Friday, April 29, 2011

Yes Means YES!!!

I just finished reading Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti. Margaret Cho wrote the introduction, a powerful essay on how just passively consenting to sex isn't enough in our sexual lives (READ IT here: It's a fantastic book of articles, noting how rape and sexual assault/coercion and the taboo of women's sexuality are two sides of the same coin. Most of the contributors have experienced sexual trauma and wrote about opening up a more sexual, sensual, respectful culture. Some of them articulated the connection between sexual trauma and sex-positive activism, and for others it was unstated but obvious.

Of course, this has lead me to analyze (overanalyze) my current sexual life in light of my resurfaced sexual trauma. People keep asking me if I'm queer/lesbian/bi because of my childhood sexual assault. NO and that's the wrong question! Am I a proud, queer sexual being because of that trauma? Yes and no. I had been wanting a more sensual life long before those memories were triggered, so my libido is unrelated to the trauma. Now that I'm consciously navigating the role of that assault in my life while I'm slutting it up, the boundary blurs. Awareness of consent heightens my experiences now.

I agree with the authors of Yes Means Yes in that more than just consent is necessasry, though. ENTHUSIASTIC consent, respect, communication, self-awareness, responsibility, play, desire, etc. It's the difference between "ok" and "YES YES YES!!" Knowing the value of these things in my experiences, that my partners value them too, and that I have complete control over my 50% all enhance my ethically slutty life now. That's a great book too!

And what's really mind-boggling is that the sexual assault that happened to me as a child wouldn't have happened (probably) had the perpetrator been sexually aware. She had no idea that what she was doing was sexual because anything other than penile-vaginal sex was entirely unknown. Had she been sexually aware, maybe she would have reconsidered what she did to me. Clearly, this doesn't make it ok.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

The next time you spy a Disney Princess product, check to see if the princesses are making eye contact with each other. They're not! Roy Disney was opposed to bringing together princesses from different movies, so this was a creepy compromise.
I'm not arguing that trivial details like this are manipulating the children of America, but it gives you a good idea of how the higher-ups of child-focused companies function (or not). This is just one anecdote of oddity included in Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter, through which she navigates her new parenthood.

It's no conspiracy that the boys' and girls' sections of toy stores are so neatly divided, but it's no accident either. Orenstein did an unbelievable amount of research and found that the decision-makers of toy companies honestly believe that they're just giving kids what they want: pink, feminine, consumer/domestic items for girls and violent, mechanical items for boys. They also are after making the biggest sale, but that's to be expected of anyone. And parents are often dismayed at what their children are offered in the gender-segregated aisles, but see no other option. It's partly the companies themselves and it's partly the parents that divide children along masculine and feminine, but Orenstein's research into children - especially little boys who want to wear mommy's makeup and little tomboys - is the most revealing. I'll leave you to actually read the book to find that out.

As in her previous books, Schoolgirls and Flux, Orenstein articulates how gender divisions in our society impact real people in Cinderella Ate My Daughter. She makes connections through hard-hitting research that seem so obvious upon her articulation. I highly recommend reading any and all of her books!

My only complaint, though, is her description of Sesame Street and the Muppets - and I admit that this is only a personal bias. She investigated the very few regular women characters (Ms. Piggy, Janis, Zoe, Abby, ...?) and the Henson company explained that feminine characters just don't market as well as "masculine" ones. Honestly, I always thought that most of the characters were androgynous. Even as a kid, I thought that Big Bird, Elmo, and most of the monsters were genderless (same for the Toaster and Blanket from Disney's The Brave Little Toaster). Then again, that probably explains a lot about my genderqueer identity...