Category Archives: Media + Society Talk

Feminism & The Adult Industry

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For years some of the most well-educated, scholarly individuals have dedicated a portion of their studies to a subject that could make the rest of us blush: Porn. It’s been evaluated for insight into human sexuality, relationships, culture, societal standards of beauty, and recently, it’s infiltrated the discussion of feminism.

feminismSex-positive feminist writer Wendy McElroy, wrote an educational article for Free Inquiry Magazine where she discussed feminist views on pornography. She claimed that most feminist opinions on pornography can be broken down into three basic categories. The first are those who oppose pornography, with a large portion believing that it’s misogynistic. The second category take an agnostic approach, believing a woman is entitled to do whatever she wants with her own body. Members in the third group refer to themselves as being sex-positive or believing in the idea of sexual freedom. Those in the third group are the ones most likely to also point out the potential benefits that porn can provide women with, and are believed to have formed in opposition to the anti-pornography feminists within the first category.

However, personally speaking as a feminist, I find that I most relate to Adam and Eve contributor/blogger Dr. Kat. For those unfamiliar with Dr. Kat—her doctorate is in Human Sexuality/Clinical Sexology—she frequently discusses the need for society take away the stigma of sex, make it less shameful, and embrace it for the beautiful act that it is.

Although she works to empower women by helping them have more satisfying relationships and sex lives, she’s also sympathetic to the idea of some being turned off by pornography. It’s part of the reason why she’s also quick to mention that no matter where you stand on the subject, the adult industry has been listening to all sides of the feminist argument, and it has been making changes to the types of porn being produced.

Today, more companies are choosing to make pornography that either caters towards a female audience or shows an equal share in pleasure by both parities invovled. The Guardian quoted female pornography director Anna Arrowsmith, who (although she doesn’t overtly say so) sounds like a feminist herself by saying, “I have fought long and hard for women’s right to sexual expression and consumption, as well as for freedom of speech.” Arrowsmith focuses her films far away from the overtly fantasized if not cliched “narratives” of horny school girls and nymphomaniac nannies in order to tell stories of love and passion that women can relate to. With films such as hers growing prevalent in the industry, feminists can feel comfortable in enjoying them because those involved are being treated as equals, not as objects or toys in a misogynistic fantasy.

A feminist group has even taken it upon themselves to reward those like Arrowsmith who are taking part in the movement, creating the Good For Her Feminist Porn Awards—better known simply as the Feminist Porn Awards, according to The Week.

With the wide range of pornography available, it’s likely that there will be something within the industry that you don’t prefer. But at least it’s a step in the right direction to create a portion that isn’t demeaning. Whether you enjoy watching pornography or not, the question remains: Are female porn stars or those that enjoy pornography (even slightly) performing a feminist act? Since there’s no rules on what type of feminist you have to be, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Does feminism have a place in pornography?

3 Reasons to Stop Worrying about Book Piracy

First things first: I am in no way advocating illegal downloads. And yes, I would hope that anyone interested in my books would take the official route. I mean, seriously, it’s the price of a cup of coffee, and you have no idea how much it makes me smile when I check my sales and there was a tiny jump in numbers.

But I keep seeing a lot of anger and worry and generally negative feelings created by finding books on pirate sites, and I always feel like that might be misplaced. Especially when it coincides with worries about income from writing, as though they are really connected. And in the end, I think it’s much better to accept piracy as a reality we can try to use in our favor rather than getting upset about it every time. And here is why:

1. I am not actually losing anything.

No matter often the dvd piracy warning has flickered over our televisions, we HAVE to admit that there is a difference between stealing a material good and stealing an immaterial copy of a digital file for their own use.
Yes, to produce an ebook costs money, and a lot of time. But to replicate one doesn’t cost a thing. And the value of an ebook is freely scalable. You can sell it for $9.99 or $0.99 and both are equally valid, and depend on your business model, how many you hope to sell, the genre expectations etc. Now we all want to make a living off writing, and I think we deserve to get there, but that’s a different conversation. When we are talking about piracy, I am not losing resources, time or any other costs if someone, somewhere downloads an illegal copy of my book.

This would be different of course if someone took my intellectual property and sold it on or plagiarized it. Then yes, I am losing the income they steal from me – but I do think illegal downloads represents something of an inbetween, no matter now much big companies are trying to bully legislators into considering it theft as much as any other theft.

2. Numbers of illegal downloads do NOT represent income I might have had

Now, people download for all kinds of reasons. Some genuinely can’t afford to spend money on books because they have a family to feed. Others are data hoarders, who just generate pleasure from collecting stuff – far more stuff than they could ever read. Yet others are serial downloaders, who — for whatever reasons, some more valid some less — have decided that the current copyright laws are outmoded and they don’t feel they are doing anything wrong in downloading.
Whatever I think about any of these people: None of them are likely to have bought my book if it hadn’t been available on a pirate site. So if they hadn’t downloaded my book illegally, they would never have gotten their hands on it at all, or in many cases wouldn’t even have heard of it.
That wouldn’t do me any good. Now, I prefer being read to not being read, and yes I would like it a lot more if someone simply contacted me, and told me that they would love to read my book but can’t afford it right now, and I’d gladly send them a copy… BUT I grant that not many people are likely to do this.

I can frame it this way in my mind, though, and stop getting angry.

The goal is to create media that makes people want to spend their money on, and to be to good to those loyal readers.

3. Creative media start to become goods of emotional value

If we look at the music industry, which is always a few steps ahead of us in terms of alternative movements, indie productions and digitization, what we are seeing more and more, are sites like Bandcamp where in many cases, the customers pays what they want to pay. Many artists have their own shop on their websites that functions much the same way. I.e. instead of a fixed price, pricing becomes an open field in which the fan/listener/reader types a figure before they click pay.

And what creators are seeing is that in general, they don’t make less money.

This is one of the most interesting things about the internet and content creation. We are seeing the same thing at Patreon, Subbable, Kickstarter and many more. We WANT to attribute value to the content that makes us happy. Some people may be able to pay 2$ others 10$, and that is a model that makes a lot more sense for digitized products that have no tangible, material value of their own. Because why shouldn’t my book be cheaper for a high school kid or mother of four who gets minimum wage, than for someone with a good, steady income? That sounds totally fair to me because to that mother of four, 2$ signifies the same financial burden as 6$ for someone who has three times her net income.

And publishing is traditionally a little bit elitist isn’t it? There continues to be talk about how “special” books are and, I think most of us mystify the idea of being an author, too. But once we step away from that – like many indie musicians stepped away from the hyped and idealized rock-star ideal – what we are left with is this: we are creators of content. No better or worse than a musician, someone who paints a weekly comic strip or produces a web series on Youtube. But where all of those have embraced new ways of attributing value to content and making it profitable enough to live off being a creator, we indie authors still feel shackled to the old model of the publishing industry when we should be opening our minds to new ideas.

Now obviously, this isn’t exactly tied to piracy, but the music industry has had to deal with that a lot longer than we have. And still indie bands are thriving as much as before. And many of them have openly stated that they don’t mind it when their music is downloaded, because they know that people who fall in love with their stuff will buy the next album, if they can. And I think we should try and approach piracy with a similar state of mind.

If just because it’s better for our general happiness :) .

photo credit: Free Grunge Textures - www.freestock.ca via photopin cc

Is it the Times that Change, or is it us?

Gilmore Girls inspired insights into our life and times

I have never been a fan of old movies. Those timeless classics everybody should have watched at least once. It’s different with classic books, but — with a small and notable number of exceptions, like The Breakfast Club – I never seem to get into movies made before I was born.

it-happened-2It took me a while to figure out why. I admit I like color, and a clear picture. I also modern acting, where the old-timey kind often feels surreal and artificial. And most of all, I like the kind of stories it takes guts to tell, and that changes. Something that took guts 50 years ago, in today’s world comes across as somewhat conservative, after all.

It doesn’t seem like that with classic novels. Look at anything from Shakespeare to Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre, to Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, on to Of Human Bondage, Oscar Wilde, To Kill a Mockingbird1984 and Slaughterhouse Five. All of those are still brave, even if some of them were written centuries ago, they still pack this undeniable punch that’s hard to ignore.

I don’t get that with movies. I have a friend, a cineaste, who tries to change my mind on this constantly. From time to time, I give in and watch whatever he makes me watch. Most recently It Happened One Night (1934), which was supposed to be sweet and romantic and full of understated sexiness… and all I could find was sexism and an icky guy with a mustache. Sounds similar, but it kills every buzz before before I can say “Oh, hi there!”

I’ve always felt vaguely bad for this. Not too terribly, because I get classic novels, and so clearly fill at least one quota of sophistication, but still – it’s a bit hard to admit that you’d rather watch Love Actually, or The Incredibles or, more likely, Parks & Recreation or Community or Game of Thrones for the umpteenth time, than to try out Casablanca or whatever it is. I’m that girl who prefers the 2005 Keira Knightly Pride & Prejudice over the 1995 Colin Firth one. I tell you, they’re not pretty, the looks I get.

Now, Netflix finally came to Germany a few weeks ago (hello beautiful addiction), and now my queue is full of old Gilmore Girls episodes. Now, you have to understand… I LOVED Gilmore Girls when I was a teenager. Loved it. Everything about it. It was my #1 addiction show. Not Buffy (that came later, I still blame the German dubbing), not Charmed (close second lol), always Gilmore Girls. I even had all the seasons on DVD, and then left them at my Ex’s place before we broke up and never saw them again (lesson learned)! So naturally, this whole Gilmore Girls coming to Netflix this October business left me very, very excited.

Then I started watching.

And suddenly, Gilmore Girls is an old movie to me. Or well on its way, anyway, and it made me realize what it is about the media of the past that aggravates me so much. I had the same problem trying to watch That 70′s Show a while ago, but I thought it just wasn’t my thing (with the constant cutsiefiction of sexual harassment as a thing sweet, adorable lonely guys do).

Gilmore Girls is supposed to be about free spirits and dorky outsiders, girl-power and emancipation, liberal girls who don’t give a damn about tradition and do their own thing, and do it well: in short an extremely awesome, feminist show. At least, that’s what it felt like to me when I was that age. Yes, I still love their quippy play-by-play, but now I wish it had more substance.

And now I don’t know whether I changed, or whether we just grew as a society. I just feel like a series trying for the same idea today would be so different (see the early cancelled Bunheads, for example, a more recent product of Amy Sherman-Palladino with a lot of the same cast). Or maybe a show I would like today would have to be. Maybe more like Lauren Graham and Mae Whitman’s mother-daughter relationship in NBC’s Parenthood.

The point is… movies and TV series are informed by the times in which they were made, and I suppose I just discovered I have zero nostalgia for the past. I LIKE diversity in my series (and I mean more than one Korean best friend and using the word “gay” as a joke/punch-line/insult). I LIKE honesty in the stories we tell, rather than glossing over the hard bits, and tv series are the perfect outlet for that. Much better than movies, with their fixed and limited time-span, can be.

In the end, I think today, Gilmore Girls feels conservative, chaste and weak in its message. It’s disappointing and not nearly as much fun to watch as I thought it would be.

I am keeping this running tally of disappointing moments, like when Lorelai uses gay as an insult, or Rory is disgusted at the idea of nursing a baby in public, or the constant slut shaming and fat phobia (especially galling considering they eat exactly like people like them imagine fat people eat). Or the crazy stereotypical sexist representation of Rory’s friends in Chilton (the ultra competitive bitchy one — and I know Paris ends up more fleshed out but it takes almost two whole seasons to get there, the boy-crazy “slutty” one and the dumb, nice one). But what gets me most are those overarching themes.

The basic premise that Lorelai’s parents have a right to be disappointed she didn’t turn out their carbon copy is never actually questioned. Lorelai apologizes, she even says she’s some kind of special freak, but the idea that parents get to be this actively disappointed for 15 long years because their child chose a different path is taken for granted. No mention that children have a sense of autonomy, that they are individuals, or that parents shouldn’t even try to brainwash them into becoming just like them.

And then there is Lorelai’s insistence not to get any help from her parents. And it makes sense with her character, but in today’s world where a single income is rarely enough to support a family, it sets an impossible standard for single-parent mothers. And the whole self-made person, never-ask-for-help-from-anyone bit could have come right out of some conservative politician’s mouth (who also was born to wealthy parents, giving them an extra boost in the world not just in money, but in the expectation that it’s possible to be that self-starter, and having room to fail). What is so wrong in helping each other? Why is that such a terrible thing?

And don’t get me started on the men and boys in their lives.

Dean is presented as the “good guy” compared to Jess, but Dean has crazy anger management issues. He may not get into fights, but he threatens violence, he yells, and treats Rory like a possession no other man is allowed to look at (see Tristan, Jess). There are several points in the story where Rory looks actively afraid of him, and with good reason. He’s clingy and manipulative and abusive, but no, he’s the golden boy. The nice one, and Rory is the bad girl for falling for someone less crazy, someone who intellectually challenges her and actually makes her laugh.

Can we also talk about the fact that through the whole of the first season, it’s sooo scandalous and worrisome that a 16-year-old girl has a boyfriend? And everybody makes claims about how boys that age only think of one thing, and can’t be trusted and omg the drama. And then in the show, Rory actually doesn’t have sex until she goes to college (and even then it’s one big drama), even though she was practically never without a boyfriend all through high school, perpetuating this idea that girls are supposed to virtuous and not want it anyway or that sex isn’t a good, happy thing between two people who love each other? Aren’t we as a society ready now for women and girls who have desires and fun, and don’t have to choose between being smart/intellectual and enjoying sex?

And then there’s Lorelai. I never got the much-hyped “chemistry” between her and Luke. I always loved Max, and I still do. But I see what everybody means now. It’s exactly that “chemistry” that leads so many women who’ve read too many romance novels or see n too many romantic comedies to believe that when a guy is grumpy and quiet, that makes him mysterious or someone to save and she ends up miserable, when she could have been with a good, caring man who knows how to communicate and use his words, who actually shares her interest and matches her intellect so she doesn’t have to play dumb, or alter herself to flirt with him.

But the writers were very insistent to write out any man who actually fits with Lorelai: Max went suddenly marriage crazy, and we didn’t even get a resolution are any kind of goodbye. Christopher, who I then rooted for, gets a phone call that his ex is pregnant… and so there’s always grumpy old Luke to turn to. That’s not fate, or chemistry, that’s cruel writers ;) . And I get that, I’m a writer: torturing your characters is part of the deal, I just don’t buy the overarching love story she and Luke are supposed to have.

Sorry for the rant, I suppose I needed to get that off my chest.  And really, it’s not all bad, it’s still just as sweet and witty as it always was. It’s just not that crazy happy perfect show anymore that it was when I was young.
What I’m trying to say, though, is that no matter how bad it seems sometimes… I really like the times we live in.

We may have sexist assholes stealing naked pictures of famous women and spreading them over the internet, but we also have Jennifer Lawrence, who refuses to apologize for having made the pictures in the first place – who refuses to apologise, in short, for being a full human being with emotions and sexuality, and calls this “leak” by what it is: a sex-crime.

We may have internet trolls harassing, threatening and virtually beating up women who dare to speak out on women’s issues – but at least we’re talking about them.

And I’m not saying that all tv shows are better now, that no sexist or racist or homophobic stuff happens in movies. But I think it’s easier to find shows who go a different way, and not only am I grateful for that as a viewer, I also think it says something about us as a society. Namely, that it doesn’t always get worse at all.

Let’s talk about love. Insta-love.

Almost all my characters suffer from what I understand is a fatal flaw in romance novels.

Almost all my characters have a tragic slant towards insta-love.

Now, I don’t actually write romance, as far as I would define it, although Driftwood Deeds
comes pretty close. I think, I write novels with love stories in their side or main plots, usually some kind of genre cross-over, because that’s what makes me happy. But there is still that romantic connection, the nod to everybody who does like to read about love. Like me, like you – like almost everybody it seems, considering that even very male-oriented staples usually feature some kind of love story, love interest or love-related motivation. And why wouldn’t it?
medium_2834306912After (and often enough before) the basic necessities for survival are satisfied, love seems to be one of the forces in our lives that creates the most change, the most flux, drama, happiness, anxiety and contentment, all at once. It’s a literary gold mine. What would 1984 be without the strange, crooked love story between Winston and Juliet? Or even Fight Club, without Marla Singer? It surprised me at the time when I read that Chuck Palahniuk categorized his novel as a love story. It made a crazy amount of sense, when I read it again.

So this insta-love business. I understand why it’s a somewhat hated trope. It smacks a little bit of neglect, of giving your characters something good too easily. And maybe that’s true. Sometimes. But avoiding insta-love completely, would also remove my personal experience of love from my writing. And I don’t want to do that. I want my writing to be real, and honest. Not so personal that you can read some of my stories and feel like I just put my life’s story on your shoulders, but personal enough to transport truth.
For me, love was always quick. And it takes a while to understand that my personal experience is not everybody else’s. So for a long time, the idea of insta-love baffled me. Do we really need reasons for falling in love? Do we need conflict and emotional back and forth? It’s never been that way for me – the reasons and the drama came later.

I’ve read a lot about introverts and emphatic and sensitive people recently, ostensibly in order to put a nicer spin on a lot of my character traits, redefining them for myself as assets. But I came across something interesting, which was that highly sensitive people often report falling in love really fast and head-over-heels intensely. Maybe because there is something about our nervous systems that is easy overwhelmed in general (loud parties, a problem, that news report about the suffering after an earthquake) and of course love can be the most overwhelming of all.

Maybe it’s the romance novel expectation: when the plot is the love story, why throw the prize away a few pages after they meet? I understand that rationally, but in every other way I find that hugely problematic.
For one thing, why is that the prize? Surely the prize is actually being with that person, and realizing you can actually make it work.

It also bothers me, when (usually) the girl doesn’t like him at first, thinks he’s a bit brutish or arrogant or stupid or whatever, and then we spend a novel reading about how she was wrong and he got her anyway. Why do we insist on telling women not to trust their instincts? Instincts are good! We should foster them, try to divide them from our prejudices, hone them and allow them to influence our decisions.
Another way love is oven deferred in books, is due to pride. And again, I understand about not giving away the prize and all, but I actually like reading about people who are open and generous about their feelings. Who don’t hold onto them like little old misers with their pennies. Who are open to falling in love, even if it hurts; who laugh, even at slightly stupid jokes; who cry when something is sad rather than refusing to feel. Why do we so often look down on people who feel.

So you fall for someone and the worst thing that can happen is that it doesn’t work out, you get rejected, you find out he isn’t really that great… yeah, that stuff hurts. And we can learn to deal with that. Especially when we are open about that pain, too.

BTLOTM -- color240x360In By the Light of the Moon, Moira and Owain, once they find a connection, fall in love hard and fast. And I never considered that this might be insta-love. Especially because she is a 19-year-old who’s never been in love before. Isn’t that how we fall in love for the first time? Hard and fast, without reason or pride, absolutely at the mercy of this avalanche of hormones and joy and panic that spreads through our bodies at the sight of his smile, at the feel of his first touch?

I still fall in love like that.

I’m a grown-up now, so I know not to say it. I know that I can only say I am in love with someone when I am ready to make a commitment and, better yet, when they have said it first so I know they are ready for a commitment – but all that is just my head talking, my cultural programming, the knowledge of acceptable word usage. So I use different words, but the feeling is still there.
The truth is there isn’t one way to love, or one definition. Love can be all sort of things, and go through all sorts of phases – but that first flutter, the overwhelming feeling that this person could be someone incredible, why is that so underrated anymore?

Of course it’s not as stable, it’s not a promise, it’s not a guarantee, but isn’t that beauty in it? Isn’t that something that can grow? And isn’t the growth an interesting story, too?
I love Pride & Prejudice, but I still want to shake Lizzie and Darcy because they are wasting so much precious time, so many moments together. They even manage to almost destroy the sweet insta-love between Jane and Bingly with their pride and rationality. And I want to shake them for that, too.

And yeah, I hate insta-love too when it’s about superficial stuff. When love comes from the way someone wears their hair, or the cocky smile on his face. But that’s not all we perceive. I think after even evening together, we can see so much in a person. In their opinions, their jokes, their reactions, the little nuances in their voice, especially in their voice.
I think we should pat ourselves and our characters on the back and trust a little more, give some weight to first impressions and instincts, to sudden rushes of feeling.

Sure, they’ll lead us astray sometimes. But that’s no reason to stop feeling.

photo credit: Brandon Christopher Warren and mohammadali via photopin cc

Misogyny kills. Again. Be shocked.

This is hard.

You all know I blog about feminism. This is important to me. And then something like the Elliot Rodger massacre happens and I want nothing to do with it. It feels like only last week that this other guy killed the girl who refused to go to prom with him, like I was only just getting over that one.

I could deal with it when I read the news. Sort of. I couldn’t watch his videos or read parts of his manifesto. And when the next day social media kicked in and my dashboard erupted in twitter screenshots of people who congratulated him, thanked him, drank to him… I think I stopped and left the computer and in a way, I’m still avoiding this issue.

It’s too much sometimes. And I get so, so tired. Do you guys feel that way sometimes? Like you try to talk about misogyny and how dangerous it is, and what we can do and nobody really listens? And then something horrible happens again and invariable it’s pushed away as the acts of a “lonely virgin” suffering from mental illness, and that’s it.

It hurts. I’m not personally affected, no, but it hurts. And I could have been. You could have been. Man or woman, straight or gay, whatever color your skin is. You could have been. Misogyny kills. And I’m so tired of it all, of all the things people will say to protect themselves from having to actually think about this, from having to actually make some changes in their lives.

These are some of those things:

 “Oh in case feminists didn’t carefully pay attention to the news, you know who killed 4 MEN and 2 WOMEN. Which gender suffered more? That’s right.” (actual tumblr quote)

1. This is not a suffering competition. We don’t tally score. This is not a women against men crusade.

2. Misogyny kills men and women. It always has. It’s not a women’s issue, however much it is always portrayed that way. Men have many privileges over women, yes all men. Not just some. All of you. Read Charlie Glickman’s post if you want to learn more about that.

But the truth is that women aren’t the only victims of a patriarchical system. When men abuse women in the home, young boys suffer, just as much as girls. Boys suffer when they are told Boys don’t cry, or called sissies, pussies or any other term for “female” when they show emotion.

Teens are further disconnected from their emotions and compassion, through the media, their friends, their fathers, and yes, women as well, be it their mothers or anyone else.

Their sexuality is warped away from intimacy and tenderness and towards crude entitlement, to using women’s bodies as masturbatory tools, to seeing them as things for their pleasure without a clue as to what pleasure actually is.

And yeah, sometimes misogyny kills men, too. Like it happened in this massacre. But that doesn’t make it any less of a misogynist crime.

So yeah, men are victims, too. What else can we expect from living in a society with such seriously screwed up ideas of gender and what it should be?

He was just mentally ill. It has nothing to do with women. If he hadn’t felt entitled to them, it would have been over something else.

First of all: are you a psychiatrist? No. Then you’re talking out of your ass to cover this little uncomfortable feeling inside of you makes you avoid the actual issue here.

Yeah, it looks like he was suffering from a mental illness. That’s an important discussion (sad that it only ever comes up when white straight young men shoot people, but okay). To be fair, he was from an extremely privileged background, so getting help for that should have been about 100 times easier than for 99% of the population. I have a mental illness, I know lots of people with mental illness. It’s not card blanche. You go get help. You work on yourself. And that’s really hard.

Elliot Rodger may have felt this intense level of entitlement due to a mental illness. But he didn’t feel entitled to be on the cover of Rolling Stone and shot up their head offices, or to be on some football team.

No. He felt entitled to something that a vast mass cultural narrative taught him to feel entitled to: sex from hot women. Not love, not intimacy, not a happy relationship or the meeting of minds – no: blonde sorority chicks he never actually met, just “desired” for their looks.

This is not a coincidence. And it’s not all down to mental illness. Mental illness may have provided the trigger but misogyny is the soil, the plan, the gun. And every time someone denies this, we give it more power.

 

So can we just repeat together: women don’t owe men sex. Women are not free prostitutes who service men for a drink, a sleazy compliment or pick-up-line or anything else men have come up with to “get laid”. We are human beings. As much as you have preferences (as in, if you wouldn’t date a “fat chick”, or a “crazy one” or a “clingy one” or etc.) they do, too. They don’t owe you anything. Never. There’s no such thing as a “friendzone”. There is rejection, and it sucks, and both men and women experience it all the time. Learn to deal with that. And move on.

How are we still talking about this?