You might not want to hear about my labia.

You might not want to hear about my labia. My iPhone definitely doesn’t want to hear about it (them?); keeps autocorrecting “labia” to “Kanis,” which as we all know is a picturesque town in the Dutch province of Utrecht:

Kanis!JPG

…but that’s not what I’m going to tell you about right now. I’m going to tell you about my labia, if you’re up for that, which of course maybe you’re not. While I received a lovely compliment on it (them?) just the other night, some people, historically, haven’t been up for hearing about my labia and you might be one of them. I don’t know. I can’t make that decision for you.

Anyway! I never really thought much about my labia until earlier this year, when it dawned on me that it’s the sort of labia doctors want to fix; to streamline; to endow with a “comfortable, athletic, petite look.” No matter how much weight I lift or how fast I run, my labia can never be sporty without violent surgical intervention. In order to keep her from being picked last for every team, I could choose to get a “Barbie,” a “clamshell,” a “wedge” or a “hybrid.” (That last one has a “petite hint of a rim around the vaginal opening.” Like a Prius!)

My labia is what I would call “visually striking,” even from noncommittal locker-room distance. It looks capable of independent flight. Come a little closer and it looks like a rakish little face blowing a petulant raspberry, but I didn’t know it was such an outlier until I encountered labiaplasty in the mainstream media. The conversation there is about choice: If a lady chooses to have her ladywings restructured/rejuvenated/beautified/amputated, it’s her choice and we must respect it as we would any other choice, just like the choice to go to graduate school or start an artisanal cupcake business! 

I guess there are more important things to care about besides women with burnable disposable income using it for labia-mutilating purposes. It’s not FGM; it’s not holding a little girl down and excising her clitoris with a shard of broken glass, but the underlying motivations snuggle up pretty closely, yes? Both FGM and labiaplasty:

  • Are performed to conform a woman’s genitals to a specific cultural definition of acceptability.  In Burkina Faso, female genitals in their natural state make a woman sexually insatiable (offensive!) in Los Angeles they make her sexually undesirable (offensive!)
  • Result in an infantilized labia because many men find that appealing (please see also “Brazilian wax”).
  • Are supposed to make a woman look, smell, feel, and be “tidy” or “clean” — in fact, some popular terms for mutilation are synonymous with purification (“tahara” in Egypt and “tahur” in Sudan).
  • Damage the healthy nerve endings of a healthy sexual organ.
  • Are usually elected by women themselves — or mothers and grandmothers in the case of FGM — in response to sociocultural pressure. In the developing world, that has to do with purity and marriageability; for us, it has to do with p0rn. (Simplistic but accurate).

At core, FGM and labiaplasty are are about the proper sexual use of women. Use, not even behavior. Both are a surgical intervention to make women more…well, more of what we’re supposed to be for.

Which is all terribly depressing, so tonight I’m searching the Internet for small pockets of labia pride like the Large Labia Project on tumblr. Naked labia on the internet is problematic — and y’all know how much internet feminists love that word; we need a drinking game for it — but this site could be very enlightening to women whose only exposure to female genitalia has been via p0rn (please, God, may labiaplasty doctors never get one lesbian dollar). I kind of want to start a movement called Leave Your Pussy Alone! (LYPA!)

But I’m torn vis a vis the whole Labia Pride thing because, let’s face it, anything we have to imbue with Pride comes with a not-insignificant amount of Shame; there’s no Pinky Toe Pride although a subset of women are having theirs amputated in order to fit into high-heel stilettos.  They call that “cosmetic surgery,” too. Because it sounds so much better than “mutilation.”

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Reblogged from feministcurrent: “The Steubenville rape case: This is masculinity”

Find it here.

“I don’t pity these boys. For once, men are being held accountable for their behaviour. It’s abnormal, for sure. No wonder people are shocked. After all, we’re used to dicks reigning with impunity. We’re used to hearing stories, whether in the media or in our own lives, about rapes going unpunished. What’s shocking is not that this happened in the first place, but that these young men were found delinquent (the juvenile court equivalent of being found guilty).

But I’m also not interested in vilifying these individuals. What I think we need to understand is that, yes, this behaviour was absolutely disgusting and horrific and that absolutely this must be treated as a crime, these young men are not monsters. They are just regular guys. Regular guys who play football, go to high school, and go to parties with their friends and who have learned, growing up male in a rape and porn culture, that women aren’t real, full, human beings. They’ve learned, as many boys and men learn, that women exist for the entertainment of men; whether on stage at a strip club, on screen in porn, or blackout drunk at a party.

…These boys aren’t monsters. These are men I’ve known. Men I went to high school with. Men I went to parties with. Men who raped my friends. These young men are no anomaly. This is masculinity. This is male culture. Regular, “normal,” every day male culture.

By no means do I intend to say that all individual men and boys behave in this way. They don’t. All men are not rapists. All individual men don’t literally see and treat women as fuck-toys. I know many men, in my life, who I love deeply and who are men who treat women like human beings. But these young men from Steubenville are also not abnormal men. There’s nothing “wrong” with them. They aren’t mentally ill. This is the culture we live in. Where life is a porn movie. Where rape is punishment for getting too drunk. Where sex acts are filmed and posted online so the world can see what women are really for. So women can be mocked and blamed and assaulted simply for existing in a rape culture.”

A classic from Andrea Dworkin, who knew so much and still never lost hope.

http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/WarZoneChaptIIIE.html

“You can’t have equality or tenderness or intimacy as long as there is rape, because rape means terror. It means that part of the population lives in a state of terror and pretends–to please and pacify you–that it doesn’t. So there is no honesty. How can there be? Can you imagine what it is like to live as a woman day in and day out with the threat of rape? Or what it is like to live with the reality? I want to see you use those legendary bodies and that legendary strength and that legendary courage and the tenderness that you say you have in behalf of women; and that means against the rapists, against the pimps, and against the pornographers. It means something more than a personal renunciation. It means a systematic, political, active, public attack. And there has been very little of that.

I came here today because I don’t believe that rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is. Have you ever wondered why we are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there is a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.”

“Well, you know, it’s really been, you know, quite a trip for me.” — Patty Hearst

The trope that women hate women never feels true to me, even though I read the Phyllis Chesler book and I work with teenage girls, who are supposed to be the worst bullies of all. They’re not. Teenage girls experience the gamut of human emotion including a desire for power, which they rarely achieve via any other means but their sexuality — how “hot” they are; what they’re wearing; which guys want to date them. When they behave badly, it’s usually a sane reaction to an insane situation — an understandable response to a toxic culture that ensmallens them; asks them to be sexy but not “slutty,” (i.e. sexual); to self-objectify and see themselves through male eyes. This isn’t news. Have you listened to any mainstream hip-hop lately, the kind they played at my gym this afternoon? Watched any cable TV? Seen what’s new in free online pornography? (Skip the vileness and check out one angry girl instead).

Anyway. The subject of single-sex education came up in a staff meeting today, and the other 15 people at the table agreed that they would ONLY teach at a boys’ school because girls are “mean.” They’re “bitchy.” They “turn on each other.” I was fucking horrified, of course, so I said I’d much rather teach girls because, when you take boys out of the equation, they tend to calm down, re-focus, and do amazing things  academically and socially.

Several of my colleagues laughed quietly at me. I could read their faces: Yeah, of course, she’s a dyke. The woman sitting next to me, who teaches a male-dominated subject required to succeed in most high-earning careers, hardly looked up from her grading but I saw her face as 60 years’ worth of rage and bitterness broke the tight surface and she said, with real hatred in her voice, “I hate women. They’re nasty and two-faced; you can’t trust them.”

“All of them?” I asked, thinking STOCKHOLM SYNDROME STOCKHOLM SYNDROME YOU HAS IT.

“Most,” she scowled. “I prayed to have only male children, and I got what I wanted.”

I gently posited that the world hates women, so naturally we begin to hate ourselves — had she listened to any rap or accidentally clicked on any porn lately; had she ever heard the term ‘internalized misog’–

“I don’t hate women because of porn,” she said, viciously inking an “F” at the top of a unit test. “I hate them because they’re shallow, petty bitches.”

What I wanted to ask, of course, was this: Are you like “most” women, or are you an exception? If you’re an exception, how — and by whom, and with what — have you been rewarded?  Does your special, non-bad-woman status make you feel more worthy? Does it make you immune to the dangers  and degradations “most” other women fear? Are you magic? Also, do you hate yourself, or just the rest of us? Where is your disconnect? Can you hear yourself? Do you know that the girls hear you, too? Every single day?

 

Be careful of all the feelings

I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but all high school teachers have hit a point in the academic year characterized by an unholy marriage of slack and panic, for which the Germans probably have a word. The seniors are tired, antsy and have no more fucks to give. As one of them said yesterday, “I have allowed the field in which I grow my fucks to lie fallow and become choked with dessicated weeds.” (Honors kid).

They’re doing a lot of staring out of windows these days; a lot of frantic texting and crying in front of their lockers; a lot of skating by on purpose with a 59.5%. (Maddening). They want to grow up but they also don’t want to, and why, WHY are those their only two choices? They are testing and trying and fighting themselves and other people, on the regular.

The good moments are sweeter, this time of year. Last week, a kid I love for his sensitive poetry writing and guitar-playing asked me if he could leave class early, and when I asked him why, he told me that he’d broken up with his girlfriend last week so he could date someone else, but then during 5th period today he panicked because Girl #2 was SO NOT THE RIGHT PERSON, and he NEEDED TO WIN BACK THE LOVE OF GIRL #1, so he went out to the parking lot to put a note on Girl #1’s car but then! He panicked AGAIN because WHAT IF HE WAS ACTUALY WRONG ABOUT GIRL #2? What if he was OVER-THINKING IT? HE HAD TO TAKE THE NOTE OFF THE CAR!

Here was a problem I understood. I sent him out to the parking lot. He came back, panting. “Son?” I asked. “What did we learn from this?”

“Be careful of all the feelings,” he answered.

Today he stopped by to show me a poem by Amy Gerstler. It goes like this:

 

Fuck You Poem #45

Fuck you in slang and conventional English.

Fuck you in lost and neglected lingoes.

Fuck you hungry and sated; faded, pock marked and defaced.

Fuck you with orange rind, fennel and anchovy paste.

Fuck you with rosemary and thyme, and fried green olives on the side.

Fuck you humidly and icily.

Fuck you farsightedly and blindly.

Fuck you nude and draped in stolen finery.

 

Fuck you while cells divide wildly and birds trill.

Thank you for barring me from his bedside while he was ill.

Fuck you puce and chartreuse.

Fuck you postmodern and prehistoric.

Fuck you under the influence of opium, codeine, laudanum and paregoric.

Fuck every real and imagined country you fancied yourself princess of.

Fuck you on feast days and fast days, below and above.

Fuck you sleepless and shaking for nineteen nights running.

 

Fuck you ugly and fuck you stunning.

Fuck you shipwrecked on the barren island of your bed.  

Fuck you marching in lockstep in the ranks of the dead.

Fuck you at low and high tide.

And fuck you astride

                                anyone who has the bad luck to fuck you, in dank hallways,    

         bathrooms, or kitchens.

Fuck you in gasps and whispered benedictions.

And fuck these curses, however heartfelt and true,

that bind me, till I forgive you, to you.