Category Archives: Gender

Making a Scene Has Gotten a Bad Rap

I’m not talking about making a scene because your pasta wasn’t as al dente as you had requested, or because someone took your favorite spot in the yoga studio (don’t they know it’s yours!?) or because your bagel was improperly creamcheesed. I’m talking about making a scene because injustice is occurring. Because racism is occurring. Because sexism, misogyny, discrimination, are occurring.

Good girls are not supposed to make scenes. We are supposed to be polite, courteous, vaguely deferential to the needs of others. By all means, consider the needs of others, but for the love of Gloria consider your own need to be respected and treated fairly.

If it seems like I’m on a bit of a rant, it’s because I am. In writing an essay about “making a scene” for Role/Reboot this week, I was thinking a lot about Anitathe new documentary about Anita Hill, and The Good Girls Revolt about the 1970 discrimination case brought by the researchers at Newsweek. I was thinking about my contemporaries–Anita Sarkeesian, Adria Richards, Lindy West–who “make scenes” over injustice and sexism and routinely get told to go back to the kitchen/lay back and enjoy it/shut their mouths/remember their place.

But someone must make a scene, because these scenes need to be made. These issues need to be raised (and fixed), these conversations need to be had, these inequalities need to be addressed.

So… it might as well be you.

Screenshot_4_10_14_2_09_PM

 

Related Post: Happy 80th to Gloria!

Related Post: The personal is political.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gender, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People, Republished!

The Last Book I Loved: Miss Anne in Harlem

Do you guys remember back in college when you’d pick up your books for a new class and the first thing you’d do is skip to the back and be thrilled to find out that 100 of the 500 pages you were expected to read were citations and bibliography? No? Just me?

miss-anne-in-harlem-jacket300wSo last night, on the train home, I found myself in the exact opposite position, eagerly anticipating the last 150  pages of Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance by Carla Kaplan, about the highly problematic, complex, fascinating lives of prominent white women in Harlem in the 20s. I was downright devastated to find instead 150 pages of index and acknowledgments. Noooooo000000000.

It is a rare piece of historical analysis, without traditional plot or suspense, that can grip a reader like that. Slow clap to Kaplan for pulling it off and making it look easy.

I was wary of Miss Anne from the title alone. Do we really need to go looking for ways that white people’s contributions to history, particularly black history, have been overlooked? Really? Those are the buried contributions we want to spend time and energy uncovering? Look! More stuff that you thought black people did but actually it was white people! And a white historian writing about and profiting off of a book about white people writing about and profiting off of black identity politics in the 20s? Are we really not going to address the irony? This book had the potential to go seriously, seriously awry.

And yet.

Oh my god, you guys, it was so good. As you might imagine, I’m a sucker for the behind-the-scenes, never-before-revealed, forgotten-by-the-sands-of-time/ignored-by-the-patriarchal-powers-that-be stories of women shaping, influencing, wielding power. This also applies to people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and other members of marginalized groups whose contributions are often painted over by a whiter, straighter, male brush. The story of Bayard Rustin is one example; a gay black activist who organized the March on Washington and is literally standing behind MLK Jr during the “I Have a Dream” speech, but whose name is often left out of the textbooks. Or all these women I read about when I was traveling Peru.

The assumption that history was built by (white, straight, rich) men, is undermined when you get into the nitty gritty of who was actually working, writing, creating. With each such story that ultimately gets told, it feels like a slow expansion of the canon, and goddamn does the canon need expanding.

That very tension between untold stories of fascinating women and appropriation of black culture is literally and intentionally the central struggle of Miss Anne and all of the women it chronicles. Kaplan selected six white women, “Miss Annes,” to illustrate the variety of roles that white women inhabited (mostly uncomfortably) during the 1920s in Harlem.

The women she picks range from writers and journalists to “philanthropists”–like Charlotte Osgood Mason, who financed significant work by Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Alain Locke while maintaining a dictatorial grip on their social calendars–to playwrights and poets who attempted to “capture the black experience”. Many of them thought of themselves as boundary-breakers and reached into Harlem for certain freedoms they weren’t allowed in upper middle class white society. Some of them craved the spotlight, others were content to work in obscurity (until now) on behalf of the betterment of blacks. There is no unifying thread in their experience, except for their whiteness and femaleness in a period of history mostly discussed from a black male point of view.

It was an era when primitivism ruled and white Americans took tours of “exotic” Harlem to experience the “carefree” music and dance of black dance halls. Some of the women in Miss Anne subscribed to the worst of those primitivist theories. Some of them didn’t. Race novels like Imitation of Life, Passing, and Let My People Go, grappled with the meaning of racial identity, especially when identity was not visibly obvious. The notion of “volunteering for blackness” existed in opposition to passing for white. The dueling concepts of “race pride” and “race is a useless social construction” were constantly being debated in the press, on stage, and in salons. Can you choose how you identify? What happens if it’s in conflict with how others identify you? Why is choosing blackness different than passing for white? What obligations do you owe the members of your group?

In short, it was messy as hell, and to her credit Kaplan ignores none of the mess. Thank God.

There’s only one thing I would add to Miss Anne. If you recall from writing history papers in college, the trick at the end was always to pull the past into the present with some trite sentence like, “And that is why these issues are still ones we are discussing today.” Only better than that, obviously. While Kaplan successfully draws strong lines from 1920s race and identity politics to the present day, there is one piece missing from the puzzle; Kaplan’s story herself. By opening the door to discussing her role as a white historian telling black stories and describing black experience [Note: She is considered an expert on Zora Neale Hurston], she could have added that last complicating layer to an already super complicated, delicious, multi-layered history cake.

Related Post: The last book I loved: The Flamethrowers

Related Post: The last book I loved: The Orphan Master’s Son

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Education, Gender, Really Good Writing by Other People

Porn Studies Hits Newstands

Well, not newsstands so much, since academic journals rarely find shelfspace next to Newsweek or Cosmo. Wait, does Newsweek still exist? I can’t keep it straight anymore which of the old school pubs have folded.

Porn Studies is a new academic journal about porn [NSFW if having "porn" spelled out in giant letters on your screen is NSFW]. It’s mindblowing that such a thing didn’t exist until now, right? Porn is soooooo fascinating! This week for Role/Reboot I wrote about the new journal and why I think we need more porn-talk, not less.

Screenshot_4_1_14_2_10_PM-2

The ethics of porn-making and porn-consuming have been front and center lately when the “real” identity of porn star Belle Knox was revealed by a fellow student at Duke. She’s done a pretty solid job of reclaiming the momentum of the story by speaking out about feminism, privacy, misogyny, and double-standards, though she’s also been put through the ringer of woman-hating bullshit that we put women through when they speak things that make us uncomfortable.

If you are a porn-consumer (and most people are), then you should be thinking critically about how your porn is made, who stars in it, who profits from it, and what compromises are made along the way. I’m not saying you should stop watching (I won’t), but you should start asking why we hold only the woman on screen accountable for the content, and not her porn-consuming classmates who enjoy it, or the porn-producers behind the camera who make it.

Related Post: Why we need more sex on TV

Related Post: Why is oral sex so frequently uni-directional?

5 Comments

Filed under Gender, Media, Republished!, Sex

Happy 80th Gloria!

Gloria Steinem turned 80 today and is still killing it all over town. Gail Collins wrote a particularly excellent birthday card at the New York Times, but I also committed my thoughts on Gloria to paper (er…screen? We have got to get some new idioms) for Role/Reboot.

Screenshot_3_25_14_12_23_PM-2I was recently talking to my mom about how segmented the “movements” are these days. Where are the great thinkers? She said, Where are the great leaders pushing us forward to be better? The Martins? The Glorias? She’s right, I think, that there really aren’t singular “public faces” to movements anymore. Maybe Sheryl Sandberg comes the closest, but even her momentum and appeal is limited to certain demographic wedges. Individuals become flash points, like Sandra Fluke, or Trayvon Martin, but their influence doesn’t sustain over decades.

The way we consume media has become so fractured and specific that for one person to try to galvanize a large swath of the public is rarely feasible anymore. We’ll change the channel to one of the 900 others, or close the browser and open a new one. There are pockets now, specific strains of ism or anti-ism, that we choose subscribe to based on our politics and affiliations. When Tina Fey skewered Jezebel on 30 Rock, which side did you fall on? When Ta-Nehisi Coates berates the President, who do you think is right?

I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we have these sub-affiliations, I think it’s just an indication of how fucking complicated these issues are. I just finished Lynn Povich’s The Good Girls Revoltabout the 1970 sex discrimination lawsuit at Newsweek. In the recollections of some of the participants was a certain reluctance to admit that, actually, they hadn’t wanted the jobs they were suing for. Most of them certainly did (and  they all deserved the opportunity to compete for them), but some felt that the movement was so all-encompassing that to opt-out or question any part of it was to undermine it. They didn’t want to jeopardize the group to protect themselves, even though their interests didn’t always line up 100%.

It was an interesting angle that I wasn’t expecting Povich to address. It’s not all rah-rah. One person or committee or caucus can never speak for everyone, so the goal has to be about creating options, not dictating how we utilize them.

Related Post: Raunch humor and feminism.

Related Post: When celebrities talk about feminism, the good, bad, and ugly.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Gender, Media, Politics, Republished!

An Atheist and a Christian Walk Into a Skype Call

An atheist and a Christian walk into a skype call…

Sounds like the beginning of a terrible joke OR a super fun conversation between two very different people with very different experiences. My friend Jonalyn and I spent some time a few weeks back discussing the separation of church and state, gay marriage, tolerance vs. acceptance vs. celebration, and many other fun things in a….shall we say… wandering conversation for video series Emerald City

For those of you paying attention, we did this once before and discussed what kinds of sex count as real sex, intimacy, and “stewarding virginity” which is just the greatest phrase ever.

Check us out:

Related Post: Jonalyn inspired this piece about friends across the aisle

Related Post: Our past conversation on sexuality and virginity

Leave a comment

Filed under Gender, Media, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People

That Shit’s Complicated Too

I got a great comment last year from a male reader about how I was putting too much emphasis on the male orgasm as the symbol of a successful sexual outing. I was using it to illustrate why hook ups with strangers might be more satisfying for men then women, which might be one (of many) reasons that women don’t pursue casual sex as much they could.

I get your point that, for random hookups, men are more likely to ‘get off’ than women. That doesn’t take into account the fact that, for men, orgasm isn’t the only marker of a quality sexual experience, probably because it’s so easy to achieve. And honestly, myself and other men I know have come early in unsatisfying sexual experiences just to get it over with.”

I saw that Claire Dederer at the Atlantic fell into a similar trap recently when she wrote about the complexity and “messiness” of female desire. While I definitely don’t dispute the mess, I’ve come around to disputing the claim that it’s messy only for women. Messy in different ways, perhaps, but I think we do dudes a disservice if we reduce their sexual satisfaction to the act of orgasm. More on that at Role/Reboot.

Screenshot_3_7_14_1_50_PM-3

Related Post: That time I reviewed hookup app Bang with Friends

Related Post: “Women can get sex anytime they want!” and other things people say

Leave a comment

Filed under Gender, Media, Republished!, Sex

My New Memoir Will be Called “Is My Optimism Really Just White Privilege?”

A couple of years ago, I got into a pseudo-argument with a friend about the nature of “asking.” I had recently discovered that when I was polite and friendly, I could ask for anything from anyone, and the chance that I would get my way was high. I didn’t think I was being manipulative. I thought I was being brilliant, finally realizing that discounts, preferential treatment, exceptions, etc could be mine if I asked the right way. I also thought that, a la Lean In, women sometimes undermine themselves by not asking, and that I was overcoming a gender bias by being more forthright in my requests.

My friend argued that, while not intentionally manipulative, I was burdening other people with my “needs” (not really needs, random wants and momentary desires). Not just burdening other people, but especially burdening people (service providers, retail clerks, waitstaff, etc) who are, structurally, not really allowed to say no to me as a wealthy white girl.

I’m not entirely wrong, but it’s a pretty weak argument. The whole scheme hinges on the idea that you’re asking for something that is up for grabs. By claiming it,  you think, you’re not depriving somebody of it, or taking someone else’s spot, or claiming more than your share. Except, 9 times out of 10, you probably are. The “asking” thing is only a fair way to engage with the world if you assume that everyone steps to the table with the same set of privileges and skills, but we know that is basically never the case. That also assumes, of course, that you want the world to be a fairer place…

I was reminded of this conversation by Jen Dziura’s excellent Medium piece this week “When Life Hacking is Really White Privilege.” Go read it right now, I’ll wait.

Then you should you read my latest for Role/Rebootwhich attempts to pull together the Dziura, Black Girl Dangerous’ new post on how to combat your privilege, and how by focusing on one’s lack of one privilege (say… gender), we can forget about the advantages we are afforded by the privileges we do have.

Screenshot_2_20_14_2_19_PM

Related Post: If you’re feeling attacked you’re probably just having your privilege challenged.

Related Post: How Pax Dickinson missed the male privilege boat

2 Comments

Filed under Gender, Republished!

Hot Dudes + Big Girls

Inspired partially by an encounter with a cologne-model looking dude at a train station and the most recent episode of Shameless (in which Lip hooks up with a very sexy woman much larger than him), I wrote this week for Role/Reboot about what happens when “guys like that” like “girls like me.”

I’ve written about this before (as did everybody else) after the infamous Girls episode with Patrick Wilson.

Screenshot_1_23_14_12_47_PM

Related Post: Lena Dunham + Patrick Wilson

Related Post: Female figures are, by definition, “feminine.”

4 Comments

Filed under Body Image, Gender, Hollywood, Republished!

Some very inconclusive thoughts about Beyonce and “Anna Mae”

beyLet me preface by saying three things:

1. I have read a zillion essays about Beyonce’s new album, Beyonce. Especially this one (Nico Muhly), this one (on bottom bitch feminism) and this one (New Yorker). I have also had many conversations about it with people who know a lot more about hip-hop, music history, black feminism, and other relevant topics than I do.

2. I really, really love the new album from a purely “this is my jam and it feels good in my ears” perspective. I have listened to very little else since it came out, and I find it is the perfect gym accompaniment. Also the perfect cleaning accompaniment. Also the perfect putzing around my apartment accompaniment. It is not good for watching TV, but otherwise, it satisfies most of my musical requirements.

3. I don’t really have any answers to the question below, but I have a few ideas. What I am hoping will happen with this post is that one of you people will have much better ideas than mine and you will write them in the comments and all will be clear. So, what is the question:

What is up with the “Anna Mae” reference?

For background, in the song “Drunk in Love,” Jay Z (Beyonce’s husband and mega-mogul musician, for those of you dwelling under boulders the size of New Zealand), jumps in with a few lines, among them, this section:

Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike…

I’m like Ike Turner

Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Anna Mae

Said, eat the cake, Anna Mae.

“Eat the cake, Anna Mae”, is a reference to the Tina Turner biopic (she was born Anna Mae) about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband Ike. In the movie, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Ike forcefully shoves cake in Tina’s face at a restaurant and than hits her, knocking her to the floor while their friends and other diners look on. Watch the scene here, if you feel up to it.

So. Why does Jay-Z rap a violent, misogynistic lyric about the other most famous black musical couple in the middle of his wife’s triumphant (and explicitly feminist) new album? I don’t know, but I know it makes me really, really uncomfortable. Here are a few possibilities:

  • The If-it-walks-like-a-duck… theory: What do I know about the inner workings of Bey and Jay’s relationship? Nothing. If you take him at face value, Jay’s line is bold, in-your-face power move. She may have the fastest selling iTunes album of all time, but in their world, she’s still just Anna Mae. It’s a put-down, and a masterful one because it’s right in front of us and we just go on giving her feminist props. How much more belittling could you get? With one line, he undermines every girl power-laden “bow down, bitches,” she issues. She ain’t got nothing on him, record sales be damned.
  • The Y’all-know-nothing-about-us theory: Sasha Frere-Jones for The New Yorker writes, “I won’t pretend to know how this potentially ugly reference works between Jay Z and Beyoncé, but it’s her album and they look pretty happy on the beach, so some sort of inversion is at work.” Now that’s bold. To flaunt a famous instance of another woman’s abuse in your sexy beach video with your husband is to say you’re so far above that shit that you can joke about it. You are so far removed from that life and those problems that you get to make “Eat the cake, Anna Mae,” mean whatever you want.
  • The Watch-what -I-can-do theory: If you are the queen of the universe, like Ellie Torres on Cougar Town, words do not define you, you define words. If you say that “Eat the cake, Anna Mae,” is not, in fact, a repulsive piece of misogyny, but is rather a love poem, then so it shall be. Change approved.
  • The Pay-closer-attention,-bitches theory: Really masterful fiction writers sometimes shake up a sentence just to make sure you’re still on your toes. They invert a verb, or select an off-putting word that catches in your throat as you murmur to yourself, just to make you wake up and pay closer attention to the language that they chose so carefully. It’s a wake-up call to the reader to signal that everything shouldn’t be taken at face value. Early in the album, “Drunk in Love” could function as the wake-up call to listeners. Lest you glaze through the dramatic feminist acrobatics (see the Adichie TED talk featured on “Flawless,”) Bey complicates the album up front with the Anna Mae reference to make you attend to the lyrical layers that much more carefully. Feminism is not simple, marriage is not simple, race is not simple, sexuality is not simple. “Anna Mae” reminds us of all of those things, and consequently casts a complexity on the album that might otherwise be deemed froth. Do we think she’s that masterful?

What else you got? I’m kind of at a loss.

Related Post: My Role/Reboot on Beyonce’s Superbowl performance.

Related Post: When I got called out for unintentional racism by some friends. 

5 Comments

Filed under Gender, Hollywood, Media

The worst breakup ever, and we weren’t even sleeping together

To kick of 2014 for Role/Reboot I wrote about the friend-breakup. Not the gradual kind, where you sort of grow apart and drift away aided either by distance or different life choices. No, I’m talking about the dramatic friend breakup, the one that, were it not for the sexlessness, might as well be a romantic breakup for the abruptness and the hurt. I’ve had one big one of those, and it’s only now, a few years later, that I was ready to write about it:

Screenshot_1_6_14_10_52_AM

Related Post: How to make a bro friend.

Related Post: How Grey’s Anatomy is depicting the distancing of a friendship really, really well. 

1 Comment

Filed under Gender, Republished!