Category Archives: Culture

Essays on a hodgepodge of culture-related topics, most especially those concerning feminism, sexuality, religion and morality.

Pleasantville: The Promise of Trump’s America

Photograph by Malin James

Photograph by Malin James

I wrote the original draft of this post a few months ago. Suffice it to say, a lot’s changed since then. One of the ugliest presidential elections in history is finally over and, after months of contention, the results were pretty hard to swallow.

It’s not that Hillary Clinton lost—she’s a complicated figure and the reasons for her defeat are equally complicated. What disturbs me is that Donald Trump, an openly racist misogynist who never held public office, handed people a fantasy wrapped in violence, and enough people swallowed it to win him the election.

Many of the people who voted for Trump would not consider themselves to be racist, xenophobic or misogynistic – a lot of them voted for Trump “despite” certain issues, but that “despite” is still a problem. What happened last Tuesday can best be described as a reaction to a package deal. Sure, Trump’s (freaking chaotic) platform included a ton of racist and misogynistic rhetoric aimed at women, Muslims, Latinos, queers, trans people and pretty much everyone who isn’t cis, white and male, but he tied all that hate up in a promise to Make America Great Again, and that promise resonated with a lot of people.

Make America Great Again. It’s standard political rhetoric – a phrase that sells a vague ideal, one a candidate can define flexibly so supporters attach based on their own personal contexts. In this case, Make America Great Again harkens back to the conservative golden age of post-WWII America. This period in U.S. history has taken on a nostalgic sheen, one in which the economy thrived, people had jobs and everything was safe. And white. And run by men. In essence, Trump promised his constituents Pleasantville, and that promise was enough to outweigh the racism and hate he wrapped it up in.

For those of you born in the 21st century, Pleasantville is a Toby Maguire movie from 1998. The citizens of a fictional town called Pleasantville live in squeaky clean, 1950’s black and white world until social and sexual revelations turn everything technicolor. It’s a clever send up of the nostalgia we have for a past that was, under the glossy surface, repressive, judgmental and deeply homogenized.

Trump evoked this nostalgia with his bonkers, often illegal promises to Make America Great Again. The wall he’s going to build along the Mexican border? That’s a promise to keep foreigners out of Pleasantville. Threats of deportation? Same. His plans for a “Muslim registry”? Yeah. That too. Every bit of xenophobic bile is a brick in the foundation of that promise, and that’s not even counting his treatment of women.

Here’s what disturbs me. People wanted the Pleasantville he was selling enough to overlook the violence, misogyny and human rights violations that would inevitably come with it. Whether or not his voters liked the whole packaged is irrelevant at this point. They didn’t mind the ugly enough not to vote for that nostalgic, deeply traditional throwback to a “safer” time, despite how literally un-safe it makes half the population.

That’s the thing about Pleasantville. It’s a lovely, seemingly safe place – seemingly safe because the safety it promises is contextual at best and a lie at worst. It’s a place full of social masks and people passing for “normal” in a traditionally straight, sexually conservative, patriarchal society. It’s a safe place to be if you’re vanilla, straight and white, and it’s the promise Trump ran on. It’s the promise he won on. Which means, it’s the thing we have to be careful of in the next four years.

Sex, race, gender and sexuality. These issues have always been political and, as exhausting as it is, this is normal. This is good. This is the opposite of homogeneity. As long as our bodies remain deeply contested political entities, it means they remain deeply contested political ground rather than territory conquered in the name of an imaginary past.

Trump and his rhetoric—both the hate speech that appealed to the Klan and other marginalized whites, as well as that promise of a newly “great” America—would normalize the homogeneity that we, as women, immigrants, minorities, queers, trans people, liberals, allies and anyone else who fails to toe the line, defy by existing out in the open and without apology. Now, more than ever, we are the body politic, and that means we need to engage, and stay engaged, long past when the disgust, disillusionment and anger wear off. The socially safe America Trump promised doesn’t exist. It never has, and the promise of it shouldn’t be normalized as an unfortunate side effect of a disappointing election.

Human beings can only live with stress for so long before we grow numb to the stressor. It’s seen most often in cases of domestic abuse, a comparison I do not make lightly. Trump’s own lawyers testified that he gaslights them so routinely they have to meet with him in pairs. With Trump’s newly vetted influence, people will eventually get used to the idea of his presidency. It will normalize as an exhausted populace digs in to wait him out. And that’s the real danger now. What he proposes is not normal and, while I know his supporters feel otherwise, the values he’s espouses in conjunction with his vision of a “great” new America cannot be normalized, not without a lot of people paying a very high price.

I’m not saying this to scare people. People are scared enough. I’m saying it because there are still things we can do to keep moving forward, rather than sinking openly and gleefully into black and white.

  1. Donate to charities and institutions aimed at helping people under direct threat. Whether it’s time or money, they’re going to need all the support they can get. The ACLU, the Trevor Project, Planned Parenthood and the NAACP are good places to start, but there are lots  of others too.
  1. Subscribe to reliable news outlets – the New York Times, the Washington Post and Bloomberg News are about as reliable as it gets, but there are a bunch of others too. And if you like your news in audio form, check out NPR. Wherever you get it, vet your news so you know what’s actually going on. Read things you disagree with. It’s the only way you can reliably decide what to believe.
  1. Most importantly, support each other. Have useful discussions. Advocate for equal treatment under the law. If you see someone struggling, help them. Community is one way to set a foundation for changing things between now and 2020.

Some of us will slip under the radar because we’re white or middle class -because we can “pass”. A lot of people don’t have that luxury. If nothing else, it’s become obvious that there is a deep longing for the illusion of safety in the promise of Pleasantville, an illusion that people voted for, regardless of the cost to others. Whether you wave your freak flag loud and proud, or quietly support a charity while protecting your job or family, please try to stay engaged as much as you can. Educate yourself. It’s going to take a lot of of well-informed fuck off‘s to the lure of Pleasantville to get though the next four years.

On Self-Objectification

Woman on a red bed taking a selfie for Selfies and Self-Objectification by Malin James

Selfie by Malin James

I’m a contrary person. If there’s a popular take on something, I tend to play devil’s advocate, if only for the sake of discussion. The idea that selfies are a form of female “self-objectification” is one of those issues. The only difference is that, in this case, my objection is rooted in actual disagreement, not just the spirit of debate.

A great deal of ink has been spilled on selfies and their social impact. A lot of articles voice a concern that selfies foster poor self-esteem in young women and a reliance on external validation. Others protest that selfies as narcissistic, vain and shallow—also as regards women. Still others point out that posting selfies can make a woman vulnerable to bullying, predation, anxiety and stress.

All of these concerns are valid – in some cases. In others, selfies are a source of healthy self-expression, positive reinforcement, memories and the basic human drive to exclaim Hey! I was here! It all depends on the person and their motive for taking the selfie, and that’s far too contextual a thing to usefully question or protest.

What I take issue with is the assertion that selfies are a form of self-objectification, ie: that women who take selfies have unknowingly drunk the patriarchal Kool-Aid.

So, what ‘self-objectification’ and why I have an issue with it?

Before we can deal with self-objectification, we need to start with objectification as a concept. Objectification is a theory that refers to the treatment of a person, usually a woman, as an object, stripped of autonomy and subjectivity. (For a detailed definition, click here). Objectification is usually assumed to be sexual at its core.

According to feminist theory, sexual objectification is a symptom of the male gaze, a way of seeing everything, including women, through a male, often sexualized, lens. According to critics, the male gaze has led to internalized misogyny – that’s the drinking of the patriarchal Kool-Aid I mentioned earlier. It’s the idea that women have been subjected to the male gaze for so long that we’ve internalized an objectifying view of ourselves and other women.

While I do believe that internalized misogyny can manifest in all kinds of subtle ways, it isn’t, and can’t be, inherent in selfie-taking. Here’s why.

Objectification is something that is done to you. It’s the lens through which you are viewed. Even if you wear nothing by fuck me pumps and a smile, you are not objectifying yourself. You might be inviting objectification, but odds are you aren’t viewing yourself an object devoid of autonomy and reason. You’ve simply presented yourself in a sexualized way. Objectification is the step other people take when they see you.

So, is it possible for women to self-objectify? Can a woman see herself as a thing stripped of personhood and subjectivity? Can a woman view herself as an object? Well…while it’s possible, especially in cases of abuse, but casually speaking it isn’t likely.

When a woman takes a selfie, she’s acknowledging that she has a body. She isn’t stripping herself of intelligence, resilience, bad-assness or anything else. Those qualities still exist in the way she sees herself, regardless of how she angles her body. She is simply asserting her physical presence for reasons of her own and that is what subjectivity is all about.

Whether you like it or not, inviting objectification is a legitimate, autonomous choice. Whether or not it’s a symptom of internalized misogyny is as unique to the individual woman as is any other motive for selfie-taking, which brings me full circle.

People take selfies for all kinds of reasons. Judging those reasons as shallow, vain, dangerous or anti-feminist is as useful as judging someone’s motives for eating an ice cream cone. Sure, you could eat ice cream for unhealthy reasons. You could eat ice cream to excess. Or you could just eat ice cream because it tastes good and you want ice cream. There are too many possible motives to warrant casting it in a reflexively cautionary light.

The same thing goes for selfies – protesting on the grounds of internalized misogyny discounts the many reasons she might have for taking the picture. It denies her the ability to make an autonomous choice and strips her of sovereignty over her image and how she uses it. That’s anti-feminism dressed up as real feminism, and it’s much more dangerous than the hottie in your timeline.

Selfies are a curious thing. As a species, we are preoccupied with our presence in the world. It’s why we have cave paintings, graffiti, art, and most other forms of human accomplishment. They are an assertion of presence – a huge I WAS HERE shouted into the void of existence. Selfies are just another way to shout into the void. It’s an assertion of presence, regardless of the reason, and that makes selfies important. The fact that women use them to assert their presence in the world for reasons of their own is a devil worth advocating for.

The Body Politic

Black and white image of a woman wearing a black corset for Luck and the Body Politic post by Malin James

Photograph by Jeanloup Sieff

It’s been a rough week…a rough month, to be honest. I don’t normally share this sort of thing, but it ties into something important, so I’m going to.

My body is strong – a bit busted up, but strong and faithful and generally trustworthy. That’s why I was taken by surprise when I got a “concerning” (ie: abnormally abnormal) result on a cervical biopsy last month.

I took it for granted that the biopsy would come back clear. I had no basis for that assumption – there’s a history of cervical cancer in my family, so abnormal results shouldn’t have surprised me, but there you go. Nothing blinds like optimism.

Unfortunately, I was also in the tiny minority of women who get a cervical infection after a biopsy (not fun, in case you were wondering), which is why they waited  a month to do the procedure that eradicates suspicious cells – the very same cells that took advantage of the delay to grow like the ambitious little bastards they were. As a result, this fairly simple procedure ended up being a lot more involved (and painful) than it usually is, which is why I’ve spent the week laid up. Lots of time to think.

Aside from really wishing I’d had (even) more drugs during the procedure because wow, A LOT  just wasn’t enough, I’m trying to take it in stride. It’s a common procedure and they caught the cells before they had a chance to become a problem. So, why am I feeling so fragile and emotional? You’d think my head fell off….

It’s to do with a few things I suspect. The first is that a woman’s cervix is freaking sensitive and having it messed with, even by a doctor for the very best of reasons, is unsettling. I’ve also experienced sexual trauma so I’m extra protective of that area, which made it upsetting in that way too. And then there’s the last thing, which is what I want to focus on – the feeling of having dodged a bullet through sheer, dumb, circumstantial luck.

This isn’t about mortality – that’s a whole other thing. It’s about **resources and who gets access to them. I had a relatively straightforward procedure that, even with complications, worked out to my benefit – no cervical cancer for me, thanks! The price I had to pay was worth it, and I would gladly pay it again. But some people aren’t so lucky. Some people don’t have a choice.

The procedure I had is routinely available in 2016. So is the Pap smear that led to the biopsy that led to me sitting in stirrups while a surgeon did surgical things to me. And because I have medical insurance, I was given the choice of having those things done. A lot of women would happily make the same choices, but without access to comprehensive medical care, they can’t. And that’s a horrible thought.

I’m thinking about all of the women who try (and have tried) to end pregnancies in ways that are as dangerous to them as they are to the fetus. I’m thinking about breast cancers that metastasize and the daughters who lose mothers because something is wrong but no one knows what  – not until it’s too late. I’m thinking about all of the people who die from preventable diseases because services aren’t available when they’re needed.

I am not equating what my cervical experience with an abortion. Not even close. What I am doing is pointing out that, while reproductive health is something that we advocate for, fund and defend, there are a lot of people who don’t enjoy the benefit of those resources because they can’t afford them. That makes it frustrating and all the more tragic in a different way when people who do have access don’t use them.

Everyone is physically vulnerable. Our mortality guarantees that. But if you have access to resources and education, use them—get STI screenings, get Pap smears, do breast exams. They are crazy-amazing interventions. While nothing in medicine will prevent you from eventually kicking off, access to care buys you choices, and that’s something I wish everyone had more of. Unfortunately, in practical terms (at least, in the U.S.) health coverage is still not universal, despite the political progress made in this area, and that’s nothing compared to the lack of basic medical care in Third World and developing nations.

Our bodies, whether we like it or not, are political objects, and medicine is a political issue. I’m not saying you have to rally for universal health coverage, abortion rights or fundraise for breast cancer awareness. All I’m saying is that a great deal of the world’s population does not have access to good medicine. In fact, for the bulk of human history, no one did.

So, if you do have access to health care, don’t take it for granted and definitely don’t  waste it. Use the educational and medical resources available to you. It’s one very basic way to advocate for more. And when you vote on issues pertaining to medical assistance, try to let empathy guide you as much, or more than, economics or political allegiance. There are so many resources regarding reproductive health, from birth control to cures for abnormal cell growth. It breaks my heart that, whether due to insufficient sexual education or insufficient funding, so many people have to do without.

That’s why I feel lucky (and ridiculously emotional) – I got to have a procedure that hurt like hell, thoroughly rattled my cage and may have saved my life somewhere down the line, and I got it because I have a lovely little card that means I’m part of an HMO with a co-pay I can afford. That’s an incredibly privileged position to be in, especially in a world where people still die from curable diseases. Given all that, I don’t mind being reminded how lucky I am.

** While this post is generally about women and reproductive health, the same applies to all areas of medical concern, from vaccinations to urology (fun! sorry…not fun…). If you have access to health care, use it, even if the resource you need makes your five-year-old cry. Even if it makes you cry. It’s better than not having the choice. 

On Corsets

Vogue 1939. Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher

Vogue 1939. Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher

It’s no secret that I love corsets, both for their aesthetic value and for the sheer pleasure of wearing them. I’ve worn cinchers, under-busts, Sweethearts and Victorians but none of them have felt so right or so comfortable as the custom corset I had made last year by the brilliant modistes at Dark Garden in San Francisco. It took three fittings to get my black brocade beauty to fit like a glove, but it does. It’s perfect and I would wear it every day if I could.

Someone once asked me why I love corsets so much – they’re commonly thought of as anti-feminist and uncomfortable (they really aren’t, if you’re wearing the right one). Plus, lets be serious here, I don’t exactly have full, swelling breasts to showcase. In fact, if anything, my figure is quite spare, or “minimalistic” as one lover once put it. What could a modern woman who wears yoga pants and workout gear most of the time possibly get out of something so lush and apparently torturous as a corset? Well, I’ll tell you. Power.

I didn’t wear my first corset until I was in a stage production of The Seagull in my early twenties. I’d done quite a lot of Shakespeare, but it wasn’t until I landed a role with an deeply funded, very established company in San Francisco that I got to wear proper period costumes. At the first fitting for a dress that would involve layers of petticoats and skirts, I was laced into a corset for the first time. The other actresses made a show of complaining about how hard it was to breathe, but I didn’t. I was quiet, because I’d never been so relaxed wearing anything in my life.

That corset was a plain, steel-boned muslin thing – there was nothing sexy or elegant about it, but I felt beautiful. My tightly compressed body felt  efficient and spare – strong, for lack of a better word. I walked more gracefully, laughed more spontaneously and held my own in conversations that would have intimidated me had I not been wearing that old-fashioned, arcane thing.

Custom corset by Dark Garden

Custom corset by Dark Garden

A different part of me emerged. Suddenly, I was confident and socially nimble because, for some reason, wearing the corset made me feel like I could get away with it. I hadn’t yet realized that being myself was not something to get away with, but my natural right. For the first time in my life, I felt comfortable in my own skin.

After the production ended, I saved my money to buy my own corset. I didn’t want a one of the pretty fashion corsets I saw in clubs. I wanted the real thing, which would cost me more than $300 at a time when I could barely pay my rent. The scrimping was worth it though. After six months of austere living, I bought a rose and gold pinstriped silk over-bust that I wore with everything from slacks and suit jackets to white oxford shirts and pencil skirts.

The thing I’d been taught to think of as a torture tool of the patriarchy had, very ironically, given me access to the social autonomy that my young, insecure self so desperately craved. If I could find strength in something that had, historically, been seen as an oppression, maybe my love of red lipstick and high heels wasn’t such a cop-out either. Maybe real power came from pleasing myself, rather than worrying about the male gaze and what my fellow feminists thought.

A woman’s relationships with make-up, lingerie, high heels – all those things we think of as commercially “feminine” – are intensely personal; it’s too easy to dismiss them as simple bids for sex appeal. While it’s true, corsets have been fetishized, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, so long as the woman wearing it feels genuinely happy. Corsets are sexy, and I feel sexy when I wear them, but the reason I feel sexy is very specific to me.

Note: This isn’t meant to imply that not liking corsets (or make-up or heels or any of the rest of it) is a feminine failure. It just means that every woman should feel free to pursue the things that make her feel goodwhether it’s Nike’s or FMP’s.

To me, corsets feel good, like very comfortable armor. When I’m wearing one, I relax and when I relax I am fully myself. My energy concentrates and drops into my hips and my dominant, predatory impulses rapid fire. I feel sharp an subtle. Far from being restrictive, corsets unlock me. I breathe more easily when I wear them. I stand taller. I let myself occupy all the space I want, which is generally quite a lot. For me, corsets have less to do with their effect on other people, and everything to do with their effect on me. They are a kind of second skin, one I no longer need to wear to feel like myself, but which I value and always will.

Though I love reading them, I don’t often have a chance to participate in any of the wonderful memes this writing community has to offer. This week, I’ve accidentally written a post that fits two different prompts – the Kink of the Week is corsets (which inspired this post) and Wicked Wednesday is all about trying new things. Given that my first time wearing a corset was so pivotal, I thought it would fit. Click the badges below to read more entries in both! 

 

 

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Filthy Sweet Romance

FilthyRomance

Couple Outdoors, (c. 1920)

This might come as a surprise to some people, but I’m a romantic – an incorrigible, enthusiastic romantic – which is why I’m not into Valentine’s Day.

While flowers and chocolates are lovely, getting showered with pretty tokens on February 14th has never felt particularly romantic to me…or rather, it’s never felt appreciably more romantic than, say, flowers on a random Tuesday or splitting a bottle of champagne in a month that isn’t February. (For the record, I will drink champagne for no reason at all. Champagne is its own reason to drink champagne).

That said, Valentine’s Day is a serious thing for a lot of people, but rather than focus on “gifts that will earn you boyfriend status” or keep you “out of the doghouse”, I’d like to look at what makes something romantic rather than obligatory. I want to consider what it is that romance signifies at its most wonderful, powerful best: understanding, connection and affinity.

Last week, I did a post in which I asked people to tell me what romance is to them. I got answers that ranged from the overtly sexual to the beautifully poetic. Erotica writer and artist, Tabitha Rayne, said that, for her, “a handwritten letter or poem left in a place that, if they didn’t know me so well, I would miss it,” is truly romantic, while @5amWriterMan left me a list of fantastically sexy ideas that ranged from “staring and smiling at me with hunger and tenderness in his eyes while he’s balls deep inside me” to “holding the door open for me when we visit our favourite sex shop”.

The theme that connects these comments, (and yes, I realize that my sample size is tiny and biased), is that the romantic-ness of the gesture – be it a handwritten letter or a trip to a favorite sex shop – relies on the intimacy of mutual understanding. You can’t leave her a note if you don’t know where she’d be likely to find it, just as being fucked in a way that lets you know exactly how much he loves you is different than getting fucked in any other way. In both cases, the romance reflects the couple’s connection, their understanding of each other, and the fact that they are in sync.

In other words, affinity = romance.

That’s why a well-timed cock shot can be just as romantic as a candlelit dinner, depending on the couple. Groping each other during a stolen lunch hour? Sure. Long, leisurely wax-play session? Of course. Watching sports together with a bottle of wine? Absolutely. A video of him coming for you, or of you coming for him? Without a doubt. All fantastically romantic – so as long as it’s something you know you both share. It’s all about the small, casually intimate things that tell you your partner is mad about you on any given day; those things are  far more important than what happens on February 14th.

In the end, my issue with Valentine’s Day has more to do with how it’s marketed than it does with the sentiment behind it. After all, it’s a day devoted to expressing love, and that’s a pretty wonderful thing. What makes it problematic for me is how prescriptive we’ve gotten, (thanks to media setting our expectations), about how that love “should” be expressed. Rather than focusing on the specific dynamic you have with your partner, it’s easy to get caught up in hype and false claims, ie:  if he truly cares, he’ll do X on this very particular day.

Needless to say, I’m not a fan of that paradigm. It has an air of judgment about it – there’s a hoop, (one often determined by how much money is spent or how “good” the gift is), and that hoop must be jumped. All too often feelings get hurt if it isn’t jumped successfully. That’s a recipe for unhappiness and disappointment, which is why that sort of goal-oriented gift giving is, for my money, the opposite of romance. It’s more to do with checking a box or assuaging status anxiety than it is to do with you as a couple, because the stakes are unnaturally high on Valentine’s Day. The perception of romance become a test of a relationship and, as a measure, it is empirically flawed and not entirely fair.

So, what’s romantic to me? It depends. My idea of romance changes drastically depending on who I’m with. It could be anything from bringing me tea in bed to going prowling together. There’s so much room for romance in everything from the hottest sex to the quietest moment.

More than anything, I love spontaneous expressions of happiness – signs that my partner is happy to be with me. Very often, these expressions are sexual rather than traditionally romantic, but not exclusively so. In fact, the sort of romance I like best mixes the wholesomely sweet with the abjectly filthy. Do you want me? Value me? Love me? Show me – not with roses on Valentine’s Day, but with an intense, massively connected, conspiratorial fuck. That’s why a blow-job on Christmas morning can be just as romantic as bacon brought to you when you really need it, so long as it’s the product of a genuine connection physically expressed for the benefit of the person you love.

In the end, you can hold the roses and take the thorns, or buy your partner a hothouse full of flowers. What matters most is that the gesture be rooted in the connection you share. Filthy, sweet, kinky or traditional, let whatever you do, (or don’t do), tomorrow honestly reflect the joy you take in each other. That’s the good stuff – the real romantic stuff. It’s the stuff you share. That’s what makes me a hopeful romantic.

The Pendulum: Why Americans Should Care that British Porn is Fucked

12/12/14 UPDATE: This rant of mine matured over the course of the week and has become an article that I wrote for Thought Catalog called “Why Everyone Should Care that British Porn is F**ked” (note the classy asterisks!). I’m really happy to have it up on a larger forum, as I think this issue is massively important. Click HERE to check it out.

A few days ago, British pornographers were quietly hit with draconian new regulations. The UK’s new Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 are aimed at “Video on Demand,” ie: porn on the internet, which is now subject to the same restrictions as porn sold on DVD. As of December 1st, all pornographic content produced in the UK must adhere to the British Board of Film Classification’s rating of R-18, which falls roughly between the NC-17 and X ratings in the U.S. Click here for a full list of the newly banned sexual acts, accompanied by elucidating commentary from obscenity lawyer, Myles Jackman. The ban is fairly extensive, so here are a few highlights from the list of banned sexual acts, courtesy of The Independent.

According to the new restrictions, it is no longer legal for porn produced in the UK to portray spanking, caning, physical restraint, verbal or physical abuse (regardless of consent), humiliation, female ejaculation, face-sitting and fisting. The BBFC banned the last two items on the list on the grounds that they are “potentially life-endangering.”

Really? Interesting…. I’ll remember that the next time I want to take someone’s life in my hands.

There have been a number of excellent articles and essays published in the wake of these regulations that cover the many reasons why the new standards are problematic and discriminatory on multiple levels. Girl on the Net wrote an impassioned break down of the regulation’s idiocy, sex act by sex act. (I especially appreciated her pointing out the ironies inherent in the restrictions). Pandora Blake addressed the regulations as one of the independent porn producers whose livelihood is going to be directly affected by the ban. Remittance Girl addressed the BBFC’s overblown exercise of governmental power, and Stavvers examined the disturbing manner in which the restrictions target women’s sexuality and sexual pleasure, as well many aspects of the kink / minority / fetish sexualities, while leaving  mainstream / male pornographic tropes far less restricted. For example, while face-sitting is banned as potentially life-threatening, face fucking is just fine. I’d encourage anyone interested in learning more about the BBFC’s new standards to check any of those articles out, or to go to the Backlash website, an organization committed to defending freedom of sexual expression.

It hasn’t gotten quite so much coverage in the U.S. In fact, apart from an excellent article in Reason, it’s barely registered here. So, why does an erotica writer living in the United States care any all this? After all, it’s not as if people can’t spank each other or sit on their loved one’s faces in the comfort and privacy of their own homes, right? They just can’t see it in porn. Besides, that’s all happening an ocean away. We’re sitting pretty behind the First Amendment here. What does it really matter?

After three days of sitting with that question, I’ve come up with two answers. The first is more general so I’ll start there. I care because our culture, (meaning Western / European culture), moves like a pendulum. Periods of great conservatism are often followed by decades of social progress. Look at the turn of the 20th century when Victorian morality slowly gave way to the Roaring 20’s, a period fueled by popular resistance to prohibition. Consider the way the pendulum swung back to social conservatism in the years following World War II, when sexual and emotional repression became the standard way of life. That repression persisted until the rise of feminism and the sexual revolution pushed the pendulum back towards liberalism in the 60’s and 70’s. Still not convinced? How about the fiscal conservatism in the 80’s that lead to a popular culture that was both totally decadent and oddly repressed, particularly in the wake of AIDS. Then the nineties came around and the LGBT community mobilized, ushering in new struggles and discussions and efforts at re-education centering on sexual freedoms. And now here we are, in a relatively progressive, sex positive age where bondage is out of the closet and people buy 50 Shades of Grey in Walmart. But what does that even mean?

It means a lot changed very quickly, and we are now hitting up against cultural resistance.

Yes, sex positive efforts at education and advocacy are still active, now more than ever. In fact, they’ve expanded to include most marginalized sexualities, gender identifications and sexual kinks, including, but certainly not limited to, BDSM and D/s practices. But that doesn’t mean the pendulum can’t swing to the other way, back to a “safer,” less sexually challenging mode. I believe that the tighter porn restriction in the UK is one sign, (one of many small, subtle indicators), that it is already swinging back to what I will uncomfortably call “moral conservatism.”

The reasoning behind the restrictions is embedded in the language of the BBFC’s new regulations, and that reasoning boils down to this:

We want to protect our populace from being exposed to sex acts that we find subjectively uncomfortable and / or questionable. If people don’t know it exists, they won’t want to do it at home. They’ll stick to nice, “normal” things, like PIV and the occasional blow-job. They won’t try all of that crazy 50 Shades shit and get themselves hurt.

Which brings me to the second reason I care. In a move so ironic it still boggles my mind, the British government has nullified consent in an effort to protect people. It doesn’t matter if a fetish film clearly portrays a man consenting to have his ass whipped raw by a lovely woman with a cane. It doesn’t matter if a woman consents to being fisted by a man, (or another woman), on film, (and let’s not forget that anal fisting is included, fans of gay porn). The fact that the actors involved legally consent to whatever it is they’re doing doesn’t matter. IT DOESN’T MATTER. Because the government knows better. The government wants to keep you safe from all those dangerous, questionable things. The government will protect you from yourself.

Does this sound paranoid? It might, and for that I apologize. After all, we’re still just talking porn, right? Not real life…. Well, no. I’m afraid not.

As Myles Jackman states, “this declaration of State censorship will affect millions of consenting adults who choose to view British pornography.” You might still be able to spank your lover, but you can’t knowingly consent to watch a spanking video because, as the wording of the regulations imply, spanking is a moral danger and a health risk. They don’t want grown adults to get it into their silly heads to try it, so they’ve attempted to limit popular exposure by keeping it out of porn. And if you can’t show it in porn, then it must be really bad, right?

It’s another shove to the pendulum – one away from sex positivity, education and healthy bodily awareness. It’s a shove back towards shame and subjective moral judgment, and I’ll be honest. It pisses me off.

The cultural pendulum is going to swing, because that’s what it does. That’s what it’s always done. But to watch governments try to regulate it into swinging faster is galling, and please don’t think the UK is alone in passing regulations like these. Canada is trodding a similar path with its Porn-Block Bill and Australia’s censors have become slowly and increasingly more hostile to pornographic content. But what about the First Amendment? We have that here in the States! Surely, that’ll keep our freedoms of expression safe!

Yes, it will keep some of our freedoms safe, but I’m afraid porn is a bit of a grey area with the First Amendment. It is still subject to obscenity laws, laws that the Federal government is, at this moment, using to hold banks hostage for housing the funds of tax paying porn actors, directors and producers. At a state level, even California is using obscenity laws to make the state a legally hostile place for pornographers. Luckily for them, Nevada is next door.

Porn has been called “the canary in the coalmine of free speech” and this is, in the end, exactly what I’m getting at. We need to care about the restrictions on the British porn industry, because they are indicative of how our progressive, liberal Western society is feeling about sexuality. And kids, between Amazon censoring erotica and porn getting restricted right into the vanilla mainstream, our culture doesn’t appear to be feeling all that sexually open right now.

So what do we do? Well, the best thing anyone can do is to be aware and take an interest. If you’re British and the regulations piss you off, complain , sign this petition, and support legal objections. If you live in the States, don’t dismiss what’s happening as unimportant because it isn’t happening here. If you identify with or practice anything that might be considered an alternative sexuality, live your life. Consume the media that turns you on as much as you can, and provide a real, public, honest example of a healthy, consensual, joyful sexuality to anyone you feel comfortable doing so with.

The pendulum is swinging and things are going to change. How and to what degree remains to be seen, but the worst thing one can do is assume that progress can’t reverse.

The (It Girl. Rag Doll) Podcast

It Girl Rag DollSometimes I get to do really cool, unexpected things. Most the time, these things are fairly small, like having lovely, frank conversations about sex or writing or life. But every once in a while, the thing is bigger, like having a lovely, frank conversation about sex, writing and life on a freaking fantastic podcast. This was the case three weeks ago when I sat down to Skype with the lovely Harper Eliot and her amazing partner in crime, Molly Moore, of Molly’s Daily Kiss, for the (It Girl. Rag Doll) podcast.

By way of a small confession, talking about myself for any great length of time isn’t easy. I’m a writer who depends heavily on revisions and edits – speaking off the cuff has never been one of my great strengths. I’m a natural listener / question asker so, while I was thrilled and honored to be asked on the show, I was also a bit nervous. That said, I shouldn’t have been. Molly and Harper made it so painless and easy that, when the hour was up, I wanted nothing more than to climb through my computer screen and continue the conversation with them.

Click HERE to have a listen.

We talked about everything from writing and words, (please don’t call a lady’s cunt her “va-jay-jay”), to kink and non-monogamy. Even better, I left the experience full of ideas and thoughts, one of the biggest indicators, for me, of a wonderful conversation. In fact, I have no doubt that at least two follow-on posts are going to result from that conversation.

Sadly, the IRGD podcast is winding down and will finish at the end of the year. Luckily, Molly Moore will be striking out with a podcast of her own starting in 2015, and there will still be an archive of excellence to listen to at the IRGD website. Click on over to have a listen to episodes on transgression, flashers and peeping Toms, fucking sculptures and much, much more. While you’re there, check out their newest episode, in which I get to talk to these two excellent, intelligent women.

Eva Green’s Breast

This version of this essay first appeared on my other blog before I’d really conceived of having a site devoted to erotica and sex writing. Now, that this has become my primary home online, I thought it might be appropriate to move some of the relevant content over here. I hope you enjoy. xx.M

Earlier this year, when the build-up was just starting for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, I was ridiculously excited. I loved the first film and had gobbled up the graphic novels early on, so I was excited to see the next installment, especially since it’s been in the works for nearly a decade. And then one of the posters got pulled and replaced with an airbrushed version. Apparently, Eva Green’s poster for Sin City 2 had been banned in the United States because it contained too much “visible breast.” Rather than get into the nitty-gritty of what the hell that means, I’m going to post the banned image below so you can see it for yourself. If you have an issue with “visible breasts” consider yourself warned.

o-EVA-GREEN-SIN-CITY-A-DAME-TO-KILL-FOR-570

Image courtesy The Weinstein Company & The Huffington Post

According to Fox News, (there’s irony in there somewhere), the MPAA disapproved of the image “for nudity — curve of under breast and dark nipple/areola circle visible through sheer gown.” The oh-so-effective fix? Make the gown a little less sheer, so it’s harder to make out quite so much of that offending nipple. If you’d like to see the edited image, you can check it out here.

Rosario Dawson holding a large gun in Sin City 2 movie poster

Image courtesy The Weinstein Company & Dimension Films

Now, why am I posting on this? Two reasons. The first is that I think Eva Green is gorgeous and wanted to write about Sin City. The second, and far more substantial reason, is that I think the MPAA’s disapproval of the original image is ridiculous, especially given the fact that the ratings board approved both Jessica Alba’s far more suggestive image, as well as a poster of a super sexy Rosario Dawson holding a massive knife

 

Jessica Alba poster for Sin City 2

Image courtesy The Weinstein Company & Dimension Films

What is it about the curve under a breast and the shadow of a nipple that is so offensive, when images of hot women holding weapons and stripping are ok? Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a problem with the posters of Alba or Dawson. In fact, I think they’re both gorgeous little bits of visual marketing. What I have a problem with is the fact that the MPAA objected to the mere suggestion of female anatomy under a gauzy robe while approving other, even more highly sexualized images. Whose sensibilities, exactly, are they trying to protect?

Personally, I have no clue. As far as I’m concerned, that show of oddly placed morality is laughable at best and hypocritical at worst. There is nothing wrong with the curve of a breast, any more than there is anything wrong with a long stretch of leg or a lovely, well-toned ass. It’s all anatomy. It’s all sexualized female anatomy, juxtaposed with images of sexual agency, desperation, or violence. If you’re going to get up in a flap over a breast, get up in a flap over all of it. Otherwise I’d rather you left the gown sheer. At least that’s an honest, open appeal to sex, rather than the semi-nuetered wink they ended up with.

On Rom Coms & Porn

Ryan Gosling Hey Girl meme - boyfriend materialA version of this essay first appeared on my other blog before I’d conceived of having a site devoted to erotica and sex writing. Now that this has become my primary home online, I’m dusting off the relevant content and moving it over here. I hope you enjoy. xx.M

Sometimes you overhear things that you’d rather not hear… like a relationship-ending fight. And yet, even as you desperately study the pastry case, part of you is fascinated and can’t tune out. This post, dear readers, is the result of one of those overheard fights.

The combatants in question were a couple in their early twenties, obviously past the relationship’s first blush. According to what I, and the rest of Starbucks, overheard, she was “pissed” and “revolted” that she had caught him watching porn. She felt that it was a “betrayal of the relationship” that he should get off on fantasies of other women.

The fight progressed along these lines for several uncomfortable minutes. Just when the two marketing-types in front of me started placing bets on her soon-to-be ex’s imminent castration, the boyfriend countered with what I considered to be an interesting point:

“What’s wrong with me watching porn when you watch The Notebook on loop so you can off on Ryan Gosling?”

To quote the skater at the corner table, “Dude. Good fucking point.”

Now, I’m going to leave this particular couple so I can focus on the general usefulness of the boyfriend’s question. Because it is a useful question. Is there a substantive difference between his porn and her Ryan Gosling fix? Adjusting for their private history and the terms the girlfriend asserted when she called pornography a betrayal of their relationship, there isn’t much of one. Here’s why: The issue at the heart of the boyfriend’s question isn’t betrayal or even sex. It’s intimacy.

Let me say up front that I don’t believe there’s anything inherently wrong with watching porn, (or romantic comedies for that matter). As long as a person doesn’t allow media to subsume real life, both are perfectly acceptable forms of entertainment. That said, no matter how good the entertainment is, ultimately, it’s just a collection of manufactured experiences projected for the viewer’s proxy enjoyment. Real life has to win. The question is, are you fostering intimacy with real people as well, or are you engaging exclusively in solitary fantasies of intimacy?

In this, porn and romantic comedies pose a similar challenge. Porn sells the representation of sexual fantasy while Rom Coms sell emotional fantasy. Both fantasies treat intimacy as entertainment which, in and of itself, is generally fine. Watching porn or Rom Coms, (or anything else for that matter), only becomes a betrayal when it begins to interfere with real life, when the viewer eschews real intimacy with real partners for fantasies in media.

The woman in the unhappy couple felt betrayed by her boyfriend’s use of porn, so much so that she felt justified in engaging him in a public fight. Now, had his porn become a habit, or were he rejecting her sexually, there might be a legitimate problem, but, thanks to lowered inhibitions on the part of both parties, I, and everyone else, found out that they had sex fairly frequently and that porn was, apparently, an occasional indulgence for him. Granted, one has to take the participants at their word, but for all intents and purposes, it didn’t sound like he was glued to a screen. It was her shock at the discovery, after all, that prompted the fight.

She, on the other hand, acknowledged that she did watch The Notebook a lot, but that it was only because he “sucked.” So, at this point, we have a guy who, (apparently), watches porn on occasion while still having sex with his girlfriend, and a girlfriend who watches a romantic fantasy because her boyfriend sucks. If we’re talking about betrayal stemming from intimacy rather than from sex, her emotional / romantic fixation is as much of a betrayal as his porn watching.

At this point, we’re entering into highly subjective territory. If the guy doesn’t care that his girlfriend fantasizes about Ryan Gosling, there’s no betrayal because his feelings weren’t betrayed. That said, I’m going to stick with the general principal from here on out – the comparability of his sexual fantasies and her emotional, (and sexual), ones.

This guy was caught watching other people have sex. By his girlfriend’s analysis, he engaged in a sexual behavior without her, and which is why she felt betrayed. And yet, it would appear that she, in her own way, did the same thing when she watched The Notebook on loop and engaged in emotional and sexual fantasies, (to give full credit to Ryan Gosling), without him. Her romantic fantasy excluded her boyfriend just as much as his sexual fantasy presumably did her. It’s the exclusion that takes each of them out of their relationship.

Drilling down through hurt feelings and knee-jerk morality, it’s the exclusion that was the actual betrayal, if one is going to start thinking about fantasy as betrayal, which I patently do not.  After all, what is so wrong with occasionally indulging in separate sexual and emotional fantasies? Nothing that I can see, but then, my moral compass has always pointed to a slightly different North.

In the end, I’m simply going to suggest that what’s good for the gander is good for the goose. If she wants her boyfriend to give up porn, it’s only fair that she give up The Notebook. If it’s the betrayal of shared intimacy that she objects to, she might do him the courtesy of leaving Ryan Gosling alone.