Monthly Archives: April 2012
If you say, “That’s bitchin!” it’s good. But if she’s bitchin, she’s annoying. If “Life’s a bitch,” things are difficult. If “She’s a bitch!” she’s difficult, she won’t give ground. (He thinks that’s bad.) If “I’m a bitch!” I stand my ground. (I think that’s baaad – but in a good way!) But if “She’s my bitch” or “He’s my bitch,” that bitch is submissive.
So which is it? Does a bitch stand her ground? Or does she submit? I guess the words “a” vs “my” make all the difference. Taking someone who stands her ground and making her succumb is, apparently, a huge triumph.
The contradictions continue. Two sitcoms, “Don’t trust the B— in Apt. 23” and “GCB” were first pitched as “Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23” and “Good Christian Bitches.” In fact, “Good Christian Bitches” was transformed to “Good Christian Belles” before finally becoming the non-descript “GCB.” So network execs shun the b-word in series titles even as actors spew those same words on air.
The networks like the hip, cool titillation the word suggests.
Titillation, as in: “bitch,” defined as a woman who will have sex with anyone – “except me.” (And earlier, defined as a female breeding dog.) Bitch being quite different from a stud (a male breeding horse).
Bitch as hip and cool? It’s cool to demean women, as in “the Bitch in Apt. 23”? Or, it’s cool that women celebrate their independence, as in “GCB”?
Women reclaim this word that has been used to debase and dominate them. But others still use it to insult and control – and then say, “Well, you women use the word yourselves.” (Blacks use the n-word themselves, yet few non-blacks think that grants them the same permission.)
This shape shifter may reflect our society’s contradictory views of women. On the one hand women are strong and amazing; on the other, women are belittled and demeaned.
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By Sherrill Lawrence
The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.
– William Shakespeare from The Merchant of Venice.
I am annoyed by people who comb the bible for scriptural passages that support their personal prejudices — in this case, homophobia.
Two of their favorites are found in the laws of Leviticus (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 17:1-24). Leviticus instructs on the proper way to make burnt offerings, lists animals we may or may not eat; instructs on how long a woman is “unclean” after giving birth; tells men how to trim their beards, plant crops, breed cattle, and so on.
I find it interesting that “Christians” pick two verses out of a couple hundred to justify their hatred. I say, if that one “law” is as legitimate now as it was then, then they all are. Not only should decent God-fearing people hate homosexuals, they should stone fortune tellers, adulterers, and children who swear at their parents — that is after trimming their beards just so and smashing the crockery that a lizard fell into.
And by the way, Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed because they broke the laws of hospitality. The ancient Hebrews were supposed to feed, shelter, and protect strangers, even if they were of a different religion, and even if they were an enemy. The men of Sodom violated that law when they demanded that Lot send out his guests to be raped. Of course, it didn’t help Sodom any that Lot’s guests were angels.
Why do “Christians” root around in the Hebrew bible — aka the Old Testament — for rules of behavior anyway? The title Christian means “a follower of Christ’s teachings.”
In Matthew, Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In Luke, a lawyer, looking for a loophole asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. Since Samaritans were the (insert favorite ethnic slur here) of His day, the story clearly means everyone is our neighbor whether we like them or not.
“Christians” looking for loopholes quote portions of three letters from Paul – yes, Paul — who never met Jesus or heard him speak and began his career hunting down early Christians, and who (among other questionable statements) said long hair is a disgrace to a man. Hear that Jesus? Get a haircut.
If you want Jesus’ opinion on the subject of homosexuality, read the Gospels. Jesus said “love” and “forgive” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Nowhere did he say, “Go beat a dyke to death.”
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Once upon a time “plump” was the beauty ideal.
I recently had the pleasure of reading Peter Stearns’ Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West. The book chronicles the shift in American history from a plump to a thin ideal. The beauty of Stearns’ book is his resistance to reducing the shift in norms to a simple cause. Instead, he traces the changes to conflicts between capitalism and religion, the backlash against women’s equality, industrialization and the devaluation of maternal roles, fashion trends, the professionalization of medicine, our cultural relationship to food, and more.
Stearns is quite specific in timing the change, however, pointing to the years between 1890 and 1910. In these 20 years, he writes:
…middle-class America began its ongoing battle aginst body fat. Never previously an item of systemic public concern, dieting or guilt about not dieting became an increasing staple of private life, along with a surprisingly strong current of disgust directed against people labeled obese.
I thought of Stearns’ book when I came across a delightful collection of photographs of exotic dancers taken in 1890, the year he pinpoints as the beginning of the shift to thinness. From a contemporary perspective, they would likely be judged as “too fat,” but their plumpness was exactly what made these dancers so desirable at the time.
This piece was originally posted @ Sociological Images
Some sex workers are empowered enough to write a post on Daily Kos. Jonathan says it was an accident. He had been working as a research chemist for a major corporation when a person he was dating asked if he’d be interested in doing a “spanking video.” No brainer. Sure! He’s never officially escorted or hooked, but some married couples he’s “double dated” have left him money, and several others have bought him things he could in not afford, himself. Jonathan is in charge of his life and seems to be fine with his choices.
Here’s another “accident.” A young woman I’ll call “Trina” describes herself as an average looking blonde cheerleader from the upper-middle-class. She has never been abused. But she does know a record promoter named Jesse who one day asked if she could pick up a client and show him around since he was in a bind. He offered her money to buy the client dinner and go dancing. She could keep whatever money was left over. Trina made $70 and had fun so she agreed to help out several more times. Eventually some of the clients wanted sex. She refused and asked Jesse what do. He told her to do whatever she wanted. When she didn’t put out, though, Jesse limited her dates. Then one night an attractive 40-year-old offered her $500 for sex. She said no. But he kept upping the price until he reached $1000. As she recalled,
My initial thought was to slap the crap out of him, however, the things I could do with $1000 cash. It wasn’t hard. No commitments, no future to worry about, and no love to get in the way.
And it wasn’t as bad as she’d expected, so she kept doing it and made over $10,000 in four months. So Trina continued the work, but only when she found a man attractive.
Still, she wants to quit escorting when she graduates from college and live a normal life that she can share with friends and family, and make an “honest” living.
Trina is a more privileged call girl. Let’s turn to the street hookers who sometimes get involved by “drifting” into it. They might start with casual sex at a young age and eventually be offered money. Sometimes it makes sense to them to take it. As one girl explained:
I was going to school and I wanted to go to the dance after. I needed new clothes. So I went out at 10 o’clock and home by 12. I had three tricks the first time, and $15 for every trick.
After the first few times, the girls spend the next few months ambivalent about becoming prostitutes. Instead, they try to think of what they’re doing as “normal.” One girl thought of herself as, “just walking.” And a guy makes an offer. Well, it’s only normal to take the money, right?
Some eventually build their lives and identities around prostitution and stop telling themselves their behavior is “normal.” Instead, they see themselves as “helping.” They are “helping” wives by giving their husbands a sexual outlet that reduces tension in their marriages. Or they see themselves as preventing rape, for instance.
The women and men I have just described got into prostitution voluntarily. And none of them had to deal with violent pimps. In fact, contrary to popular belief, prostitutes don’t actually need pimps, who are, generally speaking, completely useless.
Next week I’ll talk about the brutal side of becoming a sex worker, which appears to be far more common.
Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone can be strip-searched when arrested, for any offense, at any time. The majority was composed of the more libertarian side of the court who claim to value liberty over all.
Albert Florence, who initiated the suit, had been stopped for a driving violation. Once taken into custody he was told to “turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.” He felt humiliated, “It made me feel like less of a man.”
Naomi Wolf points out the absurdity of the reasoning. Justice Kennedy suggested that a 9/11 bomber could have been stopped for speeding. And strip searching him would have prevented the attack? Plans to blow up the twin towers may have been concealed in a body cavity? Or, weapons and contraband could be brought into the prison system, Kennedy continued. Yet those merely under arrest haven’t yet made it into the prison population.
Wolf goes on to warn,
Believe me: you don’t want the state having the power to strip your clothes off. History shows that the use of forced nudity by a state that is descending into fascism is powerfully effective in controlling and subduing populations.
Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down a sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked: their invisible humiliation was a trope for their emasculation. Jewish prisoners herded into concentration camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked, as iconic images of that Holocaust reiterated.
While TSA pat-downs are routine in the US, they are illegal in Britain. Wolf believes that the genital groping policy “is designed to psychologically habituate US citizens to a condition in which they are demeaned and sexually intruded upon by the state – at any moment.”
Interesting, and scary. Especially since cargo holds are not always routinely checked for bombs. And nuclear and chemical plants are not adequately guarded. All because companies want to avoid costs and delays. And yet we must put up with pat-downs, x-ray cameras and strip searches at the airport?
Meanwhile, a facility is being set up in Utah by the NSA to monitor everything all the time. And recent laws have criminalized protest. Where are we headed, Wolf wonders.
I doubt there is a clear plan to psychologically subdue the U.S. population through sexual terrorism. But so long as we all sheepishly submit to it, the techniques could potentially become a tool for our submission.
And the fact that such tools are upheld by the libertarian side of the bench leaves me wondering how pro-freedom they really are. Is it liberty for all? Or just liberty for powerful police and powerful corporations? The rest of us had better submit.
See entire article @ Naomi Wolf, “How the US Uses Sexual Humiliation as a Political Tool to Control the Masses,” Common Dreams
The first time you see Lena Dunham’s character having sex in the new HBO series “Girls,” her back is to her boyfriend, who seems to regard her as an inconveniently loquacious halfway point between partner and prop, and her concern is whether she’s correctly following instructions.
“So I can just stay like this for a little while?” she asks. “Do you need me to move more?”
Those are the opening lines from New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni, writing about the HBO series “Girls” which premiered April 15. I wrote a bit about the interview last week asking, “Is male or female sexuality better?” But Lena and Frank have more to say, and so do I.
Bruni says their sex play seems to be all about what “he” wants “her” to do. Dunham’s real life informs the show, and Dunham suggests that what the proverbial “he” wants is often NOT what “she” wants. Amidst aggressive posturing and “a lot of errant hair pulling” she has thought, “There’s no way any teenage girl taught you and reinforced that behavior.”
The scene, and Dunham’ comments, suggest a depersonalized sexuality with women as objects, sex as sometimes harsh gymnastics and, too often, all about “his” pleasure.
She thinks it’s tied to internet porn, which so many young men are steeped in.
Some women get into pornified sex, too, but usually not all the time, or not on the first few dates. And most seem to want something more, even if porn-sex is a part of the experience.
Meet Valerie, who discovered pornography at age 12 and was very excited by it. Today she sometimes finds it exciting when men pull porn moves on her. But at the same time she says, “It’s icky”:
I don’t just want to become Body A. I want men to feel like they are with me, Valerie, a particular woman with a particular body and my own unique personality. I want them to be in the moment, as opposed to going through some form of learned behavior. I want it to be our own experience as opposed to an imitation of porn.
She talks of Miguel, a musician. She can tell he’s into porn by how he acts:
Lights glaring, gaping at her body parts, manipulating her into positions popular in pornography so he could admire her. He was aggressive, he was confident, he was following a formula. He was cold.
As Valerie saw it, “He thought it was hot, that he was a stud. I felt cheapened. I felt so empty after the experience.”
Dunham can relate, saying that, “People can be so available in a superficial sense that they’re inaccessible in a deeper one.”
One woman wrote about her and her friends’ experiences for GQ and offered tips for the internet-drenched generation. She loves both porn and sex, she says, but warns that not all women are charmed by being called a “dirty whore.” Most women don’t want anal three times in one night – and not from men they barely know.
And why is it, she asks, that orgasming inside someone, “the goal of every dude for zillions of years,” now seems to pale in comparison to “facials”? Noting the irony, “It hardly seems fair to call that sex. It’s more like masturbation with a fellow 3-D person. You finish with your hand, after all, like you’ve done with a million clips.” And please, no facials on the fourth date. “That’s stuff to save for later, when the excitement of someone new has worn into a comfortable live-tweeting-Monk-from-bed kind of cohabitation.”
And maybe when there’s a larger context of relationship, and not just empty sex.
Ashley Judd’s face looked puffy in the promo for her new TV series, Missing. Big deal. She’s aged since I last saw her, and maybe she’s gained a little weight.
And then the furor. Everyone talking about Ashley’s face.
So she responded in the Daily Beast. A few lines:
The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.
The lines linger, waiting to be soaked up.
We are described and detailed
our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart
our worth ascertained and ascribed based on
the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification
The body detailed and critiqued, diminished and demeaned. An emotional trashing. Cut up, dissected. It feels like a killing. No wonder we are body-obsessed, declare nourishment the enemy and become terrified of aging.
With our bodies spotlighted the rest of us vanishes.
Our voices, our personhood, our potential
and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted
The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us
We become nothing but our “defective” parts.
And we can say nothing as the conversation bubbles everywhere, outside ourselves, removing our power to name and control.
But Judd doesn’t leave us, or herself, hanging in hopelessness. What is deemed good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations, she says, and so she has chosen to abstain from all outside judgments about herself and her body.
We are social animals. Our identities are keenly influenced by how others see us, and more so when those visions act in concert. When many see us a certain way, the agreement brings objectivity, while our solitary thoughts seem merely subjective.
But the declarations are not absolute. Especially when we discern shallowness and falsity. We may choose otherwise:
I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem
or my autonomy
to any person, place, or thing outside myself
The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself
my personal integrity
and my relationship with my Creator
“It is ultimately about conversations women will either choose to have or choose not to have,” says NPR’s Linda Holmes.
Let’s have some new conversations.
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Feminism has long sought to gain equality by obliterating dominance and submission. Yet some find the ends of this dichotomy alluring… erotic, and seek to drink in both sides. So comes the quandary: how to sustain this sensuality yet stay true to a feminist commitment? That’s a question that artist, Trilety Wade asks in the new exhibit: Les Femmes Folles: VOICE.
Wade knows that submission and dominance can vacillate and be exchanged. She explores how balance might be gained in the space between while reveling in both sides. As she describes it:
I usually find myself on the cusp of submitting. I almost give in to my desires. I almost give in to another person. I never wholly submit, thus I am also dominant. That push and pull of submission and dominance leaves me in a static state of anticipation, which is reflected in the distance between the figures in my paintings.
My paintings make me question why there are some people and desires I want to submit to, and why I never allow myself the freedom to either be submissive or dominant; instead I freeze.
Moving to other matters involving passion, power, surrender and control, Sally Deskins’ “Red Belly” signifies motherhood, the scarlet color evoking fiery emotion, passion and sacrifice — which may be ennobling blood-life or deadening blood-loss. The energy of this red belly calls to mind more life than loss, though the two may be intertwined.
A passionate theme continues in the seductive vibes of breasts and loins:
The curly-prints from my pubic hair give the image an erotic flair. The white stamped nipples provide a ghostly aura, and the various drips and red line at the bottom sheds light on the beautiful indeterminism that is visual art and sometimes life as well.
Inspired by Yves Klein’s “Anthropometries,” Deskins’ self-portraits explore the relationship of mind and body. She paints her body with as if it were a canvas and then physically straps herself to paper or canvas to form an imprint, painting her psyche on what appear to be a series of Rorschach Inkblot Tests. Through these self-portraits Deskins searches for her voice.
Ella Weber explores how identity evolves over a lifetime. In her “Boy’s n’ toys” series she places a person next to a person-sized inanimate object from pop culture. The drawings seem to be all about innocence, nostalgia and humor. But look closely and see something more subversive.
In “but is she worth it?” Weber places Mrs. Butterworth’s on a bed of sticky syrup. Next to her a woman holds a plate in each hand, resembling scales. Perhaps she’s weighing her options, to serve or not? A stack of hotcakes lie between the two figures.
What is the appeal of nostalgia… falling back to a place of greater inequity when women and Blacks were all about serving others? Why does the past still loom so large? And why is it so sticky?
Inanimate object and human being stand side by side. What does it mean to be human – and female? How does identity grow? And might those hotcakes be just fine levitating in thin air? Weber voices the questions.
Wanda Ewing knits social commentary into latch-hook yarn rugs that explore how race factors into society’s notions of feminine beauty and sexuality. The interlace of gender and race adds further texture. In her hands a surprising juxtaposition of risqué images of women’s bodies attaches to cozy yarn rugs. As if Madonna and whore are woven together?
Megan Loudon Sanders delves into identities that lie hidden yet seek expression. Historically, women were asked to conform to rigid standards that left their potential concealed from them. By mixing stylistically dissimilar elements, Sanders depicts a woman who at first glance could pass for any suburbanite. Yet she subversively announces on her body, This is who I am:
A young woman in a blue polka-dot dress brings her teacup up to sip, a simpering smile to the viewer. Intricate and colorful tattoos line her hands and arms, challenging the pristine environment.
While identities can lie hidden, so can the emotional significance of everyday life. Trudie Teijink uses a digital camera to document the remnants of family suppers, highlighting the colors and shapes of food and the utensils used to prepare it. She reveals how art emerges in the mish-mash that falls together. Her work makes us ponder how sentiments and human connections arise through the sights, smells and tastes of food, and of preparing and imbibing together. But sometimes, she says, the mundane still seems futile.
Joffe-Bouska also uses egg and nest imagery to express the worth of each individual and to explore how we might create our own safe havens. Strong metal nests signify strength, fabrications representing DNA indicate smarts, and lacy trimmings suggest patience. Each egg/nest combo represents a reason, a justification, or a reminder of why we have value. And each titled piece opens with this mantra: “I am ….”
Other themes look at the voices in our heads, how so much of the work women do everyday lies invisible or seemingly insignificant even to those who do it, and performance art invites attendees to write out notes to be re-interpreted by performers, with response. And more.
Women are speaking up, challenging status quo power politics and giving voice to lives and identities that too often remain shrouded and undervalued, all the while promoting positive communication in the VOICE exhibit.
Together, this art calls for deeper thought, broader expansion, and raised voices.
Co-curated by Sally Deskins and Megan Loudon Sanders, VOICE artists include Marcia Joffe-Bouska, Sally Deskins, Wanda Ewing, Kristin Lubbert, Jewel Noll, Melanie Pruitt, Amy Quinn, Megan Loudon Sanders, Trudie Teijink, Trilety Wade and Ella Weber.
Les Femmes Folles Presents: VOICE, a curated exhibition
The New BLK, 1213 Jones St.
Opening reception: Friday, April 13, 7-10p.m. Exhibition runs thru April 30. Preview art-talk at Indian Oven: April 11, 7p.m.
Art Talk at The New BLK, April 18, 7p.m.
LES FEMMES FOLLES: VOICE WANTS YOUR VOICE
Call for art
Deadline: April 6, 5pm deliver to The New BLK, 1213 Jones St.
Open to: artists who identify themselves as women
Les Femmes Folles: Voice is a curated exhibit featuring the artistic perspective of 11 Midwestern artists who are women at The New BLK Gallery opening April 13, 2012. The artists would like to also showcase the VOICES of other artists who are women with a collaborative piece. Artists are invited to create a mouth in any medium, in 2-dimensional form, no larger than 18×24” that can be hung on a wall. Deliver to The New BLK by April 6 to have it included in the show opening April 13 with artist contact information. Details firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
More information on the exhibit at thenewblk.com or facebook.com/newblk
“More guns, fewer hoodies” and we’d all be safer, Gail Collins advised in a New York Times piece after Trayvon Martin was gunned down for “eating skittles while black” – and while wearing said hoodie – in a gated community. A clear threat that had to be stopped.
That’s right. Guns don’t kill people, hoodies do: Trayvon Martin’s “hoodie killed him as surely as George Zimmerman did,” claimed Geraldo Rivera (who later apologized).
Sounds familiar. When women are raped short skirts become the culprit.
Yet few rape victims are wearing short skirts. And even nicely dressed black men can create fear. Journalist Brent Staples noticed that people got out of his way when he nonchalantly walked about. Amazed at his ability to alter public space, he tried humming Mozart to project his innocence. Seemed to help.
But why aren’t pricey cars, fancy suits and expensive watches blamed when rich, white men get robbed? What thief could resist?
Why? Because making more powerless members of society the culprit is meant to distract from the sins of the powerful. It’s women’s fault if men rape them, and it’s black men’s fault if lighter men kill them.
In another example, some blamed liberals for foolishly using Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help Blacks and Hispanics “buy homes they couldn’t afford,” leading to the banking crises that nearly drove the U.S. economy off a cliff.
What really happened is that rich bankers gave rich campaign contributions to government officials, who in gratitude disposed of pesky regulations. That helped bankers get mega-rich by devising complex financial packages that no one could comprehend.
Used to be that when someone bought a home bankers made sure they’d get paid back. But under deregulation it didn’t matter because the loan was sold to someone else. And that investor sold the loan again. And financial packages were created and sold, composed of fractions of many people’s mortgage loans. They were rated AAA since they were 1) diversified – and hence, “safe” investments and 2) the housing market never goes down. (Yeah, right!)
Fannie and Freddie entered the process late, thinking they’d better join in or lose out.
When the housing market dropped and people couldn’t afford their homes, or sell them for a profit, the banks began collapsing. Lucky for them, the taxpayers bailed them out (or the whole economy likely would have collapsed).
Did deregulation get blamed for the fiasco? By some. But plenty of the “powers that be” — and especially “hate radio” — blamed Blacks and Latinos.
Because blaming more powerless members of society distracts from the sins of the powerful.
The crime does not lie with the man who pulls the trigger, nor with the man who rapes, and certainly not with the fat cat who pays to rig the game. No, the crime lies with those who wear hoodies, short skirts and who bank while black or brown.
Dunham points out that numerous cultural cues press women to take on non-emotional, non-connected, “empowered” sexuality.
Yet she can’t manage to do it, herself. And she is not sure it’s empowering.
“There’s a biological reason why women feel about sex the way they do and men feel about sex the way they do,” she adds. “It’s not as simple as divesting yourself of your gender roles.”
Evolutionary psychology says women are genetically programmed for monogamy so fathers will stick around and provide resources for their children, while men are promiscuous so that they can widely “spread their seed.”
Modernity seems to breed a monogamous ideal (meaning lifetime marriage after a few years of “sewing your wild oats”) among both women and men, perhaps because these societies are complex and children aren’t raised by the entire community (as they are in small tribes) making single parenthood difficult.
And even while casual, male-stereotypic hookup sex has overtaken college campuses (at least in theory), a recent study of hookup culture found that both men and women prefer close, connected relationships.
Still, study after study shows most women preferring sex in a context of love and connection, while men are more open to casual encounters.
So which is better? Casual or connected?
I’ve asked my students what they think. They see positives and negatives in each approach.
The variety offered in non-connected sex can be fun, and if you really do it “man-style,” guilt-free. There are no ruts! But STDs and unwanted pregnancies are bigger risks. And it’s possible that one partner will end up wanting more, which can create hurt and complications. Emotional connection adds depth and dimension, and many can’t enjoy sex without it.
The problem, my students think, lies in feeling pressured to behave in ways that are inauthentic – which isn’t pleasurable, either!
And is non-emotional, non-connected sex more “empowered”? Or do some just think so because it’s the “male” way in a culture that values masculine over feminine? Or that sees men and “their ways” as more powerful, by definition. Sure, you’re less vulnerable and dependent, but there is great power in relationship.
Likely the “best” and “most empowered” sex is that which is most fulfilling, and which best expresses who you are and what you want, and which is acted out most responsibly.