Category Archives: feminism

Crossing the Streams: Advent Blog Day 16

dont-cross-the-streams
I suppose we all have different faces or streams in our lives. For me there’s Annie (the person I am with my family and closest friends), Mija (my kink self) and an academic identity that’s separate from either of those (we’ll call her A.).  My streams aren’t that separate — Mija and Annie especially mingle across lines.  Most of my close friends know I’m into BDSM of some sort.  People in the kink, including those of you who read here, know a good deal about my life outside the spanking scene. But A. has stayed pretty separate from Mija (except to the degree that some of Mija’s friends in the kink are also academics of various sorts and therefore are likely to related to me as A. as well as knowing me as Annie and Mija).

Part of the seperation is purely practical.  I don’t want to worry overmuch that some poor student of mine is going to be looking for my academic writing on Latina feminism and stumble into The Treehouse.  It’s not that I’m ashamed of Mija, but my sexual life isn’t a place I want my students and I suspect they prefer it that way as well.  On the other hand, my research, so far anyway, hasn’t addressed issues of female masochism in literature, though I’ve read something of others work in that field.  But my academic interests are more in the area of queerness, race and class. I’m not sure why that is.  Part of is, I know, that talking about issues related to BDSM in an academic setting make me feel insecure in the sense of feeling exposed. It’s something that may change as I evolve as a scholar (I hope it does) but that’s where I’m at right now.  Yet another dimension to it is that on some level I don’t want to theorize everything in my personal life.  It’s nice to have a space in my life where academics don’t intrude.

At one time I imagined that doing a feminist analysis of what I do, especially what I do with Paul, would damage my kink on some level and I consciously tried to avoid doing it.  Which of course resulted in my doing exactly that and finding that my kink wouldn’t be possible (for me) without feminism.  So it’s not that the streams can’t cross.  I just generally don’t cross them.

Except when I do.  Today I was having coffee with someone from my department who works on gender studies, queerness and fandoms and found myself honestly talking with her about where my technical skills come from, where Paul and I met and then being honest about my interests in BDSM, including mentioning that my primary kink is spanking.  She identifies as a lesbian, and has some experience with the BDSM scene, but it’s not her thing.  Our conversation turned to issues of polyamory and how it does and doesn’t work with insecurity and introversion.  It was a conversation I could have had with any number of kink friends, but the first time I’ve been able to talk with someone from my “vanilla” life and not feel like they’re tourists.  It was nice, felt totally natural and I have no regrets about outing myself.  In fact, outing feels like too violent a word for our conversation.  As I said, it was natural. Not telling the truth would have closed off an emotional and intellectual area between us. It was only afterwards I found myself surprised by how much I’d disclosed.

My streams still don’t cross.  Except when they do.

For a much more touching post on how the streams can meet and cross, see EJ’s post.  She wrote it last week and I just read it tonight after I wrote this, but nonetheless felt it somehow inspired these thoughts.  Or rather that they come from a similar source.

La Llorona

la-llorona
The infamous tale of La Llorona (translates as “The Wailing Woman”) is a classic of Chicana feminism. The tales date back to 16th century Mexico where, some believe, several Indian women murdered their children by drowning them and then committed suicide rather than allow the children’s Spanish fathers to take the children away to Spain.

The legend was kept alive by oral tradition, explaining the many versions. In each variation lies the basic Medea story of a woman ridding herself of her own children by drowning them in a body of water, usually a river, and then becoming a phantom who snatches the unwary (usually children) walking beside a body of water.

I’ve been told that all Chicana writers eventually tell a La Llorona story. So I guess this one is mine.  I wrote it some years ago for soc.sexuality.spanking short story contest.

La Llorona – The Wailing Woman

“Es muy peligroso Tito!”

“La Llorona drowned her own children! She’ll snatch you away!”

“No soy un ninito! Ustedes can’t scare me!”

Saying that, Tito ran to his room, slamming the door.

Tito frowned whenever La Llorona was mentioned. When he was younger and still afraid of the dark, stories of the crying woman dressed in flowing white frightened him to nightmares. Now twelve, Tito no longer believed the child-snatching tales. Still, his heart pounded whenever he walked by the river near dusk.

“It’s just a story,” Tito thought. “Lita y Mamacita just want me home early.”

So the brave boy stayed out later each evening, watching the shadows get longer and deeper, before running home along the riverside, arriving home to the hacienda breathless and late for dinner.
The night after his scolding, Tito stayed out later still and, defying his own fears, did not run, but strolled slowly home beside the river.

“It’s not so late,” he told himself. “See, the moon has barely risen. And the señora is still gathering the day’s washing.”

For not fifty meters ahead stood a woman folding her white linens. She was beautiful, but her face appeared distorted, pain twisting her lovely features as she cried with the keening helplessness of a lost child. Tito’s heart and soul longed to comfort her but he was frozen, rooted in place.

He stood completely still, as did the crying señora. But fifty meters were suddenly fifteen, then five.
Terror passed through Tito as he saw the truth. This was La Llorona. Worse, her grimace was fury, not pain. La Llorona’s right hand wielded a whip of yucca fibers while her left remained hidden beneath her robes. And her mouth, despite the still louder wailing, was closed tight. The sobbing emanated from within her.

Tito screamed as La Llorona’s robes flowed out and enveloped him. Within the white he saw a pale girl clothed in white rags, dark circles and salt trails beneath her black eyes. La Llorona’s left hand held the girl’s shoulder in an iron grip. The girl wore nothing below her waist, displaying her bottom, white as alabaster except for a criss-crossed maze of blood-red weals.

Tito’s cries matched the girl’s as his clothes bled white. La Llorona’s hold on the girl loosened, then suddenly her bone white hand tightened on his shoulder. At her touch, all garments below his waist vanished and he felt the night air on his privates. Then La Llorona grasped Tito’s shoulder tightly and raised her whip.

Despite her dark circles and salt trails, the girl’s expression transformed into a smile at his first cry of pain. Above the sound of the whip Tito heard her say:

“Mejor tu que mí.”

With that, a red haze dimmed Tito’s mind to everything but the searing pain in his bottom as the girl became translucent and whiter still, her form finally merging with La Llorona’s robes.

—–

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karmacamilleeon/

Party on! (But watch your drink.)

cocktail As the holiday season moves into full swing, I was sad but not surprised to read on Minx and Zille’s blogs about two different cases of drink doping at scene parties and events, each on opposite sides of the country.  Zille fortunately had a helpful and supportive experience when she reported her suspicions to the event organizer. Minx, sadly did not have this experience but was, instead doubted and pressured to keep quiet.  I know it can’t have been easy to stand up and talk about what happened. No one wants to believe this goes on, especially in our nice little closed circles.  But it does and more often than should be comfortable for anyone.

As someone who worked in a university residence hall for a number of years and on a university campus for many more than that, I know how wide-spread drink doping is. Of the 10 to 15 times I took students have their blood and urine tested following a suspected doping, drugs the students had no memory of taking were found in all but one case (generally the drugs were ambien, xanax or valium rather than the rarer date rape drug “rohypnol”). Even more common is the spiking of low alcohol or non-alcoholic beverages with 100+ proof white alcohol — something that’s gone on since my mother was in college. (That happened to me years ago — though I fortunately noticed due to the oddly chemical taste.) It’s sad to say this, but communal drinks just aren’t safe and probably haven’t been for a while.  Sadder still is our not being able to leave drinks even for a moment, even at private functions.

I’d like to think that the group sponsoring Minx’s event is just unaware of how widespread this problem is and that her blog entry will prompt others who’ve experienced this to come forward and help all of us who haven’t experienced this to be more aware. Rohypnol and other benzodiazepines (used in the rarest but most dangerous sorts of doping) are found more and more frequently on university campuses along with other legal and illegal drugs. I assume this means they’re also becoming more widely used in the general population.

It’s not that there’s a lot of people who dope drinks out there, but the ones that do are good at it and rely on ignorance on the part of their victims (and hosts). What we hear about most in the press are the very worst of the worst — those who dope drinks in order to rape. But there are those who do so, as Zille points out, in the mistaken belief they’re sharing, loosening up the party or helping guests have a better time.  So anyone who might be tempted to do “share” in this fashion, can I remind you that there are those of us who have to watch how much we drink because of other medications?  Personally, I can’t have more than one drink when I’m on lithium without running the risk of becoming very ill.

Anyway, this ended up longer than I intended.  My point is, have fun but watch your drinks.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tapps/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Nobody’s Mother and Somebody’s Wife

On her charming blog, A Farmwife With a Twist, Amber wrote a bit about her views of right and wrong specific to the BDSM scene in this entry.  It's interesting to read her points of view — sometimes it's easy to forget in a scene world of tolerance, of "your kink is not my kink but your kink is okay" that there are those that find our life not okay.  I've got a few acts of my own I feel that way about –for instance, I won't play with people whose partners don't know that they're playing with someone else –but that's as much an unwillingness to risk being dragged into their relationship drama.  Also, I've been cheated on and it sucks.

Anyway, as I said, Amber spells out clearly some things that bother her, writing:

I find that there's a lot room for utterly appalling moral behavior in BDSM realm, or at least from what I've learned from kinky blogs […]

Those things that steadily continue to appall me are:

-adultery

-unwillingness to have children and selfish hedonism

-polygamy/swapping partners/offering your partner to others "to use"

All of the above to me are a fundamental assault on basic human dignity and are certainly not pleasing to God […]

And there is one more thing I literally have 0 tolerance for – a weekness of character as expressed in fear of commitment to one partner for life with the purpose of starting a family.

[The dots in brackets mark places where I snipped information out just for focus (hopefully without changing the meaning.  You can go check her blog and read the whole article if you like.)]

From what I wrote above, you can probably guess I kind of agree with her about adultery.  But to me, it isn't "adultery*" when both people are honest and agree — that is, there's nothing wrong with me playing with whomever so long as P doesn't have any problem with it and vice versa.  What would be wrong (imo) would be if I did this either without regard for objections he had or somehow sneaking behind his back. 

As to the rest…

… I don't even know what would actually be an example of "selfish hedonism" in my marriage.  Staying in bed with P on a Saturday morning rather than getting up and helping my friends move?  Using all the hot water for an extra long bubble bath?  Taking all the whipped cream for my strawberries and leaving none for his? I'm not quite sure. 

Polygamy / polyamory?  I don't have a problem with that at all.  It's not my thing –I'm introverted enough that maintaining a relationship with P is about all the "primary" I can handle.  While we play with other people, they're friends (beloved friends in many cases).  But while I think poly relationships can be complicated, I don't think the idea that one can love and be committed to multiple people or that three or more adults can be a family is anything but beautiful.  From what I've seen, poly relationships can be remarkably unselfish and passionate.  In my opinion, any relationship that's honest and helps each person involved in it to be happy and grow is an honorable and a blessed one.

What I found oddest, however, on Amber's list were her statements about being appalled by people who are "unwilling" (she does make exceptions for those who are "unable") to have children and the notion that a lacking a desire to "start a family" somehow reflects an "assault on human dignity."

My first answer to that would be that P and I committed to each other and became a family years before we were married.  By then we had re-arranged our lives to be together, changed countries (in his case), lived together as much as the law allowed for several years and shared as much about ourselves as we could find to share.  In fact, I know I found things I didn't know about myself in the course of getting to know him.  While I think our relationship has deepened in the two and a bit years since we married, I think that probably would have happen anyway.  When do I think P and I started to become a family?  The first time he wrote in a whisper that he loved me.  And then 9 years ago when he came to see me for the first time.

There's nothing incomplete about our relationship now — nothing waiting for a child to somehow make it more real.

Why don't we have children?  There are a lot of reasons, but they boil down to the fact that neither of us want them.  Speaking for myself, I've never wanted to have any children– something I started telling my mom back when I was 3.  I like other people's babies and young children fine for a little while, but not enough to live with them.  I do like teens, but the odds of giving birth to a 13 year old are pretty low.  To me, what would be an "abomination"  would be someone who is pretty sure he or she (or he and she in our case)  doesn't like or want children having one on the off chance that she would 1) feel differently about one of her own and 2)hoping it would somehow deepen their marriage and somehow make them a family.

Anyway, I had some more thoughts, but they've drifted away and it's time for bed.  I've probably written enough anyway.

The title of this entry is adapted from Sanda Cisneros's author description in her first book, The House On Mango Street.  In it she writes she is "nobody's mother and nobody's wife."

I'm not talking about strict Biblical law here, but rather about when the act (whether sexual or spanking) becomes immoral / unethical.

Mija’s Vagina Monologue

i-love-vaginaOn the The Spanking Writers blog, Abel wrote a cute-ish post about the reaction to the Vagina Monologues suspensions at  John Jay High School in Cross River, New York, a public school.  The principal in question, Richard Leprine, had told the girls their performance of excerpts from the piece could not include the word “vagina” because he deemed the term was “inappopriate.”  The line the three opted to read in defiance of the order was

My short skirt is a liberation flag in the women’s army. I declare these streets, any streets, my vagina’s country.

The girls were initally suspended for one day by the school’s principal for having disobeyed his order. Their suspension was overturned, despite the girls not having appealed it, by the president of the school board, apparently after it was pointed out that a male student had been allowed to say the word “fuck” in his performance without his being sanctioned.

One of the questions I had when I first started thinking about this issue is how could the author and work even have been cited as the performance source if the word “vagina” wasn’t allowed to be spoken?  Would the students have to have had to say “this selection is taken from a play with a title this school’s principal deems too obscene even to be uttered”?  I suspect that wouldn’t have gone over very well either.

As part of his reply to some of our comments in support of the students, Abel (who’s from the UK) made the point that (edited to add the entire passage for context)

I’m not sure even the most ardent fans of the play would necessarily
argue that it’s written for consumption “by all the family”, though. So
the performers – apparently – pledged to steer clear of certain
passages given the age of some of the audience. This isn’t censorship:
it’s more akin to TV programmers avoiding more sensitive material until
after the 9pm ‘watershed’.

I could understand Abel’s “watershed” comment if the word used had been one of the FCC “bad words” or of the passage the girls were forbidden to quote from was the the section on rape or the play’s exploration of the usage of the word “cunt.”  In fact, when I first started reading about this case, I had expected that the word they’d said after being forbidden not to was “cunt” which would have made the principal’s objections more understandable.  But the word “vagina” is one that can be said on TV at any hour.  It’s the correct medical term for that part of the body.  And it’s actually part of the title of the play.  There isn’t another word that could be put in its place to somehow be less obscene because the word itself isn’t any sort of an obscenity.

The comment that he made initally that the reason the word wasn’t to be allowed was that there were members of the audience who were very young.  This objection turned out to be false — apparently the youngest audience members anyone can confirm were there were 13.  The original statements out of the principal were that the girls had defied their teachers, a statement which was denounced as false by the teachers themselves, who were apparently supportive throughout.  My feeling is that respect isn’t some sort of default — it has to be earned.  I haven’t seen much regarding the principals actions in this case that would be worthy of respect.  Aside from everything else, he was apparently verbally outsmarted by three sixteen year olds, assuming because they didn’t say they disagreed with him that he had their agreement not to use the term.  As the child of a retired high school vice principal and someone who themselves works with teens and twenty somethings, I don’t find this impressive for a school administrator.  By contrast the girls made a good choice and were willing to take the fallout from it.  What more could one want from 16 year olds?

Also, the girls in question didn’t request that their suspensions be overturned — their original comments after the fact were that they expected to be suspended but decided leaving the play’s language intact was worth taking whatever punishment the school might give.   The overturning of their suspension was a decision made by the school board president.   He decided that the decision to suspend them was incorrect because the orginal order to remove the material was not a correct one, especially given that, as stated above, a male student’s use of the word “fuck” hadn’t been questioned.

School, especially public (or “state” for my UK friends) schools  are in an interesting position.  School attendence is required — school is not a freely-made association that a club or even a place of employment might be.   Yet students remain part of a free society with free speech rights.  It is therefore important that schools not abridge the free speech of students unless doing so is absolutely necessary.  This clearly wasn’t the case here — another alternative could have been presented rather than attemption to restrict student speech.  If they issue was concern over audience sensibilities, the school could have included a mention in the program that selections from “The Vagina Monologues” were being performed.  One would guess an audience member, reading that, would realize that the word “vagina” might be used and could opt to leave if they didn’t want to be exposed to the “v-word” word.  Instead, the restriction would seem to speak more to the principal’s discomfort with normal medical terms for parts of the female body rather than anything to do with the content of the play itself.

What bothers me most about this is not even the issue of censorship, but the fact that by is actions (which I have to think were done without a lot of thought) this principal went a long way toward inappropriately shaming and sexualizing the female students.  I don’t have children, but I know from friends with teenage daughters that one of the hardest tasks they undertake is keeping their teens from developing shame about their bodies.

About Andrea

[because a week later, the net really needs another obit.]

Sorry friends, I’ve been away… surgery and recovery requiring the watching of a full season of 24 to bring me back to health. 

Anyway, A. wrote me last week to ask if I was going to blog about Andrea Dworkin.  Until then  I hadn’t really thought about it, even though twenty years ago I would have named Dworkin (and even more so radical feminists Catharine Mackinnon and Audre Lorde) as having inspired me to read feminism and identify as a feminist.  I’m not sure who first called her the Malcolm X of the women’s movement, but it was a great line  — Malcolm X said the problem was "white people" — Dworkin said the problem was "men."  She was able to inspire and bluntly name names.

More than that though, as Susie Bright writes in her own blog entry about Dworkin, as someone coming of age in the 1980s, Andrea Dworkin and Catharine Mackinnon were the first women to look at pornography and erotica (not that they would have made a fine distinction between the two) with a critical eye.  It existed for them — they showed clips in classes.  True, they showed it as examples of women being degraded by men (and they frequently were) and exploited, but they showed it.  I found it brilliant and so clear when they wrote (and said, for I heard both speak live several times in the 1980s when I was an undergraduate) that one of the reasons men were able to rape women and get away with it was that (heterosexual) sex was always assumed to be consensual.  They then posed the opposite question — what if it was assumed to be rape until the man proved otherwise (quotes that were so often misused to claim both women saw all sex as rape).  Then, they argued, rape trials could be about the man’s actions rather than the women’s history.

I broke intellectually with both as I tried to make sense of my own desires (especially the ones connected to BDSM) and found the framework both writers created to be limiting — in the manner of a young girl thinking about her heroes and wanting their approval, I would imagine sometimes how horrified they’d be (especially Dworkin with her history as an abused wife) with my embracing masochism.  I went on to discover Dorothy Allison and found a new way to think about my sexuality and desires.  And slowly over the last decade I’ve come to see these first feminist writers of mine as part of an earlier, more naive feminism.  Something I’ve outgrown.

But of course, what’s been lost in this more subtle, nuanced feminism is the ability to hear someone  bold.  My favorite Dworkin moment was the story of her longtime rivalry with Allen Ginsberg, who apparently said (I’ve always imagined) pompously "you know, the Right wants me in jail."  Dworkin supposedly responded, "yes, I know.  They’re so sentimental.  I’d kill you."  Where are the women now pointing out sexism?  I feel sometimes like we’ve all become so timid.  Afraid, perhaps, of being labeled naive ourselves.

Or worse.

When I’d listen to people (actually, mainly male professors and their students) raging against Mackinnon and Dworkin’s writings (and, as often, things neither had actually written, but thoughts that were attributed to them anyway), it was horrifying how often Dworkin’s appearance was used to explain her being "anti-male".  She was "fat" and "hairy" and so interested in rape because no man would ever want her.  I remember pointing out to a male undergrad who commented that Dworkin was utterly undesirable and that it was impossible to imagine any man might be attracted to her, that (at the time) she’d lived with the same man for close to 20 years, he refused to believe me until what I’d told him was confirmed by one of our professors.  Mackinnon, on the other hand, was considered "almost pretty" by our classmates and that seemed, somehow, to make her support of Dworkin’s theories incomprehensible. 

I’ve wondered sometimes how much fear of being called feminist that vilification of Dworkin created.  interestingly, Dworkin is blamed for that too — basically for daring to be fat and ungroomed in the public eye.  For being an icon of feminism and not being beautiful.   Who are we left with?  Naomi Wolfe?  Camila Paglia?  Feh!

I know who I’d rather read or listen to, however much her inflexibility might anger me.

For all that they might well have disagreed with where my feminism has led me, and even more so for the choices I’ve embraced in my sexuality, I mourn the passing of Andrea Dworkin as I did that of Audre Lorde.  There is a beauty in the radical.  And, Andrea had something far more important than a perfect body.  She had a brilliant mind and a quick wit and the world is poorer for her loss.