Monthly Archives: May 2012
I thought of this as I read a piece called, “Betrayed by the Angel,” by Debra Anne Davis.
When Debra was little, a boy named “Hank C” kept jabbing his pencil into her arm as she sat in her third-grade classroom. It hurt, but she didn’t want to be mean. When she finally got up the nerve to tell her teacher, she was told, “You go back to your seat and tell me if he does it again.” She sat mum.
At age 25 a stranger rapped on her door. She opened it a crack and immediately wanted to slam it. The man scared her.
But she didn’t want to be rude.
He forced the door open and pushed her against a wall.
I want to open the door and shut him outside and then slam the door in his face, rude or not, I don’t care now. Frankly, I don’t push him aside with much determination. I’ve made a mental choice to be rude, but I haven’t been able to muster the physical bluntness the act requires.
And she was raped.
When Debra became a teacher she asked her students what their parents taught them that they would not teach their children. One student said, “My parents always told me to be kind to everyone. I won’t teach my children that. It’s not always good to be kind to everyone.”
Debra wishes she had learned that lesson sooner. Now she knows she shouldn’t always be nice.
My story neither starts nor ends like hers.
I have a memory that I wish were only a bad dream.
I wasn’t feeling well and stayed home from school that day. Soon after my mother left to pick up my cousin from school, my uncle came home. It happened so fast. He bribed me to let him in my room. I was young and didn’t understand why he wanted to do that. So I let him. He pinned me to the bed and started kissing my neck. I told him that my mom would be home any minute. He stopped and bribed me not to tell anyone. I agreed just so he would leave me alone.
I had seen TV shows where children were raped and the rapist warned that he would kill the family if they said anything, but it never happened. So I did tell my mom what happened as soon as she got home, crying through the whole thing. My uncle never touched me again.
I believe that how I reacted had a lot to do with where I grew up, in East Palo Alto, surrounded by violence. A place where you must stand up for yourself.
Like Debra, I still find it hard to talk to men I don’t know. Not because I don’t want to, but out of fear. But unlike Debra, I do speak out loud and clear because I want to be heard.
I agree that parents should not teach their children to always be nice.
This post was written by one of my students, who asked to remain anonymous.
When women lose their virginity, they can lose self-esteem, too, experiencing a small drop. That’s what a recent Penn State study reveals.
Women college students were surveyed over time. Before sex the women felt increasingly good about their bodies. But after first sex they felt worse. Looks like when they’re in bed women start worrying about whether they look good enough. Masters and Johnson tagged the phenomenon of watching yourself from a third person perspective instead of focusing on sexual sensations or your partner, “spectatoring.” Women are much more prone, being the objectified. Then, feeling they don’t measure up, self-worth drops.
Other usual suspects may also affect self-esteem, including the double standard that provokes worries about labels like slut and whore. Tracy Clark-Flory over at salon.com points to a 1995 study that found “women were significantly more likely to report that their first sexual experience left them feeling less pleasure, satisfaction, and excitement than men, and more sadness, guilt, nervousness, tension, embarrassment, and fear.” Even now women continue to experience that bind.
The double standard strikes again when women feel used, unappreciated, and worried about reputations after short flings or one-night stands.
Meanwhile, a study I recently posted finds 35% of women in strong partnerships feeling sad, anxious, restless, or irritable, after sex. Researchers don’t know why. Commenters, speculating on their own experience with the phenomenon, fingered sexual repression or difficulties with orgasm (which are related to repression) as culprit.
Studies repeatedly find that women are less likely than men to enjoy sex. Other research suggests the problem is not biologically based, or inevitable. Women in sex-positive cultures enjoy sexuality a great deal.
We are going to have to move beyond sexism for women to reclaim their sexuality. That would benefit both women and men.
Random Moms across America think they know: My son has got to be gay. He wears khakis today but wore a dress to school from age 4 to 6; he used to do ballet and still doesn’t like sports; in preschool he was all about playing princess but now is all about Pokemon; and, in spite of the clear gender divisions in third grade, he plays with both girls and boys. I mean, what straight boy is into that kinda freaky gender mash-up?
This mom knows better, and she goes on to remark that, actually, butch boys can grow up to be gay, and fem boys can grow up to be straight.
Interestingly, few moms worry that their little tomboys will grow up to be lesbians.
But this mom gets LOADS of advice on how to turn her son “boyish.” Take away the girly toys and clothes, and enroll him in sports!
So much worry about girly boys.
Yet what we think of as “girl stuff” turns out to be “boy stuff” in other times and places.
Boys shouldn’t wear pink? Years ago the country staged a great debate on whether pink or blue should designate girls or boys. Some advocated pink for boys – such a robust color! Blue is so dainty.
The Cabbage Patch craze of the last generation led a lot of boys to want dolls. One of my little boy cousins got one for Christmas. Today most people would call him a manly man, complete with wife and baby. (And G.I. Joe is a doll, too.)
Ancient Roman men wore skirts, though the one on the left is armored! (A likely relief to some macho men out there.) Other Roman men wore dresses (robes).
And we mustn’t forget men in tights, circa “Romeo and Juliet.”
Moving on to the court of the “Sun King,” Louis XIV, we find him wearing lots of lace, ruffles, curls, and color. And gracefully posed!
The American founding fathers had considerably less glitz, but they still wore more color, lace, ruffles, and curls than most men today would be caught dead in. They also hired instructors to help present a more graceful appearance. One of my male students asked, “Ok, but what did the manly men wear?” This is what they wore!
In more modern times, Scottish men can still be partial to skirts, though they call them kilts. Below are traditional and more recent versions of the garment.
Judges, priests, and scholars also continue to wear “dresses” today.
Perhaps the most surprising expressions of manhood come from a culture entirely different from our own: the Wodaabe of Nigeria in Africa. There, men adorn themselves with makeup and jewelry. Because white eyes and teeth are part of the beauty ideal for men, they often roll their eyes and show their teeth to show off these features.
In our own time and place there’s Rod Stewart, who seems to be strongly hetero by all accounts. But check out these shots:
© Chris Walter
There’s a difference between sex and gender. Sex is biologically-based. It’s made up of our genes (xx for girls, xy for boys), hormones (testosterone, estrogen), anatomy (vagina, penis, breasts, etc.). But gender is all made up. Or what cultures make up to mark biological differences.
If clothing, makeup, jewelry and toys aren’t naturally “boy” or “girl” things, how can doing “boy” or “girl” things mark sexual orientation?
From time to time men’s magazines exalt body types that vary from the tall, skinny, buxom shape they typically flaunt. True, the lovely ladies on Maxim’s and FHM’s “Hot 100” lists look pretty much the same, but it’s nice to see a little branching out now and again, so let’s celebrate what we can.
Small Busted Bombshells
While buxom breasts are a highly appreciated part of the female form, Mila Kunis was just named #3 on Maxim’s Hot 100, which considers their picks “the definitive list” of the world’s most beautiful women. Mila also made #9 on FHM where male readers vote for their faves. Also on that list are Kristin Stewart, Paris Hilton, Pippa and her sister Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. And Keira Knightly once made FHM’s #1 hottest hottie.
Slim figures are also admired, but Kim Kardashian, along with Scarlett Johansson and pear-shaped Jennifer Lopez, made FHM’s top 100 this year. And, Christina Hendricks, “Joan” of Mad Men, was picked as a “Girls We Love” covergirl.
When women see men gaping in appreciation of Joan’s full figure, I’m sure they are better able to appreciate their own curves. And when Mila Kunis asked Justin Timberlake if her breasts were too small in “Friends With Benefits,” I’m sure plenty of women were happy to hear him respond, “They’re breasts, aren’t they?” No problem. And then he falls in love.
Opening up the ideal is good for both women and men, even if there is still far to go.
When a woman sees herself as beautiful her self-esteem rises. It’s also easier to feel sexy. And when she feels sexier her interest in sex rises, too. She isn’t distracted, wondering if she’s attractive enough. And, women tend to get aroused by feeling that their partners see them as alluring. Plus, when men see that the ladies they love resemble Maxim’s Top 100 in some way, they can more easily see the beauty of their partners.
I suspect most women overestimate how harshly men see them and I suspect that most men are more accepting of women’s bodies than women are, themselves. So that’s good news ladies.
Our society’s ideals don’t have to determine our self-esteem, but they usually play a heavy role both in how we see ourselves and in how others see us. And so while we can work to move beyond the superficial, we’d all benefit if our culture expanded its notions of beauty, too.
“Hysteria,” tells how vibrators were created. Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville fabricated the device around 1880 to cure “hysterical paroxysm,” a condition that had been concerning the medical community since Hippocrates.
Symptoms included anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, fluid retention, insomnia and erotic fantasy, and was thought to result from a blocked reproductive system. The cure involved clitoral stimulation to orgasm. But women should not necessarily administer the cure themselves. As The Guardian explained:
Avicenna, the Muslim founder of early modern medicine, advised women not to treat themselves for the condition. It was, he wrote, “a man’s job, suitable only for husbands and doctors.”
So strangely, vibrators were created as a medical device having nothing to do with women’s pleasure – or so the good doctors thought. Sex, in fact, was believed to have little to do with women’s satisfaction at that time.
Vibrator as medicine and not sex aid? That’s probably why it managed to be the fifth electrical device to be mass marketed at the turn of the last century, right after the sewing machine, the fan, the kettle and the toaster. And that’s certainly why Sears was selling it in their 1918 catalog.
In bringing women’s sexuality to the screen, Hollywood has changed direction. There, sexuality had always been about men’s, with women’s body parts the focus of male desire.
The notion that sex is for men, while women look good for them, seems to have real-world impacts. In casual college hookups women often give men blow jobs while they go without, reasoning that men need sex but they don’t so much. Or, Caroline Heldman, Assistant Professor at Occidental College, found that women are often focused on how their bodies create men’s pleasure while ignoring how they feel sexually, themselves.
Meanwhile, women’s sexuality is thought more dirty and unspeakable, with lots of choice words to describe the sexual woman (slut, ho, skank…). Or, Viagra ads appear on TV but aids for the female libido are off limits. Including vibrators, which have even been banned in some states. Not surprisingly, “Hysteria” took seven years to make because producers balked. As producer Tracey Becker, explained,
When it came right down to it, we had this script which dealt with these very blush-inducing themes and most of the time it was in the hands of a male executive, who had the veto power.
With a slate of female directors making films like “Hysteria,” “Take This Waltz,” “Elles,” “2 Days in New York,” and on the small screen, “Sex and the City” and “Girls,” women’s sexuality is beginning to come out of the Hollywood closet.
A 43-year-old German man met a 47-year-old woman in a bar. He went to her home and had sex with her, but when he wanted to leave she trapped him and demanded more. Seeing no other choice he agreed, expecting that afterwards she would let him go. But more wasn’t enough. Desperate, he fled out a balcony and cried for help.
She met her next victim on a bus. After his ordeal he was found “sobbing in the street” and begging the police, “Oh God, it was hell. I can’t walk. Please help me.” Sounds like she wounded him to prevent his escape.
Police charged her with sexual assault and illegal restraint. Yet the press is not calling her what she is: a rapist.
Beneath a photo of a couple in bed, the Mirror described the woman as a “nymphomaniac” while the Province posted the story next to a couple pictured blissfully in bed, and called the woman merely “insatiable.”
The inability to see this as rape likely stems from stereotypes about what rape is and who commits it.
Some people simply can’t conceive that men can be raped or that women can rape men. And that is likely mixed up with notions that men always want sex, and are – or should be – insatiable, themselves. And then there’s the belief that men can always overpower women, regardless of “technical help.”
Other stereotypes hold for both male and female victims. Such as, “What do you expect if you go to his/her apartment?” Or, “Once you say ‘yes’ you can’t say ‘no.’”
Some believe “rape myths” (false notions about rape) because that’s what they’ve always heard. Others hold to them because they make them feel safe. If a woman believes that only “bad girls” get raped, then she can feel more safe and secure. If a man believes that women can’t rape men, then he can feel secure, too.
Some just don’t get that rape means “sex without consent.”
FDA-approved Cellulaze can get rid of cellulite with one doctor’s visit. The cost ranges from $2,500 to $12,000 but the procedure promises long-lasting results.
Only problem is that cellulite doesn’t actually need curing. Ninety percent of women past puberty have it. It’s simply the way women’s fat lays on their bodies. If you are a woman without cellulite there may be a problem, such as too-low bodyweight.
While cellulite is perfectly natural, Cellulaze works by singeing healthy connective fibers inside your body with a laser. It may be FDA-approved but this doesn’t sound too healthy.
Once upon a time cellulite was thought beautiful, as with the voluptuous women Rubens painted happily dancing in their dimpled flesh.
In her book, The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf points out that cellulite was classified as unsightly, disfiguring and “polluted with toxins” by Vouge in 1973.
Untrue. But a good way to sell magazines offering advice, along with products and procedures advertised in their pages to hide or get rid of it.
Wolf goes on to observe:
Women’s flesh, you could acknowledge, is textured, rippled, dense, and complicated; and the way fat is laid down on female muscle, on the hips and thighs that cradle and deliver children and open for sex, is one of the most provocative qualities of the female body. Or you could turn this into an operable condition…
How can an “ideal” be about women if it is defined as how much of a female sexual characteristic does not exist on the woman’s body?
Do we need a cure for cellulite? Or do we need to cure a sick society that is obsessed with finding ways to make women feel bad about themselves? And might the best remedy be love for your body instead?
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In a New York Magazine piece entitled “He’s Just Not That Into Anyone” Davy Rothbart, 36, admitted faking orgasm. (Apparently it’s easier for men to fake if they use a condom. Without, they can claim having had a small one.) Rothbart eliminated various possibilities. Antidepressants weren’t causing his E.D. And he got plenty of exercise. It didn’t matter which woman he was with, or what kind of condom he used, or whether he’d had alcohol, or how much.
But after learning that men were increasingly suffering from delayed ejaculation, and increasingly faking it, he began wondering if a “tsunami of porn” accompanied by “over-masturbation” were the culprits, as suggested by sexuality counselor, Ian Kerner.
Rothbart began interviewing others with this problem.
One man was always hard as nails with porn, but couldn’t get anything up with his lady. Another said, “I used to race home to have sex with my wife. Now I leave work a half-hour early so I can get home before she does and masturbate to porn.”
Another had no problem getting aroused by his wife but, “In order to come, I’ve got to resort to playing scenes in my head that I’ve seen while viewing porn. Something is lost there. I’m no longer with my wife; I’m inside my own head.”
And so the real women in their lives fade away as a computer takes over.
Rothbart explains, “For a lot of guys, switching gears from porn’s fireworks and whiz-bangs to the comparatively mundane calm of ordinary sex is like leaving halfway through an Imax 3-D movie to check out a flipbook.”
Typically when a man has sex a combination of dopamine and oxytocin are released with orgasm, creating an emotional attachment to his partner. But increasingly, men are bonding with porn. Their brains are being rewired.
A cure is available: step away from the computer. Rothbart went without for a few days and no longer had to fake it.
Pamela Paul found this same phenomenon when she interviewed men about their pornography habits for her book, Pornified. Those who over-imbibed found it increasingly difficult to get it up with real women but gained relief when they decreased their porn consumption.
The problem isn’t porn so much as overexposure. Are you overexposed? Well, if you’ve experienced E.D. with real women but not with a computer screen, it’s likely.
Read Rothbart’s complete essay here: New York Magazine.
South African Dr. Sonnet Ehlers was on call one night four decades ago when a devastated rape victim walked in. Her eyes were lifeless; she was like a breathing corpse. “She looked at me and said, ‘If only I had teeth down there,’” recalled Ehlers, who was a 20-year-old medical researcher at the time. “I promised her I’d do something to help people like her one day.”
Dr. Ehlers eventually created a product she calls Rape-aXe. It’s a condom women wear that is inserted like a tampon. It has jagged teeth-like hooks that attach themselves to a penis and won’t come off without a doctor. “It hurts, he cannot pee and walk when it’s on,” Ehlers explained. “If he tries to remove it, it will clasp even tighter… however, it doesn’t break the skin, and there’s no danger of fluid exposure.”
She says that South African women are already resorting to extreme measures, like hiding razor blades in sponges in their vaginas.
Those extremes are caused by living in the “Rape Capital of the World” where a 17-year-old’s gang-rape recently went viral and where 40% of women say their first sexual experience was forced. A University of South Africa study estimated that 2,777 assaults are committed per day, totaling one million a year. The South African Law Commission believes the rate is even higher at 1.69 million per year. Sixty-five percent of victims are gang-raped. Forty percent are children.
Given what the condom is responding to, some criticisms sound odd, as when likening the device to “barbarous” and “medieval” torture. Dr. Ehlers admits, “Yes, my device may be medieval, but it’s for a medieval deed that has been around for decades.” More like millennia.
On the more practical side, others worry that it would only work if the rapist didn’t know it was there, didn’t remove it, didn’t resort to oral or anal rape, and didn’t simply begin raping younger girls.
And so the gadget would likely only work with a large-scale buy-in that was not publicized so that it could be used to identify rapists (who must go to a doctor) to get them off the streets.
So far Rape-aXe has not had any widespread distribution that would indicate its potential for rape-prevention.
The biggest problem is that the condom neglects the core issue: men feeling disempowered and using rape to regain a sense of power, while also venting their rage on women.
Last week I wrote about Stella Marr who had been kidnapped and forced into prostitution, but who eventually escaped. Below is a letter she wrote to her younger, enslaved self. With details changed it is good advice for anyone, especially those who have lived through trauma.
Words of wisdom from a survivor:
By Stella Marr @ Secret Life of a Manhattan Call Girl
Dear twenty-year old Stella,
Work hard on learning to ask for help. It’s the only way you’ll ever break free. No one ever does anything alone. You don’t have to.
You’ll learn how to make the men happy. The happier they are the nicer they treat you. You’ll get very good at being a hooker. But when the Johns say “baby you were born for this” that doesn’t mean it’s true.
Now when most men come near, you feel a stabbing at your eyes, your throat, and your gut that you know isn’t real. You don’t want to admit it but you’re terrified. You start, you tremble. Your hands shake. Think about it, you’re being stabbed a lot these days. This is a quite reasonable reaction to being used by man after man, day after day, in this prison of a brothel. It doesn’t mean you are so miserably flawed that you can’t do anything but be a hooker.
Being a hooker doesn’t make you subhuman. It’s not OK for your (white) pimps to smack you and tell you they’ll kill you.
You have to work up the nerve to pay a cashier for a soda. You’re too scared to ask that guy behind the deli counter to make you a sandwich. This isn’t weakness, it’s biology. Trauma changes your brain. Your hippocampus, where you form narrative memory in the brain, shrinks. This is a symptom of PTSD – a neurophysiologic response to repetitive trauma – not evidence that you deserve to be in prostitution.
In the middle of the winter in the middle of the night when that guy in the Doubletree suite invites you to sit while he pours you a seltzer trust your gut and back out of there before the five guys you can’t see who are waiting in the bedroom have a chance to get between you and the door.
Being vulnerable means you’re alive. There’s no shame in it. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person. You don’t have to apologize for doing what you must to survive.
When Samantha stops working for your pimp, Johnny, find her and make her get out of the city. Otherwise two weeks later Nicole, the madam who works with Johnny, will show you Samantha’s diamond initial ring and tell you Johnny murdered her. Though you’ll always hope she was lying, you doubt it.
You’ve lost all sense of the linear — time disappeared and you felt it leave. Now you’re living in the immediate and eternity. It’s scary and bewildering, but you need this — you need each moment to stretch infinitely so that you can be acutely aware of each man’s tiny movements and shifts in expression, which can reveal a threat before it happens. This hyperawareness will save your life. One day you’ll see this being untethered from time as a kind of grace.
When that shiny classical pianist you meet at Au Bon Pain says he wants to know everything about you don’t believe him.
A lot of what’s happening doesn’t make sense now but it will later. That habit you have of writing poems in your mind to the beloved you haven’t met yet as you’re riding in cabs to calls? There’s something to it.
Your ability to perceive beauty is part of your resilience and survival. When a man is on top of you watch the wind-swirled leaves out his window. Seize the gusty joy you feel as you run three blocks to a bodega to buy condoms between calls at 3 AM. When you think for a minute you see that friend, who’s death you never got over, standing in the brassy light under a weeping linden, be grateful. All this has a purpose.
Being a hooker can seem to mean you’ve lost everything you hoped to be, but that’s not true. You’ve splintered into a million pieces, but you’re still you. You’re alive. It’s in the spaces between those pieces where you learn to feel how other people are feeling. It hurts so much you’re sure it’ll kill you, but it won’t. Later when you’re out of the life it’ll be so easy to be happy. The mundane will buoy you.
When your madam sends you to the Parker Meridien at 3 AM and you meet a British professor who says he wants to help you, believe him. He will set you up in a beautiful condominium across from Lincoln Center that he deeds in your name. Of course you’ll have everything to do with this — you are so “good” at being a hooker, so “good” at fucking that you can make a guy want to buy you a condo. Shame is a hollow stone in the throat.
During the two years that this voracious man ‘keeps’ you as his private prostitute the condo will come to feel like a platinum trap. But it’s still your chance to get out and heal. Take it.
After you’ve sold the condominium and are living in a graduate dorm at Columbia University, a man with eyes like blue shattered glass will sit beside you in the cafeteria. When he begins to speak you know he’s the unmet beloved you’ve been writing poems to all these years. You’ll try to run away, but he won’t let you. Fourteen years later the two of you will be hiking through pink granite outcroppings with your Labrador retriever. You’ll feel like the freest woman in the world.
One afternoon when you’re twenty-one you’ll be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with your best friend Gabriel, who’s a hustler, a male prostitute. When he says you ‘remind him of his death’ don’t lash back. Even though he told you the doctor said he didn’t have that rare new virus named AIDS, it would behoove you to realize he’s still coughing.
Stop thinking about your own hurt. Don’t lash back with that vicious phrase your mother’s said to you so many times – “I hope you die a slow death.” Don’t tell Gabriel you never want to see him again and storm out of the sculpture gallery. Or it will be the last time you see him. Gabriel will die of AIDS five months later. When he said you reminded him of ‘his own death’ he was trying to tell you he was dying. You’ll regret what you said for the rest of your life. But even more you’ll regret running away from his friendship.
Say forgive me.
Say I love you.
This was originally posted By Stella Marr @ Secret Life of a Manhattan Call Girl and is reposted here by permission.