Monthly Archives: December 2012

Boob. A Breast? Or a Fool?

e412ba0843ed5a18555a51ed4c185b32[1]The English language has more than 1000 words that sexually describe women or their body parts. Here are a few:

Babe, nymph, nymphomaniac, bimbo, fox, dog, beaver, freak, super freak, knockout, melons, tomatoes, whore, ho, dumb blond, shapely, pussy, boobs, hussy, slut, buxom, trim, troll, femme fatale, skank, goddess, jugs, bush, poontang, tart, loose, tramp, butch, bitch, Lolita, Betty, sex kitten, temptress, beast, promiscuous.

Sometimes neutral words take on a sexual meaning when they are applied to women. Call a man a professional and you’ll likely envision a doctor or a lawyer. But say, “She’s a professional” and “prostitute” may be the first thing that comes to mind.

An author was asked to rename a book title before publication. “The Position of Women in Society” seemed too suggestive.

“It’s easy” sounds like a simple task. “He’s easy,” might denote an easy grader. But say, “she’s easy,” and you’ll likely hear “sexually promiscuous.”

One-time courtesy titles, or even high titles, can take on sexual meanings. “Madam” is a polite way of addressing a woman. She may be the female head of household. But she may also be the female head of a house of prostitution. Mistress, another term for the female head of house, is now associated with adultery. “Lady” is a polite title. But “lady of the evening” is not. Even the highest status a woman can gain, “Queen” takes on sexual connotations when applied to a gay man or a “drag queen.”

And notice how these words are demeaning as well as sexual (“gay” is overcoming the stigma, but there’s  still a way to go). We could add drama queen and cootie queen to that mix.

Even the term boob, slang for a woman’s breast, is defined in the dictionary as, “a stupid or foolish person.” Odd that something so valued is also degraded. Is the appeal of boobs similar to the draw of a dumb blonde?

What difference does it all make?

In their work in anthropology, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf learned that words affect how we see. The Hopi Indians had no words to distinguish among the past, present, and future. And they had a difficult time with those concepts. Skiers are more attuned than most to different kinds of snow: powder, packed powder, corn, ice, slush, for example. Or, we so often use male terms to describe humanity – man, mankind, brotherhood, fellowship – that when people are asked to think of a person, a man generally comes to mind.

Words dig deep into our unconscious psyches, directing how we see ourselves and others. When we constantly hear sexual and pejorative terms describing women, women come to be sexualized and demeaned in our minds.

The language we learn is neither the fault of the men or the women of our society, in so far as baby girls and baby boys both grow up immersed in these words. What’s important is how we use language once we “get it,” and once we get that it matters.

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Is Sexism Men’s Fault?

2009-01-13-0obama[1]Is male dominance natural and normal? Did sex inequality arise as men’s brute strength cowed women into compliance? My students often think so, saying things like, “Men have always ruled,” as though it’s inevitable. Or, “Men are bigger and stronger so they can bully women into submission.”

I guess we’ve made some progress since I don’t also hear the old argument that women are naturally dependent.

Most people don’t know that men haven’t always been in charge.

When Europeans first made contact with America Indians they were amazed – and appalled – at their equality.

Matrilocal, the husband took his place with his wife’s family after marriage. Matrilineal, relatives were traced through the female line. Property passed through women. Killing a woman brought a double penalty.

Europeans were aghast that native men needed to speak with their wives before taking action!

Men and women both had tribal councils. If the men voted to go to war and the women disagreed, the women could refuse to provide corn (their staple) leaving the men backing down.

Other egalitarian cultures include the Arapesh, the !Kung, and Tahitians (before European contact), to name a few. In fact, it appears that parity was not uncommon prior to agriculture.

Inequality seems to have arisen not because men purposely tried to hurt women and help themselves, but via some seemingly innocuous routes, 1) agriculture and 2) attempts to avoid inbreeding via trading, selling, and stealing women (who could have more children and make the tribes larger and stronger). I’ll discuss these dynamics in a later post.

But we know that gender inequality is not predestined. And men do not inevitably try to dominate women through brute force.

Today many men work for women’s equality, too.

And I’d like to thank them.

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Saying “No” in 520 Languages

I’m Learning to Say No in 520 Languages

I’m Learning to Say No in 520 Languages

How often do I hear my brain screaming NO as I smile and say yes? These random words are all “NO” in different languages. So I am learning to say no in 520 languages, most importantly mine, NO.

Artist, Karen Gutfreund, works with unconventional materials: roof tar, bone, red food coloring, wax… As she moves against standards and customs, is she saying NO even as she works as an artist?

She has good reason to go against the flow. We all do.

Her work strikes a chord with a piece I once read entitled, “Betrayed by the Angel”:

I’m 25 years old. I’m alone in my apartment. I hear a knock. I open the door and see a face I don’t know. The man scares me, I don’t know why. My first impulse is to shut the door. But I stop myself: You can’t do something like that. It’s rude… He is inside. He slams the door shut himself and pushes me against the wall… Since he is being rude, it is okay for me to be rude back.

Despite the young woman’s revelation that rudeness can be good, it was too late. She was raped.

Some feel queasy at self-defense seminars when told to gouge out an attacker’s eyes. “Could I do something less gruesome?” someone asks. Advice from the expert: “He’s bigger than you. If you try something weaker he’ll overtake you and you’ll be raped or dead.”

I had it easier. But not really easy. He was a guy from church, and we were dating. At church we didn’t have double standards. Men and women were both told to stay pure. I was so inexperienced and naïve that when he touched me outside my clothes, but at “third base,” I froze in shock. Was he really doing that? I didn’t want to be rude. In guarding his feelings I paid a price, smacked with the label, “loose.”

Virginia Woolf speaks of the Angel in the House. Some scattered lines:

You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her – you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House… She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish… She sacrificed herself daily… She preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others…

I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defense. Had I not killed her she would have killed me.

This piece was originally shown at “CONTROL,” an exhibition of  California women artists presented by The Women’s Caucus for Art at New York’s Ceres Gallery, February 1 – February 26th, 2011.

For more on Karen Gutfreund’s work go to her website.

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Sex Drive: How Men, Women Match Up

How-to-Increase-Sex-Drive[1]Data overwhelmingly show that men typically have a higher sex drive than women, says UNLV psychology professor, Marta Meana. At least as measured by the frequency of fantasy, masturbation and sexual activity.

WebMD concurs, noting that study after study shows men with the stronger drive: “Men want sex more often than women at the start of a relationship, in the middle of it, and after many years of it,” according to Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State.

Most men under 60 think about sex at least once a day, but only one-quarter of women do. Older men fantasize less, but still twice as often as their female counterparts. Men say they want more sex partners in their lifetime, they are more interested in casual sex, and they are much more likely than women to buy sex.

Norah Vincent passed as a man in an attempt to get inside the male psyche. After living as a “man” among men for a year and a half, she described the male sex drive as “relentless,” an “obsession with f’ing.” Male reviewers of Self-Made Man found her insights credible.

Of course, the male sex drive exists along a continuum, but it’s hard to imagine a woman making this comment about her unrelenting thoughts of sex with men.

Someone needs to invent a drug which has no hormonal imbalance side-effects but is able to erase a man’s sex drive and attraction to women. It would increase productivity rates to incredible heights. I’d be free and happy. I’d feel complete. I’d be able to concentrate on my biochemistry studying.

Some women want more sex than their partners, but in general the pattern goes the other way.

Given their lower drive, it’s not surprising that women are also choosier. Most men find most women at least somewhat sexually attractive, whereas most women do not find most men sexually attractive at all, according to the University of Texas, Austin researchers who wrote Why Women Have Sex.

And, women are pickier about both “who” and “how.” They tend to want more connection and romance. Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, says that women’s desire “is more contextual, more subjective, more layered on a lattice of emotion.” She says, “For women there is a need for a plot — hence the romance novel. It is more about the anticipation, how you get there; it is the longing that is the fuel for desire.”

Life can be difficult with such a large gap between the sexes.

See this post in which biological and cultural factors that create the gap are discussed, along with how we might even things out.

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A Woman Slut-Shames, in Verse

35u7yq[1]By Rebecca Gardner

I’m always surprised at how women can foster sexism, themselves. I heard Nicki Minaj’s “Stupid Hoe” the other day and thought of the problem. She uses tough-girl guises, but she is far from modeling powerful womanhood.

The title, itself, says men may do as they please. Women may not.

Or how about these lines:

ice my wrists’ and I piss on bitches
you can suck my diz-nik,
if you take this jizz-ez.

Seeing through sexist eyes, she asserts that one woman might be superior to another, but she will never equal a man. And “piss(ing) on bitches” hardly promotes female solidarity or empowerment. The jab puts other women down just to raise Minaj up.

Meanwhile, she raps-idizes on male pleasure and the “diz-nik” as a symbol of male supremacy while the genitalia of “stupid hoes” fall short.

“Pretty bitches can only get in my posse”

In her video, Minaj wears several wigs, mostly blonde and coupled with big breasts, a big butt, and a fit body. She transforms herself into viewing pleasure – pleasure for men. And unless a woman is “beautiful,” she cannot be Minaj’s friend. She’s just a “stupid hoe.”

Beauty norms are unquestioned, eliminating room for individuality and self-expression while the camera pans from her butt to her bust, like that’s all she is, like that’s all sex is, and as if her power emerges only sexually.

And then she imprisons herself in a cage – not so powerful, after all. The camera flashes between images of her head and a leopard’s, creating a sense of Minaj as animal, sub-human.

“Stupid Hoe” cries out “hoe” nearly 50 times, and the n-word more than once. This sexist racism paints a clear picture: Minaj identifies with privileged white males.

Bitches play the back cause they know I’m the front man

Why does Minaj exalt white men — and herself — at black women’s expense?

She may have simply internalized racist and sexist norms so that these “isms” now live, unquestioned, in her head.

Or she shrewdly plays a game. She gains whatever power and status she can wrest from powerful men, while leaving a system that oppresses women intact. She gains even as she loses in this patriarchal bargain.

Underneath it all lies an illusion of power. 

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Sexual Objectification, The Harm

Dolce-Gabbana-Ad-Sexist[1]By   (Cross-posted at Ms. and Caroline Heldman’s Blog)

This is the second part in a series about how girls and women can navigate a culture that treats them like sex objects. (Part 1 can be found here.)

Sexual objectification is nothing new, but this latest era is characterized by greater exposure to advertising and increased sexual explicitness in advertising [PDF], magazines, television shows, movies [PDF], video games, music videos, television news, and “reality” television.

In a culture with widespread sexual objectification, women (especially) tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others. This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health  (clinical depression, “habitual body monitoring”), eating disorders, body shame, self-worth and life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, motor functioning, sexual dysfunction [PDF], access to leadership [PDF] and political efficacy [PDF]. Women of all ethnicities internalize objectification, as do men to a far lesser extent.

Beyond the internal effects, sexually objectified women are dehumanized by others and seen as less competent and less worthy of empathy by both men and women.  Furthermore, exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths (false notions about rape). Add to this the countless hours that some girls/women spend primping to garner heterosexual male attention, and the erasure of middle-aged and elderly women who have little value in a society that places women’s primary value on their sexualized bodies.

Hiromi Oshima Shoes

Theorists [PDF] have contributed to understanding the harm of objectification culture by pointing out the difference between sexy and sexual. If one thinks of the subject/object dichotomy that dominates Western culture, subjects act and objects are acted upon. Subjects are sexual, while objects are sexy.

Pop culture sells women and girls a hurtful fiction that their value lies in how sexy they appear to others; they learn at a very young age that their sexuality is for others. At the same time, sexuality is stigmatized in women but encouraged in men. We learn that men want and women want-to-be-wanted. The yardstick for women’s value (sexiness) automatically puts them in a subordinate societal position, regardless of how well they otherwise measure up. Perfectly sexy women are perfectly subordinate.

The documentary Miss Representation has received considerable mainstream attention, one indicator that the public is now recognizing the damaging effects of sexual objectification of women.

Widespread sexual objectification in U.S. popular culture creates a toxic environment for girls and women. The next two posts in this series provide ideas for navigating objectification culture in personally and politically meaningful ways.

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Guys, Girls Swap Roles at a Bar

Men ordering Raspberry Kamikazes at a bar as women make passes — and get shut down? This bit of videoed role swapping has gone viral.

The reel holds stereotypes but even they can contain kernels of truth. And anything that moves us out of our taken-for-granted ways sheds light.

Outside the video real women can order any sort of drink they want, but guys had better keep to manly brews or risk scorn. So in that way women have a bit more freedom.

But a freedom that is gained by ranking men over women. If women order manly drinks they aren’t lowering themselves, but when men order girly drinks they are. (Even the terms “manly” and “girly” are charged.)

Meanwhile, both sexes seem to think the other has more power. Probably because we get frustrated when we don’t have it.

Men have the power to assert themselves. They needn’t wait around to be asked. And if they want sex, well, that’s expected. But women must wait to be asked. And they may worry about reputations, leaving them more shamed and less sexually expressed. Repression lowers sex drive, too, lending women the passive power to care less. And whoever cares less has more power. But here, only with a sacrifice of sexual pleasure.

In the video all is topsy-turvy. Girls try to cut in and dance with guys who are dancing with each other — and get shafted. They intrude into private conversations and get spurned. Polite men utter, “Not now please.” Others are less civil.

The message can come across: “You’re not good enough.” It can be tough on a gal.

But it’s tough for guys too. An annoying girl moans, “Those are amazing jeans. They’d look so much better on my bedroom floor.”

A girl spies a guy in an unbuttoned button-down and beckons, “Hey, I like your necklace. Is that the key to your heart? … Don’t button it up! Oh, come on!”

Male objectification may be paired with assault as women grab men’s butts or pressure them to drink shots to lower their resistance.

Guys who want sex must face the repercussions of, “good guys don’t.” The next morning a young man fumbles for his clothes as the woman he has slept with cool-confidently asks if she should call him a cab. Embarrassed, he sneaks away in shame.

As Joanna Schroeder over at The Good Men Project observes, it all “seems so much more rude, more intrusive, more exclusive, more violent, sillier or more intimidating” when the tables are turned.

But with this new slant, maybe we can all gain a bit more understanding and empathy.

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Religious Cruelties

article-0-0D220DA8000005DC-480_468x503[1]Some wonder how morality can exist without religion. Yet too often religion submerges morality.

I recently wrote about religious men seeking therapy to overcome same-sex attraction. But the “therapy,” itself, seemed evil as men were shocked, given drugs to create nausea, told to strip naked and touch themselves in front of a counselor, or were forced to beat their mothers’ effigies.

Not long ago an Irish woman died because her doctors would not perform an abortion:

Despite her rising pain, doctors refused her request for an abortion for three days because the fetus had a heartbeat. She died in the hospital from blood poisoning three days after the fetus died and was surgically removed.

Her husband was left asking,

When they knew the baby was not going to survive, why not think about the bigger life which was the mother, my wife Savita? And they didn’t.

In the not-so-distant past some devout Irish doctors broke their patients’ pelvises to prevent miscarriage. The painful operation often caused chronic back pain, incontinence, and crippling. As one woman explained,

It ruined my life. I have two titanium knees, a bad back and I think about it every day. It was 53 years ago… They were torturers. They didn’t care. I was a thing.

Another described the procedure:

I saw the hacksaw. He started cutting my bone and my blood spurted up like a fountain. [She remembers the doctor looking annoyed that he had gotten her blood on his glasses]. You’ll never get rid of [the pain] until you’re not living anymore.

Not long ago a Polish woman named Edyta died because each doctor she approached refused to treat her colon condition, fearing an operation might lead to miscarriage or abortion. She could have expected refusals had she lived in Italy, Hungary, or Croatia, too, because in each of these places doctors may refuse treatment on moral grounds. Apparently, letting a woman die is not a part of the moral compass. The fetus died, anyway.

In North African countries the clitoris or vulvas of young girls are routinely cut with dirty razors and parts are removed to deaden sexual sensitivity, “making them pure.” Some die of infection, many are crippled, and most live in pain.

In other places brothers kill sisters over any “sexual impropriety,” including marrying who you want, being alone with a boy, looking at a boy, or rape.

In Saudi Arabia girls in night clothes were once forced back into a burning building to die so as to protect men from their immodesty.

The religious Taliban ordered a girl’s nose and ears cut off when she ran away from her abusive in-laws.

And don’t forget the Inquisition, the Crusades and the witch hunts.

I could go on.

Really, how callus can your religious beliefs make you?

The Golden Rule must be hiding around here somewhere.

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“Fat Actress” Is Most Desirable Woman

hunger-games-katniss-everdeen_458[1]It seems that just yesterday Jennifer Lawrence was deemed a fat actress — in Hollyweird, anyway. But now she’s been named Most Desirable Woman” by more than 2.4 million AskMen readers. Also on the list were her sisters in non-starvation, Christina Hendricks and Kim Kardashian.

But actually, different sizes, shapes, colors and ages are on this list, too. And in a truly revolutionary move:

These men were tasked with voting on more than just sex appeal, taking into account character, intelligence, talent, sense of humor, professional success, achievements in 2012 and potential for 2013.

And as a result, “a new breed of women have changed the definition of ‘desirability’” read one headline.

And so the list includes non-voluptuous celebs with Mila Kunis at #2, along with Kristen Stewart and Kate Middleton.

Women of different colors were named: Rihanna, Selena Gomez and Lucy Liu, among them.

You needn’t be a classic beauty, either. Check out Emma Stone and Claire Danes, who got her start playing a very ordinary teen.

Even the over-40 set was lauded, including Sofia Vergara, Sarah Silverman and Rachel Weisz.

Powerful women were also among the most desirable, including Michelle Obama, Marissa Mayer, President and CEO of Yahoo! and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the Russian activist-punk group Pussy Riot.

As feminism has spread men have become less intimidated by, and more appreciative of, strong women. James Bassil, the Editor-In-Chief of AskMen, put it this way:

The top-rated women on AskMen’s 12th edition of the Top 99 Most Desirable Women list speaks to men’s growing comfort with strong and independent partners.

It speaks to men’s growing confidence in themselves, as well.

I’m not thrilled about ranking women. But perhaps this varied list that moves beyond looks will encourage more women to move outside the one-dimensionality of narrow beauty norms and help us to broaden and grow greater confidence in ourselves, too.

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How Women Feel About Porn

women-internet-pornograph-007[1]When it comes to women and porn, you’re going to get a lot of different reactions. Sometimes women’s feelings conflict with one another. Sometimes a woman’s feelings conflict within herself.

For some, it’s an acquired taste. A woman named Aaliyah was grossed out the first time she saw an explicit video at a high school homecoming party. Now she looks at porn about once a month, but she likes movies with a story. And she’s disgusted by the brutal stuff. Like Aaliyah, most female fans like a different type than men – less hard-core, more plot.

When it comes to strip clubs many women are tolerant or even enthusiastic. Forty-three percent of Cosmo’s readers and 51% of Elle’s had visited a strip club. And most didn’t mind if their partners indulged (52%). Of course, Cosmo and Elle fans aren’t your typical American woman.

Still, only one out of 50 site subscribers are women. Or apparently women. The main billing agent for these sites flag feminine names because the charges too often result in angry wives or moms refusing to pay.

Then there are women who want to like porn to be “cool” or to be a good girlfriend, but who actually don’t so much. A woman named Ashley says all her female friends act like they are good with porn, but she doesn’t buy it. She thinks they go along because, “Guys think it’s really uncool for women to get pissed off about it.” Another woman named Mia said that at first she wanted to be the cool girlfriend. But after a while it seemed her guy was more turned on by the TV than her.

At the other end, one third of women who are married to cybersex buffs consider it cheating and feel betrayed. As a woman named Ashley explained, “Because you’re getting off to other people, not the person you’re with. How is that supposed to make me feel?”

Or, women resent time not spent with families — and with them, in bed or otherwise. One said she felt thrown away.

Women may also worry that they aren’t enough, or aren’t good enough, or attractive enough. Their body image suffers. And then their sex life wanes.

Those who encountered porn when they were very young may like it more. In a book called “Pornified,” which tells of men’s and women’s experiences with pornography, the women who seemed to like it most had encountered it as young girls, liked it right away, and kept going with it. I’ve found similar instances among my students who say they discovered it young and found it arousing. I should add that girls who stumble upon it are more likely than boys to be upset, by a rate of 35% to 6%. About 40% of boys and girls felt their first encounter was no big deal.

Maybe young girls like it more because they aren’t concerned with how they look compared to other women, they have no boyfriends to feel jealous about, and they are less repressed. Repression can increase over time as women learn that sexually interested women are sluts, as they become distracted by their “imperfect” bodies, or suffer from sexual abuse.

When it comes to porn, women are of many minds.

Source: Pornified

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