Monday, November 26, 2007


I am so bad at keeping up with this blog, but I have been given some amazing ideas lately, and as soon as midterms are over, I can't wait to share some of the in-depth discussions I've been having with my classmates and friends lately. As for now, I just wanted to post two short essays I had written for my Women's Studies class, as well as the prompt. I hope you all enjoy them, and maybe learn something new :)

Sheila Jeffreys argues in Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West (Routledge 2005) that Western beauty practices fulfill the United Nation’s concept of “harmful traditional cultural practices.” According to Jeffreys, these practices are 1) damaging to the health of women and girls, 2) performed for men’s benefit, 3) responsible for the creation of stereotyped roles for the sexes, and 4) justified by tradition (Jeffreys 3).
Choose ONE culturally accepted Western beauty practice (i.e. dieting, wearing high-heeled shoes or make-up, etc.), and make a case for the ways it violates (or does not violate) a broad-based definition of women’s health. Make sure you use at least three of our readings to support your argument.

According to The American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 8.7 million people in the United States underwent cosmetic surgery in 2003, 83% of whom were women. ( These extremely high numbers are especially terrifying when one begins to look at the ways in which plastic surgery is normalized and even encouraged on the macro, meso, and micro levels of society. By analyzing Sheila Jeffreys’ definition of “harmful traditional cultural practices” within each of these 3 levels, along with readings from Kirk and Okazawa-Rey, Jean Kilbourne, and Lani Ka’ahumanu, it can be seen that plastic surgery does, in fact, violate a broad-based definition of women’s health, and thus needs to become a focus of the feminist movement.

As defined by the United Nations World Health Organization, health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 215). Therefore, when determining if plastic surgery violates this definition of health, a holistic approach needs to be taken. Unfortunately, on the macro level, plastic surgery focuses solely on women as objects who need to be visually appealing to a male audience. At this institutional level, women’s health is violated most often through the advertising industry. By classifying the ideal woman in advertising as someone who meets impossible beauty standards, young girls and older women alike are programmed to feel that if they do not compare, they will not be enough for their male counterparts. Jean Kilbourne writes, “the cumulative effect of these images and words urging girls to express themselves only through their bodies … is serious and harmful” (137). An obviously large effect of these dehumanizing images is the steep rise in plastic surgery, and more specifically, breast augmentation. Women are hospitalizing themselves, and allowing doctors to cut open their skin and insert foreign objects into their bodies in order to achieve the male standard of beauty . Not only is this a serious physical health risk and violation, but also stresses Jeffreys’ argument that a woman’s health is violated when she acts for the benefit of a man (Jeffreys 3). If the macro-level advertising industry is not continually questioned, challenged, and “girl”-cotted by the feminist movement, it will continue to remain a serious health violation to all women.

At the meso level, many factors remain in place which serve to violate women’s health in two ways described by Jeffreys – factors which are responsible for the creation of stereotyped roles for the sexes, and justified by tradition (Jeffreys 3). Many of these factors can be found in the workplace, where, unfortunately, conditions are constantly in violation of women’s health. For example, Kilbourne writes “there is…pressure on young women today to be thin, to shrink … not to take up too much space, literally or figuratively” (136). This workplace tradition of women as small, quiet, and almost invisible is justified by the lifelong tradition of the separation of work into “men’s work” and “women’s work.” While women have obviously made much gain since newspapers’ jobs sections were separated by gender, the strong meso-level reinforcement to stay “small” mentally carries over into the physical side as well. Combining the pressure to remain small with the macro-level advertising industry, it is no wonder that liposuction was the number 1 performed cosmetic surgery in 2005 ( When women feel as if they have to be both physically and mentally “small” in order to survive in the workplace, their health has obviously been violated.

Unfortunately, females are not often able to escape from the pressures of “beauty” at the micro level either. Although written as a poem, Lani Ka’ahumanu’s work describes the way many young females often feel - “I would avoid looking at myself, I mean really looking beyond the self-hate … I was constantly comparing myself with others” (154). Even in individual lives, the pressure to be perfect is overwhelming. This mental agony and worry can begin to take control, thus harming an individual’s health both mentally and spiritually. Low self-esteem can lead to drastic acts, such as spending thousands on plastic surgery, and a majority of people surveyed who underwent plastic surgery were those who spent an hour or more a day thinking about their appearance (

Although women’s health is often violated at the macro, meso, and micro levels, this news should not serve to dishearten women. It is a difficult journey, but by reclaiming actions for ourselves instead of for men, by challenging definitive gender stereotypes and discriminatory traditions, and focusing on health and holistic, positive living, a feminist-positive health system is absolutely obtainable.


Life on planet earth has ended and you are being beamed up to Planet X, where you will begin a new society with several other survivors. It’s a long trip to Planet X, and so you have time to plan. What absolutely vital feminist idea should serve as a foundation of life on Planet X? Define this feminist idea and provide at least three supporting reasons, from a feminist perspective, for its necessity on Planet X. Make sure you use at least three of our readings to support your argument.

In order to form a feminist foundation on Planet X, there are three vital factors that must be in place so that the main feminist idea of equality can be implemented. At all levels of life, there must be no gender roles enforced, a universal health care system designed around choice, and the acceptance of love based on individual desire and agency.

In a world without feminism, only two strictly defined gender roles exist, male and female. From the moment a baby’s sex is determined, immediate stereotypes are formed, and from the moment the child is born, all of those around him/her treat the child the way they believe the child “should” behave based on his/her gender. The trouble with this socialization, however, is that it takes away an individual’s agency and opportunities in life. As Leslie Feinberg writes, the ideals of a “real” man and woman that we are inundated with since birth “straightjacket the freedom of individual self-expression” (194), and hinder everything from the jobs we take to the clothes we wear, and the way we are socialized to behave. Not only are gender roles demeaning for those who identify as male or female; they are extremely harmful to those who don’t feel as if they fit into an either/or category, such as transgenders. As Feinberg writes, “for many of us [transgenders], the words woman or man … do not total up the sum of our identities” (195). Therefore, in the feminist society of Planet X, we will begin fresh with no pre-determined notions of how a gender “should” behave. Instead, free will and agency will be promoted, and individuals’ dreams and goals will be encouraged regardless of what biological sex they are born into.

Once the population begins to grow on Planet X, a universal health care system will need to be implemented. Because good health is the foundation of life, it must be preserved and protected, and most importantly, individualized. While the idea of individualizing a universal health system may seem contradictory, it boils down to the idea that while everyone must have equal access to the health care of professionals, the care must be in synch with the individual’s personal decisions. If, for instance, a woman believes that she is not yet ready to care for a child or does not desire to have one, the option to receive a safe abortion must be readily available to her. This idea of a health-care system based around choice will be centered on Judith Arcana’s belief in the importance of respecting and trusting the natural instincts of women. “All the Great Mothers were respected in their choices, decisions made for the good of the child, the mother, the clan, the tribe, the nation” (Arcana 227). Arcana also argues that we must discuss our personal choices “in open recognition of our joy or sadness, our regret or relief – in conscious acceptance of the responsibility of our choice” (227). Although Arcana is referring to abortion, her ideas speak to the entire medical field as well. Neither women nor men should ever be forced to feel shame about their bodies. Instead, on Planet X, open discussion and honesty will be encouraged, and by talking about our personal health concerns, much more will be gained and learned.

Finally, the most important factor which will be enacted on Planet X will be the idea of free love based on an individual’s agency. While “love in patriarchal culture was linked to notions of possession, to paradigms of domination and submission,” love on Planet X will be based around egalitarian relationships rooted in the feminist foundation of equality (bell hooks). As there will be no defined gender roles on the planet, there will also be no boundaries between males/females, and homosexual relationships will be just as valued as heterosexual ones. Love will be, as bell hooks so beautifully describes it, “the will to extend oneself to nurture ones’ own or another’s spiritual growth because it affirms that love is an action” (236).

On a Planet ruled by love of oneself and equal love and respect of others, there a world of hate and black/white gender stereotypes will not be possible. There will be no denial of a human’s right to choose and have control over his/her own body, and the health industry will be based around care and humanity, not monetary gain. With these three factors in place, Planet X will be a feminist society built on the foundation of equality.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Porn Myth - Girls Gone Wild!

Naomi Wolf is one of the first feminists whose work I read. Perhaps one of her most famous books, The Beauty Myth opened my eyes to the oppression and injustice women unfortunatly still face in this day and age, while offering advice on how to fight the negative stereotypes of beauty presented everywhere - the ad industry, the workplace, home, etc. I just stumbled across a short article of hers, and had to post it. I have some major, major issues with pornography, so I thought I'd share this article to see what you all think. It's an easy read, but a poignant one, and I think it rings very true to the porno-culture we are saturated with on a daily basis.

The Porn Myth

In the end, porn doesn’t whet men’s appetites—it turns them off the real thing.

At a benefit the other night, I saw Andrea Dworkin, the anti-porn activist most famous in the eighties for her conviction that opening the floodgates of pornography would lead men to see real women in sexually debased ways. If we did not limit pornography, she argued—before Internet technology made that prospect a technical impossibility—most men would come to objectify women as they objectified porn stars, and treat them accordingly. In a kind of domino theory, she predicted, rape and other kinds of sexual mayhem would surely follow.

The feminist warrior looked gentle and almost frail. The world she had, Cassandra-like, warned us about so passionately was truly here: Porn is, as David Amsden says, the “wallpaper” of our lives now. So was she right or wrong?

She was right about the warning, wrong about the outcome. As she foretold, pornography did breach the dike that separated a marginal, adult, private pursuit from the mainstream public arena. The whole world, post-Internet, did become pornographized. Young men and women are indeed being taught what sex is, how it looks, what its etiquette and expectations are, by pornographic training—and this is having a huge effect on how they interact.

But the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.

Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete, and they know it. For how can a real woman—with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own (let alone with speech that goes beyond “More, more, you big stud!”)—possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification?

For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.

For two decades, I have watched young women experience the continual “mission creep” of how pornography—and now Internet pornography—has lowered their sense of their own sexual value and their actual sexual value. When I came of age in the seventies, it was still pretty cool to be able to offer a young man the actual presence of a naked, willing young woman. There were more young men who wanted to be with naked women than there were naked women on the market. If there was nothing actively alarming about you, you could get a pretty enthusiastic response by just showing up. Your boyfriend may have seen Playboy, but hey, you could move, you were warm, you were real. Thirty years ago, simple lovemaking was considered erotic in the pornography that entered mainstream consciousness: When Behind the Green Door first opened, clumsy, earnest, missionary-position intercourse was still considered to be a huge turn-on.

Well, I am 40, and mine is the last female generation to experience that sense of sexual confidence and security in what we had to offer. Our younger sisters had to compete with video porn in the eighties and nineties, when intercourse was not hot enough. Now you have to offer—or flirtatiously suggest—the lesbian scene, the ejaculate-in-the-face scene. Being naked is not enough; you have to be buff, be tan with no tan lines, have the surgically hoisted breasts and the Brazilian bikini wax—just like porn stars. (In my gym, the 40-year-old women have adult pubic hair; the twentysomethings have all been trimmed and styled.) Pornography is addictive; the baseline gets ratcheted up. By the new millennium, a vagina—which, by the way, used to have a pretty high “exchange value,” as Marxist economists would say—wasn’t enough; it barely registered on the thrill scale. All mainstream porn—and certainly the Internet—made routine use of all available female orifices.

The porn loop is de rigueur, no longer outside the pale; starlets in tabloids boast of learning to strip from professionals; the “cool girls” go with guys to the strip clubs, and even ask for lap dances; college girls are expected to tease guys at keg parties with lesbian kisses à la Britney and Madonna.

But does all this sexual imagery in the air mean that sex has been liberated—or is it the case that the relationship between the multi-billion-dollar porn industry, compulsiveness, and sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity? If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.

The young women who talk to me on campuses about the effect of pornography on their intimate lives speak of feeling that they can never measure up, that they can never ask for what they want; and that if they do not offer what porn offers, they cannot expect to hold a guy. The young men talk about what it is like to grow up learning about sex from porn, and how it is not helpful to them in trying to figure out how to be with a real woman. Mostly, when I ask about loneliness, a deep, sad silence descends on audiences of young men and young women alike. They know they are lonely together, even when conjoined, and that this imagery is a big part of that loneliness. What they don’t know is how to get out, how to find each other again erotically, face-to-face.

So Dworkin was right that pornography is compulsive, but she was wrong in thinking it would make men more rapacious. A whole generation of men are less able to connect erotically to women—and ultimately less libidinous.

The reason to turn off the porn might become, to thoughtful people, not a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one; you might want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking. The evidence is in: Greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity.

“For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.”

After all, pornography works in the most basic of ways on the brain: It is Pavlovian. An orgasm is one of the biggest reinforcers imaginable. If you associate orgasm with your wife, a kiss, a scent, a body, that is what, over time, will turn you on; if you open your focus to an endless stream of ever-more-transgressive images of cybersex slaves, that is what it will take to turn you on. The ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros but dilutes it.

Other cultures know this. I am not advocating a return to the days of hiding female sexuality, but I am noting that the power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time. In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography. It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time—to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.

And feminists have misunderstood many of these prohibitions.

I will never forget a visit I made to Ilana, an old friend who had become an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem. When I saw her again, she had abandoned her jeans and T-shirts for long skirts and a head scarf. I could not get over it. Ilana has waist-length, wild and curly golden-blonde hair. “Can’t I even see your hair?” I asked, trying to find my old friend in there. “No,” she demurred quietly. “Only my husband,” she said with a calm sexual confidence, “ever gets to see my hair.”

When she showed me her little house in a settlement on a hill, and I saw the bedroom, draped in Middle Eastern embroideries, that she shares only with her husband—the kids are not allowed—the sexual intensity in the air was archaic, overwhelming. It was private. It was a feeling of erotic intensity deeper than any I have ever picked up between secular couples in the liberated West. And I thought: Our husbands see naked women all day—in Times Square if not on the Net. Her husband never even sees another woman’s hair.

She must feel, I thought, so hot.

Compare that steaminess with a conversation I had at Northwestern, after I had talked about the effect of porn on relationships. “Why have sex right away?” a boy with tousled hair and Bambi eyes was explaining. “Things are always a little tense and uncomfortable when you just start seeing someone,” he said. “I prefer to have sex right away just to get it over with. You know it’s going to happen anyway, and it gets rid of the tension.”

“Isn’t the tension kind of fun?” I asked. “Doesn’t that also get rid of the mystery?”

“Mystery?” He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sex has no mystery.”


What a sad world we live in where sex is no longer a personal, mysterious, wonderful experience. Obviously, this is not the case for everyone. I am positive that there are those who are able to communicate their desires and fantasies, and engage in honest and open discussion about their experiences with each other. However, it'd be hard to convince me otherwise that a very serious sexual repression has taken root in this society.

Repression? How can this be when women are now "liberated" to show off their hot matching bra and pantie set to "friends" on their webcams? When frat houses are beginning to install stripper poles in their living rooms so women can revel in their supposed "sexuality?" So companies like "Girls Gone Wild" are making millions exploiting women who are too drunk to say no? (and don't you dare tell me women are "asking for it" by getting drunk. Why should a woman have to live in fear that her actions will lead to harassment, assault, and possible rape? - that, however, is an entirely different blog).

This, dear readers, isn't sexual liberation! This isn't reclaiming sexuality for ourselves, this is putting on a show like we are instructed to do by the most popular teacher of sex-ed --- the porn industry. This is saying to yourself, "in order for him to think I'm hot and sexually attractive, I need to look like the women he watches and wants."

The porn industry is no longer a "once-in-a-while," "occasional user" recreation. It has taken over almost every aspect of our lives. Although I don't personally read them, my boyfriend is a devout follower of sports blogs and forums, and almost daily points out frustrating components of these sites ... posts to rate the "hottest" girl of the month. Registered users identifying themselves with pictures of breasts, or signing off every post with a picture from Maxim or FHM. Likewise, music sites are lined with pictures of "hot, horny singles in your area!" --- hello? Does anyone else see a problem when you cannot go to virtually any site on the internet without advertising for sex workers - err, I mean, "friends" on the side? Our advertising industry - save companies like Geico (thank God someone has a sense of humor devoid of sexism!) - is completely inundated with porno images. AXE body spray, anyone? How can anyone escape these images without shutting themselves off from the rest of the world entirely?

But I digress. What is the effect of all of this on women? It is here I could not agree with Naomi Wolf more - porn causes deep feelings of inadequacy, and gives us false misrepresentations of what "sexuality" is. Instead of being presented and taught as something personal, individualized, and deeply passionate and erotic, sex is commodified into a simple package to be sold. The pornography industry has become so entrenched in our culture that we are no longer satisfied with "boring" sex. We are so desensitized that we need double penetration, foreign objects, more pain, more degradation ... the list goes on.

Now I realize that everyone has their own sexual desires, and that is what is so wonderful - we all have something we want! I am sure that there are those who would love these acts, and they should be applauded. However, as one becomes more and more immersed in watching pornography and continues to watch these acts change and develop, becoming increasingly more violent against women, the idea is planted that ALL women desire these things. Why of COURSE all women want to be gang-banged. Of COURSE a woman who dresses in low-cut shirts wants to be stopped at the side of the road to hop in your van and put out, and if your girlfriend doesn't want a dirty sanchez, well by golly, isn't she a prude!

Why are we encouraging these pornographic fantasies, and most importantly, why are women buying into them?! The pornography industry is not a glamorous one. Although it is hard to record actual statistics, there is an overwhelming majority of workers in the industry who have been, or are still, sexually abused. Their living conditions are poor, health is always an issue, and pornography is cited by many as a "last option" for women who have nowhere else to turn.

Is that really something we want to glamorize? Is this why girls spin around on stripper poles, to show how porny and "sexual" they are? To show they're "just like" the girls in the porn who are hot, wild, and up for anything?

Why, instead, aren't we encouraging sex-positive conversations? Why aren't we encouraging women to focus on their minds instead of their bodies? While we need to be proud and love our bodies, we need to make sure that whatever we do with them, we are doing for US, and not because we feel it is what a man wants.

Our sexuality should be allowed to blossom however we want it to. We should encourage it, and respect it, and not allow it to be dictated by a society that uses sex as a mere commodification of women as nothing more than objects used by men for sex. If we want to flaunt what we've got, then hell yes we should. But if we are doing it because we believe that it is what a man wants to see ... because it makes us "sexy" by society's definition instead of our own ... because we want attention however we can get it ... by flashing ourselves on a webcam, or spinning around in a frat house ... then we need to re-evaluate ourselves and our definitions of sexuality.

Let's break out of this porn myth once and for all, and begin our own sexual liberation!

"And the touching leads to talking,
and the talking leads to sex,
and then there is no mystery left."
- Rilo Kiley