Aside from crazy Halloween parties and the SF Giants winning the World Series, this weekend also saw the first anti-feminist conference, held in Switzerland. Lately, I’ve seen some men’s groups popping up that equate feminism with an all-encompassing hatred of men. Let’s set the record straight.
What Feminism is Not
A hegemonic ideology. The stories we hear about feminism tend to fit the accepted schema (Socialist Feminism, Separatist Feminism and PostModern Feminism) but, in truth, feminist theories are highly divergent.
A movement to destroy men. Social power is not a zero sum game. The reason this idea persists is because a) media gives the mic to the most radical viewpoints (Teabaggers anyone?) and b) people increasingly tend to focus on news items that confirm, not challenge, pre-existing beliefs.
A conspiracy among women. Put five people in a room and have them order one pizza. Getting that small group to unanimously agree on pizza toppings is enough of a struggle. Getting hundreds of thousands of people to agree on how to ensure women’s rights is a never-ending argument and a far cry from conspiracy.
Putting Feminism Into Context
The one thing I think anyone calling themselves feminist will agree on: women have a right to agency, a right to make decisions about their lives. In short: CHOICE. And the forgotten fact attached to this is that women have historically (in some parts of the world, currently) not had a say in their lives. Continue reading Feminism is not Misandry. Seriously.→
Today, on the anniversary of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, many will recall Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s enduring “I Have a Dream” speech or the historic numbers for this peaceful demonstration in our nation’s capitol (Others are more likely discussing that one political provocateur from Fox News who is having a little rally today in D.C.) I want to take a moment and remember one of my heroes, a man usually forgotten by history.
As my friends and I prepared the dinner table last night, the sweet sounds of 1930s blues filled the room. The scratchy, canned recordings of that bygone era masked the lewd lyrics, so it wasn’t until the second verse of Lucille Bogan‘s “Till the Cows Come Home” that we knew for sure she was singing about fucking with a capital “F”.
We stared at each other in total disbelief as she sang of giving her lovers the clap, her floor sweeping pubic hair with “funk from those hairs that will shut the door” and how her two lovers had dicks like baseball bats. There is an extra layer of shock when you discover our predecessors could be just as smarmy as any modern day porno.
We have a preoccupation with sanitizing the past in order to present its occupants in a more noble light, similar to the way we eulogize the dead and forgive them their earthly indiscretions. Hindsight is not only 20/2o; it is also easily manipulated for our own comfort.
Champions of family values often shriek about impending moral doom, holding up copies of Penthouse and rattling off porn sites as evidence for cultural entropy. But the moment you dig below the bleached façade of official history, you’ll find the same old dirty jokes, songs and images. Drawing cocks on the walls is nothing new for humans.
Of course, social sanctions against sexual innuendo and expression are nothing new either. Though the urge to create “dirty” entertainment and art is culturally ubiquitous, the urge to eradicate those creations waxes and wanes. Even the bounds of what constitutes prurience are in constant flux.
Personally, I find it humbling that Ancient Romans scrawled offensive lines on public walls or that medieval writers drew dirty cartoons in religious texts. Perversion is a uniquely human trait and I am happy to embrace bawdiness.
In the wake of graduation I started working part-time as a Personal Assistant and Organizational Consultant. Last weekend, one of my clients decided to purge an interesting and sizable book collection. The biggest perk of my work? First pick of the donation-destined books.
My client pulled a tattered, yellowing paperback from the shelf and grinned. “You might like this one from the 60s.”
My jaw dropped and I might have drooled a tiny bit. I tucked the book safely into my take-home pile, eager to peer into the perspective of 1960s psychiatrists and panicked adults.
Turns out, it’s the same tired tune sung by today’s pop-psychologists and panicked parents: Our girls are having sex! We must DO something! The fabric of society! Morals! Ad nauseum!
The book title says teenagers (er, teen-agers) but means young females. The entire book is about rising promiscuity among girls in the 1960s. Misleading title FTW.
In everything-you-think-you-know-is-wrong news, Dr. Alfred Kinsey was not the pioneer of sex surveys. Before Kinsey moved from a taxonomy of gall wasps to a taxonomy of human sexual behaviors, Dr. Clelia Mosher (pictured above), Dr. Katharine Davis and Dr. Robert Lou Dickinson had already collected survey data on early 20th century sexual attitudes and behaviors.
Dr. Katharine Davis worked in New York as a corrections officer and social reformer during the early 1900s. Sexual studies were not the focus of her career but in 1929 she published the results of 2,200 questionnaires filled out by educated women. The most interesting finding (according to me)? 71.8% of women felt that an abortion “should ever be performed”. Compare this to a current poll finding “57 per cent of respondents think abortion should be legal in all or most cases”.
The numbers were roughly the same in both studies but though Davis had more total responses, all those responses were women. I wonder if the inclusion of male respondents tipped the data in the most recent study? In a CBS/NYT poll, more men supported abortion than women (by a small margin) so modern attitudes may have become more conservative or women’s attitudes may have been influenced by witnessing higher maternal and child morbidity rates. Abortion might not seem like such a big deal when babies or mothers giving birth died more frequently.
An East Coast gynecologist and researcher during the early 20th century, Dickinson pioneered the practice of large-scale sexual histories. He studied sexuality in marriage, personal sexual histories of his female patients, was one of the first doctors to use vibrators on female patients and used his impressive drawing skills to catalog diverse appearances in sexual physiology, namely genitals.
In his survey of one thousand married women he found that they most frequently complained about failure to reach orgasm and that obstacles to sexual pleasure were primarily inorganic, ie. not physiological in nature. Essentially, attitudes towards sex impacted the ability to enjoy sex, findings on female sexual response echoed in later research. He also had a kick-ass middle name.
In the category of kick-ass full names and all-around character is Clelia Duel Mosher. While Davis and Dickinson toiled on the East Coast, Dr. Mosher conducted possibly the first known female sexual attitudes survey in 1892 in the Midwest. Her study was meant to fill her own knowledge gaps for a married life presentation for the Mothers Club of the University of Wisconsin.
She continued conducting surveys into 1920 but only created 45 profiles that remained buried with other paperwork until Carl Degler discovered the work in 1973, decades after Mosher’s death. The papers became a sensational peek into Victorian female sexuality, affirming that the public record of values often disappears in private conduct. The majority of women in the 45 profiles reported enjoying sex and experiencing sexual desire, contrary to popular belief.
Mosher achieved recognition in her lifetime for menstruation studies. Common knowledge at the time assumed women to be naturally frail but Mosher’s work proved that binding corsets, bad diet and socially prescribed physical inertia contributed to women’s breathing issues and menstrual pain. She was far ahead of her time and recommended abdominal and breathing exercises (called Moshers!) in addition to being physically active during menstruation.
Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher is a fascinating figure, though ultimately lonely because she was so far ahead of her time. I strongly recommend reading the in-depth American Heritage article on her or the recent Stanford article on her life and work.
Thanks to my friend David for sending me the Stanford article on Dr. Clelia Mosher that reminded me about pioneering sex researchers!
The fat glossy stack passed through the mail slot and hit the floor with a pronounced whomp. I got up to investigate and found, sitting underneath junk mail and a wedding invitation, a copy of Brides Magazine. I doubt my betrothed friends sent this. I love practical jokes, so I appreciate the humor of the mysterious sender. $6 well spent.
I avoid women’s magazines like Vogue and Glamour, sister mags of Brides Magazine. Flipping through those glossy, airbrushed pages is like diving into a strange world populated with painfully expensive shoes, clothing and bad sex advice. Brides Magazine touts the same format, just switch out career and sex advice for floral arrangements and wedding budget. (I bet if I read a glossy mom’s mag I would find eerie similarities. Substitute advice on placating temperamental bosses with experts on fussy babies. Dating, marriage, babies. Glamour, Brides, Mother & Baby. A magazine for every chapter of a woman’s life!)
Marquis de Sade, sadism’s namesake, is one of those pop culture symbols that I see raised up and lauded by people unaware of his full life story. Some people in the kink community associate his name with their own pain and pleasure proclivities without understanding what he was: a total nutjob.
Born into French aristocracy, de Sade spent nearly half of his life in different prisons and insane asylums for sexual assault, blasphemous writing, physical abuse, kidnapping, and poisoning. Often his victims were servants in his employ and the father of one servant attempted to shoot de Sade at point blank range. Later in his life, an angry mob attacked one of his estates.
For the most part, the de Sade family tried to distance themselves from him until a 20th century descendent named Xavier de Sade found his writings. The publication of the Marquis de Sade’s works and subsequent biography sparked contemporary public interest in the lunatic libertine.