Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
Cross-posted from Public Address.
Back when I first started reading feminist bloggage, there was a question I used to see pretty often: the Feminist Utopia Question. Would there be pornography in your feminist utopia? Prostitution?
As a dirty filthy incrementalist, it always kind of annoyed me. What use was it, without considering the steps along the way? Didn’t the very question prioritise ideology over the effects on real people? Wasn’t it just, basically, a big pile of intellectual wank?
Now, though, having been in the game for a while, I’m tempted to give intellectual wankery a try. What would an ideal sex-positive society look like? What would be different, that perhaps is not so obvious? What would have changed along the way?
Before we begin, a word about what sex positivity is, and ridiculously more to the point, what it isn’t. This is my personal interpretation: everyone’s will be slightly different. See here, here, and of course the Chocolate Manifesto.
Sex positivity is not the belief that all people everywhere should have as much dirty dirty sex as possible. The essence of sex positivity is embracing the diversity of human sexuality and gender identity. It’s about actively seeking to remove both shame and privilege from particular kinds of sexual activity – or a lack of sexual activity. It’s about everyone being able to make the sexual choices that are right for them, free of stigma: having the knowledge and the social freedom to do so. It’s about being positive about all sexual choices and the biological bases we make those choices from. And, of course, celebrating the joy of dirty dirty sex.
For a start, in a Sex-Positive Utopia, the Period Planner app on my phone wouldn’t say “love connection”. It would say “sex”. With no stigma around sex, there’d be no need for euphemism. We wouldn’t have to pretend sex was love, or sleep. That wouldn’t mean the loss of magnificent figurative language around sex: rather the opposite. We’d have so many more sexual ideas to explore and discuss.
With the loss of its taboo, sex would actually become less important on a social level. You’d no more use sex to sell a car than you would golf. There’d be no point in policing people’s clothing choices, because no-one would care if you were trying to get laid or not. Worried about losing the specialness? Individuals would still be able to create circumstances that made their sexual experiences sacred, or sordid.
We’d talk openly about sex a lot more, but with less significance. Sexual mores in other times and places would be a simple, matter-of-fact part of History and Social Studies, just like customs of dress and diet. If you were studying Roman History, you’d actually know about this. (Link mildly NSFW – an acronym I wouldn’t need in this future.) Sex education would be about sex, not puberty, and focus on the reason most people have most of their sex: pleasure.
Speaking of school, you know what you wouldn’t find there? Gender-based toilets. Having done away with the assumption that absolutely everyone is either male or female and everyone is straight, there is no fucking point in having Girls’ Toilets and Boys’ Toilets. Ditto changing rooms. And good riddance too, to our earliest introduction to the idea that males and females are mutually-incomprehensible aliens.
Depending on the survey, somewhere between 5 and 15% of people report having experienced same-sex attraction now. Removing the stigma from non-heterosexual sex is hardly going to push that number down. Segregation by gender simply makes no sense at all.
We are never going to stop passing judgement on each other’s relationships. But after the Sexy Revolution, the gender and number of participants and the nature of their sexual practices will be irrelevant. We’ll have to stick to judging relationships by the content of their members’ character.
And yes, there would still be prostitution. Good sex is awesome, and not everyone can get as much as they would like, for many reasons. Some people are good at sex and want to make a living from it. In Sex-Pos Wonderland, we could treat those people with the respect they deserve.
There would still be sexually-explicit imagery. There always has been and there always should be. I just don’t know if you still call it “pornography” when it’s not stigmatised.
We would also have a completely different idea of ‘masculinity’. Our concept of what it means to be male would bear some resemblance to the men we actually know. We’d finally be free of the Masculinity Box. That doesn’t mean automatically rejecting traditionally masculine values. It means including the behaviour and values of all men, until the concept basically becomes meaningless. Having a cock would no longer require or excuse being a cock.
As a result of all of this, of living in a world free of sexual shame and repression, perhaps the two most significant benefits. One: teenage girls would be allowed to direct their sexual energy into sex, rather than One Direction concerts. There goes the screaming and fainting and incoherent babbling. Two: more people would be having more and better sex. Possibly with screaming and fainting and incoherent babbling.
A local journalist contacted me for comment on paid parental leave.
A Manawatu academic and advocate for women’s rights has slammed the government for threatening to veto moves to extend paid parental leave, accusing it of ignoring the needs of babies.
Professor Deborah Russell, a lecturer in accountancy at Massey University, working mother and a feminist blogger said while affordability was an issue, there was always a way if the need was great enough.
“We need to have a think about what are the important things to afford and at the moment we are not very good at directing funds towards small children.”
Dr Russell said if parental leave was extended it might encourage fathers to share more of the load of early childcare, giving them a chance to bond better with their children in the early stages of development.
“Women normally take the parental leave and the childcare duties and that can have a long term impact on their careers. If we extend paid parental leave to six months men might take it up or share the leave and so we lose that gendered dimension.”
Just to be clear, I’m not actually a professor, and given that the paper contacted me, rather than me contacting the paper, that word “slammed” is exciting, but perhaps not quite accurate. However, the journalist represented my views very fairly indeed, and captured the two ideas I most wanted to get across.
1. Childcare is heavily gendered, with women more-or-less always being responsible for it. This shortchanges both women and men. Women lose income and career progress, and men lose connection and confidence with small children. More paid parental leave might enable more men to share the childcare in those early weeks and months.
2. Saying paid parental leave is unaffordable only makes sense if we regard it as something that has to be funded in addition to everything else we already fund. If we were willing to re-examine all our existing spending commitments, such as giving farmers a tax break on the emissions trading scheme, and the lack of means testing around New Zealand superannuation, then it might turn out that more paid parental leave was affordable afterall.
The Sunday Star Times reported today that more and more women, and some men, are giving up paid work because childcare costs are simply too great.
The story is familiar: by the time a family pays for childcare in order to enable both parents to earn income, nothing is left over from that second income. It is simply too expensive. This certainly gels with my own experience, and with the experiences that other women have reported to me. Just last week, one of my cousins told me that she gave up on returning to her interesting job when she realised that she was looking around for cheaper childcare. Given the nature of her job, and the extent to which her partner travels, she needs bullet proof childcare, the sort where she is able to call half an hour before she is due to pick her kids up because an urgent task has come in. That kind of childcare is simply not available at a price where she will have money left over from her salary.
But there is a curious anomaly in our funding of childcare and education. As it turns out, for many parents, the turning point is when their children head off to school. School is virtually free, “donations” and stationery aside, and it is freely available to every five year old in the country. We fund reasonably comprehensive childcare and education for five year olds, but not four year olds. The anomaly exists for historical reasons, but it seems to me that it could usefully be reviewed. Just like our existing spending could usefully be reviewed, both a part of a national conversation about what kinds of support we want to see young families getting.
Via various people on Twitter, and Jezebel, here’s Ashley Judd on the controversy surrounding her “puffy face”.
Consequently, I choose to address it because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.
Go read the whole thing. Really. It’ll make you feel better about your day.
You know what’s nice? Being able to come to The Lady Garden, and instead of ranting, celebrate some amazing women. First of all, if you couldn’t be there, the WYFC 1st birthday hootenanny was generally amazing. I spent at least 10 minutes explaining institutionalised sexism to a drunk Irishman. And when he came up with Sarah Palin as an example all on his own, I was so proud. Bless. Anyway, thank you to our Coley and the WYFC peeps, and all the perfomers and generally good folk. It was rad.
Now. Because I know you need things to fill up your social calenders, darlings, perhaps you’ll consider this.
FOTLG Ally Garrett is involved in a performance installation exhibition at Toi Poneke Gallery, inspired by Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece. It’s an adaptation of Shakespeare’s narrative poem, combining audio-visual installation with live performance. Two courageous women re-tell this story in an installation that explores the role of the female body in live performance and reclaims Lucrece’s story for women.
I sat down with Ally, and the show’s director, Fiona McNamara to talk about what people can expect.
Fi: It’s a performance installation mixing recorded audio -visual elements with live performance. The exhibition takes Shakespeare’s poem as a starting point. And the performance is a re-telling of the poem, by two women.
Ally: This means you can interact with the show in two different ways. You could come and see the installation during the day and spend time in the gallery space looking at and listening to the art work, or you could come along on a Thursday or a Friday evening during the season and watch a live performance in the space. It has been a fun challenge creating a stand alone exhibition, as well as a performance that incorporates and compliments what is on exhibit in the gallery at Toi Poneke.
What can people expect?
Fi: That depends so much on each individual audience member! It might make you think about the way that you watch theatre, and the way you relate to women’s bodies. The audience is seated close enough to the performers to touch them, which some spectators, who are used to sitting in the dark, where no one can see exactly who or what they are looking at, find confronting. Others said that having the story told to them by two women made them feel safe.
Ally: I think people who come to see the show can expect to see art and watch a performance that is exploring some challenging and potentially even upsetting themes, but in an environment that is safe at the same time. As a performer, I want to challenge the audience but I want them to feel like we are both in the experience together, and it’s a mutually powerful exchange.
Fi: Historically, women have been marginalised in live performance in the Western world. The texts that we call the classical canon were created in a world in which women were banned from the public stage and denied access to the means to create such work themselves. Plays were commissioned, written, managed and performed by men. Thus woman existed on stage only as a male construction. Theatre historian Sue-Ellen Case writes that to reproduce classics that were written in a society with strict gender roles is to reproduce the patriarchal nature of that society. I agree that gender inequality, particularly in the case of productions of classic texts, remains an issue in theatre today. However, I believe that we can reclaim classic texts for female theatre practitioners and female spectators by producing female-driven productions that radically subvert the rules under which the text would originally have been performed.
Our production is one small step toward reclaiming the classical cannon and the stage for women, In reading The Rape of Lucrece, I was struck by the poem’s focus on the male characters in the text, and particularly the weight given to Tarquin’s dilemma of whether or not he should rape Lucrece. I was also drawn in by Shakespeare’s understanding, though in comparatively fewer words, of Lucrece’s state after she is raped. Our aim is to make Lucrece the subject of the story and to create the production in a rehearsal room that is a women’s space. We hope, without marginalising men, to produce a play for, by and about women. The production attempts to understand Lucrece, the fictional woman, and at the same time, to redefine the real woman (represented by the actor) on stage. To explore the relationship between the real and the fictional woman, we focus on its common basis – the body. By foregrounding the female body in live performance, we draw attention to its presence and make it present both on and off stage.
Ally: Hopefully our show gives audience members an opportunity to engage with the poem, The Rape of Lucrece, in a very different way than reading it in a book, or even if if was being performed by one person at a poetry reading. The Shakespearean text remains the same, but the choices we are making with the performance highlight Lucrece’s story. It’s also always pretty unusual to come and see a show that is so driven by women. There are men involved with the show, but the principal roles are all filled by amazing and female performers, theatre makers and artists. (I can go into more detail here about who these people are if need be.)
The poem has some powerful themes for women – rape, women’s bodies as property, or symbolism, is the show likely to be confronting?
Fi: Yes. It’s not “in-yer-face” theatre, like a Sarah Kane play. The tone of the piece comes from Shakespeare’s poem: sadness, thoughtfulness and the juxtaposition of telling a horrific personal story in beautiful language. Also, the text is all from the poem, it’s not in the form of a script. We don’t “act out” the story, but tell it to the audience and show it in an abstract way. That leaves space for spectators to make their own meaning by making their own connections between the words, images, music and performers’ bodies.
Ally: This is the second time we have performed Lucrece, so I’m pretty familiar with the text but there are still lines in the poem that catch me. The show doesn’t contain any “graphic violence” for want of a better phrase but at the end of the day poem is about rape, which is a confronting topic no matter how you frame it. Hopefully we’ll be doing justice to Lucrece’s story but audience members who are triggered by rape stories should come to the production with the knowledge that rape will be discussed and explored through performance. What I really like about doing this show is that we invite the audience to stick around afterwards for a forum discussion with Fi, Isobel and I – hopefully this gives audience members a space to discuss their feelings about the show and process what they’re feeling. It’s not like going to see the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where you watch that horrific rape scene and then you’re just turfed out onto Courtney Place. If anybody reading this is unsure about whether the show might be triggering for them I’m happy to answer any questions they have over email. (alexandra.hazel.garrett at gmail.com)
Fi: It’s really important for us to have a safe and trusting rehearsal environment. This allows us to be playful in the rehearsal room and find creative ways of communicating the story.
Ally: Fi is right, rehearsal does feel really safe and trusting. When we’re working it’s usually only Fi, Isobel and I in the space, and they have both seen me at pretty much every emotional state and every state of undress possible. Isobel and I do a lot of checking in with each other – is this okay, are you comfortable with me doing that, does that feel weird?
That said, we are spending lots of time exploring some really heavy themes and I’m trying to take precautions to stay well, mentally and physically. I’ve booked some time off work from my day job and yesterday I bought heaps of unusual fruits from the supermarket to eat for maximum vitamins while we’re rehearsing. It’s also been interesting to me how easy it is to revert to ‘gallows humour’ in the rehearsal room – especially because I am usually a person with a militant stance on jokes about sexual violence. I’ve been watching that coping mechanism in myself and observing the part that I play in rape culture. As a group, part of our research and discussion has been identifying the part that rape jokes play in enabling rapists, and we’re going to incorporate that idea back into the performance installation.
Fi: Yip, heaps. We had a naked filming day, where a bunch of ladies we know got together and were filmed one by one naked in close up. It turned into a really great body positive workshop. We ate cake, drank cider and laughed.
Ally: I’ve seen so many naked women this year! It is awesome. We all got together in Karori, and like Fi said it ended up being the funnest day. I was so nervous about being naked but as soon as I took off my knickers it felt so normal to just be lying there chatting to the other women while Fern Kaurn, our film maker, got to work. It felt celebratory as Fern and Fi were looking to celebrate the differences in all of our assorted bodies. My fat body, my hairy stomach, my pockmarked skin and my scaly feet were all assets, rather than flaws to be glossed over or minimised. Sometimes it sounds cheesy to say that something was empowering, but naked filming day was definitely an empowering experience for me.
Thank you to Ally and Fiona for being so generous with their time. If you are interested in attending, the WYFC is having an event.)
Lucrece: An Adaptation of Shakespeare’s the Rape of Lucrece
Toi Poneke Gallery, 61 Abel Smith Street.
Exhibition: Friday 20 April – Saturday 12 May
2012, 10am-8pm weekdays, 10am – 4pm weekends
Live Performances: Thursday and Friday evenings,
19, 20, 26, 27 April; 3, 4 10, 11 May, 6:30pm
Entry by koha. Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org
One of my favourite April Fools “jokes” (by which I mean the only one I found mildly amusing) was this, from the HuffPo:
After wowing audiences in “Bridesmaids” and all but taking over television comedy in 2011, women have decided that they will no longer be funny….”We had a good run, but it’s time to move on,” said women in a statement released this morning…Sources close to women say that the decision was based on several factors, not the least of which is “just being over it.”
Would that the following was also an April fool.
Besides, Aronsohn isn’t a fan of the current crop of female-centered comedies such as Whitney and 2 Broke Girls.
“Enough, ladies. I get it. You have periods,” he said.
Aronsohn applauded women like Whitney Cummings, Chelsea Handler and Tina Fey securing a voice to discuss formerly taboo subjects on TV.
“But we’re approaching peak vagina on television, the point of labia saturation,” he said.
The current boom in female-centric TV contrasts with Two and a Half Men mostly portraying women as bimbos, something Aronsohn isn’t about to apologize for.
“Screw it,” Aronsohn earlier told the Toronto conference during a keynote address. “We’re centering the show on two very damaged men. What makes men damaged? Sorry, it’s women. I never got my heart broken by a man.”
Later, he clarified by insisting he was hardly one to take the moral high ground.
“We do far too many fart jokes on Two and a Half Men,” he conceded. “I’m the last person to judge.”
Someone’s a fool, but it’s not April.
I’ve never regularly watched Two and a Half Men. But the times I have seen it, it struck me as misogynist, homophobic, and overwhelmingly white. Female characters seem to be either Slut or Shrew, male characters are either Lovable Stud or Lovable loser. It’s horrendous.
Which is not to say Two Broke Girls is better. The one time I watched it, I was aghast at an astoundlingly offensive rape joke. “Rapists don’t knock and wave. And if they looked like [insert generic good-looking white guy], we wouldn’t call them rapists”.
But come on. We’re reaching labia saturation? FFS. We get articles every month about how women aren’t funny. Women are massively unrepresented in entertainment, to say nothing of women of colour, or lesbian, bi, or trans women. Or fat women or disabled women, or brunettes.
And actually, I am willing to bet Two and a Half Men has done its fair share of period jokes. Just they’d be of the “is it that time of the month, bitchy, whiny woman” ilk.
We wonder why there are no accurate, empowering, interesting portrayals of women? Because fuckknuckles like this are the ones who control the system. And I despair of it.
Oh, and Lee? Just because you’ve never had your heart broken by a man? Doesn’t mean there aren’t dudes who have.