The Joy Girl

  

A petulant smile, upper lip quiver, 

never-ending streams of jubilant free

pours the honeyed golden, emerald eyes

smoked in calm to hide the sparkle speaks,

“I want…take me…so much to give…but I fear,”

all in fragility, fresh and tainted only at the fringes,

circling the crystal center yet to form whole, complete,

she deftly ball-toes the river logs spinning a strange land.

Courage

  
Oxford English Online Dictionary defines courage as follows:

noun

The ability to do something that frightens one, or Strength in the face of pain or grief.

Some people in social media today are bitching about the public’s lauding Caitlyn Jenner (when they are not commenting on her age or her dress or her makeup) for her “bravery.” 

Even people I have deemed intelligent and sensitive have posted Facebook critiques with photos of their candidates for the definition of bravery such as this:

  
Classic.

And yet another post-er believes this is more befitting of the adjective:

  

Both social media post-ers are men, one conservative and one progressive, one older (mid-fifties) and one younger (mid-thirties).  See a trend here?

To be brave, one must risk life and limb or recover from loss of life (the one before loss of limbs) and limb(s). And be men. 

Now, admittedly, I have seen no female contributors to the courage definition, none with a picture to share, but if there were any, I would imagine it would be of cancer survivors or mothers crossing minefields to save their babies. 

But the first reason for Caitlyn’s doubtful courage is her womanhood. The second reason is her health. It is apparently not bravery to kill off her fortunate birthright–the white male privilege–to become a woman whose worth is measured by her appearance and her ability to graciously absorb the arrows of disdain and second class citizenry based on frippery and gossip, like the target she has now become. And for what? It’s not like she needed the money or the publicity like her former step family.

What’s so brave about that? I agree. She must be a masochist to become a woman in this society–to be treated like meat. 

But Jon Stewart in his latest The Daily Show always says it best:

  

As a woman, Jenner can now look forward to her physical appearance, not her talents or mind, being the object of daily scrutiny. Should she ever need to work, she can look forward to earning roughly 77% of what a man makes. Should she ever face physical or sexual violence, she, not her attacker, will be treated with suspicion. As a woman, Jenner will also have to get used to hearing not just new pronouns but other fun words like “shrill,” “nagging,” “bossy” and “emotional.” And then, of course, there’s the catcalling, which a “beautiful” woman like Jenner can now expect daily. 

A person transitioning to live as her true self is a wonderful thing and America has come a long way toward accepting transgender people. As Stewart so aptly pointed out, though, the real struggle now is to bring up the lives of all women. On that front, there are still miles to go.

Perhaps the clichés we are fed about hero imagery and the hardship stories that go viral to tug at our heart strings in quiet, reverential sentimentality get in the way of our seeing the bravery of transformation, being faithful to the universal need to be our authentic selves even in the face of total annihilation through either vilification or idolotry. 

Caitlyn Jenner may be just a woman now, but her twice-baked celebrity-dom has transformed her into a paper doll image, something to wag about as a projection of an idea, sans flesh and blood, no matter how much skin gets bared where.

And I am not disputing the other photos depict bravery, though they are subject to the same fate as Caitlyn–the loss of humanity to an idea of something like heroism or bravery or Facebook likes.

The take home idea: Why would anyone want to be a woman in a misogynist society?

Where’s Letterman’s Sex Sidekick?

It’s a reminder that sex scandals are always harder on the women, tainting their career achievements if not outright erasing them.

  

In case you missed it a couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post write up of David Letterman’s farewell episode of the Late Show noted the glaring omission of Stephanie Burkitt from not only the farewell show but any of the episodes available on Youtube–none of the nearly 300 Burkitt appearances on the show are available to the public–and concluded with the unacknowleged, unspoken epitaph of the mistress: she was an evil temptress.  

Maybe because I was not a Late Show fan–not for lack of appreciation as much as lack of a later bed-time–but I think that’s horse crap. 

According to Argetsinger, the author of the WP article, the successful chemistry and therefore appeal of the Burkitt-Letterman on-air rapport in the short skits they performed and personae they adopted was most probably based on their behind-the-scenes affair. But as his mistress and therefore THE stain on Letterman’s not so much stellar as sentimentally-preserved reputation, Burkitt has been erased from the Late Show history. Boom. Missing, as if she never existed–and soon she will disappear from the fickle and short memory of adoring, gushing late-night television fans.

Maybe Burkitt, an established attorney now, wants it that way. I hope so. Otherwise, the celebrity worship culture strikes again like the mafia of the lottery of who gets fame/recognition and who gets persona non grata in show business. It’s who you know, right? Just not how you know who you know. 

Blech! American society’s sexual dysfunction and the war on women combine as complicit culprits in Burkitt’s on-air erasure of a significant portion, I’m guessing, of her history. It’s just part of the biz.

Women Masturbating: “Cat on Cat Crime”

 

The Huffington Post featured four women confessing masturbation misshaps in delightfully amusing stories of cringing embarassment, shock and humiliation. The real treat, however, lies in the frank delivery of the details by these clearly bold, tickled yet slightly discomposed young women relating early masturbation experiences. A study in rich human expression, the video reveals not just fodder for the prurient interests of some ill-intent viewers nor merely a sensationalism meant to draw readership, but a display of complex emotion evoked by the age old pastime–storytelling.

To boot, this video joins the growing dissemination of women’s sexuality imagery in the media, a necessary deployment in the continuing project of feminism’s de-sculpting (a chip at a time) the sedimented profile of and attitudes toward women in American society–all the while Huffpost gets points for edginess and the interviewees for bravery. It’s a win-win for all (except for those cynical ones who chalk it all up to exhibitionist tendencies of a selfie population and the marketing ploy of a savvy for-profit journalistic enterprise).

Taking the High Heels Road

  
Do we really need feminism any more? I mean, women work outside the home when they choose to, are protected by laws against discrimination in the work place and other places, and can vote. Isn’t feminism more about choice now–for both men and women–and the freedom that comes with choosing each his or her own happiness?

Just last week I brainstormed with my college student daughter for her speech class presentation over this very question. Together we offered instances beyond the blatant: sex trade and slavery, genital mutilation and pornography. Yes, we concluded, right here in the U.S., where genital mutilation and a thriving sex trade do not lurk in every corner of the country, feminism has work to do. Sure, equal pay for equal work slogans, body image and slut shaming come to mind as battlegrounds for feminism, but the more insidious poisons that preserve patriarchal prejudices work more subtly. 

Take language, for instance. Something as simple as “Hey, you guys!” may seem harmless as an expression. But most unconsciously respond to that call without thinking how the phrase beckons males and females alike while there is no feminine counterpart. “Hey, you gals!” would not turn a single male head. 

And then there are high heels. Given that most anyone can merely look at a pair of high heels and foresee the long-term damage of daily wear or even the short-term calamity that could befall a novice wearer, forcing women to wear them to suit the tastes of a few male gatekeepers smacks of sadism let alone sexism. That such footwear would be prerequisite to female attendees of such a prestigious event as the Cannes Film Festival, upon which some fates and finances depend, can be perceived no other way but sexist–wittingly or unwittingly.

However, I cannot imagine the headline, “high-heels gate”, to a BBC news story about flat-wearing females turned away at Cannes a few days ago–even if one of the refused flat-wearers (though later admitted entry) had a partially amputated foot too unstable for heels.

Ironically, one of the headliners of this year’s Cannes festival was ‘Carol’ the story of a 50-something lesbian.

Although the festival director denied a “ban on flats,” apparently the festival has a history of ‘partiality.’ 

The festival opened with a female-directed film for the first time since 1987, and organisers have endorsed a series of “Women in Motion” talks by stars such as Isabella Rossellini and Salma Hayek.

One former attendee noted the fashion bias existing for decades:

Wendy Constance, a children’s author who attended Cannes in the 1970s, tweeted the festival had a less than stellar reputation when it came to women’s clothes.

“Back in 1971, when I started work I asked for [the] rule about women not wearing trousers to be changed. It was. Forty-four years later.”

“It’s ridiculous that women are still being expected to conform,” she added.

Those subtler forms of sexism perniciously pervade, permeate a society and motivate conscious or unconscious acts of sexism that may seem small but, in their accumulation, grow large in the long-term consequences. Sexist attitudes have been known to influence the line of questioning by a male detective to a female rape victim or a male judge’s sentencing (two positions empowered with a great deal of discretion within a realm of rules), actions with far-reaching effects to that victim and women generally.  

So what if Cannes bans flats? Aren’t we being too sensitive? Nothing to get our undies in a bunch over, right? Wrong. 

Conduct of a nation, including its laws and commerce–daily practices–are predicated on the stuff fed to our brains sometimes in blasts of shocking information and trauma, sometimes in long steady courses of study and living, but mostly in imperceptible increments–like subtly sexist language, pictures, and gestures, such as silly dress codes at Cannes. 

Feminism means freedom; freedom means choice. We cannot choose if the knee-jerk reactions of our conduct are pre-programmed, unconscious and unchanging. We must question our behaviors, the reasons for rules we set and how they are enforced, not take accepted practices for granted. A simple start? Ban the arbitrary bans on women’s fashion choices.

Patterns of Memory Seize

  

credit:  http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2216

A static image floats fuzzy still life before a mind’s eye

–mine.
Lips crushed in grimace foul, screeching silent panic
a movie memory sans sound features a small face
wet with tears, her curls raging above and about her
head brown with ratted coils
and a dainty, tender, fragile forefinger
one finger enlooped by layers of hair, an index finger
struggling, captive, to untangle its freedom locked in 
a strangling tress much to the horror of its owner.
That image, that girl, that finger flashes before me
now, you, whose wide firm hand with digits like
iron stuffed leather rods rummage through my 
hair gripping the base of the rubber band that ties
the tail to my head, tighten your grip, finding 
the loops for your yanking intention 
my head poised, still, steeled up to constriction
and confinement.
All hands reach back, pull my trussed will, memory-
bound to arches circumscribing the view
of the celestial seascape’s cliche’d vision:
a man, a woman, trapped in time and hair-locks.
A choice, ownership and recognition–
a cerebral passion, homo sapien adores patterns.

Helping Men be Men Despite Technology

  

credit: http://www.djfood.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Men-Machines.jpg

…men usually have what they term “single-cue arousability”. Give a man the image of a pair of attractive breasts or a curvy backside and they are half-way to happiness, where women need multiple cues: they are aroused by men who are “attractive and nice to children and self-confident….

I have been wanting to read this text when I first came across the title and recognized the author for his previous studies. However, scanning a few reviews of a new book, Man (Dis)Connected: How Technology Has Sabotaged What it Means to be Male, and What Can be Done, by psychologist, Philip Zimbardo, who “argues that technology, online porn, gaming and sedentary jobs are causing terrible damage to the male psyche,” I cannot help but once again bemoan the insidious perpetuation of stereotypes that net individuals into the indoctrinating tidal wave of culturally predetermined roles.

While I am well aware that psychologists observe human behavior and make prognostications, the collateral effects of Zimbardo’s conclusions in his latest book, although an admirable contribution to the conversation of gender roles amidst social climate change, is to reinforce sedimented stereotypes. 

Zimbardo, known for his famously criticized Stanford Prison Experiments, asserts in his book that men are biologically susceptible to falter in a world that promotes less physical work, more sedentary entertainment and less in-person interaction due to technology. Male reliance on online gaming, dating, and pornography in addition to less physically demanding office work has socially retarded men and made them not only obese but ineffective as social beings. He also blames the shift in roles due to feminism as well as other social “ills” or challenges for men as The Telegraph’s Chris Moss summarizes.

It’s when you combine absent fathers, staying at home into early adulthood, video gaming, overreliance on internet porn, obesity (with its associated decline in testosterone and increase in oestrogen) and lack of physical activity, educational failure, joblessness and lack of opportunities for interaction – plus a women’s movement that continues to empower that gender and thrust positive female role models into economic and political arenas – that you have the makings of a screwed-up masculinity with all the wider social consequences that implies.

While I can appreciate Zimbardo’s work, my sensibilities are a bit ruffled at the suggestion that empowering women disempowers men and thereby ominously causes “social consequences” implied by that disempowerment. But why do the implications necessarily bode ill?  Intelligent, resilient men, of which there are plenty, certainly realize the freedom from sole breadwinner responsibility results not only in less pressure to perform and be their careers, but also more opportunity to develop other neglected skills and traits long scorned by social necessity due to inherited cultural predispositions. 

Just like the current shifted economy squeezes out old patterns of work formulas like the corporate career that ends in a gold watch retirement and forces individual innovation and creativity for survival, so too the breakdown in traditional role models can lead and has led to opportunities for growth emotionally and psychologically through the loss that naturally occurs in evolution. All transitions are an equation of cost and benefits, the pre and aftermath of change.

But the reiteration of steretypical male expectations to be physical and in control, and the remorse suggested in the loss of that attribute and power position, all bundled in a cause and effect legitimacy (we all trust cause and effect, right?), ominously confirms both the stereotypes and the doomsayers who look for feminism to blame for harming men. Pointing the finger at feminism, even as a co-contributor, couched in scientific clout–the psychologist–serves to confirm the current suspicions piled on feminism by some factions as harmful, a disturbance of a centuries old patriarchal order. For some, the byproduct fear and hatred results in injury to women. 

The country does not need any more binaries, dichotomies and polarization. Blaming feminism even under the guise of scientific observation does not help men. Bringing men the positive about change that has inevitably occurred and will continue to occur–technology and empowered women–benefits men. 

I am hopeful that when I read his text, Dr. Zimbardo will conclude his observations with helpful insights on how to help men adjust.

The Beauty Myth–Think About it.

  
While I’m in favor of encouraging women to feel confident and happy, I worry that today’s body positivity focuses too much on affirming beauty and not enough on deconstructing its necessity. Spreading a message that everyone is beautiful reinforces the underlying assumption that beauty matters.


So writes Lindsay King Miller in Taking Beauty Out of Body Positivity. While she lauds the ever inclusive embracing of all female body types, she believes that reinforcing beauty as a value criterion is detrimental. She discusses what “body positivists,” those trying to change the accepted notions of beauty, are currently doing to change current conceptions but cites the dichotomy of beautiful versus ugly as problematic to such a cause, how beauty always implicates ugly. Ultimately, however, she finds the expansion of beauty beyond Victoria’s Secrets models refreshing, and as a mother of two teenage daughters, so do I.


Raising girls in 21st Century America is complicated. Raising girls probably has always been complicated, but in this world of consciously and commercially reinforced stereotypes about body imagery, where young girls are vulnerable to the obsessive compulsion to conform to culturally dictated beauty standards, it is particularly troublesome. 


Unquestionably, there is too much emphasis on the female body as artifact of beauty and sexuality. It is also undeniable that many walk the earth unconscious of their inherited values and aesthetics, what culture has produced in them:  their tastes, predispositions and prejudices. Historically, women have been treated poorly as citizen bodies, practically erased representationally in the arts, for instance (See Syreeta McFadden’s The lack of female genitals on statues seems thoughtless until you see it repeated). So women grow up in a vacuum of realistic body portrayals to challenge social “norms.”


In my early mothering years, I didn’t want to raise two daughters without at least attempting to defy norms. When they were little, I bristled at the pink and purple princess culture vulturing girls on commercial television, so I attempted to shelter them, feeding them a steady diet of commercial-free Public Broadcasting educational television. However, living smack dab in the suburbs of Southern California, I found I could not blind them to imagery that I did not agree with or even downright feared. And though I wanted to run counter culture, I was actually driving home the very ideas I wanted to avoid. 


I knew what I vociferously avoided would be the very thing to lure my children. By avoiding princesses, I was drawing the curiosity of princess-dom to two children not living in isolation but among blossoming princesses.


So I decided the best tact was to expose them to all that I believed would indoctrinate them, commercial television and radio, the internet, Justice clothing store ads and other girly-centered media, and then use the exposure as opportunities to discuss options and causes. 


I have always spoken to my children with words to make them reach rather than me sink. I would often remark that the store Justice was painted in colors that draw prebuscent girls of their age, pinks, purples and pastels, and then ask them who decided those were girl colors. They may not have understood the questions then, but now as teenagers, they are vocal feminists and advocates for the non-conformists, especially defying normative behaviors expected of them as women. Their dress and actions do not always affirm their words, but there is a consciousness of the conspiracy that captivates their style impulses.


I remember the trickiest issue of parenting two girls was body referencing and diet. To tackle the thorny body image issue, I steered them early from identifying anyone by body type or parts, skin color or size. I modeled pointing someone out by location, i.e., that guy in jeans and a tee shirt next to the cereal boxes–not by body traits–that tall white dude down there, explaining that no one wants to be identified by something that marks them at birth, something they did not choose. I thought it was the clearest path to disassociating their body as their only avenue of identity–at least as a starting point. Of course it was more complicated than that.


Before my children could think and prefer, I had them enrolled in classes:  art, dance, gymnastics, soccer, science, theater and whatever else I thought would expose them to opportunities and practice habits and hobbies healthy for them, a path to learning. It was no surprise that two daughters of a soccer playing mom would love soccer. 


With soccer they learned about their bodies’ needs, dietary, sleep and exercising. It was a no brainer to let them eat a begged-for donut before a game and then ask them how they felt during the game compared to say a pre-game banana with peanut butter. They figured it out. They also learned about competition and their bodies, fueling for better performance. We never talked about their diet but fueling choices. We talked about what they ate as promoters of good feeling and health, not body shape.


As a result, neither have been overheard to speak of one another’s weight when the taunting insults fly in their daily needling and razz-rationing. I don’t know what they say when I am not around, but I suspect they rarely judge beauty on the basis of weight, at least. I have witnessed their scolding their peers for doing so.


When they were young, my message about body-intensive focus would be lost, I feared, in a society that prizes beauty as exceptional whether the craze is body shape svelte or zoftig, Twiggy or Marilyn Monroe. The tidal wave of social stigma was too forceful, I thought. They would find out winning the lottery of a culture’s beauty award, one has to have the right metabolism and bone structure, the right chromosomal admixture. One has to measure the self against others on arbitrary dice rolls of anatomy. I desperately wanted them to understand that where body beauty is often the goal for young women, intrinsically achievable happiness is sidestepped or forsaken.


I’m troubled with using “beauty” as a synonym for feeling valuable and powerful and magnificent. It’s not far removed from nominally inspiring, but ultimately shallow, slogans like “Confidence is sexy” and “Nothing is more attractive than happiness” that treat emotional well-being as an accessory. I seek happiness because it feels good, not because it makes my hair shinier. Happiness, confidence, self-esteem—these things should be ends, not means.


Yes, and so how do we teach our daughters about the relationship of beauty and happiness, ends and means? How do we keep the word in our vocabulary without having it used as a weapon or a criterion for worth?


It is not enough to say that “everyone is beautiful in their own way,” to quote an insipid, grammatically inferior Ray Stevens’ song lyric. Some “body positivists” would have media drilling the empowerment of all body types into cultural consciousness.To do so, expands the definition beyond meaning, dilutes its aesthetic etymology and weakens it as a tool for evaluation of non-humans. Beauty is not merely in the eyes of the beholder as there are objective criteria for evaluating beautiful art or poetry, for instance.


Miller offers another conception:


Instead of insisting that beauty is necessary for everyone, more body-positive activists are working toward making beauty optional—something we can pursue if it matters to us, but also something we can have full and satisfying lives without. We should affirm our bodies for what they can do, how they can feel, the tribulations they’ve survived, and the amazing minds they carry around, without having to first justify their existence by looking pretty.


This is not merely a manifesto for those perceived as old and ugly to feel better about themselves. It takes a body fullness that does not need outward validation, a self-sufficiency that manifests contentment and dispassionate awareness of cultural tagging. Critical thinking skills help to distinguish self from selling, what is sold to and through women.


Whether or not I have succeeded as a parent in a myriad of ways from teaching them to clean up after themselves to balancing a bank account, I have given it my all to encourage my children–all of them (daughters, nieces, nephews, students)–to think. And why I love my careers as teacher, writer and mother–for the seemingly insignificant but wholly critical contribution I attempt daily at raising awareness, teaching analytical skills by which to destroy the inherited, constructed world. It’s the least this world citizen can do.

The Naked Truth: Women’s Bodies

  

credit: http://www.newstimes.co.uk/

You get what you ask for sometimes (though be careful of what you ask for; you may get it), like answers to unsettling questions or promptings for stalled action, for instance. If you stew long enough and put the fretting out there, wherever there is–occasionally you get what you seek despite your ignorance of the search. For the last two days, I inadvertently found my comfort and resolve in random readings around the net, specifically in elephantjournal.com and theguardian.com, two favorites.


The circle of my recent dilemma was typical for my pattern. A few months ago, I leapt into a project to challenge my fears, something I do occasionally for self-induced growth, only thinking about the consequences afterwards. Time draws the demons to me in hindsight: anxieties fill my head with body-shrinking scenarios, like outsiders’ criticism and mis-construction, and kill the fun I set upon in these let’s-jump-and-see-what-happens adventures when they arise. Often I deal with the discomfort and eventual exasperation of over-thinking, over-worrying by lurching from overly cautious to free-fall diving back to head-in-hands, anguished ruminating over decisions big and small.

In the morning’s perusal of the spiritual injection reflections–journals I frequent such as elephant journal–this passage drew me in with its seductive title:  A Man Can Change a Woman’s Body Image for the Better:

We all want to be seen exactly as we are. Fully exposed, naked—physically, emotionally, energetically and everything in between. And in that place of exposure, to be met with pure approval, gentleness and love can move mountains of shame, fear and insecurity. It’s an act of love.

While the title induced a frown of raised feminist hackles, the simple statement bleeds truth, though cliché–we all want to be accepted. But before we can be accepted, we have to be seen. And to be seen, we have to encounter people who are open, interested, observant and insightful. We can only be seen by those willing to look at who’s there. The rest just want to make something of us that aids them in some fashion–stroke their egos or deny we exist at all in their willed blindness of safe, unencumbered worlds.

That basic truth about acceptance, coupled with yesterday’s McCartney project write-up, began the synthesis. Britain’s Jamie McCartney, artist, created a huge plaster mural of 400 vulvas of various ages, sizes and shapes, inspired to backlash the labiaplasty trend, according to the Guardian’s Mary Katherine Tramontana. McCartney’s response to the trend: “Don’t change your parts, change your partner.” He considers industry practices that pressure women through perpetually idealized imagery of their bodies, as a form of “fascism” that operates by “making women feel shit about themselves,” according to Tramontana. She further states that the “Great Wall of Vagina” (the title of the mural) acts “as catharsis or empowerment for the women who helped create it” by exposing and exploding the belief that there is a singular ideal image of anatomy.

Finally, the big to-do (or little to-do depending on your interest in Rupi Kaur, Tumblr or Instagram) surrounding Instagram’s censorship of menstrual blood, and other avoided male-catered-to cringes, reported in the Guardian rounds out the list of happenstance reading that helped me resolve my doubts about going forward with my project, one that ironically places me in the double bind: putting my own image out in a public space–exposed and untouched–risks wresting from me the very control over my image I seek in publicizing photographs of my body in the first place. 

After this last reading, the story of Rupi Kaur’s censored selfie showing leaked menstrual blood in Is Social Media Protecting Men from Periods, Breast Milk and Body Hair?, I was convicted.  In it, Jessica Valenti surmises that social media reinforces misogyny, shunning women’s normal, functioning bodies while concurrently promoting “sexualized images of female bodies” for men: “thin, hairless and ready for sex.” This imagery, she concludes, must change and women can make that happen.

The upside, of course, is that the very nature of social media has made it easier for women to present a more diverse set of images on what the female form can look like and mean. Selfies, for example – thought by some to be the epitome of frivolity and self-conceit – are now being touted by feminist academics and artists as a way for women to “seize the gaze” and offer a new sense of control to women as subjects rather than objects.

The message appeared aimed at me.

When we have the power to create our own images en masse, we have the power to create a new narrative – one that flies in the face of what the mainstream would like us to look and act like.


That was my intent in agreeing to be photographed and interviewed for a female body consciousness-raising website: to disseminate imagery that does not conform to advertisers’ aka men’s ideals of women’s bodies but defies that coded model. I wanted to put myself out on the internet–in all that I am, unfiltered–to help disrupt that narrative sold to men and women alike, that their bodies should be anything other than what they are, worthy, accepted and loved. 

My body represents 54 years on earth and the genetic combinatory potential of random chromosomal breakage and interchange of two specific individuals as well as the exchanges in a line of people that led to them. The story in its unfolding is all there in every line, mark, tone and texture of my skin and its outgrowths: evidence of a living being, one specimen of billions, all different from me.

My dilemma only grew from preconceived labels and anticipated perceptions that I recognized as the “voices” of others eager to judge, criticize and injure. Even though I recognized those anticipated opinions for what they were, fabricated, inherited and illusory, I still felt the fear of judgment, drowning out my own desires to be the message unfazed about the interpretation in order to “seize the gaze,” be the subject and not the object. The act is for itself–and for my daughters to one day consider their mother’s statement: your body is your own and it is acceptable, even beautiful if you adjust your eyes to the light–just as it is.

Is that a vibrator in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?




What I treasure most about blogging is the many contributions from readers whether in thoughtful or supportive comments, or suggestions of what to “gaze” at as today’s content donor put it. It makes my day when someone sends me a bit, a piece, an image, video or an article, some snippet topical to the blog’s thematic interests. Today’s gift is an article in the New York Times paying tribute to Dell Williams, former actress, advertising executive and army WAC, who started Eve’s Garden, a Manhattan sex boutique opened at a time when openly flaunting female sexuality took some daring. 

The story goes that she opened her sex shop after a humiliating experience at the hands of a young “pimply faced” clerk/interrogator when, in 1974, she purchased a vibrator. This spurred her mission to establish a place where women could purchase sex paraphernalia in peace. This kick-ass entrepreneur spent a majority of her life defending the right to open acceptance of women’s sexuality, something perhaps taken for granted today as more of a given than in her lifespan. 

Though it is still not a given even today.

While attitudes about female sexuality have progressed from denial by the patriarchal societies of Western Civilization to acknowledgment that it exists, there is still some distance to go before female sexuality is fully, openly celebrated, let alone discussed, by men and women. 

Thanks to vibrators, and women like Dell Williams who fought for freer access to them, there is an interesting history from which to start a conversation about women’s sexuality that does not seem so contrived, cliché or awkward. In fact, I used today’s research to pique the interest of my 15 year old, a sly engagement of her unsuspecting provincial sensibilities, to talk about sex, something she is loathe to do with her mother.

It turns out the vibrator is the tool that has not only traveled well through the centuries but also one that has propelled female sexuality and feminism into its current state of the question I have heard of late: Do we even need feminism any more? While the answer is yes, for many reasons, economic equality access being only one of them, that is a story for another day. The advent of the vibrator is a story of patriarchy, capitalism and power.

It begins with Hippocrates in 4th Century Greece, or at least he was the first on record to theorize that hysteria, a condition ascribed to women who displayed symptoms such as fainting, nervousness, and bad temper, more commonly known as “dry womb disease,” which seems to me as overall unhappiness most probably due to a lack of sexual excitement (read: not pumping out the lube) or fulfillment with men and the “normative” practice of penis-penetrating-vagina sex, what Rachel P. Maines in her book The Technology of Orgasm terms the “androcentric standard” of acceptable sexual practice.

The medical treatment Hippocrates and generations of physicians thereafter–until 1952 when hysteria was no longer diagnosed–for women experiencing hysteria and dry womb, was manual manipulation of the vulva by physicians to hysterical paroxysm, the medical condition better known as orgasm–in other words, getting women off. This treatment, an ongoing therapy, took up too much time for doctors to make enough money from other patients and was a routine and rote task that clearly could and should have been the work of midwives but for physicians not wanting to forego the income, prestige and power over the female body. As such, devices were developed to facilitate that “chore.”

Coupled with attitudes that women should not be touching their own bodies or have pleasure outside of marriage and what men could provide–androcentric sex–the vibrator was kept in the hands, so to speak, of the medical establishment until 1902 when Hamilton Beach patented the first take home vibrator, a large and noisy (we can heeeeaaaar you) apparatus. The hush of sexual repression quietly deposited these household objects from the hands of doctors into locked drawers, despite their popularity. According to trojanvibrations.com, these early vibrators emerged as one of the most common household electrical appliances invented even before the electric iron:


By 1917, there were more vibrators than toasters in American homes, claiming to cure everything from headaches to polio, deafness and impotence. Some ads for vibrators even claimed to be able to put a glow on your face.


In the radical feminist 70’s, the vibrator came out of the closet and into the hands of women trying to bring all things woman into the forefront, but particularly her sexuality as her power and her own.  Today, approximately half the American population uses or has used a vibrator, according to a survey of statistical findings I conducted on the web, only one of which is livescience.com.

Maine’s first chapter of her book mentioned above is available online and is a fascinating detailed history of the vibrator in context of sexual history from 4th Century B.C. through the Victorian era til modern times, citing wonderful hysteria treatment tools like horse simulators and other early curative devices designed for women’s orgasm, wickedly delightful apparatus to an unappreciative audience, my guess.

The covert manipulation (pun intended) of attitudes toward women’s sexuality–sexual pleasure that demanded more than male vaginal penetration as well as women’s ownership, participation and education (To know why, see Huffpost’s 13 Reasons Every Woman Should Masturbate Regularly)–derived from what Michel Foucault, French philosopher and author of the History of Sexuality, deemed the male medical establishment’s “hystericization of sexuality” (using their authoritative power to keep women’s sexuality as well as homosexuality in the realm of disease vis a vis the normative sexuality of the culture), patriarchy and capitalist greed.

Thank you Hippocrates for taking the time to notice, for kickstarting the vibrator’s journey to women, promoting sexual health for both men and women, and for getting all those women off, a trend that persisted even if disguised as medical treatment (wink, wink). He was hip to the truth he and his cronies kept mum, I suspect: most women, producers of the only organ designed for pure pleasure, maybe don’t need men so much to get off once they figure out what they have and how to use it.