Okay, so it’s not my vagina, much to the disappointment or relief of my readers.
So much to be said here but the video says it all. What every growing girl should know, beginning with honest names about body parts, celebrated not shamed. Had I been taught about orgasm as a child, or at least exposed to the concept pre-understanding, I would not have had to go through unnecessary anxiety and sexual misgivings affecting my relationships.
Why is this such a difficult matter, educating ourselves and our children about their bodies so that they may be more responsible and responsive adults? Why must the idea of a “love your body” explicit video be so revolutionary?
Author Priscilla Frank introduces Poussy Draama, a performance artist, gyno specialist and educator who roams the country introducing those ready to learn to love the beloved female body (enough loving of men’s has been the story of HIStory, she claims), not the one that merely makes babies but the one that has so much more power and pleasure.
She enlightens youngsters through her bizarre videos and also appears live to help groups of women take pictures of their cervixes when she is not celebrating all of the names for vagina. Hey, why wasn’t my personal favorite, twat, on that list? Must be a French thing.
The bizarro TV show, aimed to teach kids about sexuality and consent, features tripped out vagina suits, lots of rainbows and even more body positivity. Poussy Draama — the babe on the right, in the video above — is a performance artist, a sexologist, an alter-gynecologist and a witch. Not witch, like, black hat and broomstick, though. Witch like witch doctor or healer. “What I do hasn’t much to do with magic,” Draama explained to The Huffington Post. “It’s witchcraft, in the way of empiric, experimental and politically engaged healing.”
Although in medium and technique Draama’s work is all over the map, her subject matter consistently revolves around educating others on sexuality in an un-authoritative, open-minded and, duh, feminist manner. “Womxn are overrepresented and underrepresenting,” Draama said. “You know what I mean? And as an artist, I don’t wanna play the ‘male-gaze game’ so I have to be careful, cause everything tends to drive you to do so.” (Note: The spelling of “womxn” is intentional, per Draama’s choice.)
The risk takers who challenge the “norm” by exposing sedimented attitudes expose themselves to ridicule even as they gather fame. You know those insecure ones (you know who you are) who do not like to be discomfited will doff off old Poussy as a whack rather than appreciate her creativity and spirit for a good cause.
Fingers crossed for her (riffing on the article opener there).
In January, at Rick Owens’ Paris fashion week show, penises swung gently down the runway. The designer – who has a made a career out of creating highly expensive leather jackets – sent out several models minus underwear in tunics featuring peepholes, cut to reveal their genitals.
There is nothing like the mention of genitalia in a headline to draw a reader in. No words other than maybe an f- bomb will pique curiosity as much. Penises, in particular, however, are not often blatantly dangled before the public eye compared to the endless preoccupation over women’s body parts, how they work and why they won’t work when they are misunderstood, in particular. Now place penis in the same sentence as “fashion world” and no one can resist sparing the ten minutes to read on.
Rick Owens’ motives are questioned and critiqued in this article: Is this penis-peephole style production a publicity stunt or truly thought provoking work? Unquestionably, I am ignorant, but in the fashion world that I am hard pressed to believe values intellectual or activist stances in clothing styles over promoting profit-making, I lean toward the former, not the latter.
Owens, for one, claims his motivations were pure: “I was just questioning why we keep penises concealed and why exactly it’s bad to show them,” he tells me. “The social rule to keep the penis hidden just gives it a power I’m not sure it merits. But isn’t it great when something is sacred and profane at the same time?”
The bigger question: Why do Puritannical attitudes toward nudity still exist in this country? And does over exposure to penises and vaginas desensitize viewers to the intimacy associated with those parts or is that a line just to keep the pornography biz going strong–you know, forbidden fruit and all? The author characterizes “male full frontals” as “the last taboo in an otherwise hyper-sexualised society” with “power to shock and even anger.” Why the anger and whose? Not surprisingly, men’s anger about having to look at other men’s penises or have their own penises looked, that’s whose and why.
McLellan, who also shot the naked story for Fantastic Man, which featured men aged between 22 and 52, and was accompanied by an essay on the ageing process of the male body, said the shoot was about creating characters who were appealing but “not necessarily in a fanciable way”. Jop van Bennekom, co-founder, creative director and editor of Fantastic Man, says that as well as showing diversity, the shoot offered “an unbiased look at the male body without it being sexualised”.
Irony: the fashion world with its built in bias toward women cares about the exploitation of men. I guess this is why I am cynical. The industry’s product is the ubiquitous imagery of women whether exploitive or celebratory and it literally makes money off the backs of often undernourished or photoshopped female bodies. So now designers and photographers are trying to step up on behalf of men and their sexualized bodies while perpetuating practices that reinforce sexually discriminatory practice.
Top female models are often inured to nudity. “If you ask a female model to take her clothes off, you don’t really have to get permission from the agent,” says McLellan. “But if you ask a guy to take his clothes off it suddenly becomes a big deal.” Andrew Garratt, a model booker at Select Model Management, confirms that male nudity is always discussed before a shoot, and no naked shots of the model would be supplied to the photographer in advance. Many male models, he says, have turned down very successful international photographers because they didn’t want to get naked.
In so far as peep holes bring the discussion of objectified bodies into light, any body’s body, I am all for them. Exposing the industry practices, its perpetuation of gender and body myths and the concomitant consequences of stereotyping is enough justification for the collateral cynicism and backfire of turning men’s attitudes toward their own anatomy into gold–clearly commercial objectification.
The penis shouts: Look at me and look at yourself feeling uncomfortable or amused! Shocking an audience to buy product is nothing new, after all. It’s just more entertaining when the often ironic, illogical yet complex human conditioning and responses are exposed in doing so.
As men’s fashion continues to break out from the shadows of women’s, there is increasing scope for stylists and photographers to push the idea of what masculinity means. Could we see more objectification, too, bringing menswear closer to the women’s fashion industry?
Mono-sexism attributes partiality and vacillation to the bisexual.
S/he slides between normative heterosexuality and prohibitive homosexuality, claiming neither but able to inhabit each as opportunity and good fortune affords depending upon the social climate or sexuality growth or transition phase, according to the mono-sexist. These are behaviors generalized, speculated and thrust upon the ones who refuse the binary, those who are iconic and ironic, iconic in merely loving people not genders and ironic in being suspect for loving no one or neither, without partaking of either (Bisexual Imaginary).
From Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Non-binary believing believer
There is a world where people are people.
I know it exists.
They don’t have to define themselves on
Human is a panoply of factum
each one a case for infant-eye examination.
If we had to assess beings as that infant does
with no data upon which to shortcut rely such as
we too would sleep all day for the sheer exhaustion
of seeing, hearing and learning anew each one.
If my sexual identity miffs or mystifies
If I don’t act my age
If I look like someone’s ancestors–or don’t
If I defy the conformity to a certain race
If I appear an androgyne without need to choose
Who gives a fuck and why?
I want to know.
Because of habit, fear, and laziness
Because of insecure identity
Because of personal investment
Because of past injury and reward
Because of pictures painted in malleable minds
Because of enculturation and saturation and maturation
and a million other wherefores and therefores and somehows
I must be like you?
I must choose my identity and make it fit?
Despite what you may think, a real friend is not someone who will stand by you in hard times or beside you in good times or even your dog. A real friend sends you stuff to read, knowing what you like. Well, maybe that isn’t entirely true, but I do appreciate when someone pays attention to my ideas and tastes. Take, for example, the article a friend sent me by Jill Lepore entitled “The Man Behind Wonder Woman Was Inspired by Both Suffragettes and Centerfolds,” appearing on NPR three days ago that starts off this way:
The man behind the most popular female comic book hero of all time, Wonder Woman, had a secret past: Creator William Moulton Marston had a wife — and a mistress. He fathered children with both of them, and they all secretly lived together in Rye, N.Y. And the best part? Marston was also the creator of the lie detector.
Only someone fixated on the subject of the “mistress”–all we own and are enslaved to–as I am, would not only find that opener giggle-in-excitement enticing, but would find the hallmarks of a true friend in sending me such a tasty morsel. Unfortunately, that was really the best part of the write up until the end, when the writer mentions Lady Gaga. The in-between was information-light on Wonder Woman, her story, and the author’s influence by First Wave feminism and Vargas pin-ups in creating the character. Anyone who has seen her knows that she is, in part, an early feminist cultural production (freeing others and herself from the chains of bondage in the name of justice and truth) while socially palatable as traditional object of fantasy female–the voluptuous dominatrix (but sometimes submissive) with American good looks.
Despite my disappointment, the subject did inspire a meditation, once again, on gender performativity and camp, especially after the ending citation of modern day’s most notorious, campy pop gender-sexuality blender–the Lady G. Of course, for me, all roads lead back to Judith Butler. Gender role playing and displaying–what Lady Gaga capitalizes on–with its concommitant effects is Butler’s preoccupation in much of what she writes. In her book Gender Trouble, Butler posits that gender is not merely a biological category and gendered behaviors are not natural; gender is a learned performance of the role female or male in a given culture that has been repeated and imitated throughout a society, performed roles passed down from prior generations. Gender is performativity, not a binary–male or female–but a fluid space on a spectrum of culturally produced notions of the “norm.”
In other words, if you take Barbie, on one extreme of the scale of “girlness” and Superman as the opposite extreme, of “boyness,” most people fall somewhere in between those apogees, closer to or farther from society’s picture of the ideal girl or boy. There are Barbie doll models and there are androgynous indecipherables walking among us. I remember reading in graduate school this passage, which struck me with its truth:
The act that one does, the act that one performs, is, in a sense, an act that has been going on before one arrived on the scene. Hence, gender is an act which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality once again.” (“Performative” 272)
Until today, years after graduate school, I respect her concerns with the politicalization of gender, the reiteration of gender norms that marginalizes those outside the “norm” and her advocacy for counteraction through exposing the nature of gender as an inherited role. Getting folks to realize that gender is produced, not fate, is the first step to understanding it as arbitrary and a choice, neither a prison nor a target for shame and isolation if performed “incorrectly” by society’s standards, i.e., girls who are too much like boys and vice versa. Butler believes that to allow for an inclusiveness of those traditionally marginalized from the heteronormative gender actualizations–homosexuals and transgendereds–alternative performances need to be disseminated in the population, ones that perform alternative gender iterations.
Here’s where Lady Gaga comes in. She mixes up the gender space with non-normative gender depictions. Whereas Wonder Woman is the straight laced asexual power house “feminist” constrained by imagination and norms of her time (created in the 40’s) and those of her creator, thus her bondage to men (See Lepore’s article), Lady Gaga is a shotgun approach to blasting traditional notions of gender and sexuality in her outrageous meant-to-shock live and video performances of vixen lover, lesbian or straight, mistress or chained submissive, engaged in violent or passive poses of gestured gender and sexuality.
Wonder Woman’s feminism is one focused on proving that a woman, in her mixed portrayal–beauty, chastity, submission, virtuosity, strength, domination–is powerful and worthy of respect, can even save society. She competes with men on a man’s level, physical powers, though hers are emitted from material adornments and tools, her bracelets and lasso, harkening bedroom S&M exploits.
Lady Gaga, on the other hand, is a mesh of exaggerated, contradictory blends of the classic and “aberrant” imagery, the socially “non-normative” gender performances such as gay, lesbian, and transexuals. She thematizes gender as a performance. Camp productions such as those of Lady Gaga in her live and video performances do not merely challenge and expose–something Butler might nod to–gender stereotypes, but they also question heteronormative performances of more sedimented institutions such as monogamy, in addition to alluding to the political history of violence against women. Her Telephone video is a gala explosion of deployed gender, sex and violence.
Whereas Wonder Woman as precursor served as the mixed-gendered asexual icon of the truth about gender and role playing, Lady Gaga overplays and performs a cacophony of gender, sexuality and feminist history.
Exposing the inherited cultural reproduction of gender as well as the strategy to deploy alternative social productions of gender is important not only for little girls who want to grow up to be paid equally to their male counterparts and for anyone who wants to love freely and openly without fear of homophobic hate crimes, but also for breaking up the binary that gender has been, historically produced and transmitted from generation to generation. Wonder Woman needs to break those chains, invisible and hard to grasp. Or perhaps we need a man to do it, someone like Mr. Rogers, who, on one of his shows, exposes the Wicked Witch of the North as mere costumed grandma–a performed role; nothing to be afraid of kids (click on the link to view). And just in time for Halloween.
“Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. It may be that one wants to, or does, but it may also be that despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel. And so when we speak about my sexuality or my gender, as we do (and as we must), we mean something complicated by it. Neither of these is precisely a possession, but both are to be understood as modes of being dispossessed, ways of being for another, or, indeed, by virtue of another.”
― Judith Butler, Undoing Gender