Thursday, October 31, 2013

My NaNoWriMo Project (NaBloWriMo)

So here's the thing.

I participated in National Novel Writing Month exactly once (Nov. 2011). The novel I wrote then remains unedited and unread. It was fun and viciously challenging. I'm glad I did it. However I far from primarily consider myself a novelist. My writing priorities actually go something like this,
prose poems
short stories

So while I won't say I'm not a novelist I will say that writing a novel is not high on my list of priorities right now. In light of this preference and my fierce passion to get better at nonfiction, this year I've elected to hold myself to the daily 1,666 word count demand of NaNoWriMo (50,000 words in a month). Free from the expectation of a novel I'll encouraging myself to daily draft both a personal essay/otherwise creative nonfic piece and a poem.

In addition to writing the directed 1,500+ words I'm resolving to blog every day this November. As someone who generally posts about twice a month obviously this terrifies me. Writing 1,500+ words can take at the very least 40 minutes (and I'm anticipating the switching genres will only take longer) and editing a drafted blogpost usually takes 1.5-2 hours. This is a huge undertaking. And it is bound to have some kinks.

In the past two years I've tried to hold to content of this blog to some standard of coherence and relevance/usefulness the communities I care about. I will still attempt to meet this standard, but I can't promise that the quality of my upcoming daily posts will not be somewhat erratic. Bear with me friends, it's gonna be a long month. And please please please comment on upcoming posts, especially if something you read sounds interesting yet unfinished. I plan to make updated/expanded/edited post on the things I'll likely only be able to skim by doing daily posts.


<3 WRM

Monday, October 21, 2013

I need consent to be normal because sex is normal

Every time I see a project like this the cockles of my heart open like a bird's voice to the sunrise.

I am thrilled overjoyed and dancing in solidarity to these messages. They are important educational messages that can and I am sure do stamp out rape culture and prevent rapes and assaults.

But in my mind it is not enough. I by no means am calling for the people doing this important work to stop, or to say that their work is insufficient to it's intended purpose. It is appropriately designed clearly worded and will probably be politically effective. What I AM saying is that the intended purpose of consent education need to be bigger and go beyond just sex.

I've written in the past about consent-positivity and even provided some models for respecting other's (potential) boundaries. But sometimes I feel like I am the only one.

I am so deeply passionate about pushing conversations about consent beyond just the sex for two basic reasons.

The first is strategic, if we teach and model respectful consent in nonsexual everyday interactions there there will already be a a common groundwork of practice and intelligence that can be easily applied to sexual interactions.

The second is conceptual: I think about sex as an everyday interaction. And not just because I masturbate/have partnered sex pretty much daily. The (im)moral and highly sensationalized lessons our culture teaches about sexual interactions are bunk. Much of the sex-positive movement has done a fabulous job of identifying this exactly what I mean:

Sex is normal*. Part of it being normal is that not everyone is into it and everyone is into it differently. Sex is normal in the way that pop music is normal. There're many variations and many ways to enjoy pop music/sex, most people are specific in their tastes and not everyone likes what you like and some people don't like pop music/sex at all.

I am sick of culture treating sex as if it's some sort of voodoo magic. As if it were so vastly different from other social phenomena**. Yes in many cases it is a highly vulnerable activity, but humans are very well suited to being vulnerable with one another. Not in all cases but in many, sex is a normal way for humans beings to be vulnerable with each other (certainly not the only or the 'right' way for everyone or every relationship!).

Simply put I want the conversations and political passion surrounding consent to be expanded to nonsexual contexts because sex is as normal as any other interaction between humans and I need consent to become the normal context for normal interactions.

*while "normal" has often been used to denote moral approval/acceptance rest assured dear readers I am NOT using "normal" in this way. As an exceptional deviant in many ways "normal" has never felt like a good word in my mouth. I am using "normal" in a sociological sense to denote trends in human behavior.

**I recognize the history and current relationships between sex and violence. Sex being tied to violence, unfortunately does not make it abnormal though the frequency with which sex is related to violence is disgustingly abnormal. Because sex is often vulnerable and we live in a world where exploitation is an unfortunate reality, it is harrowing but not all that surprising that sexual violence is so often used to exploit that vulnerability.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The necessary unpacking of slut shaming

During the recent and highly contentious exchange between Miley Cyrus and Sinead O'Connor I had the opportunity to have lots of interesting and valuable discussions surrounding appropriation, objectification, and sexual expression. Through these discussions I was able to codify my political stance when it comes to slut shaming.

By far the most simple & frequent critique of Sinead's letter was that she was engaging in slut shaming. I understand where the need for this critique comes. It is important but I chose not to write about the slut shaming aspects of the letter in my post and instead made notes about my resistance to use the term.

Slowly I came to realize that my resistance came from a feeling of incompleteness and that it wasn't just this instance of internet people shouting "slut shaming!" that felt incomplete.

I shy away from the using the term "slut shaming" not because I don't recognize and want others to see the sexist behavior it identifies but because I believe the term itself can and has in some instances become a catch-all for very general array of the sex-related oppression women face. In radical contexts catch-alls can easily become problematic excuses to stop defining and going into the complex detail for that oppression. A catch-all runs the risk of overgeneralizing things that are complex and need complex definitions.

In the example I cite in a previous post a friend was asked by "concerned" parents to cover up her "dangerous" breasts so the group of young girls she was traveling with would be "safe" from lusty European men.

We agree that this behavior is both ridiculous and disgusting. We discussed this a potential slut shaming.

Slut shaming as defined by wikipedia is: "the act of making any person feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations."

Based on her account and this definition I don't think it was. Or at least not just that. To me it was straight up sexual harassment and body policing at the hands of trusted authority figures. In fact they way she was dressing had little-nothing to do with her expressing her sexuality. It was the parents that assumed her clothing choices were "sexual", so how could it have been slut shaming?

When slut shaming is identified those doing the identifying run the risk of making the mistaken assumption that the subject of the bullying/harassment/shaming is indeed expressing their sexuality. Regardless of what they are wearing we can't know for certain that someone is expressing their sexuality unless they tell us explicitly.

The language of slut shaming is especially problematic in light of recent efforts of some groups to reclaim the word "slut" as an identity.

When "slut" becomes an identity (as some are struggling for it to become through its reclamation) it separates women into categories of sluts/nonsluts. This distinction divides feminists communities and does nothing beyond support individual declarations of identities (which should not be the primary/only function of feminism). 

Instead of dividing women based on sexual identities let's acknowledge that we are all humans and we all experience desire. Do we really need a label that denotes that some of us are willing to express the sexual ones?

When slut becomes an identity the harassment/shaming that is related to the expression of sexuality become about identity. The body/behavior policing, the sexual harassment and the gross slew of things referred to as slut shaming isn't about the identities of those targeted (beyond the fact that they are women). It's about their behaviors and expressions.

Slut shaming is not about "you are wrong" but are about "you are doing it wrong". And by "it" I mean womanhood. Slut shaming is about tacitly enforcing the misogynist rules of womanhood. If we want to be radical (get at the root of things) we need to dig in and figure out what specifically is being denied and why. We can't just be satisfied by just calling oppressive behavior "slut shaming" because it's not just about the (slut/nonslut) identity of the person being shamed, it's also about how that shaming fits into the broader context of oppression.

It's not enough to see the objectifying oppression of a woman and call it "slut shaming". It's a great first step, but it is just a start. In order to combat the complex nature of sexist oppression
we need to continue making space in our politics for corresponding complexity.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

An Open Letter to anyone confused or enraged by the exchange between Miley Cyrus and Sinead O'Connor

I usually don't write much about pop culture, but the confusion and divisiveness surrounding the recent exchange between Miley Cyrus and Sinead O'Connor has been so intense both in what I have read and within myself that I had to write something about it.

First, I don't think it allows for much room for complexity when those of us watching and commenting on the exchange between these two women to call it a "feud". It only serves to generate further animosity to encourage divisiveness between two people. There is a conflict here but calling it a feud and taking up sides does nothing to encourage resolution.

Because I do not wish to add any fuel to the perception of their exchange as a feud I need to state immediately that I wish to take the side of neither party. Or rather I want to take both their sides because this is not a case of one musician against another. It is a case of all creators and women against the oppressive force of patriarchy and the vicious capitalist exploits of the music industry.

I have not seen and have no desire to see the Wrecking Ball video. I generally avoid Cyrus's work if I can. I find her oeuvre boring and vulgar. I don't find her work vulgar because of the sex/nudity. The amount of sexuality isn't vulgar, the way she replicates the patriarchy and appropriates black/hood culture when doing so is what disgusts me.

When she performed at the VMAs I made a few disapproving tweets and left it at that. I helped that many amazing feminist and anti-racist writers immediately identified the offensively problematic elements of that performance (literal objectification of WOC and unabashed appropriation of black culture to name a VERY few). I even thought it a strange sort of fortune that the problematic elements of that performance where were so obviously racist that even those with little exposure to anti-oppression could notice (kind of like how Seth McFarlane's Oscar hosting was SO sexist that people DID notice and were disgusted).

This week however, with Sinead's open letter and Miley's response there is less obvious stuff going on. It's unfortunately extremely public and very contentious. This is a hard knot of colliding and intersecting oppressions.

If you have not done so please read Sinead's letter to Miley now because I'm going to respond to specific components.

Before I get to the critiquing part I want to commend Sinead for trying to warn Miley about the predatory and exploitative nature of the music industry (and let's be honest the world at large). I am open to the reality that this realization might come as a "duh" to Miley (whose been around the industry her whole life), but it IS one that anyone working within that industry would benefit from remembering and strategizing against.

So yeah. I'm all for Sinead's call for Miley to be vigilant about the ways in which the music industry is trying to exploit her (we should ALL be more vigilant about the ways in which patriarchal capitalist systems are looking to exploit us), but that is where my support stops. And where Sinead begins doing some pretty subtle and serious concern trolling. I recognize the bravery and concern it takes to attempt and intervention but it needs to be done respectfully and in several ways this Sinead's open letter just wasn't.

My biggest beefs can be boiled down to two basic complaints:

1.) The use of "prostitution" as a linguistic scare tactic. It completely throws sex workers under the bus to use their profession as a means of degrading comparison. I'm harkened back to the maddening distinction Tyra banks so loved to tout when it came to shaming any contestant of ANTM who'd had any history at all of stripping/exotic dancing. Using the language of prostitution in this derogatory fashion creates a hierarchy of women who are either worthy of human decency or who aren't and clearly those who "sell themselves" as Sinead puts it are less worthy of human treatment, which means... protection apparently which bring me to my second point

2.) "You ought be protected as a precious young lady".

In this we find the most glaring example of concern trolling and victim blaming. All of my fears that were stirred up by Sinead's use of the word "prostitution" were suddenly confirmed. For Sinead "lady"=someone worth saving/protection=someone not a prostitute. In conversation about the letter yesterday a friend was brave enough to share with me that Sinead's letter had reminded her of a time when on a trip through europe with friends she had been asked by their parents to cover up her breasts more carefully because they might attract dangerous attention from men.

The problem in Sinead's call for protection & my friend's story are the same: that women are somehow inciting the violence and oppression that exists in the world. And that if they just behaved as proper ladies (and covered up) they would be "protected".

This idea is sexist and exclusionary. The idea that she should be "protected" is bunk. It denies her agency and does nothing to challenge the reality that the world is dangerous in ways beyond the control or any one person (protector or protected). Protection and preventative measures only go so far and are only available to those who can afford them (whether the cost be in $ or in compliance to "ladyship"). When we live in a culture that perpetuates it all the time there is no way sure way to protect against being harmed by the violence of predatory and patriarchal exploitation.

I have more one smallish cut of beef about all of this. Why did this letter need to be open and public? In some sense Sinead's making public her disapproval for Miley's work creates a perfect beacon of faux-rightouesness for everyone who thinks that sex and sexual express is something women need to be protected from.

I find Miley's responses to Sinead deeply disrespectful and abusive in ways that are pretty fucking obvious. Just because I have some beefs with Sinead's letter and approach doesn't mean I think she need to be bullied by Cyrus and her supporters.

I know scarce little about Sinead's mental/emotional health and relationship to the music industry. I chose not to focus on those things in this piece. Many are defending Sinead's misstep on the bases of the trauma the music industry inflicted on her. And yes. Trauma is valid. Totally and completely. But victims and survivors of trauma don't get a special pass to shame/boss/save others who have had or are having similar experiences.

I understand that seeing people make choices that might hurt them in the long run is painful. And yes, speaking up in those instances can be life saving, but interventions like this can and must be done with complete respect for the agency of the people we are trying to reach. We can't think we can save them, or that we can know their experience better than they do.

The dismantling of the patriarchy will not be accomplished by ignoring the agency of others, using sex work as a specter of shame and/or calling for protection for some women. Real prevention and harm reduction starts when we require everyone to confront and take responsibility for the violence and oppression they either directly participate in or are complicity endorsing in themselves and their communities by not speaking up. None of us are exclusively victims or perpetrators. We are all uniquely harmed by and responsible for the oppressions that exist in this world.

Sinead fails to communicate this in her letter. Her derogatory use of "prostitution", her calling for Miley's protection, highlight the uncomfortable cultural tension between the confining roles that patriarchy allows women to inhabit: the whore or the (protected) virgin/lady.
Due to Sinead's unfortunate missteps her open letter ends up echoing the privileged anti-sex work activists blindly shouting "save yourself" at sex workers. It's well meant but deeply condescending, and full of impractical solutions to the symptoms of our larger condition of patriarchal and capitalist oppression.

Postscript and preview of future post: 
I've heard the cries of "slut shaming" about Sinead's letter and intend to address "slut shaming" in an upcoming post. Please stay tuned.