March 4, 2010

Comics, Cleavage, and You (or…well, me)

Posted in Art, Body Image, culture, diversions, Patriarchy, sexuality, Society tagged , , , at 2:06 pm by Eostre

I will state right up front that this is a topic that most people who will read this will only care about in the context of Bigger Things, as a small sign of more widespread cultural attitudes and whatnot. This is perhaps as it should be for those of us in school who spend most of out time thinking about Bigger Things.

But for me, this is something that is close to my nerdy little heart. You see, I love comics. I love reading them, I love monthly issues, I love origin stories and dark reinventions. That’s right, I am coming out of the comic-nerd closet. I don’t just love the Intellectual ones, either. Sure, I am completely up for Persepolis, but I have a gooshy, happy place in my heart for Sandman, The Justice League, and all of their sundry friends. I love the feel of the glossy pages and the bold typeface. 

Being a female comics reader can often be problematic, however. For, although things have vastly improved in the last 20 years or so, women in comics are often, frankly, ridiculous. To start, they are usually drawn with absurd measurements, and their body stats tend to be listed as something like ” 5’10” 102 lbs” (they don’t mention the Double-D boobs and lady-wrestler like muscles, all of which would make her something closer to at least 180, and that’s being generous), and then there are the outfits. This is well-known territory, so I will be brief. Spandex on a man, while still clingy, is nothing like spandex on one of these barbie-zons, with every curve lovingly drawn and accentuated. Yes, comics were for a long time drawn mostly by men for men, and many assume that is still the case. And titillation has long been a staple of comics fare, both within the superhero genre and outside of it.

So the graphic genre has well-earned its reputation for what can at best be called objectification, at worst misogyny (for example, one of the best known female superheroes, Wonder Woman, originated as little more than a thinly veiled BDSM fantasy), and it doesn’t help that many (if not most) women in the genre are attached to some other, stronger, male character (i.e. Batgirl, Hawkgirl, Supergirl, She-Hulk, etc), which, frankly, is one of my main complaints. If I have to look at overly voluptuous women in spandex, they could at least be more autonomous.

Of course, there are exceptions, and they normally come as part of a group (X-Men, for example, have a lovely cast of

She Hulk beating Iron Man at arm-wrestling, the cover for one of the upcoming Girl Comics Issues

 strong female and male characters). And even those who have been attached to other, male superheroes as part of an entourage are getting their own stories and features (I am particularly excited about the upcoming Girl Comics from Marvel).

So, after that not-very-brief-even-though-it-was-meant-to-be introduction, my point. I am willing to put up with some cleavage and porn-face in my comics, because if I weren’t my options for reading them would be nearly non-existent. And hey, feminism is all about making space within patriarchal structures for female voices, using and twisting those structures to make small pockets for women, but in a genre that is becoming more diversified as to who is writing/drawing the stories, the progress is far far too slow. Yes, there are better stories being told about female super-heroes than there were 40 years ago (and a few better heroes joining the canon), but the objectification is still so widespread and pervasive as to be the norm, rather than the exception.

I love the genre (and believe me when I say that super-hero comics are a genre, not a medium) I am too much of a feminist to not cringe at least once an issue, and I wish that weren’t so.

Since this is a topic I am super passionate about, there will be one more post next week addressing the good side of women in super-hero comics, including the ways that existing characters and norms have been used to create space for feminist readings, and the genre/medium distinction. So, as always, STAY TUNED…

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October 29, 2009

The Kids Shaped Spleen Hole Inside Me

Posted in Family, fertility, kids, Mother, mothering, Parent, sexuality tagged , , , , , at 9:52 am by Eostre

ella and me

Me holding my wonderful niece when she was just over a month old

There are few things in my life that I am absolutely sure of right now. One of them is that I don’t want kids. This is a fairly new thing. For most of my life I thought I wanted kids, not because I really did, but because I didn’t know it was okay to not want them. During this past year, when I finally figured this out, it was a major revelation for me. I think I can look to that discovery as a turning point in my recent life, a shift from the person I was to the person I am becoming. I don’t know why this realization has taken on such importance for me, but in my mind I have tied the me who wanted kids to the me who was stuck trying to fulfill what I thought a Good Christian Girl was supposed to be. Sure, I wanted a career too, but I definitely (even if I didn’t admit it) wanted a husband and family too. It was what I was supposed to want, and it was what I was taught I had to have to be valuable.

Like so many things from my Evangelical past, the idea that I should want kids (and a husband) has been kind of hard to shake. Even now, when I know that that is something I don’t want, I still feel guilt over those feelings. So many people think that not wanting kids is unnatural, somehow, for a woman. I mean, it’s not that I am not maternal, and I do really like kids (at least for a set period of time), and I am, usually, a very loving person who likes to take care of people. I have a 13-year-old nephew and a 7-month-old niece both of whom I love to distraction, but I am content being an aunt and not a mother.

I refuse to be defined by my past and where I come from. Yes, I am still dragging a huge net full of baggage behind me, but I am shedding it, piece by piece. And realizing that I don’t want kids was a huge step. I do not want to live the life that someone else thinks I should, I have tried that and it doesn’t work. I am figuring out who I am and what that means, and realizing that I don’t want kids was like finding a part of myself and fitting it inside me, like a missing spleen; one more piece to fill up the new me after I have emptied out the old. I’m not sure of much right now, but every new thing I figure out is a treasure, and knowing that I don’t want kids puts me one step closer to knowing who I am, and what I do want, and that is invaluable to me.

October 7, 2009

Jesus is a Sexy Beast

Posted in Jesus, religion, sexuality, Spirituality tagged , , , at 5:42 am by Lakshmi (LaChelle)

sexy jesusI spent a whole heap of years accepting that God/Jesus was my Daddy, BetterThanABoyfriend, Romantic Prince Charming, Protector, Bryan Adams Doing Everything for Me (My Jesus was HOTT!), and I wasn’t the only one. As much as Jesus and the male God have been pronounced as celibate, asexual beings, the sexiness of Jesus is well promoted for mainstream Christians. I remember my youth pastor saying that, “As much as that cute boy at school makes you smile, Jesus should make you smile more. Jesus always thinks you are beautiful.” When the Da Vinci Code movie came out in 2006, it caused a bit of  stir among Christian churches, the main complaint being that Jesus could have never have children. Not only would that (having sex?) compromise his divinity (although no one really ever explains why), it’s practically impossible (do NOT think of Jesus’ penis. Do NOT. It is not there. He does not use it. End. Of. Story.) Yet his sexuality was just that which was coveted by some people, including my friend. When I asked her what she thought of the movie, she said that she was fine with it, except that she would be sad to think of Jesus as having a wife. . . because she doesn’t want to share his love like that.

So as girls, we (being myself and this friend and others) were sort of allowed to see Jesus as romantic. We were the brides of Christ. A major motivation to stay virgins until we married was because if we didn’t, it would be like we were cheating on Jesus (yes, this was another youth service sermon). Yet, to think of the historical Jesus as feeling lust, but more to the point, engaging in sex, would be wrong. Right? Because sex is . . . not divine? What happens if he has sex???? Is sex sin? What IS it? But hey, if he DID think about sex, it was certainly heterosexual sex. That is just a given. Come on.

God is sort of given the same rap, although He isn’t as sexy since he’s sort of amorphous and spirit-y. Yet He’s definitely male (Zeus, anyone?) and yet definitely asexual (although. . . he kind of did it with Mary to make Jesus. . . omgz I’m so confused).

But what consequences do such messages have on our theologies, on our lives? Jesus/God is a sexy beast we can’t really have. Is there a place for the erotic, for sexuality, in our theology? Can it be seen as divine and good and therefore not to be avoided in our deities and in our own religious/spiritual lives? Do we have to separate it? Here is me being holy and sacred (not having sex). Here is me being human (not divine, having sex). I’m not sure really what I want in theology, but it might be nice to discover the sensual and the sexual and not have it be a disconnect with the sacred. At the same time, the sexualizing of God/Jesus as husband/boyfriend/great body as it happens now seems problematic. But I’m not sure how to articulate why.

As we think on these things, may this music video from the film Hamlet 2 be of aid:

October 1, 2009

Hi, My Name is Kate, and I Have Body Image Issues

Posted in Body Image, Relationships, sexuality tagged , , at 4:37 am by Eostre

me at ginas            There should be a group like AA for people who have serious body image issues; it could be called BHA, or Body Haters Anonymous. As someone who would have been a lifelong member, I am just now realizing how much of a disease it is.

            I am 24, 5’11”, and weigh in at over 200lbs. That shouldn’t have been hard to say, but it was. I was one of those girls who developed early, was wearing a B Cup by the 5thgrade, and had full curves by the time I was 13. As such I was always larger, and more developed, than my peers. I was dealing with my period and underwire bras at a time in life when most girls are still secretly playing with their My Little Ponies, and kids are cruel about stuff like that.

            So from a very young age I have had some serious issues with my body. We are ingrained so young with the socially constructed ideals of feminine beauty, that I never had a chance.

             I dated a little in high school (way too serious way too young) and much less in the beginning of college, but it wasn’t too long before I took myself out of the running, so to speak. You see, the Evangelical Church has a male to female ratio problem, and there were always far more girls than boys in the social circles in which it was acceptable to date (it being completely out of the question to date a non-Christian) and at my Private Evangelical University there were about 3 girls to every 1 guy. In a climate like that most guys weren’t interested in the smart, sarcastic, chubby girl.

            So when familial stresses offered me an out, I took it, and recused myself from the dating competition. It was easier to say that I wasn’t interested than face the near constant dashed hopes that had characterized my youth.

            All of that to say that it has been some time since I have been on a date, and I don’t know if I even know how to go about this whole dating thing anymore. I have gotten used to thinking of myself as off the market, that I have internalized those attitudes and conceptions.

            Over the last year I have had so many new experiences, I have found a wonderful group of friends, I have been in challenging and humbling classes and my life has stretched and changed in ways that I had never thought possible. I now regularly go to the beach and wear a bathing-suit in public, something I almost never did before. In fact I have worn things that previously I would never have even considered (pink tube top and borrowed black concert dress, I am looking at you!).

            So while I have, in some ways, gotten more comfortable with my body, I still have a hard time seeing it as attractive or desirable. I have internalized the Beauty Myth.  I know in my head that it is a false construct, I haven’t been able to shake it. I still have a really difficult time posting pictures that show my body on sites like facebook (or here, for that matter), and that is just one off-shoot of the internalized problem.

          Coming from any of my friends I would decry this blog, and it is true that I am surrounded by beautiful (and not even remotely similar) women, but a lifetime of negative reinforcement is blocking my way, and I can’t view myself through the same lens that I view the rest of the world. 

            I have been happy, this past year (and I continue to be very happy), and I can’t say that I have felt the lack of romance in my life. But part of me has to wonder, is that because I truly don’t miss it, or because I have given up on looking for it? Perhaps a little (or a lot) of both, I’m not sure.

            My name is Kate, and I have body image issues. I first realized I had a problem a week or so ago, and I am trying to make a change.

September 29, 2009

Trouble with a capital “T”

Posted in Relationships, sexuality at 8:52 am by LadySophie

Our topic this week is body image, relationships and something else…all I can think about these days is my new relationship. I had to remind myself that I am still a PhD student yesterday – seems to slip my mind. The  newness and intensity of those first dates is something worth focusing on. I had just declared to a friend that I was “done with relationships, done with men” and then I met one hot Asian boy the next day. Trouble.

I have had a lot of experience with singleness. I have even taught workshops on it – yikes. People were frustrated that I didn’t have a lot of answers for them. I have been a Christian single, devoted to waiting until marriage for sex. That adds a whole new layer to the mix. I have had significant relationships and even been engaged. But mostly, life is pretty great as a single. I make my own decisions, I choose how I spend my time and money, I have lots of time for my girlfriends. I am the strong, independent woman – because how else would I be?

So this new…thing…is shaking up my world a little. There are things that I have looked for before and not really found. But then I met him. I am not saying this is IT or that he is the mystical ONE – but I have been shocked by my reactions so far. The power of the voices in my head.

“You are too old to get what you want” is the phrase that bothered me the most. My friend calls it an “error of scarcity” and I believe it. Deep down I believe there is not enough love for me. Not enough of me that is worth loving. That I am too much or too little of what I should be. I live under these lies at times and it keeps me from giving a lot of people a chance. This new relationship has reminded me of the truth – that there is an abundant, loving God that never intended that I live a scarce life.

So why is new boy trouble with a capital “T”? He takes care of me even though I am independent. He tells me I am beautiful even though I am too tall. He gives freely even though I expect so little. He does not fit my previous self-destructive patterns. One hot Asian boy can shake things up and make for a LOT of interesting days.  Trouble.

September 23, 2009

Cute Pink Bunny Vibrator: My Worst Enemy

Posted in religion, sexuality tagged , , , , , at 3:08 am by Lakshmi (LaChelle)

rabbit-pearl-vibrator-big. . . well, not really. But it does scare the hell out of me. It’s hidden away in a cozy beige bag in the hallway cupboard, right next to the clear baggie of brightly colored vegan condoms flavored blueberry, strawberry, wildberry, and vanilla, which is next to a goddess-lovely tube of vegan lube. The first time I have sex with the person I love most (me), I want it to be a truly organic experience. (You can get all of these things, well sans the vibrator, here.)

Um, okay, I don’t even know if that last joke made sense. But whatever.

To put it bluntly, nothing has ever gone inside me “down there:” not a tampon, finger, penis, or even the seemingly innocent little vibrator with a rabbit and pearls that someone paid $79 for.

I’m a pretty, blonde, Ph.d, all-around-fabulous person who has done plenty of other things and gone on many dates, but I’m a little over a year away from being 30 and I sort of have a complex about this. My feelings range from OMG-I’m-a-Horrible-Weird-Ogre-Freak to Ha!-Queen-Of-Purity! But mostly, I don’t really think too much about it at all.

Growing up, I was the speaker on “abstinence” at a Youth Leadership Conference because I religiously believed that God had a soulmate for each person and so you should save yourself for him/her until your magical wedding night which would be stars and Bryan Adams playing in the background and a bed that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea while it rained. I’m sure my evangelical tradition had something to do with this idea as did growing up in the Bible Belt. I was even taught that masturbation was a dirty little sin that could send you to hell. I really had little sexual outlet.

All my boyfriends at my Christian college were equally as repressed and so I was never really confronted with the idea that anyone would even want to have sex with me. . . not until graduate school. But we didn’t. Actually, we never really even had the conversation and my boyfriend, another virgin but not a Christian, did not suggest it. We increasingly became more and more intimate though. And with each step I felt increasingly more guilt and shame, and the disapproving floating head of God in my mind looked a lot like my mom’s. I was beginning to be less shackled my traditional Christianity after I moved away from home, but the new world of sexual intimacy, drinking, late night intellectual discussions, clubs, and basically experiencing life was intimidating.

By the time I finished my MA, I went back home and began dating someone else that I eventually moved in with, but he was even more adamant (being a Christian) that sex was for marriage. So no-go there. And finally when I was feeling okay and adventurous! I even remember staying up late one night with my older woman friend discussing how to seduce a man. But Mr. D could not be seduced. My last boyfriend was also a virgin, but he wouldn’t have minded having sex, yet. . . I just can’t. I don’t want to. First it was religious, and mostly now it’s that having a baby would in my opinion absolutely ruin my life (I hate the idea of having children, call me a monster if you will). And partly. . . because pink vibrators won’t get you pregnant. . right?. . . I just don’t want to take the plunge. I’m scared? I don’t know. If you’ve never had chocolate before, maybe you stop caring about trying to eat it. If my religion would have celebrated sexuality and bodies and my mom would have been less BoysOnlyWantSex/ToRapeYouOneThing, maybe just maybe, I wouldn’t now be coveting/idolizing my body-as-temple or, to rephrase someone brilliant, putting the penis on a pedestal. I do understand that I have the ability to change my mind about sex now that I am agent of my life. But I’m honestly just not sure how to do that.

September 16, 2009

A garden and a red-headed eve

Posted in feminism, music, sexuality tagged , , , at 7:01 am by Lakshmi (LaChelle)

tori apple

I love gardens and that the story of creation and the fall is set in one. They are magical and ethereal and constantly changing in their seasons. And I always think it is really interesting when feminists re-read the story to reclaim Eve, because at one time all women were blamed by Tertullian and others for being “daughters of Eve” the woman (and woman is emphasized) who just ruined everything and kept us barred from paradise for a long time afterward.

But gardens can be dark, vulnerable, quiet, secret, secluded, places where we get naked, intimate touches underneath clothes near a bullfrog pond, the humidity, the dark skin and dark eyes, the buzzing, the prayers, wandering in a place that we can almost pretend is untouched but then again touched several times. The wet dirt, the storms and the rain, the shelter the trees provide. The girls that get married there. How pretty the fuschia flowers make your hair look in a photograph. The nature that produces something you can actually bite, roll around on your tongue – you can just take it, pull it off, but it goes inside of you and becomes a part of you and someday you become a part of the earth or just expel it.

I remember going to a garden once, we explored it together. Often I like to go to gardens alone and sit near the steps of running water and close my eyes and let the sunlight press gently into my cheeks, but this time I was with a boy. And it was one of the last times we would see each other for a long time; it was our last week. You can’t help how people make you feel sometimes. He often made me feel depressed and unwanted. I hated the feeling of always longing for someone, but him never quite being enough, even when he did love only me and he was my boyfriend. But the bad feelings drained away so often, and he might have been the only one I ever loved. And that day in the garden, we knew there was passion and warmth and need. The whole garden consumed us, and it was ours, a big vast expanse of tall trees and bridges and cascading water over large stones, and me in my purple umbrella. We took lots of pictures that day, but I don’t remember holding anything that wasn’t ethereal, doing anything that wasn’t hazy and sad and beautiful. We were so communicative that day with our eyes. He was my first awakening, and my only one since. If only he could have been truly a god, then he would have known the right things to say and what to keep silent.

Gardens for me hold memories, some true and some imagined, a reality on some other plane. Why can everything in a garden always be so symbolic? You don’t need the material gems and cars, you’ve got lush flowers and waxy soft leaves and a great blue dimming sky that hangs, hovers, weighs down on you but is suspended so you can never touch it and never get away  from it at the same time, you just swim in it. I love the gardens. They are mysterious whole worlds.