Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Condoms and men's "special" anxieties

So, Reuters reported yesterday that men are less likely to use condoms that are “small” or “medium” than they are to use an ill-fitting condom, decreasing pleasure and safety for both the man and his partner.

It doesn’t take a college graduate to see the obvious undertone here: penis anxiety. Why else wouldn’t a man use a condom that fits him and is labeled “small”? The risks of using an ill-fitting condom are nothing to balk at: STIs (including HIV) and unwanted pregnancy, and using a condom is the real surefire way to prevent both (except abstinence, but, lol), so it’s just smart to use a condom that fits. But, no, we can’t emasculate men by telling them their dicks are small, because masculinity and worth is inherent in the size of his penis of course, and to emasculate a man is THE WORST THING WE CAN EVER DO TO HIM.

Look, I’m a guy, and I understand the whole penis anxiety thing. Men in our society are pressured to have sex, a lot of sex, with a lot of different girls (never men, because OH NO THE GAYS), and to basically be big old sexual stallions. The size of our penises is held up to be the physical representation of our sexual ability. Of course, though, this is according to a really phallocentric model of sex that says “Dick Size = Sexual Pleasure,” and ignores that not only are their other people in the sexual equation whose pleasure is not necessarily beholden to our size (but the patriarchy is still out on whether or not women actually enjoy sex, and let’s not even get started asking about gay men), but that on our own body sensuality and feeling can be found all over the goddamn place, and we can enjoy sex outside of just “thrustthrusthrustthrust-sleep.”

So, other men, join me in reclaiming our sexual ability and confidence away from damaging norms of “size” and body image, and focus on actually sharing an intimate, enjoyable experience with another person, free from performance anxiety and patriarchal ideals of dominating your partner with a big wang. Cool. Let’s do this.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Links of Interest: Weekly Reading

Babies born with disabilities or deformities are punishment from God for having an abortion.

It is NATIONAL EATING DISORDER AWARENESS WEEK. Eating disorders are prevalent among young women today, and you need to support those who are battling the disorder, and believe me, the battle is never fully won.

New Health Care Plan from the White House, but it does not look promising, lacking the public option, and still has harsh restrictions on abortion. Ugh.

Use 'em or lose 'em ladies: why you better have babies. while you are still 'young'

Shoulda put a ring on it: how the college abstinence movement is positing itself as "pro-woman"

Should you even have to ask if the rape is the victims fault?

Bill in Florida would make abortion punishable by life in prison.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What's in A Name?

I feel so out of the feminist loop! I've been sick for about a week now, and sleeping through just about everything, including one of my favorite episodes of Buffy last night (Lovers Walk) while the SO was over. I've been going through tons of blogs to catch up, and am seeing a lot of things I would like to write about, but I had the idea for this blog a few days ago, and I'll be damned if I don't write it.

So, what is in a name? I like to think that you are your name, and your name is you. They are two separate things, but at the same time, they are interconnected. I choose to go by "Nikki" even though my given name is "Nicole" because I feel that "Nikki" suits me better. When I write a paper (or a blog) I put my name on it. My name is something that I own, even though it was given to me. I have to take care of it, I am responsible for it, and I can do with it what I please. For the most part, of course.

Now, where does my name come from? My father supplied my last name, and together, (mostly) my mother and father compromised to give me my first name and middle name. I remember ordering class rings in high school, and wanting my full name engraved on the inside. My mother told me I should only get my first and middle names engraved because "my last name will change later." Turned out to be a moot point since I never got my class ring, but, I was astounded at her assumption that 1.) I will get married and 2.) I will change my last name.

First, what a heinous heterosexual patriarchal assumption. Second, yes, I did set her straight, so to speak, on the fact that I have no intentions of getting married. (Oh, but when you meet the right person...) Second, why does the female have to change her name?

Because in taking away part of a persons name, you are taking away part of their identity and supplanting it with a pre-packaged set of norms that comes with this new name. In the novel "The Natural Daughter" the one character is referred to as "Martha" for the entirety of her single-hood. It is written in third person omniscient, so it would be written: "Martha did this/Martha said that/et al." When she gets married, she is no longer referred to, even by the narrator, as "Martha" but instead as "Mrs. Morley." She lost her identity. She ceased to have her old personality, and is now a carbon cut-out of wife-dom (well, at least until Fanny comes along, and she gets kicked out, but that is another feminist rant for another feminist day).

Change a persons name, and you change, or seek to change who they are. I know the whole females changing their last name comes from women being property, first of their father, and then of their husband, but it is more than that. I like my name. It sounds great, and people who know me have known me by the name I have now. If I wanted to write a book, or do something that has my name attached to it, it would be under my name as it is now. How much of a hassle would it be to have to ret-con books/papers/articles/speeches to reflect a married name? It is too easy for a woman to change her name, and all too difficult for men to do it, if, for instance, a man wanted to either take the name of his spouse, or do a hyphenate name. Add in the fact that some of those seeking to change their name may be gay or lesbian or trans-gendered, and you have a ton of problems. (side note: bisexuals - if they are marrying someone of the opposite sex with have the problem of het couples, visa versa for if they are marrying someone of the same sex).

In media/literature, names have been associated with identity, and given importance. In one of my favorite films of all time, "Spirited Away" a girl has her name taken from her, and in that act, she becomes a servant to an evil spirit, and befriends a creature called "No Face." In this film, knowing a persons name gives you power over them. You take away their name, and you take away who they are. In the "Earthsea" cycle, you are given a name at birth, and then another name, which only you and the person who gave it to you know, and then a name everyone knows you by. By knowing somethings true name, you have power over it, and that is how magic is done, by calling something by its true name. You guard your own secret name to make sure no one has power over you. A name is a precious thing, and by taking part of it away from someone, say, by demanding they change their name at marriage, you are taking a part of that person away, and by giving them a new name, you are putting yourself in a position of power over them. By the male demanding that his spouse take his name, he is giving his spouse a loaded word, an identity that is part of his own, and expecting and demanding that this person live up to the connotations and associated precedents that last name comes with.

This is asking far too much of a person, and is far too selfish.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Links of Interest

Feministing: Georgia Right to Life Using Racialized Gender Narratives to Garner Support - You see, THOSE DAMN ABORTION FREAKS ARE THE REAL RACISTS! Obviously, giving black women the ability to control their bodies is eugenics.

RaceWire: Race and LGBT Health: Coloring in the Gaps - "To the extent that communities of color have developed movements around health care equity—advocating for more clinics in underserved areas, for example, or demanding better language access for immigrants—LGBT people of color face the dual political hurdles of alienation from their own racial and ethnic communities, and from a mainstream LGBT rights movement that orients its public image toward middle-class whites."

Feministing: 40 Days for Anti-Choice Harassment - "Today marks the start of "40 Days for Life," a campaign of escalated harassment outside targeted reproductive health clinics." Religion - once again - becomes a weapon against the freedom of women.

The Feminist Texican: On Gender, Rape, and Media Narratives - Discussing the media treatment of a rape case in NYC involving a man and several NYPD officers. Potentially triggering, and maddening.

ReadWriteStart - Why We Need Tech Events For Women - "In a tech community that often identifies as a meritocracy, we asked three event organizers why the industry needs female-centric events."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Links of Interest

Cheney doesn't like DADT.

Jody Howard died. She helped get women safe abortions pre-Roe

I love Nancy from "The Line." I saw her at AU last semester. She had an amazing V-Day. Click here to read about it.

valentines day. and gender roles. duh.

Planned Parenthood needs you.

Since once tonight isn't enough!

I’ve lately been coming down pretty firmly on the John Mayer sucks bandwagon for about a year or so now. Yes, I too was impressed once upon a time with the pop songwriter who openly appreciated other white-men-doing-blues players such as Eric Clapton, and that he could play his music with some modicum of knowing what the Hell he was doing, but I’ve lately come to realize that this is all ornamental to the overall dish of his boring, formulaic songwriting. This is further compounded by the bullshit of his public life, in which he does/says stupid things that are often pretty ignorant. Take the now-infamous Playboy interview where he compares his penis to a Klan icon, talks about his n***** pass, and sodomizing a woman as a way of getting at the other men she’s slept with (possessive, insecure, and somewhat violent - what a dreamboat!)

Other blogs have written about this interview to a great extent, so I’m not gonna retread the obvious points of his racist/sexist/homophobic banter. However I find the entire affair fascinating as an insight into his character as a successful, rich, white, hetero dude who carries a substantial chip on his shoulder (much to his own admission in the interview) and is entirely unaware of his own privilege and standing. One thing in particular I’d like to remark on his relationship to the entire female population, which seems wrought in his mind with insecurity, persecutory ideas, and a grand sense of entitlement.

His interview betrayed a common affliction that I think exists in men, a condensation of women into a monolithic (well not exactly in Mayer’s case, as I’ll soon elaborate) entity. Note how often he talks about women in a general sense, as though all women think/act the same, and in a strange oppositional stance against women and sexuality (such as his “whore” diatribe*). It’s as though he doesn’t see women as a set of individuals with different histories, identities, and circumstances but as just the various manifestations of WOMEN. He does discuss his relationships with Jennifer Aniston (with a vacillating degree of respect) and Jessica Simpson (which he does so as part bragging and part complaining about her like you’d hear a disappointed frat boy go on about), but for the most part he seems content complaining about how women do this, and white women do that but black women love him, and the whole thing is chauvinistic and in some cases just flat out misogynistic. He’s got that sort of push-pull thing going where he seems pretty proud of having the ability to fantasize about emotionally manipulating women (see: the spinach omelette thing) but then does a spin and ends up focusing on how much energy he obviously devotes to them.

What all this demonstrates to me is this issue that I see men getting into where a lot of us are raised without the inclination to bond with women, emotionally or intimately or socially or whathaveyou, and instead of relating to them as human beings we place them on a pedestal as the different faces of this woman concept, and our relationships with nearly every woman we know is a relationship not with that person but our idealized vision of them as a woman. This is a contributing reason as to why we don’t treat them as people, a lot of the time, but as objects (outside of the history of patriarchy and social systems and other far more salient things): because mainstream male culture is mostly focused on finding a woman who fits a concept, rather than a woman who is a person all on her own.

So, what does this have to do with John Mayer, again? During his interview it became clearer and clearer that women to him didn’t seem to have much of an impact on him outside of one or two specific relationships, and even then he only treated one of the women like a human being (even then, only somewhat). Women seem like objects to him, things for which he has to treat like shit in order to get back at (what I perceive) as an insecurity and fear of women, overall. Of course, I don’t know the fucking guy, I can’t sit back and analyze him like this, but I can read his persona like a text, because he is after all a pop star, and part of being a pop star is the creation of a public persona that exists to give an identity or character to your music. Since we have to judge this pop persona based on what raw information we’re given, I feel comfortable in making my assumptions of him as something of an insecure jackass.

*The idea that “manwhore” is a term comparable to calling a woman a whore is the disingenuous thing, one that seeks to level the gender playing field by saying “hey look, men get it bad for their sexuality too,” and ignores the social context of what it means for a woman to be called a whore. See, men can be called manwhores, but it’s still totally acceptable for men to be promiscuous and to set out and rack up as much sexual conquest as they can get, because it’s still men who are setting the terms of the social discourse writ large, and women can still be called whores for doing the same thing and it’s still a stigma against them for doing so. Hell, just the fact that “manwhore” has to have the genderqualifier on there is proof enough of the double standard, and that anyone arguing that the creation of the phrase is some great fucking gender equalizer is ignoring the broader workings of sexual politics and just doesn’t want to challenge male power hegemonies. Argh.

Relationships, feminism, et al.

Hot on the heels for the Valentine’s Day season (oooh boy, heteronormative romance ensconced firmly in our collective consciousness via empty consumerism - beautiful) Erin Rickard over at Gender Without Borders mused about chivalry, politeness, and feminism in relationships. Me, I’m the kind of person who sees holding a door open as an act of sheer politeness you would extend to anyone, same with offering to help carry stuff around or other sort of tasks. Yet, despite my good intentions, it’s silly to examine them as though I was in a vacuum free of gendered meaning behind my actions and relations to others (thanks, patriarchy!). It’s important to be aware of how interactions of any kind is coded by prevailing cultural beliefs and social structures. I may not be consciously thinking, “oh no, my partner cannot carry those bags all by herself because women are weak” when I offer to carry a few bags of groceries, but as a male socialized in American society I’m sometimes unaware of how that offer may demonstrate something to that effect.

Yet, as Rickard discusses, sometimes men can overcompensate and actually come around into the same sort of paternalism that patriarchy instills in us. The blog relays an anecdote from an article by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano about her feminist boyfriend, in which said guy was reticent to compliment her appearance. Now, I don’t find anything wrong with a man complimenting a woman on their appearance. The problem, as I see it, is when men start to frame their appreciation for their significant other’s appearance solely in their terms, in other words, as how their partner’s appearance appeases themselves, and not the person dressing up period. Let me put it otherwise: it isn’t objectifying for a man to compliment his girlfriend’s appearance - it becomes objectification, however, when said woman’s worth hinges on her appearance, or when it becomes assumed that she must dress a certain way for his wishes, or the man makes demands of his partner’s style or way of dress.

If a man wants to be a feminist, in my opinion, and avoid offending his lover then he should just ask her what offends her and not just make the assumption that doing something will or won’t. Women are not all the same, do not think the same, nor react the same to different situations (isn’t that part of what feminism is about - reclaiming the power of women to stake out their individual lives along their own preferences as people?), so if you’re really concerned about being respectful why not ask them what they feel about compliments? I feel this is much better than just assuming what’s offensive and what’s not, because then that begins an icky slippery slope into the fun brand of paternalism that says, “I know exactly what should and should not offend you, so listen to me.” Relationships work on communication, not strict adherence to ideology, because everyone’s different and the only way to find those differences is to ask.