April 11, 2013 § Leave a comment
The idea that there might be different emotional responses to rape is not popular. All rapes are equally traumatic and those who suggest otherwise are labeled rape apologists. It is unforgivable to publicly question the mythologizing of rape’s status as the ruination of all women who go through it. Camille Paglia, who has been roundly denounced for her take on rape (among other things), has said that “rape is an outrage” but that she considers the “propaganda and hysteria” around rape “equally outrageous.” I’ve never forgotten reading her Spin interview from the early ’90s in which she shared the story of an acquaintance who had been raped and found the rape counseling more alarming than helpful because of its focus on the inability to recover. “The whole system now is designed to make you feel that you are maimed and mutilated forever,” Paglia said. “It made her feel worse.”
In 1998, novelist Fay Weldon suggested that while rape is a terrible and serious crime, it is not by definition “the worst thing that could happen to a woman.” She even qualified this by adding “if you’re safe, alive, and unmarked after,” but the level of insult and recrimination she faced was staggering regardless. She’d hurt all women with her “extremely dangerous” comment, she’d made it harder for women to “come forward,” she was “talking rubbish.” I hope I may be allowed to at least say that my rapes were not the worst thing to ever happen to me. They are not even in the top five. They are not the worst thing I can conceive of happening to me, nor happening to any human being. I can, of course, imagine rapes much worse than mine, but the idea that there may be degrees of rape is not a popular one, either.
Though some feminists regard “rape equals devastation” as sacred fact, the notion that a man can ruin me with his penis strikes me as the most complete expression of vintage misogyny available. Common sense instructs us that it is far more “dangerous” to insist to young women that they will be broken by an unwanted sex act than it is to propose they might have a happy, healthy, and sexually pleasant future ahead of them in spite of a sexual assault. Weldon ventured this same conclusion when she said that “defining it as some peculiarly awful crime may even be counter-productive.”
Similarly, Germaine Greer claimed, “It is not women who have decided that rape is so heinous, but men. The only weapon that counts in rape is the penis, which is conceptualized as devastating.” When we refuse to acknowledge the possibility that a rape could be anything less than a tsunami of emotional and mental destruction for a woman, we establish a fantasy of absolute male sexual power and absolute female vulnerability. We are, in essence, honoring the timeless belief that a woman’s worth, self-respect, and ability to function within society are dictated exclusively by the sexual use of her body. read more
ART: Lucio Fontana
March 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
I recently attended a lecture in which Linda Nochlin — widely considered to be the mother of contemporary feminist art history — addressed the issue of the nude. She approached the subject through the lens of her life experience, which has informed her tastes in and fascination with its representation. Reading from her essay “Offbeat and Naked,” Nochlin said: “I like any nude that isn’t classical, any naked body that doesn’t look like Michelangelo’s David or the Apollo Belvedere. For me, as for the poet-critic, Baudelaire in the 19th century, the classical nude is dead, and deathly. What is alive? The offbeat, the ugly, the other, the excessive.” Afterward, I asked Nochlin where, if anywhere, she felt the pin-up genre belonged in this aesthetic of the offbeat. Without hesitation, she began an impromptu paean to perhaps the most beloved pin-up in the history of the genre — the Varga Girl. Nochlin recounted how, as a young girl during the Second World War, she would rifle through her uncles’ Esquire magazines to marvel at the grotesque beauties within. Those endless legs! Those bowed feet! Those fetish fashions! Absolute freaks of nature! “Yummy!” she enthused with a troublemaker’s grin…
At Esquire, the shift from the wartime to postwar pin-up reflects such wider trends in American culture. First, the magazine lost the artist whose women personified the transgressive wartime woman on her way out of fashion. Esquire’s legal troubles with Vargas had begun at the cusp of the war’s end; when the artist attempted to renegotiate his contract with the magazine, he proceeded to lose his job as well as his rights to his name at and work for Esquire. As a result of his departure from the magazine in 1947, the transition from the “Varga Girl” to the “Esquire Girl” coincidentally occurred in the shift from wartime to the postwar eras–making the change in the magazine’s pin-ups all the more dramatic in their adherence to postwar ideals of femininity. Fritz Willis, Al Moore, and Joe De Mers were among the new pin-up illustrators who eschewed the career woman and sexual dynamo for the bobby-soxer and cuddly co-ed. The one working woman represented among these postwar pin-ups was chided in the accompanying text to “shake off the phony blessedness of her solitary way in favor of the more savory satisfactions which only come from sharing.” As feminist historian Susan Faludi would later write, in the postwar era the independent woman of WWII, who had flaunted her economic, social, and sexual agency, was viewed as an outdated construction that “provoked and sustained the antifeminist furor [of the ‘50s, and]… heightened cultural fantasies of the compliant homebody and playmate.” In fact, a new “playmate” emerged in the pin-up genre that capitalized on both the dearth of openly transgressive female models in the ‘50s and the era’s willingness to (re)construct womanhood in a simplistic, one-dimensional manner.
With the renewed focus on morality and maternity that accompanied many women’s postwar retreat to the home — similar to the “cult of True Womanhood” among upper- and middle-class women in the Victorian era — came a resurgence of the “ladies club.” These groups aimed female activism at societal disruptions of “moral order,” under which they felt young women’s access to and influence by pin-ups fell. Due to such groups’ postwar protests against the display of pin-ups in media viewed by women and children, many popular publications (such as early pin-up pioneers, Esquire and Life) de-emphasized or altogether eliminated their pin-up features. To fill the void left by the disappearance of images of the sexualized female in broader popular culture, former Esquire employee Hugh Hefner molded a new kind of pin-up — the “Playmate” — in his magazine, Playboy. Here, Hefner sought to both reclaim the genre and postwar women’s sexuality for privileged male viewing. read more
Don Giovanni is a certain type of male homosexual. Neither extreme, Tristan or Don Giovanni, is compatible with heterosexual love
March 27, 2013 § 1 Comment
In August 2011, the Japanese company Manuscript was forced to amend the settings of its new software application, Karelog (“Boyfriend Log”), in response to consumer complaints. Drawing on GPS technology, the service allowed users to log in from a computer to track another person’s phone. In the program’s first release, these surveillance capacities also stretched to include accessing the mobile’s call history and remaining battery life. Promotional material for the product targeted anxious girlfriends wanting to know the whereabouts of partners. But within days of the campaign going public, anti-virus software giant McAfee labelled the app a “Potentially Unwanted Program.” This was because users had no way of knowing that the technology had been installed on their device or what information was being logged and sent. The problem was not so much the capacity of the application (GPS tracking is already used for caring purposes of other kinds, such as parents keeping tabs on their children). The crime was that women were encouraged to install the app without partners’ permission. The language of internet security literalised the threat that the program posed as an example of everyday spyware.
Facing the media the president of the fledgling software firm, Yoshinori Miura, admitted the product launch involved some cynicism:
We were still a largely unknown company, so I thought that we could grab attention by focusing on anti-cheating programs, but we went too far. I didn’t think we [would] get so much criticism .
The official apology also addressed the gender assumptions inherent to the application design, since its aesthetics showed clear allegiance to the established traits of Japanese kawaii, or “cute”. Still, press reports admitted that there was nothing about the technology that stopped it from being used by both genders. Steve Levenstein at Inventor Spot wrote:
it takes no knowledge of Japanese to know the pink & lacy graphics at the Karelog website are designed to attract a female demographic. If that’s not enough, check out the image of a big-eyed black kitty (with pink hair bow a la Hello Kitty) gazing longfully at her Android-phone-clutching, pants-wearing tomcat. With that said, there’s no reason why anyone of any gender can use Karelog to spy on anyone of any gender. Let the paranoia-fest begin!
While Boyfriend Log was notable for the headlines it received in English-speaking media, gendered assumptions also affected the release of similar surveillance programs in the US in recent years. iTrust, for instance, is an iPhone application that reveals whether or not a significant other has been tampering with one’s text. In contrast to Boyfriend Log, iTrust turns the tables to allow phone owners to maintain privacy. A fake “home” screen locks the cellphone while its user is absent and records any traces of interfering fingers. In the demo video for the program, a female voice-over describes a failed attempt to read her boyfriend’s text messages in a moment of boredom. Like the men offended by KareLog’s marketing, the casting of a ditzy-sounding girlfriend did not escape the notice of commenters responding to the story on industry stalwart Mashable.
Women are the investigatory agents in each of these examples, whether deliberately, in the case of KareLog, or more casually – indeed, recreationally – in the case of iTrust. The worried partner is gendered female, seen to require stability and transparency through the surveillance of her wandering male. read more
March 8, 2013 § 1 Comment
‘Alternative’ nude modelling site Suicide Girls gives calculated instructions on their website about the kinds of photos, make-up and aesthetic sets they accept: ‘tasteful’, ‘picture perfect’ shoots with ‘a little bit of face powder and mascara and freshly dyed hair’, but specifically not ‘cheap wig[s]’, ‘top hats’, ‘stripper shoes’, ‘food’ or things that look ‘cheesy’, ‘gross’ or ‘creepy’.
Similarly, the ‘girl next door’ look of the Australian all-female explicit adult site Abby Winters represents an alternative to glamour photography, featuring make-up-less, ‘amateur’ adult models – but models are still required to cover up hair re-growth, remove piercings, and not have any scratches, marks or mosquito bites for the shoot in order to appear ‘healthy’.
Other sites I’ve shot for speak about the importance of models representing their ‘own’ sexuality, but then go on to qualify: “We might get you to tone down the eye make up a bit”, “Maybe don’t talk about politics”, “Lesbians don’t really use double-enders do they?” One company asked me repeatedly to stop wearing frills.
In doing so, these sites produce bodies of a particular class, size and appropriate femininity, which are marketed as ‘real’, but which are equally constructed, conventionalised and cultivated. This fear of replicating ‘cheesy’, ‘predictable’ mainstream porn means that depictions of ‘real’ sexuality are often similarly clichéd, albeit with a different set of aesthetics.
In their avoidance of ‘the mainstream’ (whatever that means), ‘alternative’ porn (whether it brands itself queer, feminist or ‘erotica for women’) can sometimes replicate and reinforce what Gayle Rubin calls ‘Good, Normal, Natural, Blessed Sexuality’: the sex is vanilla, and involves only bodies (without objects or toys). Sex occurs in the home, between members of the same generation and only within couples. The scenes are soft, gentle, usually in ‘natural’ light and ‘every-day clothes’ (which in my experience means we are expected to bring Bonds underwear).
To think that this could be any more ‘real’ than mainstream porn seems strange to me, especially when it is produced in an environment that is completely staged: our movements are restricted by camera angles, someone is standing beside us operating the equipment, many of us are professionals pretending to be amateur, and in true ‘documentary’ style, we are expected to cum on cue. These kinds of websites are marketable and loveable because they refuse to define themselves as ‘porn’ – even though, as Annie Sprinkle said in the Herstory of Porn, the difference between erotica and porn “is all in the lighting!” read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Elene Usdin