn focused on or equally focused on guy parts and not just lady parts. Cuz I guess it’s hot when your het girlfriend recognizes a woman as sexy but gross! gay! if a het guy does. Oh the double standards! Oh the repressive legacy of a half-assed sexual revolution that masquerades as “liberated”!

How about this radical idea, Fleshbot? How about divide your categories by content, i.e. solo male, solo female, group male, group female, and not by subject position, then viewers of whatever gender or sexuality can decide what content suits their desires instead of you heteronormatively and sexistly (yeah, I made that word up) deciding it for them, K?

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 »