Consent: What does it look & sound like and why does it matter?

I read a few pieces over the past week that stuck the word consent in my mind:

Buying Myself Back” by Emily Ratajkowski

The model describes her images being sold without her consent. Does releasing one naked picture of yourself give permission to everyone else to sell any / every picture of you?

The Big Questions Book of Sex and Consent” by Donna Freitas

Based on discussions with college students, this book presents big questions about consent and why it isn’t just about avoiding rape allegations or having sex freely. It asks readers why consent is at the very heart of your relational ethics.

Blood Moon” by Lucy Cuthew

The situations here are super relevant: sexting, revenge porn, slut-shaming, social media, and all the horrible “risks” that come with having sex today, especially for young people.

Each of them pose different questions about consent, and all of them show that it is so much more layered than “yes” or “no.” Saying “yes” one time doesn’t mean you agree to have sex with that partner every time; even married couples are allowed to say no to sex, RIGHT?

Freitas also cuts to the fact that consensual sex isn’t always good sex, and unattached sex can be great sex. That complicates the messaging, doesn’t it? But as fun as hookups can be, they are also damaging in some ways or leave people desiring for more. She also points out that consent is NOT about free sex = good, frigid = bad. That’s a reductive way of looking at it that doesn’t leave anyone feeling more liberated.

The three pieces together also made me think about sex work vs. intimacy. Some people believe that since Ratajkowski did pose nude and her job is catering to the male gaze, that she has no right to claim privacy. In other words, she deserves her pictures being taken and sold by anyone. It also remind me of a Twitter thread I saw about an OnlyFans creator whose pictures were taken by her boyfriend — in the replies, many male commenters said they felt bad about her boyfriend. The OP explained the two of them were winning together.

Does being in a relationship mean only your partner gets access to pictures of you? What if your partner IS the one who shared pictures that were only meant for them? I don’t believe the ownership of images is a model problem — it is ultimately a question of trust and the power we hold when we are in an intimate relationship. And if we are being 100% honest with ourselves (and not concerned with being woke), does giving everyone access to look at our partner even feel GOOD?

Personally, I believe that society is not as liberated as sex-positivity makes it out to be. And having free sex is not empowering, at least from my perspective as a woman. My honest, true opinion is that women deserve to enjoy sex, BUT sex positivity still benefits men more than it benefits women. Feminism that pleases the patriarchy, that centers traditional feminity, is not that empowering or inclusive, though I understand it as a backlash against butch feminism.

I’m going to be pondering these big questions for a long time. My wish is that women would make space for each other for the full range of femininity, ways of being a woman, that there are, instead of settling for the binaries that patriarchy imposes on us. Men don’t have the limits of being either a slut or frigid; they get to be any kind of sexual being. (They even get praised for being HIMBOS.) So let’s give ourselves the same space to have sex or not have sex, and to chip away at the binaries. Your body is yours alone and it is a great privilege to be able to keep it to yourself or share it with another; an even greater privilege to be able to change your mind about it. And it is a privilege that many are trying to take away from us. Honor consent.

Great nonfiction, continued!

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It’s been great exploring nonfiction this year because there are many interesting perspectives.  Going in-depth on one topic is so satisfying. Also, I love reading blog posts, and reading essays has been a similar experience. It’s personal yet informational.

Here are three nonfiction books I read recently, that I have enjoyed.

Labor of Love by Moira Weigel is about dating. It talks about how dating came to be so much like work. When we use metaphors like “on/off the market,” it’s really not a metaphor because a good part of dating is transactional! Weigel describes the history of dating from the beginning of the 1900s to now, through the eras of “calling cards,” to going steady, to online dating.

One thing that Weigel does well is that she is mindful of the fact dating is not the same experience for middle class White daters and LGBT and/or Black daters. For example, working (and dating) outside the home might have been liberating and a big change for White women, but Black women have always had to work outside the home. The history of dating is a constant shift in power between dating partners. The book explores these shifts by answering these questions:

  • Where does dating take place? In the home, outside, on the internet?
  • How do social forces like schooling, technology, and feminism affect dating?
  • In what ways does dating become work?

I really enjoyed this book. Weirdly, I did not come away feeling pessimistic about relationships. I agree with the author’s conclusion — dating (and to that end, procreating) is incredibly creative and changes the world.

The Pretty One by Keah Brown

I follow Keah on Twitter, and just like on social media, she is vulnerable and speaks candidly about being a disabled, queer, Black woman. She created the #disabledandcute hashtag. She loves pop culture and is an entertainment journalist. She’s a big fan of Paramore. It was like getting to know a friend, and I love how The Pretty One is not strictly a memoir but also her thoughts on pop culture. The truth is, pop culture does a really poor job of representing people like Keah, but that doesn’t stop her from being a fan of it and talking about it. And I’m very glad she has a voice.

Read alike: This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

Period Power by Nadya Okamoto

Nadya is incredible! I got into the menstrual movement last year and even though periods are just one out of many forms of inequality that comes with having a female body, it is worth talking about. It’s such a basic need that when it is ignored or not being met, it has a huge impact on daily life. Okamoto talks about how talking to homeless women about their menstrual needs, opened her eyes.

From these three books, I’m learning that for any feminist discussion to be productive, it has to be intersectional. It’s not enough to say that women are being short-changed in dating, in disability, and in menstruation. There is a hierarchy within those forums. Being able-bodied and cis-gendered means that I have privileges that make my experience more comfortable.

I’m grateful to these writers for sharing their knowledge and perspectives.

Fiction

A Tear in the Ocean by H. M. Bouwman

I loved A Crack in the Sea. It was such a unique cross-genre book! I loved Rayel, Artie, and Putnam here too. Rayel’s character spoke the most to me. She has been hurt many times, and the saddest part of the book was when Una/Nunu had a falling out with her. I like that the book doesn’t shy away from child abuse, arranged marriages and how strong children are. They survive these hardships and go on to build new lives, even if the scars remain. You’re not going to get better or be as happy as before those traumas. But you can build a new life – and that’s an encouraging message.

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship by Chitra Soundar / illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy

I love short stories! This was such a fun read. The stories are like riddles / brain teasers. If you like Encyclopedia Brown, you will enjoy this. The prince Veera and his best friend Suku take court and solve a variety of dilemmas that citizens have. Neighborhood quarrels and greedy merchants are put in their place.

Here’s to short stories and essays, written by women and written for everyone!

Do dress codes make sense?

I never thought much about dress codes when I was in school or at work. It seems like a given and not something to argue with or get in trouble over. But when I started teaching middle school I found out that dress codes do matter and they are kind of tricky.

The biggest thing I discovered was that dress coders breakers do not mean to break dress codes. When you are a teen, you are definitely NOT interested in breaking a stupid dress code on purpose. (There are so many more worthwhile things to get in trouble over.) Continue reading

Graphic novels and easy reads!

I’m very blessed that I’ve been able to read a lot lately. Aside from reading books that are related to each other or share a theme, I’m also reading one-off books just for fun! Graphic novels fit this niche perfectly. Sometimes you just need something to break the pattern and get you out of a reading rut.

I LOVED Brazen by Penelope Bagieu. I can’t say enough good things about it because each biography blew me away. She illustrates the stories of women, some famous, some unknown, who have done extraordinary things in their lives. There have been a lot of books like this, but this one stands out because the women in it are well rounded — they are flawed, they like/marry the wrong men, they grow old and more than a few of them have done sketchy things in their lives. That made their stories more powerful because they are real. Even powerful and inspirational make mistakes. We shouldn’t aspire to be perfect women, but women who are confident in our skins and BOLD <3.

Jedi Academy is a fun series for a non-Star Wars fan like me because I like the school humor part of it. My favorite character is nerdy and allergic (Allergenic?) Artemis. He is pretty much me. I love Jedi Academy because it would make kids feel like they are living the Star Wars life in their own schools and homes. Star Wars characters, they’re just like us!

The illustrations in Level Up are cute, but the story is a little bit dark. Gene Luen Yang is one of the Asian-Am graphic novel OGs, and Thien Pham did a wonderful job illustrating the story here. Despite the cover it’s really not a story about video games at all, but rather living up to expectations or following them because you choose to. It made me feel uncertain and to be honest, a little unsettled. Many Asian dramas have a way of making you feel that.

On a totally different note, it’s always a joy to read early reader chapter books. Just look at the title! How could you not feel good after reading My Heart is Laughing and When I am Happiest. I love Dani and Ella’s stories even when their lives are full of sadness. It kind of reminds of Kate DiCamillo’s books where the children have super sad lives but still are full of hope.

 

TED talk #1: Being a woman

There have been a lot of conversations about gender, feminism, sexual misconduct, and toxic masculinity. While I am glad that perpetrators are finally being called out, I think those terms don’t begin to describe what it’s really like to live as a woman. I don’t like the term ‘sexual misconduct’ because to me, it sounds like ‘zero-tolerance policy’ or not following an ‘expectation’ at school. As teacher and students know, nothing really happens for breaking a rule at school except a slap on the wrist.

I would like to talk about:

  • What it’s like living in a female body
  • What it’s like to feel invalidated by both men and women
  • What it’s like making yourself vs. other people making you

The amount of criticism directed at women for having a non-perfect body is just astounding. It’s like people get offended when a woman doesn’t look good. How dare she not manage herself?? She looks terrible in that. Has she gained weight? Those are just the verbal ones. They hurt but with enough time and practice, you can learn to ignore.

But, I think the more sneaky and powerful criticism are actually compliments for women who do pass the test, who do meet the beauty standards. Nothing makes you feel as bad as not feeling good enough. When you hear things like She looks like a Barbie. Her eyes are so big and bright. She has such nice skin.  What you really hear is that You are not good enough. There are beautiful women, and there is you. Growing up, this has always been the thing nagging at me. My family criticized me plenty for not taking care of myself, not brushing my hair, etc, but what hurt me the most is when they complimented other girls and women. Even if they weren’t saying it to me or it doesn’t have anything to do with me at all, I was hearing these comments and feeling like, wow, I am so sub-par. I am so ugly and plain!!! Clearly, these women are a different class than myself.

All of this is to say that, I grew up thinking that I am not right. My body, my face and my looks aren’t right. There are much better looks out there.

I have a lot of encouraging women in my life, thankfully, but some of the people who’ve hurt me the most in my life are women. They’ve explicitly told me that I need to look better and manage myself, otherwise I’m not going to attract any guys. I think the biggest thing is for women to support each other. Men have such an easy time picking women apart because some women already do it to each other. That makes me feel really sad.

With men, I often feel that I don’t please them and that they are frustrated with me. They talk to me like I am stupid and I completely missed their point. I’m not stupid– I am smart, and they are frustrated because they are not getting or hearing what they want from me. I’m not going to apologize for that–I never have and I never will. I guess guys will just have to continue thinking I am stupid or I don’t get their point. *flips hair*

Which brings me to the last point: I am done letting other people make me, and I am starting to make myself. People can continue thinking I don’t look good enough, or that I don’t get what they are saying. But I KNOW myself, and I know that I am smart, and beautiful. I’m not smart because I have a PhD and a good job; I am not beautiful because what show up in the mirror or a picture.

I am smart and beautiful because I am me, and I am making myself.

Thank you for coming to my first TED talk <3. I love you all!

Some references;

#NunsToo are speaking out

“These nuns believe they’re the guilty ones for having seduced that holy man into committing sin,” she says, “because that’s what they’ve always been taught.”

Adding to the trauma, she says, raped nuns who get pregnant become outcasts from their orders.

Laurie Halse Anderson shouts

My secret hope is that if people enjoy it that they’ll find an older relative of theirs and share it with them. … Although we are beginning to create the ability to speak up, I think it’s a younger generation phenomena and I know how many millions of … older people who have their own stories to tell — their old wounds that are still seeping.

Sex scandals shake K-pop

“This time, because Korea has been directly grappling with issues like MeToo, spy cams, and women’s rights in general, there’s no way they will let these crimes go so easily. The things these men have allegedly done hit right at the heart of the biggest societal divisions in Korea right now.”

International Women’s Day, pt. 1

International Women’s Day is super important to me because 1) I am a woman, 2) my friends are women, 3) I really appreciate the work that women do, and 4) I love upsetting men. (Just kidding. I only love upsetting awful men.)

One genre I have loved reading lately is memoirs, especially written by women. I’m at a time in my life when I feel feel very deeply that I am making life happen, and life is happening to me. It’s affirming to find that other people feel the same. I think the two memoirs I read recently really spoke to me. Obviously I have not been in a movie and I am not Steve Jobs’s first daughter, but I relate so deeply to Gabby Sidibe and Lisa Brennan’s experiences. As different as they are from each other and I am from them, I find that we all share so much in common. (Yes, I’m speaking like Gabourey Sidibe, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, and myself are all friends.)

  • Our fathers were there but not really present in our lives. They were not supportive in the ways that we needed them to be.
  • We felt not beautiful, despite that fact all three of us ARE very beautiful.
  • We have experience with awful men. Thankfully they were not awful experiences, but they were with men who are not good for our self-esteem or mental health.
  • We are smart and hard-working.
  • We’ve done a bunch of different jobs (and we are good at them!)
  • We’ve been in nurturing or care-taking roles for significant periods in our lives.
  • We are working women who are embracing and living our best lives.

These two memoirs spoke so deeply to me that it was therapeutic to read them and to discuss them with my therapist. OH YEAH!!!! Another commonality between all 3 of us is that we speak/have spoken to therapists. Can you see why we might?? I’ve added both of these books to my ‘Favorites’ pile. I am so happy these books exist.

I also finished reading Freak ‘N’ Gorgeous by a new YA author, Sebastian J. Plata. Pretty good debut! I really like the gender reversal and the accuracy about high school life. reminds me of Your Own Worst Enemy. It’s fun to branch out to unknown authors and read debut novels.

I have yet to read That Kind of Mother, which is also a new novel for me! Once in a while I will go shopping for books and veer off my TBR list and pick out any new writer or book, including the backlist!

Do you go “shopping for books” and try unknown authors?