Links for Sexy Feminists: Anthony Weiner, Jane Austen, and more

Still At It: Anthony Weiner has doubled down on his decision to stay in the mayoral race, a move some described as “delusional.” One of his former interns put out a calculated tell-all on her weeks with the campaign, which intriguingly mentions that Weiner called several interns “Monica.” His spokeswoman responded by calling the intern several slurs for women, and has since put up anapology of sorts involving an instagrammed shot of a “swear jar” full of cash and a credit card. Ugh. Can we please let the people of New York City focus on the real candidates?

Feminist Undies: Art student Shelly was fed up with mainstream stores’ selection, so she’s printing up underwear to empower the wearer with images of justly celebrated ladies.

Male Allies: A thought-provoking list of ways a man can try his hardest to be an ally to feminism. And we love this little gem on how a father plans to talk to his daughter about safely exploring her sexuality, when it’s age appropriate. We’re also digging this piece by Kareem Adbul-Jabbar on “coming out” as a fan of things besides sports, including the show “Girls.”

Throwback: This piece was written nearly ten years ago, yet the issues with feminists being called “sexist” are totally timely.

GLBT Rights Watch: Louisiana cops are harassing gay men using the obsolete sodomy law, which is still on the books. Meanwhile, Pope Francis says it is not up to him to judge gay priests, but women still can’t be priests. Hm.

Rape Joke: That’s the title of Patricia Lockwood’s poem recently published by the Awl, which has gotten a lot of press considering its genre.

Gift Registries: As modern feminists, we get that the registry for fancy household gadgets should be obsolete, but is asking for cash really any better?

Jane Austen: The celebrated English author will grace the 10 quid note starting in 2017. Sadly, the woman who led a campaign for this to happen received threats from male extremists.

An Ode to Odes to ‘Kisses Down Low’

We love Kelly Rowland’s new album, particularly her instructive “Kisses Down Low,” part of a great musical tradition of detailed step-by-steps about how to go down on a lady. In honor of Ms. Rowland’s breakout album and her celebration of female sexuality, we offer this list of Great Songs About Cunnilingus (which is to say: any songs about cunnilingus):

 

Bikini Kill, “Sugar”

 

Khia, “My Neck, My Back”

 

Madonna, “Where Life Begins”

 

Missy Elliott, “Work It”

 

Mariah Carey, “Bliss”

 

Lil’ Kim, “How Many Licks”

 

Christina Aguilera, “Woohoo”

 

Janet Jackson, “Anytime Anyplace”

 

Liz Phair, “Glory”

 

Foxy Brown, “Candy”

The Gossip, “Swing Low”

 

Sheena Easton, “Sugar Walls”

 

Lady Gaga, “Teeth”

 

“Raspberry Swirl,” Tori Amos

 

Girls And The Future of Feminism

Tuesday-225x300Some of the most powerful leaders of the feminist movement today are females who aren’t yet old enough to drive. They can’t get into an after-hours club to see a favorite band, order a drink, buy cigarettes or vote. But they are talking about reproductive justice, sexual expression, and political accountability better than anyone right now.

It’s slowly, but loudly becoming clear that millennials (and younger) are not only relevant to the feminist discussion, they are shaping it. The online space has exploded with blogs about teens and feminism—namely, by feminist teens. Feminist academia is understanding, on a curriculum level, that studying this demographic is essential to understanding the very history of women’s studies, and most certainly it’s future. Young girls from Austin to Afghanistan are inciting the most provocative feminist discourse right now by simply living—and defending—their convictions.

Feminism is far from dead, as headlines so exhaustingly decree. In fact, girls are killing that very idea. Consider these young ladies who are leading the way:

Tuesday Cain: This 14-year-old from Austin became the center of an Internet media frenzy by speaking up about reproductive rights—in an awesome, witty way. When the Texas legislature recently voted to approve a sweeping round of abortion restrictions for the state, Tuesday joined her parents on the Capitol steps to protest. Her sign, written on the brightest power-pink poster board, read: “Jesus isn’t a dick; so keep him out of my vagina!”

Awesome, right?

She was immediately attacked by the conservative media, jerks on Twitter, and even her own state’s legislators. They called her a whore. They called her parents child predators. They called her ugly and yelled in her face. Her dad, pictured with Tuesday in the photo, wrote this eloquent defense of Tuesday and feminism. 

She came back strong on her own with an essay on xoJane that, rather than being defensive, extended the conversation about feminism and freedom of speech:

“I’m a 14-year-old girl who has lived in Austin, Texas, my whole life. I like art, music and talking on the phone with my friends. When I grow up, I’d like to become a science teacher.

I also believe in the right to choose and the separation of church and state… That doesn’t make me a whore.”

Feminists have been called whores since before there was even a term for being a feminist. Tuesday is a child, but she makes it clear who’s mature in this situation.

“I’m not going to let someone calling me a whore stop me from fighting for what is right for all women. I’m not going to let the bullies win in the fight over women’s bodies… Normally, I prefer to look up to adults as role models. But what is happening in Texas right now it’s hard to find adults who I want to look up to.

I don’t look up to an adult who is taking away a woman’s right to choose.

I don’t look up to an adult who is calling a 14-year-old girl a whore.

I don’t look up to an adult who is screaming in my face and saying I am ugly.

And I certainly don’t look up to anyone who says they are Christian but treats women the way I’ve been treated these past few days as a teenage girl.”

Children are the best at pointing out the hypocrisy of adults. We should listen to them ore often.

Tavi Gevinson: Once a fashion phenom, more recently the creator and editor-in-chief of Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls that promotes self-esteem, self-expression and individuality, is one of today’s most influential feminists. Really. She is constantly talking about feminism—proudly—effectively making it cool for teenage girls.

“Everything we do at Rookie is filtered through a feminist lens,” she told Makers in this great profile video. The site takes on the male gaze (something teenage girls are often told to ignore), sexist media and reproductive rights. And clothes, boys, homework, celebrity crushes, and dream boards. It’s one of the pioneer spaces on the Internet that speaks to teenage girls with respect to their intellect as much as their interests (makeup and clothes, yes, but we’ll pass on the skinny/white model of beauty and sexualized butt-graphics on our shorts, thanks.)

Tavi may very well be the Gloria Steinem of the future and as someone 20 years older than she, I’d be happy to follow her lead.

Malala Yousafzai: She was shot in the face by the Taliban at age 15 for campaigning for girls’ education.

She survived, recovered, and came back fighting more fiercely than before. Her recent speech at the UN Youth Assembly (her first since her injury) had the entire conference cheering on their feet. Here’s why:

“Here I stand…    one girl among many.

I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys.

I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.

Those who have fought for their rights:

Their right to live in peace.

Their right to be treated with dignity.

Their right to equality of opportunity.

Their right to be educated.

Today I am focusing on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights rather I am focusing on women to be independent to fight for themselves.”

Malala is a beacon of hope for millions around the world, and has effectively influenced heads of state to review their policies and peace accords. But most of all, she is a young girl being a young girl, wanting nothing more than to enjoy everything that goes along with that.

These girls are a few of the many who are fighting for the most feminist right of all: the freedom to be yourself.

The Incredible Women of ‘The Legend of Korra’

Korra-SF-Pic-300x84Last year, Nickelodeon aired the first season ofThe Legend of Korra, a sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Taking place in a world where some people can control, or “bend,” the four classic elements (earth, fire, air, and water), the story follows Avatar Korra, the newest reincarnation of the spirit of the planet, as she learns how to fully control her abilities and stop a violent rebellion.  Over 12 episodes, the series addressed numerous themes and ideas, including the struggle to discover one’s identity, classism, racism, extremism, the need for balance, and how to embrace new innovations while respecting tradition.  Any one of these ideas could support an entire article, but I want to focus on something else: the incredible women who populate the show.  Avatar Korra, Police Chief Lin Beifong, and Asami Sato are all very well-written and well-developed characters, embodying different kinds of strength.  And while the three of them are very different, they have one thing in common: they all kick ass.

The presence of such great female characters on Korra should be no surprise to people who watched the original Avatar series.  A lot of digital ink has been spilled praising that show for its great women.  To add a personal example, the character of Princess Azula is one of my favorite characters (male or female) in all of fiction.  Korra does its predecessor proud by making its principal (and even its secondary) female characters strong and nuanced.  Korra, Lin, and Asami are all imbued with agency, desires, faults, quirks, and skill, and their motivations are always clear and understandable.

Unfortunately, Avatar and Korra’s use of female characters is an exception to the norm (which is why I am writing about them).  You may recall from my first piece published on this site that Nickelodeon nearly elected not to take Korra to series because executives feared that boys would not tune in to watch a show that starred a girl.  But when they focus tested the show, the boys didn’t care that Korra was a girl.  They just said she was awesome.  So let’s look at what makes these women so great.

“I’m the Avatar!  You’ve gotta deal with it!”  –Avatar Korra, Episode 1, “Welcome to Republic City”

Korra is an absolute gift of a character.  As the Avatar, it is her duty to serve as the world’s peacekeeper, a role that carries an enormous burden.  As a teenager who has led a sheltered life, she does not yet comprehend the full scope of her duties and the tough choices she will have to face when “keeping the peace” turns out to have morally grey areas, and it is the dissonance between the reality of being the Avatar and her views on what it means to be the Avatar that drives her story arc.  To her, being the Avatar means that she is the coolest person in the world.  There is only one Avatar at a time, and he or she is the most powerful and most important person on the planet.  Korra defines herself by her Avatar-ness, and she could not be more excited to go out and help people through the use of her considerable bending skills.  We learn very quickly that Korra was gifted with plenty of raw talent, but that her headstrong nature holds her back from her full potential.  She is competent and confident, but in many ways her own worst enemy.

Korra is the perfect combination of capable and flawed.  She is a good-hearted and strong-willed character who can back up her bragging with talent, and it is these qualities that more than make up for her flaws.  When we see Korra be headstrong or selfish or impetuous or naïve, we know that her heart is in the right place and at the end of the day, she will do the right thing.  And beyond that, her flaws are all very relatable, and end up endearing her to us more.

One of the most amazing parts of The Legend of Korra is the way it addresses gender roles.  First and foremost, Korra’s competence is recognized by everyone who encounters her, and at no point in the course of the series does anyone question her skill or the propriety of a her being the Avatar on account of her being a woman.  In other words, much like the focus-tested boys, no one Korra encounters cares that she’s a girl.  They just think she’s awesome.  Contrast Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is one of my all-time favorite shows, but even as late as the 100th episode, people still questioned how a girl could be their rescuer.  Not so with Korra; no one thinks twice that the Avatar is a woman.  No one thinks that Korra is unladylike for using brute force as a solution to most of her problems.  When people compliment Korra, they focus on her skill as a bender, her intelligence, and her physical strength.  If people address her beauty, the trait that our society places the most value on for women, it is brought up after those other qualities.  When the villains try to insult or belittle Korra, they never target her gender.  Even a rival athlete (in Korra’s world, the professional sports league is co-ed), who is set up as an archetypical bully, focuses on Korra’s naiveté and inexperience.

But perhaps most importantly, Korra is active.  She makes her own decisions and is never put into a “damsel in distress” situation.  Yes, there are times when she gets captured by the villains, but she is never helpless.  She doesn’t wait around for someone to come save her, she takes steps to free herself.  And much more often, she is the one doing the saving.  She truly wants to help people, and does not hesitate to act when she believes people are in trouble.  Even when she was at her lowest – after the villain succeeded in diminishing her Avatar powers, destroying the very aspect of herself on which she based her whole identity – she kept fighting because she knew that other people were still in danger.  Korra is a hero, plain and simple.

“That lady is my hero.” –Meelo, Episode 10, “Turning of the Tides”

When police chief Lin Beifong is introduced, she is presented as an opponent to Korra.  They meet after Korra is arrested for causing extensive property damage.  As viewers, we sympathize with Korra because the damage resulted from her attempt to stop gang members from extorting innocent shopkeepers and because Lin comes off as having a chip on her shoulder regarding the role of Avatar.  But Lin is a pragmatist, and the presence of a vigilante will potentially complicate her job.  As the season continues, she is revealed to be very much like Korra, except she has the benefit of years of experience keeping the peace.  Lin and Korra’s similar personalities cause them to butt heads at first, but Lin’s pragmatism, ability to think about the bigger picture, and drive to serve the people makes her an indispensable ally to Korra.

Lin is a no-nonsense career woman.  She is cold and rational, but highly competent and extraordinarily driven.  Like Korra, her bending skills are top notch and her mission is to ensure the safety of the public.  And in keeping with the world’s lack of hang-ups about gender, no one ever thinks less of Lin for not having a family or not being comfortable around children.  Her skills lie in being a bender and peace officer, and everyone recognizes that the city is better off with her as police chief, rather than forcing her into a role she’s ill-suited for.

Lin is a metalbender, meaning that her earthbending skills are so advanced, she can manipulate the mineral impurities in metal.  This rare skill is possessed by only the most talented earthbenders, and Lin is the best of the best.  (It is at this point I feel that I should mention that three skills that have become commonplace in The Legend of Korra – metalbending, chi blocking, and bloodbending – were all invented by women during the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender.)  Over the course of the season, without her fundamental character traits changing, Lin evolves from a gruff opponent to a necessary ally, and has one of the most touching/awesome scenes of the season (from which the above quote is taken).

“People usually assume that I’m daddy’s helpless little girl, but I can handle myself.” –Asami Sato, Episode 7, “The Aftermath”

If Lin is Korra-plus-experience, Asami is Korra’s opposite.  Asami conforms to our concept of feminine much more than Korra; she is mannered, wears make-up, cannot travel without a comical amount of suitcases, and knows how to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants.  (Contrast Korra, who won a belching contest against male friend Bolin and is very blunt and aggressive when it comes to her desires.)  In perhaps the only example of the show using our world’s views on gender, Korra initially assumes that Asami is a spoiled, helpless rich girl whose idea of fun involves shopping and makeovers, when really, she’s anything but.  Asami’s many skills make her essential to Korra’s team.  In a world where automobiles are a new invention, she is Korra’s sole ally who can drive.  As the daughter of the inventor of automobiles, she can drive exceedingly well, and provides Team Avatar 2.0 with a quick means of navigating the city.  Asami can also hold her own in a fight, and was able to singlehandedly save her bender friends from a crisis.  Asami keeps a cool head in stressful situations, never batting an eye during a rough automobile race, and remaining completely calm while simultaneously fighting and driving.

Of the three main women, Asami is probably the least developed.  She is not without flaws, but they are much less developed than Korra’s or Lin’s.  But despite this, Asami may be my favorite character on the show.  Her personality defies the expectations we develop about her based on her appearance and surface qualities, and she stands up for what is right in the face of terrible pressure.  Korra and Lin’s loyalties are never tested.  Korra’s test of character comes in the form of learning how to address problems with balance, rather than extremism.  Lin has to learn to let the past go and be open-minded.  Asami, as a nonbender, can sympathize with the anti-bender sentiment that drives the villains, and when she learns that her father is a member of the anti-bender faction, she is forced to choose between her morals and her love for her family.  Multiple times, Asami is tempted to switch sides in the fight between Korra  and the anti-bender revolutionaries.  That she never falters in choosing what she views as the moral choice underscores how strong she is in the face of personal tragedy.

“Let’s cut to the chase and settle this thing, if you’re man enough to face me.” –Korra, Episode 5, “The Voice in the Night”

The Legend of Korra’s second season will begin later this year.  I cannot recommend this show, and its predecessor, enough.  In addition to having an emotional and thematically rich (if somewhat flawed towards the end) plot, it has some of the best women on television (including, among those not mentioned here, a young airbender voiced by Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka).  Korra, Lin, and Asami can stand proud next to Daenerys Targaryen, Joan Harris, and Hannah Horvath.  We need more characters like these three; not only are they great to watch, they are wonderful role models.

Why Men Need To Be Feminists

Who-Needs-Feminism-29-300x199Hello!  I am honored to now be posting on The Sexy Feminist from my own byline.  You may recognize my name from a few guest posts that have gone up over the past two months, and I look forward to contributing my voice along with Jennifer, Heather, and the entire Sexy Feminist community.  I would like to begin by writing about why, as a man, I am excited and honored to contribute here.  I have had a lot of fun researching and writing my previous posts, but my feminism is something I take rather seriously.  I am certainly not alone as a male feminist, but the phrase “male feminist” comes off as strange or oxymoronic to many.  I’m here to express why that point of view could not be further from the truth.

For a long time, I was resistant to the idea of calling myself a feminist.  I have long believed in feminist goals — equal pay, equal opportunity, bodily autonomy, dismantling the culture of violence toward women, etc. — but various factors prevented me from fully committing to my beliefs.  For one thing, I didn’t think that feminism was “my fight.”  I understood that women, as a group, suffer oppression and are subjected to harsh societal double standards.  I felt empathy and I hoped for feminism to succeed.  But I did not think I, as a man, had a place in this cause, other than as a near-silent supporter from the sidelines.  Even worse, I was afraid to give myself the label of feminist.  Our society has rather rigid ideas of what constitutes “masculinity,” and men who do not conform are punished through various forms of social stigma, or, in extreme cases, physical violence.  Calling oneself a feminist is a surefire way to be seen as “not masculine.”

Then I grew up emotionally, and I realized the fallacies behind my reasoning.  Basing my behavior on how society views masculinity is a negative effect of the patriarchal culture that feminism is fighting against.  Men and women alike are negatively affected by the patriarchy (although women have it much, much worse).  For me personally, I was suppressing my beliefs because I feared how others would view and treat me if I expressed them.  That is the mark of an unfree, oppressive social order, and upon realizing that, I was able to understand just how much I had been influenced by the patriarchy.  By conforming my behavior to what society asked of me, I was feeding into the very social status quo I believed should change.  When I realized that, I knew that I could not say I believed in equality if my behavior reinforced an unequal society.

As for my other reason, the notion that the fight for equality is “not my fight” is lazy, apathetic, and cowardly.  If one believes that an oppressed group should not be oppressed, one must work to make it so, even if one is not a member of the oppressed group.  Feminism challenges poisonous ideas that are deeply ingrained in our society.  As someone who believes that challenging those ideas is a social imperative, I would fail to live up to my beliefs if I did not actively vocalize and act upon them.  As previously explained, by choosing to do nothing, I was behaving according to the status quo that feminism seeks to dismantle.  I may have never personally told a woman to “go make me a sandwich” or tried to pay a women less than a man for doing the same job, but I was content to let other people do the hard work of challenging this oppression while I continued to mindlessly enjoy the privileges given to me as a result of my Y chromosome.

In order for social change to occur, we must change ourselves.  Just because a man has never personally wronged a woman, he contributes to the status quo by not fighting against it.  Only by choosing to work against the established view of how men and women should behave and be treated can someone work towards improving society.  I know that many people think they are fine the way they are and will bristle at being asked to change, but the change I am advocating is not difficult.  Men need to accept that we are given a privilege at birth, that, because of our sex, we will be treated better by the government and by our employers, and that we will be in less danger of physical attacks and sexual assault.  And then, we must willingly release that privilege.  We must treat others with dignity and respect, treat others like they are human beings, as opposed to nurses, maids, sexual objects, or any of the other subordinate roles society has imposed upon women.  And we must advocate against those who would do otherwise.  Your life will not get worse by accepting that all humans are equal and you will not lose anything by working toward equality.  In fact, your life will almost certainly improve.  (Once I stopped caring about how society perceived my masculinity, I became much happier.)  Being a male feminist is not an oxymoron, it is not strange, and it is not a rarity.  Being a male feminist is essential to being human.  You can choose not to act and to let an unequal and hostile society continue.  Or you can choose to seek equality, and improve the lives of women and men alike.