The pussyification of American society is awesome


Today, Jezebel posts about the sexist Tweets of “UW-Madison ‘semi-celeb’ David Hookstead.” Here’s one:

David Hookstead @dhookstead The pussyification of American society is sad. Remember when you were expected to be tough, and not worry about what people said?


I am so sick of people using female sex organs to imply weakness or cowardice. Back in the 90s, when I was a philosophy major in college, I studied deconstruction and Luce Irigaray and how our language is so distorted, it can be impossible to speak without sexism. You can look at words like “hysterical” which originate from the idea that wombs made women crazy. “Pussy” is another perfect example. Enough already. We owe it to humans to use “pussy” not as as insult but as a compliment. I wrote “You Pussy!” for Salon in 2001, long before Facebook and Twitter. David Hookstead, you are no pussy.

You pussy!

If ever there was a word in need of rehab, it is this feline expletive reserved for wimps.

“What a pussy!” shouted my friend Joe. He was complaining to me about a business partner who backed out of a deal at the last minute. Joe wanted sympathy, but I was snagged on the word “pussy.”

The night before Joe’s outburst, I’d been channel surfing and caught Barbara Walters interviewing Jane Fonda about her performance in Eve Ensler’s wildly successful play, “The Vagina Monologues.”

“You can’t talk about vaginas,” Fonda said to Walters, “and not talk about this remarkable ability they have to give birth. It’s awesome. If penises could do what vaginas could do, they’d be on postage stamps. I mean, vaginas are absolutely extraordinary.”

Listening to Fonda, I thought, “We have come a long way, baby.” Just a few years ago, producers forbade actress Cybill Shepherd to utter the V-word on her own TV show. It was, they said, obscene.

I noted the further progress of female genitalia in mainstream media when I spotted fresh-faced actress Claire Danes sporting a “V-Day” T-shirt on the cover of March’s issue of Marie Claire, in which women like Brooke Shields, Marisa Tomei and Calista Flockhart were asked, among other things: If your vagina could talk, what would it say, and if it could wear clothes, what would it wear?

So pussy power was in the air when Joe launched his diatribe. Suddenly it struck me as wrong that the word “pussy” is used to imply cowardice or ineffectiveness. Why must we equate weakness with the female sex organ? Why have we for so long?

I began to wonder how one — how we — might take the wussy out of pussy.

Is it possible to change the meaning of the word, to restore to “pussy” its deserved glory? Could we use pussy as a compliment? Could pussy denote someone or something as cool or heroic or impressive? “Rosa Parks — what a pussy!” or “John McCain is way pussy!” or “New York is a big ol’ pussy!”

At the moment, “pussy” isn’t even used to slight women directly. It is reserved for men, used among them to make fun of one another. It’s “sissy” for male heteros. It’s the politically correct big boy’s way of calling somebody a fag. And, please, don’t get me started on “pussy-whipped.”

People say “dick,” they say “asshole,” they say “prick,” but they do it with respect. Those words have power and punch, the way the word “cunt” has power. But “cunt” makes people shudder; they judge, perhaps wrongly, the user of the word. Meanwhile, poor “pussy” lies there limp, pathetic and, until this moment, defenseless.

Ensler does a fabulous soliloquy to “cunt” in “The Vagina Monologues.” Perched on a stool in her black cocktail dress, barefoot, throwing back her head, shaking her Louise Brooks haircut, she says the word “cunt” for about 10 minutes, obviously relishing each repetition. But what does she say about pussy? If she said anything, I couldn’t remember. Is pussy so forgettable?

To find answers — and to solicit allies in rehabilitating the word — I went to novelist and essayist Erica Jong, a pioneer in reclaiming language in her own writing, and a recent star of “The Vagina Monologues.”

Jong told me that there are, in fact, a couple of references to pussy in the “Monologues,” though they’re mostly humorous, such as “Don’t let him tell you it smells like roses when it’s supposed to smell like pussy!”

She thinks changing the popular meaning of the word is possible. “If we use it with positive intent, it will become positive,” she said. “I really don’t know how long it will take. Language changes, but changes slowly. It depends on the usage — whether the new connotation catches on.”

Jong warned it wouldn’t be easy. “My feeling is that we’re on the verge of reclaiming ‘cunt,’ a fine old Middle English word, but we’re not there yet with ‘pussy,’” said Jong. “Pussy remains humorous, if not insulting. At the moment pussy is a laugh word. It always gets them rolling on the floors in ‘Vagina.’”

Jong suggested I go to the vagina mama herself, Ensler, to ask her advice.

“I like the sound of ‘pussy,’” Ensler told me, smiling. “I think it’s a good word.”

She agreed that it’s different from cunt. “A cunt is someone who dreams the big dream. You are ambitious. You want to go the distance.” Hillary Rodham Clinton, she told me, is a cunt.

Pussy, she said, is more personal. “Pussy is wet, juicy and inviting. It could be used as a word of empowerment or honor. It’s a feisty word. There’s a little fear, a little danger there — you better be nice if you want my pussy.”

Pussy has so much potential, it’s a shame to limit it to the immature and derisive mocking of weak boys. Let’s give it a shot in the arm! I envision hit songs featuring “pussy” — “Who Let the Pussies Out?” or “The Real Slim Pussy” or “The Real Shady Pussy.” Hallmark-type cards that read “Thanks for being such a pussy!” Colloquial expressions: “You da pussy!” “Stand up and fight like a pussy!”

And when, and if, Joe consummates his next business deal, I’ll be there to toast him, saying, “You’re so pussy.”

Flattered, he’ll smile.

Summer reading list for the dudes at Fox News

For the sexist dudes of Fox News, there’s a new book by journalist Daniel Bergner, What Do Women Want? You really should add it to your summer reading list. I think you’d learn a lot.


Salon reports:

The book, which grew from a much-discussed New York Times Magazine cover story in 2009, reveals how gender stereotypes have shaped scientific research and blinded researchers to evidence of female lust and sexual initiation throughout the animal kingdom, including among humans.

Feminists aren’t against science, we’re against bad science. Read the Q & A with the author. You might learn something because Bergner is a real journalist.

One fact Bergner reports:

More than one adviser to the industry told me that companies worried about the prospect that their study results would be too strong, that the F.D.A. would reject an application out of concern that a chemical would lead to female excesses, crazed binges of infidelity, societal splintering.

At the very least, can you recognize how art, narratives, religion, politics, and even “science” have, for thousands of years, systemically shaped and controlled female sexuality?  And perhaps, consider these factors even influence the very words you speak when you go on the air.

Facebook helps debunk myth of America’s ‘post-feminism’

YAY! Facebook FINALLY recognizes: misogyny exists. It’s real, FB says, and that’s a giant social media step in the right direction. In 2013, gender-based hate and violence is epidemic and still, for the most part, accepted as normal.

I’m  44 years old, a member of the notoriously apathetic Generation X. Since I started speaking out about feminist issues, back in my twenties (not lazy or apolitical, by the way, didn’t really know anyone who was) I’ve been told sexism doesn’t exist. We live in a post-feminist world. What could American women, not to mention white, educated, privileged ones, possibly be whining about? We weren’t under Taliban rule for goodness sake. Not that college kids, all of us so well versed in South Africa’s racist history, had any clue about the gender apartheid of the Taliban. And if we had known of it? Gender bias, while kind of a shame, was just a cultural difference, not a political issue. “Relative ethics” was the term my sociology professor taught us for female genital mutilation: Who were we, in all our privilege to judge?

So for years, Facebook has been receiving reports on posts depicting gender based violence. While the company actively bans religious or racist hate speech, here’s just one example of its past response to misogyny.


(via Amazing Women Rock . If you go to the link, and you have a strong stomach, you can see many more.)

So why did Facebook change its tune, pledging to take misogyny seriously? Obviously, in no small part, because of a well-run, well organized campaign by Women, Action, and Media. THANK YOU WAM and thank you to all of you who responded. In days, 5,000 emails and 60,000 Tweets went to Facebook’s advertisers who started to take their ads off the site. Facebook, if anyone could, saw where all this viral action was headed. Women have been using social media to change the world for some time now.

In the Nation, Jessica Valenti writes :

Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of WAM… points to the outrage over the social media-documented rape in Steubenville, gang rapes in India and the suicides of several young rape victims as indications that Americans may have had enough of the consequences of rape culture. While she’s still unsure that the country is ready for widespread change, she believes “there’s a critical mass right now; it could be a tipping point moment”…

But this glaring, in-your-face misogyny may be the spark that pushes culture forward—there’s no arguing with these images, these court cases, these stories. Maybe it needed to get a lot worse—or more visible—for it to get better. For years, the most common anti-feminist talking point has been that American women don’t have it all that bad. That we should stop complaining and focus on women in other countries who are “really” oppressed.

But today, telling women that sexism doesn’t exist anymore is a really hard sell. Thanks to the Internet and the speed at which stories move—not to mention the vile sexism in most online spaces—any American woman who spends more than five minutes onlines hears about or experiences misogyny every day.


I started this blog, Reel Girl, because I have 3 daughters, and I was so horrified by the gender stereotyping marketed to kids like it’s okay, like it’s normal, and then how everyone participates in it. It’s so sad that sexism, packaged and sold to kids, is so ubiquitous that, paradoxically, it’s become invisible. I feel like 90% of my work is just pointing out that sexism exists. I’ve posted this a couple times, but here it is again:

Violence against women is epidemic. A first step to abuse is always dehumanizing the victim. Propaganda, in the form of images and narratives, effectively dehumanizes on a mass scale. Here’s some propaganda marketed to kids:


Images/ narratives of Jews circa 1938



Africans circa 1931



Females circa 2013


It’s easy to look back on history and wonder: How did people ever put up with that? I’d never buy into it. But what are you participating in right now that is completely accepted, not to mention celebrated, by our culture?


Since my post, I’ve gotten comments asking how dare I compare sexism to racism and antisemitism. I’ve been rebuked for taking sexism seriously for a long time. When I was a senior in high school, I was talking to a good friend of mine about sexism, and he said to me, indignantly, “A woman has never been lynched for being a woman!” Maybe, maybe not, but women have been murdered throughout history for being women. Does getting raped or sexually assaulted qualify as pretty bad treatment?

Here’s a classic comment from Chinwe:

What I find embarrassing, shameful, and flat out appalling is you comparing the current state of girls in 2013 to the days that Blacks and Jews were stereotyped, discriminated, and killed in the early 20th century. Girls and women have gained so many rights in the last 40+ years and you compared its ”oppression” to Blacks and Jews in the 1930s.


That’s absolutely and utterly lazy comparison and analysis.

Years ago, the Wall Street Journal used to have a Bad Writing Contest where readers can submit writing that’s truly awful. Too bad they don’t have this contest because I would personally submit this post–and your blog–to judges of the Bad Writing Contest and you would win hands down.

Honestly, you need a new hobby because you come across really immature, out-of-touch and bitter towards the world. Once again, do yourself a favor and enroll in an English 101 class at your local community college and learn how to write. Everytime I see a new post, 1) you are embarrassing yourself and 2) you put yourself further down the cultural rabbit hole by making piss poor arguments.

*waiting for your condescending reply*

You are pretty predictable, ya know

Huh, think Chinwe heard about the three women sexually assaulted for 10 years in Cleveland? How their captor, Ariel Castro, got out of domestic abuse charges years earlier because his ex-wife’s lawyer didn’t even show up to prosecute? Or perhaps Chinwe knows that in America, 3 women are murdered by a domestic partner every day? And still, our congress fought over passing the Violence Against Women Act?

I guess that’s my sarcastic, predictable, and, of course, poorly written reply.

We don’t live in a post-feminist world. We never have. According to the Geena Davis Institute, at the rate we’re going, will might in about 700 years. Don’t you think that’s too long for your children to wait?





After massive protest, Disney pulls new Merida from site

Exciting news! Today, Rebecca Hains, blogger and media studies professor, reports:

“As of today, Disney has quietly pulled the 2D image of Merida from its website, replacing it with the original Pixar version. Perhaps we’ll be spared an onslaught of sexy Merida merchandise yet.”

YAY! Check out the link, it’s true! BRAVE Merida is back.

I guess Disney was right to be so terrified of creating a strong, BRAVE, female protagonist (along with Pixar studios which hadn’t had ANY female protags before “Brave.”) It looks like Merida could be turning Disney’s franchise on it’s head. That’s pretty damn heroic.

Another mistake Disney made with “Brave?” They hired a female director. They fired her, but it was too late. Brenda Chapman wrote “Brave” based on her daughter. She was furious with the character’s transformation and wrote publicly about Disney’s terrible mistake.

Of the debacle Hains writes:

That’s right: Although Merida was created by a woman as a role model for girls, the male-dominated consumer product division at Disney has ignored the character’s intended benefits for young girls, sexualizing her for profit. Compared with her film counterpart, this new Merida is slimmer and bustier. She wears makeup, and her hair’s characteristic wildness is gone: It has been volumized and restyled with a texture more traditionally “pretty.” Furthermore, she is missing her signature bow, arrow, and quiver; instead, she wears a fashionable sash around her sparkly, off-the-shoulder gown. (As Peggy Orenstein noted when she broke the news of the redesign, “Moms tell me all the time that their preschool daughters are pitching fits and destroying their t-shirts because ‘princesses don’t cover their shoulders.’” I’ve heard the same from parents, as well.)

Is the sexualized  image of Merida gone for good? Has Disney learned a lesson? Or will that lesson be: No more strong female characters leading a film! No more female directors writing about their daughters! Keep the females weak and quiet!

It’s up to you. This could be a turning point. Parents, please use your voice and your wallet to keep strong, heroic females showing up in narratives and images marketed to your kids. Right now, girls are missing from children’s media and when they do appear, they’re sexualized. This is normal. Not healthy, but tragically, perfectly normal.

Yesterday, Melissa Wardy posted this image on her Pigtail Pals Facebook page, reminding us Merida’s new image was not created in a vacuum.


Objectifying and sexualizing girls is dangerous. A first step to abuse is always dehumanizing the victim. Propaganda, in the form of images and narratives, effectively dehumanizes on a mass scale.

Images/ narratives of Jews circa 1938


Africans circa 1931


Females circa 2013



It’s easy to look back on history and wonder: How did people ever put up with that? I’d never buy into it, not to mention expose my child to it. But what are you participating in right now that is completely accepted, not to mention celebrated, by our culture?

Be part of the solution. Demand narratives with strong female characters for your kids.

Update: New Merida may be off Disney’s site but she’s showing up all over the place including Target. Below is Target’s web page.





Wellesley Tweets Katelyn Campbell: excited to welcome you this fall

Wellesley Tweets:

Wellesley College @WellesleyKatelyn Campbell, is excited to welcome you this fall.

Let’s hope GW’s principal is learning a lesson or two about being a bully. Principals should know better, don’t you think?

Read heroic teen Katelyn Campbell’s full story and why we need to get more girls into leadership positions. I guess it’s pretty obvious why people are so afraid of that. Obviously, it would change the world.

Asexuality is an orientation, not a defect

A couple weeks ago, when I wrote a post about childfree women, I got this comment:

Thank you! I decided to be and stay childfree for the following reason: I’m asexual. The very thought of getting so close to a person repulses me. Also, I don’t like kids that much. But when people ask you this when you get a new job then that’s just horrible and a bit sad that they focus their attention towards this (you can’t get fired where I live if you get pregnant so that’s not a problem). Btw, I’m not outet do anyone but my closest friends so I guess even my parents might start asking questions…

I was intrigued by this comment, because I hadn’t heard anyone identify themselves as asexual before. I was also interested her phraseology, that she wasn’t “out” to anyone but her closest friends. That sounds like how people talk about being gay. I wondered: is asexuality is an orientation? And if so, how come I’ve never heard of it? If I thought asexuality existed at all, I imagined it was a phase, a result of some kind of trauma, something to be healed.

Because this is 2013, all I needed was Google to tell me how biased and ignorant I am.

Asexuality has 833,000 Google matches, not much compared to homosexuality at almost 27 million, but nothing to sneeze at.

An asexual person is defined as someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Asexuality differs from celibacy in that it is not a choice. Everything I found on the internet reports that asexuality is an orientation, not a defect. Asexual people have the same emotional needs as anyone else. They also can find people aesthetically attractive but still are not sexually attracted to them. They often have a romantic orientation. Emotional and romantic attraction are not the same as sexual attraction.Here is how the Asexuality Visibility Network describes it:

Many asexual people experience attraction, but we feel no need to act out that attraction sexually. Instead we feel a desire to get to know someone, to get close to them in whatever way works best for us. Asexual people who experience attraction will often be attracted to a particular gender, and will identify as lesbian, gay, bi, or straight.

Most asexual people have been asexual for their entire lives. It is not something that develops. It can be isolating and lonely to be asexual, but it doesn’t have to be. The key, as with everything, seems to be self-acceptance. Asexual people are often happy with who they are and many of them are also in long term, intimate but asexual relationships. Some are with sexual partners, but from what I’ve read so far, I don’t really get how that works. It seems to be a pretty individual thing.

After I read about asexuality, I was at a party and asked some people there about what I learned. No one I talked to had heard anything about asexuality. This group, by the way, included academics well versed in jargon like “heteronormative.”

To me, it seems like asexuality is further evidence that identity is far more complex and varied than we make it out to me. The way that many of us have one, rigid lens of looking at asexual people (as dysfunctional) that is so inaccurate, makes me think of the limited way people look at gender roles, so certain of ridiculous assumptions.

My guess is that we will be hearing more about asexuality in the future.


White woman on TV attacked for appearance, defends herself, gets celebrated; black woman on TV attacked for appearance, defends herself, gets fired

Rhonda Lee, a meteorologist for KTBS TV, the ABC affiliate in Sherevport, Louisiana was fired from her job after she publicly defended herself against a sexist and racist comment made by a viewer on the station’s Facebook page.



The viewer wrote:

the black lady that does the news is a very nice lady. the only thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. im not sure if she is a cancer patient. but its still not something myself that i think looks good on tv.

Lee responded:

Hello Emmitt–I am the ‘black lady’ to which you are referring. I’m sorry you don’t like my ethnic hair. And no I don’t have cancer. I’m a non-smoking, 5’3, 121 lbs, 25 mile a week running, 37.5 year old woman, and I’m in perfectly healthy physical condition.

I am very proud of my African-American ancestry which includes my hair. For your edification: traditionally our hair doesn’t grow downward. It grows upward. Many Black women use strong straightening agents in order to achieve a more European grade of hair and that is their choice. However in my case I don’t find it necessary. I’m very proud of who I am and the standard of beauty I display. Women come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and levels of beauty. Showing little girls that being comfortable in the skin and HAIR God gave me is my contribution to society. Little girls (and boys for that matter) need to see that what you look like isn’t a reason to not achieve their goals.

Conforming to one standard isn’t what being American is about and I hope you can embrace that.

Thank you for your comment and have a great weekend and thank for watching.


KTBS defends its decision to fire Lee, claiming that she violated a company policy, one that she has allegedly violated before, concerning social media.

If harsh viewer comments are posted on the station’s official website, there is a specific procedure to follow. Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure after being warned multiple times of the consequences if her behavior continued. Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure.


Lee said that she has yet to see this policy.

Lee’s response to the comment couldn’t have been more calm, focused, or right on target. It gave me chills to read it. How could someone in management (if they planned on responding at all rather than ignore it, that is, allow it) have responded any better than that? Do you think they would have or could have written:

Little girls (and boys for that matter) need to see that what you look like isn’t a reason to not achieve their goals.

No one could say that but Lee, the victim of the sexism and racism. She has to speak for herself, without shame. That is the lesson to teach kids about bullying, racism, and sexism.

But instead, the lesson learned is that when Lee refused to be a silent victim, she was punished. Fired. How can a nation that acts like it is concerned about bullying, whose President speaks on the issue and says its important one for the whole country, allow this to happen?

In October, Jennifer Livingston, a morning anchor with WKBT TV in Lacrosse, was attacked by a male viewer for her weight.


Livingston defended herself in an on air editorial that lasted longer than four minutes. She finished her statement by thanking her colleagues, family, friends and all the others who came to her defense. Her story made headlines and she was on “Good Morning America” talking about her experience.
Just like Lee, Livingston mentioned young people:

“This was a personal attack,” Livingston said.  “Calling me obese is one thing.  Calling me a bad role model for our community that I’ve worked at for 15 years and especially for young girls when I have three girls was a low blow and I thought it was uncalled for and I wanted to call him out on it.”


Livingston also urged children who were victims of bullying to defend themselves, a lesson she says she teaches her own daughter. By making her speech on TV, Livingston walked her talk.

It is particularly important that women speak out publicly because, historically, women have been shamed into silence. This shaming/silence tactic is evident with everything from rape to sex tapes; again and again, it is the victim and not the perpetrator who is supposed to be humiliated.

Just yesterday, Anne Hathaway was “shamed” when someone took a photo of her. When Matt Lauer smirked during a scheduled interview on the “Today Show” that he’d seen a lot of her lately, Hathaway didn’t hide away, but responded: “I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies the sexuality of unwilling participants.” By speaking out, Hathaway directed the shame back where it belongs, on Lauer for his idiotic comment when she was trying to promote her movie, on the photographer who took the photo, and on the one who paid for the picture.

The attack on Lee is sexist. No one would be upset about that hairstyle if she were male. The taunting and comments that women receive on the internet about our appearance is epidemic and shows that sexism is alive and well in America. Attacking women for how they look, just putting out the threat that women could be attacked for how they look, has been an effective way to keep women in their place for much too long. Courageous and public acts like Lee’s and Livingston’s show all women how to deal effectively with this kind of bullying.

Of course, the attack on Lee is also racist.

It’s great that media outlets, viewers, activists, and colleagues supported Livingston when she defended herself against a bully. Lee deserves that same support now. That racism and sexism are protected in America in 2012 so that a woman defending herself against it loses her job makes me sick.

Please sign this petition demanding that Rhonda Lee get her job back.

Read Reel Girl’s latest post on the Rhonda Lee story: Black hair and feminism: Beyonce, Willow Smith, Chris Rock, and Rhonda Lee







Fergie’s truly nauseating Halloween costume

Last night, like almost every Thursday night due to my tabloid addiction, I crawled in bed to relax with my new issue of Us Weekly. In a photo spread titled “Klum’s Favorite Halloween Costumes,” featuring pics from Heidi Klum’s annual party, I saw this picture of Fergie’s Halloween costume. I, literally, felt nauseated.

If you care at all about the sexualization of  little girls, why would a grown woman dress up as a little girl dressed up as a woman (assuming little girls with their make-up and curled hair aspire to imitate older beauty queens and not Martians.) Talk about blurring boundaries between sexualizing little girls and adults.  I just blogged about the conundrum of Batgirl, and I can barley get my mind around this costume. The bobby socks and the teddy bear? Ugh.

But here’s what Heidi Klum has to say about it: “Accessories can put a costume over the top! Fergie couldn’t have looked any better as a pageant girl.”

Right now, all I can say is GROSS. Bad move, Fergie, Heidi Klum, and Us Weekly.

Gender-fluid piece in NYT insulting to girls and women

The New York Times piece on gender-fluid kids reinforces so many stereotypes, I’ve got to go through them.

Let’s start with sentence #1:

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”

Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped binary/ boy-girl opposites: soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas, lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows. I waited for her to explore any reasons why our culture promotes this symbology. Unfortunately, I waited for the whole article.

Why are princesses considered to be the epitome of femininity? Could it, perhaps, have little do with with genes and everything to do with the fact that perpetuating the image of a passive, “pretty” female  is popular in a patriarchal culture? Just maybe?

A few more sentences down:

Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man.

Most kids on Planet Earth would paint their fingernails if they weren’t told and shown by grown-ups that it’s a “girl thing.” Nail polish has nothing to do with penises or vulvas or genes, or even anything as deep and profound as “”gender fluidity.” To kids, nail polish is art play, brushes and paint. That’s it. Oh, right, art is for girls. Unless you’re a famous artist whose paintings sell for the most possible amount of money. Then art is for boys.

On an email that Alex’s parents sent to his school:

Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.

What? Does this writer have young daughters? Has Padawer heard about the boy’s baseball team from Our Lady of Sorrows that recently forfeited rather than play a girl? Or what about Katie, the girl who was bullied just because she brought her Star Wars lunch box, a “boy thing,” to school?  Does Padawer know Katie’s experience isn’t unusual? How rare it is to find a girl today who isn’t concerned that a Spider-Man shirt (or any superhero shirt or outfit) is boyish and that she’ll be teased if she wears it? My whole blog, Reel Girl, is about that “raised eyebrow.” Has Padawer seen summer’s blockbuster movie “The Avengers” with just one female to five male superheroes? The typical female/ male ratio? Or how “The Avengers” movie poster features the female’s ass? Think that might have something to do with why females care more than males about how their asses are going to look?  You can see the poster here along with the pantless Wonder Woman. Does Padawer get or care that our kids are surrounded by these kinds of images in movies and toys and diapers and posters every day? How can Padawer practically leave sexism out of a New York Times piece 8 pages long on gender?

First sentence of paragraph 3: (Yes, we’re only there.)

There have always been people who defy gender norms.

No way! You’re kidding me. Like women who wanted to vote? Women who didn’t faint in the street?

Moving on to page 2:

Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted.

Um, wrong again. Been to a clothing store for little kids recently? Ever tried to buy a onesie for a girl with a female pilot on it? Or a female doing anything adventurous? Check out Pigtail Pals, one of the few companies that dares to stray from “pervasive and accepted” femininity. One of the few. And we’re talking toddlers here.

The studies that do exist indicate that tomboys are somewhat more likely than gender-typical girls to become bisexual, lesbian or male-identified, but most become heterosexual women.

Is the writer really writing a piece on gender fluid kids and using the word “tomboy” without irony?

Next page:

Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?

Hard not to wonder. Exactly! Finally, the writer wonders. But, not for long. Here’s the next sentence:

Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical?

Once again, I’ve got to ask: Does Padawer have a young daughter? Legions of young girls “insist on dresses” because like all kids, they want attention. Sadly, girls get a tremendous amount of attention from grown-ups for how they look. Today, my three year old daughter wanted to wear a princess dress to preschool, because she knew that if she did, the parents and teachers would say, “Wow, you’re so pretty! I love your dress.” And if it’s not a girl’s dress everyone focuses on, it could be her hair, or perhaps her shoes which are probably glittery or shiny or have giant flowers on them because that’s what they sell at Target and Stride Rite. Unfortunately, focusing on appearance is how most adults today make small talk with three year old girls.

The next two graphs are the best in the article so I will paste them in full, though notice the use of “tomboy” again with no irony.

Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.

Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.

The piece is riddled with more gender assumptions that aren’t questioned.

When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.”

But why is beauty shop feminine? We all know beauty toys and products are marketed to girls, but why? Here’s that Avengers ass poster again. In a male dominated world, women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are taught to focus on how they look and that if they do so they can get power and prestige. Appearance is the area where girls are trained to channel their ambition and competition. Oh, sorry, girls aren’t competitive or ambitious. That’s a boy thing.

On gender fluid child, P.J., the author writes:

Most of the time, he chooses pants that are pink or purple.

Wait a minute, didn’t she write a few pages back about Jo Poletti’s book Pink and Blue? Remember, pink used to be a “boy” color; it’s only recently that it’s perceived as a “girl” color?

Here might be the most fucked up quote:

When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?

When Miss Representation posted that on its Facebook page  above the link to the the article, angry commenters immediately began to respond:

i am NOT the lesser gender!
why can’t people see how insulting that is? i mean, who would *openly* call a race or ability or sexual orientation “lesser” and not largely be considered a bigot?

It was that comment that inspired me to write this post, because the whole piece is insulting to girls and women. I hope it’s insulting to boys and men as well.

Read my email to the New York Times editor here.

Read my response to comments on this post here.

Erica Jong on her new paperback, pornography, and princesses

Sugar In My Bowl, an anthology of women writing about sex, edited by Erica Jong, will be released in paperback on June 26.

Critics have called the collection a “fierce and refreshingly frank collection of personal essays, short fiction and cartoons celebrating female desire…A smart, scrumptiously sexy romp of a read.” (Read more reviews here.) My short story, “Light Me Up,” is included in the anthology along with essays and fiction by 28 other writers.

Erica Jong talks to Reel Girl about Sugar In My Bowl:

Why did you create this anthology?

I think women have more diverse responses to sexuality than is usually known. And I wanted the opportunity to show a full range of response.

How did you choose the writers?

Notice that the anthology is almost equally divided between well-known writers and writers who are published for the first time. It was wonderful to find writers, like you, who had not been published before and to pair them with well-known writers like Eve Ensler and Fay Weldon.

When the hardcover came out last summer, in a controversial essay for the New York Times, you wrote that after putting Sugar In My Bowl together, you wondered if younger women wanted to give up sex. You worried that the younger writers in the anthology seemed obsessed with marriage and monogamy. I admit I am obsessed with monogamy! In part because in so much fiction, the woman’s story just stops when she marries.

For women of my generation– I’m 43, Gen X– because of a lot of taboo busting by yours, being single and sleeping around was pretty safe and normal. At least if you lived in New York or San Francisco and carried condoms. It wasn’t radical to be promiscuous, it was expected. But picking just one guy to love and lust for, committing to him, having a baby with him– that is fucking terrifying. And not because it’s a novelty. I think that our generation, and those after us, see marriage more clearly for what it is: high-risk behavior.

We don’t need men to be our breadwinners or to provide social acceptance for us, so why do we still marry? Why do we, literally, put all our eggs in one basket? I think because we’re brave romantics.

Do you think that women can be obsessed with monogamy and sex? Does it have to be an either/ or situation?

I have also been concerned that the women’s story stops with marriage. In our time, the women’s story sometimes stops with divorce. People live much longer today and have many different adventures in their lives. Many of them marry several times. We don’t have women’s books that reflect this yet.

I think we get married to make a statement that this is my person, and we are determined to make things work. That sort of coupling seems essential for both straight and gay people. It’s a way of saying, here I stand. And this is my partner.

Certainly monogamy and sex can go together. For many people, monogamy is far more satisfying than zipless fuck. You have to know another person’s body to really have great sex. That kind of knowing may come with monogamy.

In your NYT Op-Ed you also wrote:

“The Internet obliges by offering simulated sex without intimacy, without identity and without fear of infection. Risky behavior can be devoid of risk — unless of course you use your real name and are an elected official. Not only did we fail to corrupt our daughters, but we gave them a sterile way to have sex, electronically. Clearly the lure of Internet sex is the lack of involvement. We want to keep the chaos of sex trapped in a device we think we can control.”

I totally agree with this, and it is something I wrote my story about, too. Porn and internet sex are actually the “safest” sex around.

What do you think about the future of sex as far as the promulgation of pornography? How do you talk about its negative effects without being labeled and misunderstood as an anti-sex prude?

Electronic sex is sterilized sex. It offers no risk. It is sanitized. Real sex with a partner is the opposite. Pornography has a very utilitarian function. It is specifically for getting you off, hence its predictability. Sexual literature, on the contrary, is surprising. It doesn’t just show sexual acts, but the feelings behind them. I’m all for sexual literature and kind of bored by strict pornography. What interests me in writing is the human brain revealed. Pornography does not reveal feelings. It is rather a utilitarian form for masturbation.

Author Peggy Orenstein also addresses this flip, when pro-sex is framed as anti-sex and vice versa, in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Here’s what she wrote about the sexualization of girls:

“Let me be clear here: I object– strenuously– to the sexualization of girls but not necessarily to girls having sex. I expect and want my daughter to have a healthy, joyous erotic life before marriage. Long, long, long before marriage. I do, however, want her to understand why she’s doing it: not for someone else’s enjoyment, not to keep a boyfriend from leaving, not because everyone else is. I want her to explore and understand her body’s responses, her own pleasure, her own desire. I want her to be able to express her needs in a relationship, to say no when she needs to, to value reciprocity, and to experience true intimacy. The virgin/ whore cycle of the pop princesses, like so much of the girlie girl culture, pushes in the opposite direction, encouraging girls to view self-objectification as a feminist rite of passage.”

She goes on label this difference sexualizing versus sexuality. What do you think of that distinction?

I agree with Peggy Orenstein’s wishes for her daughter. I am appalled at the idea that young women give blowjobs without experiencing pleasure themselves. They are servicing men rather than experiencing eroticism themselves. I also agree that women should write their own sexual stories. We are so much more imaginative than men have supposed. We can make our sexuality even more various through our imaginations. My anthology is a first attempt to show how imaginative women can be.

I view the pop princesses as sanitized rather than erotic. Why are we attempting to claim that all women must be princesses? Isn’t that another attempt to sanitize sex?

It seems to me that the best way to combat the dominance of limited expressions of sexuality is for more women to write their own stories.

For thousands of years women have existed in a world dominated by narratives created by men.

I love that you put together an anthology about sex by women writers and mixed fiction with non-fiction. Why did you choose to include both genres?

The line between fiction and non-fiction has blurred in our age. Memoir bleeds into fiction, and fiction bleeds into memoir. What is important about a story is that it moves you. Not what genre you label it.

Do you have plans for more anthologies?

I would love to do another anthology of women’s writing. I was disappointed that I didn’t get more sexual diversity and ethnic diversity. It was not for lack of trying. I would like to do an anthology with more lesbian women’s experiences, and a wider range of ethnicities.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a novel about Isadora Wing as a grandmother.

Order Sugar In My Bowl here.