"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rasputin: Gread Writing, but Still Women in Refrigerator Writing

Alex Grecian knows a lot about violence, and a lot about comics. His novels  about "Scotland Yard's Murder Squad" are well-received best sellers. His comic book, Proof, ran for over 28 issues. He's an avowed pacifist--which rings true; who better to write about the horrors of violence than someone who doesn't think violence is ever a good solution to a problem? His bona fides regarding comics and violent characters are obviously solid.

I also suspect he knows more than most folks do about the historical (and mythologized) Rasputin, given that his new comic, debuting in October from Image Comics, is set to explore Rasputin from new angles.  He certainly knows more about Rasputin than I do. I'd only run across Rasputin because of a smattering of interest in a few Russian plays and novels, and, of course, the wholly fictionalized account of Rasputin as a villain from the Hellboy comics.

When I saw Image's tweet about an article by Grecian about his new comic, I clicked--I don't love all of Image's books, but that's like saying I don't like all of the fiction in the library: One of Image's best attributes is that they choose to publish good stuff, regardless of genre. I wasn't surprised that the link took me to playboy.com--the tamest of adult men's magazines--Playboy seems to be in the midst of re-branding itself as feminist-friendly. I even thought, upon seeing the first art in the interview juxtaposed with a link to "22 Insane Profile Pictures from Russian Gals on Dating Sites" to be depressingly fitting: Did Playboy's algorithms have a sense of humor? 

Being a fan of learning about writers' processes at least since I used to read Kameron Hurley's blog, Brutal Women, which (among other things) detailed the process of writing her first book, I was glad to learn a bit about why somebody would tackle Rasputin in comics form, especially given the mountains of books written about the man. It was difficult to stick with Grecian's words, however, given the stunning art by Riley Rossmo was right there.  Scrolling down through the panels, however, I was taken aback by the choice of panels to appear in this article in Playboy.com. We're treated to a scene of intense domestic violence, and Rasputin's father beats his wife to unconsciousness and perhaps death right in front of the young man.  After his father leaves, Rasputin then heals his mother in a dramatic fashion in the final panel we're shown.   These few pages of the comic, especially within the context of both Playboy and the recent video involving Ray Rice, made me immediately think of Women in Refrigerators phenomenon:
The term describes the use of the death or injury of a female comic book character as a plot device in a story starring a male comic book character. It is also used to note the depowerment or elimination of a female comic-book character. Cases of it deal with a gruesome injury or murder of a female character at the hands of a supervillain, usually as a motivating personal tragedy for a male superhero to whom the victim is connected. The death or injury of the female character then helps cement the hatred between the hero and the villain responsible.  
On the few pages we're given, we see the beginnings of the "hero" (or in this case, anit-hero?) Rasputin, as he is immersed in the violence of the villainous father, and heroically saves his mother's life.  I'm not going to show the mom getting the shit beat out of her by the father here, but you can check it out at the original post.  I think Rasputin looks remarkably superhero-ish here, which seems to be something of the point of this new book.

Given the information I had, I tweeted the following:


Which led to the following discussion:

Regardless of the rest of the issue plays out, the choice to show these particular pages on the Playboy site seems inappropriate at best to me.  Even if the rest of the book shows that this isn't a case of Women in Refrigerators, as a preview, this is (great) art showing a husband beating his wife to a bloody pulp on the floor; the power of such images seems like a poor choice for a set of preview art--in a culture where dudes like Ray Rice exist, we need to give context to any art that shows domestic violence against women, context that by definition can't be given in a preview, probably.

So does the rest of the book show my intuitions were wrong or unfair? What about "the actual story"? Well, even though it seemed the offer of a preview read wasn't on the table any longer, Grecian's agent at Image was kind enough to reach out and send me a preview copy, asking for nothing else but an objective review, and to avoid any spoilers. I read it last night, letting it sink in, and again this morning. It's a well-written book, with art to match. I'll probably pick it up in October, and give it at least a few issues to see if it's for me.  That said, it is textbook women-in-refrigerator comics. Rasputin's mother is there only as a plot device--her beating motivates Rasputin later on to be less-than-kind to his father a bit later on in the book. The father is more fleshed out--we know infinitely more about him than we do about his mother.  Later on, the adult Rasputin we see briefly in this first issue is still affected by his now-dead father, appearing as a ghostly figure. 

Does his mother's beating give emotional resonance to the protagonist? Mabye--but that is central to the whole point of the women in refrigerator concept: Harming/killing women characters is too often done in comics as a shortcut to add emotional resonance--it's a shortcut that has been used so often that volumes have been written about it. Can harm to women characters in comics be done in a way that is not an example of " 'friging'? Of course. Mignola's Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics are full of women characters who come to harm, but they're not examples of 'friging because they're allowed to actually be characters, not there just to motivate the (usually male) protagonist. Here, we're not given much about Rasputin's mom to work with.

So it turns out this is a solid first issue, and also a prime example of Women in Refrigerators. It didn't have to be both.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Grateful for Female Friends

Found myself this week feeling especially grateful for all of the female friends I currently have in my life, and also for the female friends I had growing up. Been thinking a bit about it because of two stories that dug deep into my brain: Gus Van Sant's film Paranoid Park, and the graphic novel Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm, by Percy Carey, wherein the male protagonists seem almost wholly separated from women as friends.

Paranoid Park is a fictional account of a white, middle class high-school skater boy navigating not only his parents' divorce, but also the aftereffects of a severe trauma. No spoilers here, but he is surrounded mostly by his male skater friends, who aren't particularly good at even noticing he's been through a trauma, and who respond to any deviations from traditional masculinity by wondering if somebody "is a faggo".   The only girls his age in the film he interacts with are his girlfriend, who really only sees him as something of a fashion accessory, and a friend-who-is-obviously-smitten-with-him that he mostly blows off. (To be fair, this second girl is one of the only positive influences in his life.) The movie does a good job of conveying the isolation he feels because of the secret he doesn't feel he can divulge, but also the basic isolation that kids growing up can feel--and especially focuses on the isolation boys feel as they try to fit into the straight jacket of traditional masculinity. 

Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm is a beautifully illustrated autobiographical comic about Percy Carey, otherwise known as MF Grimm, who was/is a hip-hop star of some renown. (Carey is now president of Arch Enemy, a comic company that puts out some interesting stuff, which goes to show this man knows how to create success in just about whatever he does.) He pulls no punches in the telling of his story (and his story includes a lot of literal punches), and my favorite aspect of his writing was that he sets the tone by explicitly laying out some of the culture he was immersed in to those of us who might not be familiar with it-- the culture of a not well-off black kid in the United States. One of the only women he talks about in the book, his mother, is central to the story of his life: She always has his back, and is the central person in his life who teaches him to take shit from no one. (The scene where she punches out a stranger who pinches her ass was one of the best parts of the book, if also heartbreaking.) But that one page on his mom, with the exception of a few words about his grandmother's death, is basically the only time any relationships with women are talked about. Carey seems to have lived a life among men, to the extent that almost all of the formative moments he has chosen to tell about were about the men in his life. If he had friends who were women, he left them out of this book. 

Which brings me to what I have always been grateful for, but feel more strongly these days: All of my female friends. A few of them are ex-girlfriends, but most of them are just people I clicked with on some level, and they have offered me (as I look back) lenses through which to look at the world that I would never have had access to if I had kept my friendship circle to mostly men. Sure, as a man who is romantically interested in women, sometimes friendships with women are sometimes more...complex. There's the sentiment, which I learned from When Harry Met Sally, that men want to sleep with all of their women friends:

And of course this sentiment isn't limited to movies from the 80s. Here's the same idea, in a relatively modern discussion:

To whatever extent that stereotype may hold true, I'd say it's partly because we don't encourage men to be "just" friends with women. ("Just"--because somehow friendship is less-than romantic relationships?) There are too few blueprints for and examples of mixed-gender friendships, especially among straight folks.  

So a thank you to all of my women friends, past, present, and future. 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

You Don't Get to Be Kathleen Hanna

It hasn't quite even been a year since the whole Schwyzer meltdown, and we already have the newest "top feminist dude" showing his true misogynist colors. When Schwyzer's truths became impossible to ignore (and, sadly, I did ignore them for far too long), I began some deep rethinking of how I go about practicing feminist ideals in my daily life, and online. Clymer's bullshit has pushed me back into rethinking things, yet again.

I came to feminism through theory (women's studies classes), through lived experience (raised by a bad-ass single mother), and through folks like bell hooks who provided both theory and insight into practice (Feminism is for Everybody).  I knew enough women who wanted men to do some of the hard work of feminism that I began to consider myself an ally. Enough women thought I was an ally that I felt justified in that. Now I see lots of women supporting a dood like Clymer who (to me) clearly isn't fit to lead a gender equality site that I'm starting to doubt (as many other have before me) whether "ally" is even a useful term.  For quite a while I didn't see why men can't be leaders in some feminist fights, but I'm starting to get it now, with slow, dawning understanding. 

And after all the good ideas put forth by many people around why men shouldn't lead anything in feminist movements, it was finally this rather simple analogy that brought it home to me, for which I'll forever be grateful to @heatherurehere on twitter:
"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hanna."--@heatherurehere on twitter
Sure, sometimes men listen more to men, and that's one reason why men have to be a part of feminist movement. And patriarchy harms men, which is another good reason for men to be pro-feminist. There are myriad important reasons for men to support feminism. But do we need men to lead gender equality sites? Nope. Do we need men to lead Slutwalk? Nope. 

I still think that men need to connect with other men, and folks of all genders, to build communities, to support each other, all while doing feminist work. I still haven't found that supportive community, really, though lots of new friends on twitter do a good deal of that work.  So I'll keep blogging, and talking with people in Real Life, and amplifying the voices of women, but I'm not even comfortable calling this thing Feminist Allies any longer. I'll call it Feminism Helps Men for now, and see where that takes me. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Quick Review: Daddy, a Memoir from Madison Young

I feel oddly mixed about Madison Young's memoir, Daddy. It starts off strong with insights into Young's art, work and relationships with family, other artists and her partners--and she really bares her soul, which almost always makes an interesting memoir. Very intimate details about her relationships are given, with some thought, but something about the style of writing left me wanting a good deal of the time. The book begins and ends with much self-examination, and these are the parts I liked the best. Yet the bulk of the book is a series of loosely related life events, which is kind of how we all live our lives, but that choice didn't give me the meaty, explicit connections that I like in memoirs.

On the other hand, it is this style that lends the books some of its strength--when we look back at our lives, we can try to force a simple, coherent narrative, but that's always a bit contrived. Young leaves her life messy in this memoir, and that's to be commended, even if as a reader it sometimes wasn't as satisfying.

I suspect that future memoirs, if she continues writing them, will be better than this one as she hones her writing craft--a book centering on the founding of Femina Potens would be most welcome, for instance, as the bits and pieces we get about it skim the surface. I want to hear (even) more about how feminism, art, submission and motherhood have intersected (or not!) in her life. There is a conceit here that the book is about Young's Daddy, yet is also about her, and that works for what this book is. But I also would love to hear more about her feminism, art and porn work apart from her partner's place in her life, though it's possible that separating her partner from all of that isn't possible(?).

The book's site: http://daddythememoir.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

50 Shades of Kink (A Little Review)

Tristan Taormino's Fifty Shades of Kink starts out with an honest explanation of why a book like this may be needed now more than ever:
 "Let's say you read Fifty Shades of Grey or another erotic, kinky novel like Carrie's Story by Molly Weatherfield or The Marketplace by Laura Anoniou.  You Enjoyed these fictional accounts of dominance and submission, power and lust, pleasure and pain, hot sex and incredible orgasms. You enjoyed them a lot."  
Instantly setting the tone and at the same time letting the reader know that this isn't just a book written to jump on what must be the money bandwagon of titling something "50 Shades of..."  Instead, this is a book written for the throngs of people who have been recently introduced to kinky ideas from the explosion of kinky fiction that has been happening for the last few years. Kinky books have been around a lot longer, of course, but I think nobody can contest that their popularity has reached a tipping point. And this book is a great way for folks riding that new wave of kinky books to explore what playing in a kinky world might look like for them.

Why is this sort of book feminist? Or, is it? I know enough kinky feminists of various genders to believe pretty deeply that kink can definitely be one tool in the toolbox for feminists. (See also recent-ish posts about The Feminist Porn Book.  I also understand that this is not a universally held view among feminists (what is?).  The straightforward, gender-neutral style of Taormino's book makes a good implicit argument for the former.  

The first section tackles a bunch of myths that sometimes surround BDSM and kinky culture--she explains that myths about all submissives having low self-esteem, about all BDSM being straight-up abuse, that all dominants are sociopaths and like like are just that: myths. She then dives right into how important consent is, and, more importantly, gives a few examples of how folks can begin to conscientiously navigate consent in a kinky relationship. To me, that's feminist as hell. 

This book is definitely a primer. It's written as a solid intro, in quick, plain-language sections without a lot of special jargon (and explanations when jargon is used):
"Play is a common term used to describe the practice of BDSM, as in, "I want to play with a bondage expert so I can learn more about it." It can also be used as an adjective:  "My play partner caned me really well at Susan's play party.  I'm glad I set up that play date!"
Because I Love Wonder Woman, and Couldn't Resist
Taormino doesn't stop there though--I suspect even seasoned kinky folks could get something out of it (aside from buying it for prospective play partners!):
"Cowhide floggers are versatile, and they can create a soft to medium sensation with a tiny bite.  Elk is thicker than deer, and an elkskin flogger creates a heavy, deep, penetrating thud, so it's better for experienced floggers..." 
Another nice style choice for the book is the fact that, unlike some kinky books I've read, Taormino doesn't default to the men-as-dominants, women-as-submissives (mythical) stereotypes, even leaving much-needed room for genderqueer folks by generally steering clear of gender pronouns throughout. This isn't a book for straight people, or queer people, for men, women or genderqueer folks--it's a book for anybody with a growing interest in kink. All this and an into from another favorite feminist writer, Rachel Kramer Bussel

Highly recommended.

Linky goodness:
Buy directly from Cleis press here
Buy from Amazon here.
Taormino's website is here.
Tristan also has a fantastic podcast that I listen to a lot: Sex Out Loud

Friday, January 10, 2014

Listening to Lorelei Lee

"I didn’t choose this profession as a political act. You will not hear me say that I decided to get naked because I believed it would be sexually liberating or empowering. I’m not going to tell you that when I took off my clothes in front of the camera for the first time, I immediately knew I was on a path to self-discovery. The journey of the last ten years was not something I planned, and the truth of my experience is much more complicated than the public discourse on pornography and sex—shouted out in large, bright headlines from magazine and newspapers—would have you believe. What I can tell you is that as I continued to do this work—as I came up against my own ideas about femininity, power, and sex—I found strength in the part of my identity that developed out of my experiences as a sex worker. I found a manifesto of my own ethics, and I found that, to my surprise, I believe deeply in the positive power of sexually explicit imagery.
I am a feminist, and I am a pornographer. I have been paid for sexual performances of every kind. After a lot of reckoning, I’ve come to believe that the work I continue to do makes the world a better place for women to live in."--Lorelei Lee, The Feminist Porn Book
I can't see how any anti-porn feminist could read that and reject Lee's experience as genuine. Also don't know how you could read that and not want to read the rest of her piece in The Feminist Porn Book