Arts & Culture
I had a very strong reaction to a picture of Patti Smith the other day. As I gazed at the fur under her raised arms, I felt guilty and envious. That peek of hair made me think that when it came to being at home in one’s own skin, I was all talk and she was all action. The feeling was akin to meeting a vegetarian and being forced to reflect on my own carnivorous hypocrisy—lamenting the cruelty of the meat industry and recommending grave documentaries on bestial torture to friends, only to throw back some BBQ during my lunch hour. Staring at the picture, I felt that Patti was the real thing and I was just the synthetic version; as though all the depilatory agents I put between me and my own naturalness had seeped into my pores, making me more chemicals than ideals.
Meet Sandy, a smart, attractive, successful woman in her thirties. She’s an editor at a premiere magazine, has tons of friends, a warm, supportive partner whom she loves and likewise adores her, two rehabilitated shelter cats, a Sedaris sharp sense of humor, time to volunteer and work on her novel, and to top it all off, a brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In short, she has it all. Yet every once in a while, she’ll call me in hysterics having talked herself into a panic over something in her life that’s not perfect. These blips, as I call them, can be small and relatively harmless: the phone company has overcharged her for text messages, or large and unyielding: the sister she never got along with is on another rampage. We all know women like Sandy, women with fabulous lives that never quite fulfill their expectations of perfection.
For years, women have had to confront harrowing archetypes that limit the scope of their experiences, desires, and ambitions. The good girl/bad girl dichotomy remains a steadfast way for our culture, and women themselves, to classify not only wants and behaviors, but entire lives. However, as perfection striving becomes more and more common among women living up to impossible standards, a new dichotomy has emerged: the good girl/best girl.
Have a look at Tracy Quan's neat piece about "The Sexiest Saint" on the Daily Beast. SITPS readers will enjoy her fresh perspective on sex and religion. She points out that contemporary people can better identify with a saint with carnal appetites than, well, saintlier figures. Quan writes, "Today's multitasking, sexually experienced woman can relate more easily to Mary Magdalene than to Mother Mary or, for that matter, Mother Teresa." Amen!
In recent years, the number of women going under the knife for cosmetic genital surgery has skyrocketed. More and more women are regularly participating in painful bikini waxing procedures to return to the bare pubis of their youth, and increasing numbers of adolescents are seeking genital piercings to decorate their labia. The popularization of all of these procedures begs the question, what is the Western female genital aesthetic and how is it established? Furthermore, we must ask: What are the implications of women pursuing a genital ideal?
American representations of the female genitalia are extremely varied. Certainly, there are aspects of a popular culture that celebrate the vagina. From paintings by Georgia O’Keefe to the popular activist play The Vagina Monologues, works of art and literature have represented the female anatomy in a positive light. However, these positive expressions of female genitals and the accompanying symbolic power of vaginal iconography exist as counter-efforts and are far less prominent than the negative representations that prevail.
Meet Jill Di Donato. I met Jill back in June when Sex In The Public Square, Center for Sex and Culture, and some amazing sex bloggers and writers got together at Happy Endings for a reading where we raised money for CSC. Jill heard me say that I was wanting to expand Sex In The Public Square and came to me with an idea for a new column, Show and Tell, which would be a place for people to write about the sexuality-and-society issues that are most personally important to them. Since no good deed goes unpunished Jill has been assigned as the curator/editor for our new venture! She's given me a sneak peak at some of the pieces she's collected so far and I'm very excited. Our goal is to put up a new Show and Tell piece about every two weeks, or twice a month. To submit an opinion-based editorial (500-1000 words) on issues relating to sex, relationships, beauty, identity, or any related topic, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's a bit more about Jill:
Jill Di Donato is a Brooklyn native with a BA in English and Sociology from Barnard College and an MFA in Writing from Columbia. As a 21st Century feminist, she's contributed essays, fiction, and art to various publications, from obscure literary journals to mainstream media outlets. She's the author of the forthcoming novel Beautiful Garbage about a 1980s New York artist who finds herself immersed in a world of high-class prostitution. In addition, she's editing an anthology of feminists writing about sex, gender, and beauty. Currently, she's an adjunct lecturer in English for the City University of New York, teaches at Barnard College and The Fashion Institute of Technology as well as privately in New York City. An advocate of communities that spark healthy and provocative discussions about intimate issues with insight, complexity, and humor, she's thrilled to join the staff of Sex in the Public Square as the new Show and Tell column editor.
Photo of Jill Di Donato by Celeste Giuliano and used by permission. (c) 2009 Celeste Giuliano. All rights reserved
Some time ago Tess asked each of us who posed for the 2010 Sex Blogger Calendar (raising funds for Sex Work Awareness) to write a little bit about how our ideas about sexual freedom are expressed in our photo shoots.
Mea culpa. I am finally managing that post just days before the calendar's launch party. Will you be in NYC this Friday? Join us from 6:30-9:30 at Fontanas and get your calendar signed by models, photographers or anyone else who tickles your fancy! (I also hear there's going to be some pretty fantastic swag.)
I posed on Frying Pan, a rusting old lightship-turned-bar docked at Pier 66 on the Hudson River side of Manhattan. Frying Pan (and PIer 66 in general) is a place that says a lot to me about sexaulity despite its not being an "adult" location in any way.
For one thing, it floats. It is tethered to a barge which itself is affixed to land, but it is not, itself, on land. It is in that liminal space that is a salt water river that flows in two directions. There are few better metaphors for my sexuality.
The lightship itself is beautiful and inviting and yet clearly a place where one enters at one's own risk. Dark companionways and large pieces of rusty machinery are as accessible as the brightly painted outer decks. It is a place for exploration and for wonder.
The photo we chose for the calendar is one that combines a kind of playful sexiness with a femininity I rarely show. It captures the rusty beauty of the ship and one of its more inviting niches. The calendar shot hints at a scene that might happen two minutes after the shutter snaps. It is in all of those hints and seeming contradictions that I hope you will see a bit of what it means to me to have freedom of sexual expression. The three shots below are taken in different parts of the ship and I offer them here just to whet your appetite.
If any NYC-area readers are attending this event I would love to publish reports from it. I can't attend, myself, and want to hear all about the exhibits. What follows is completely copied from the New View Campaign website for the event:
The New View Campaign organized an arts and crafts exhibit and political event titled “Vulvagraphics” on October 24-25, 2009 to celebrate the role of art in activism and to kick off a campus-based movement to celebrate genital diversity.
Grand Opening of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health Censored by Pawtucket, RI Mayor in Response to Anonymous ComplaintSubmitted by BeckySharp on 22 September 2009 - 11:26am
By Rebecca Chalker, author of The Clitoral Truth and articles on sexuality and women’s health.
The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, new non-profit educational organization focusing pleasure and sexual advocacy issues, was scheduled to hold its Grand Opening in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on Saturday, September 26. The Center’s Director is Megan Andelloux, a graduate of the University of Rhode Island (1997) and a Certified Sexuality Educator of the American Association of Sexuality Education, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) and a Board Certified Sexologist by the American College of Sexologists.
Last week Andelloux, learned that the Pawtucket City Council had received a complaint “warning” about the Center’s opening and premier event. “I was then informed that without proper zoning and event licenses, I would be arrested if I held the event in Pawtucket,” she says. “Although I had landlord approval and the building is zoned for retail, business, entertainment, and office use, I was told that I had to get a special zoning application for ‘education’ and approval,” which typically takes up to two months. She had to scramble to find alternative space in which to hold the Grand Opening event and retained a lawyer.
The Grand Opening will be a three-hour extravaganza of sex-positive, health-promoting information featuring nationally recognized experts including Bill Taverner, former Director of Education for Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New Jersey, Gina Ogden Ph.D., psychologist and author of The Return of Desire, Barbara Carrellas, author of Urban Tantra, Elizabeth Wood, founder of Sex in the Public Square, an online community forum devoted to sexuality issues, myself, and Carol Queen, Director of the Center for Sex and Culture, a similar educational forum in San Francisco sex-positive sexuality education and support to diverse populations. It may be no coincidence that Queen and her partner Robert Lawrence, had a similar call about their Center recently.
This is the cover of a 1930s pinup magazine. Sweet. Demure. Not the kind of thing you might expect to find in today's adult entertainment world. Yet there is something on the cover of this magazine that is much more radical - way more out there - than anything you'd probably find at your adult book store today. It's so subtle you could miss it. Mick Farren at Adult Video News nearly missed it when he happened upon some Cupids' Capers covers. It's a little blue eagle under the S in Capers. What is it? Take a look:
While I blog mostly about sex and society, my partner Will blogs mostly about New York Harbor, working waterfront issues, and takes fabulous pictures of tugboats, and in rare moments of synchronicity our interests blend in beautiful and unexpected ways.
One recent such blending occured when I chose the location of my Sex Blogger Calendar photo shoot. We shot it on Frying Pan, a beautiful yet decaying light ship that now serves as part of a floating bar and grille at Pier 66 on the Hudson River. I love exploring the artifacts of urban industrial history. I also think boats - workboats in particular - are pretty sexy. So when Will said he had connections and we got permission to shoot there I was thrilled. (To get a sneak peek at the shoot click here.)
Another unexpected intersection between our worlds occured last weekend when we spent Sunday at the Great North River Tugboat Race and Competition, the Working Harbor Committee's annual celebration of New York City's working waterfront. More than a dozen tugs participated and we ended up gathering afterwards with Will's sister, some of my friends from sex-blogger circles, and some of Will's friends from waterblogger circles. Several children rounded out the group and we all had a great time
But the most recent intersection between waterblogger and sexblogger worlds came just yesterday. We spent Friday and Saturday in Waterford, NY (a bit north of Albany where the Hudson River turns into the Erie canal headed west and Champlain canal headed north). We were there for the annual Tugboat Roundup. I was chatting with Don Sutherland, a prominent working harbor photographer and journalist, sipping wine, and waiting for the fireworks to start (best fireworks ever!) when the subject of my blog came up. He pointed to the tug attached to the fireworks barge. It was New York State Marine Highway's Mame Faye. He asked me if I knew who Mame Faye had been. I did not. So he told me.