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Sexually Enlightened R&B Song: Burnt Out Feminists Respond

17 Oct

The notoriously shallow, fairly bro-focused site College Humour has produced a viral video entitled ‘Sexually Enlightened R&B song’ featuring a black heterosexual couple, both stereotypically attractive, in which the man serenades the woman with a standard-composition 90’s R&B tune about having a fair and equal sexual encounter with her that evening. At face value, this content should not be at all humorous, but I found myself laughing out loud, not at the ideas being shared, but at the ridiculous thought that a mainstream cultural product would ever seriously espouse such blatantly feminist values from the mouth of a man.

I liked it and laughed despite the basing of the piece upon clearly heteronormative, liberal feminist views (not the radical queer intersectional feminist approach I try to take. As I commented to my friend, hard feminist porn producer Nikki Swarm, it’s important for the singer to clarify that although his woman is experienced, she is not a ho, because it would be going too far to — gasp — humanise sex workers! and they are getting married, so clearly she can’t be a ho! I disagree with versions of feminism where some women do not receive feminist protection, where those who have made ‘bad choices’ about themselves and their bodies, including sex work, casual sex and abortions are demonised, and the line between good and bad girls is tightly upheld. Instead, I believe that everyone has the agency to make their own choices under structural systems in which the options for oppressed people (in this case, make money from sex work, be in debt and unemployed, or work shit jobs and make peanuts for hard, stressful labour) are all problematic.

Nevertheless, despite all this, the feminist principles articulated in the song were still far enough from the androcentric social norm around heteroromantic, sexual and intimate relationships to be highly unusual, and worthy of attention. The ideas it introduces, such as sexual reciprocity (‘I’ll go down on you / You’ll go down on me) and a woman having a healthy human sexuality (In my opinion / your sexual liberation / is healthy and normal / and makes you human), as simple and pedestrian as they should be, are presented as alien to the misogynistic norm, so far-fetched and impossible as to be funny. Continue reading

Sunflowers (a poem for Black Lives)

5 Aug

They are even afraid of our songs of love’
Carlos Bulosan


Van Gogh wrote that the sunflowers in his paintings communicated ‘gratitude’.

 for the son of Korryn Gaines and the Movement for Black Lives

Van Gogh painted sunflowers
close, in a vase
his yellow a hue
fresh to the cadre

a vision sliced through reality
with a brush and pallet knife

For artists, activists,
seekers of truth
in this generation
the narrative is broken
each vision is different
each invented colour is new
but we paint with it anyway

the ability
to remain willfully
is privilege

today we choose to believe
the child eyewitnesses

Like sunflowers
with our heads bowed
we form secret circles
take to the streets
they still killing us

A shut down is sensation
But what options are left
When they refuse to hear
our songs of love?

Commentary on the Oscars: Diversity in Film 2014

23 Feb

Guest Post by Jonathan Scott Chee

Looking through the nominations for this year’s Oscars, you’d be forgiven for thinking Hollywood had outsourced the entire American film industry to some parallel universe, populated almost entirely by white men.

The Oscars have long been a biting reminder of just how ubiquitously white the film industry truly is, but is the Academy itself purposefully excluding non-white artists, or are they simply taking their pick from an already white-dominated industry?

Analysis of the top grossing films of 2014 paints a troubling picture of exclusion and underrepresentation. People of colour and women make up a woefully small percentage of the principal cast, and behind the cameras white men also make up the vast majority of directors and screenwriters.

As alarming as the statistics in the infographic may be, they fail to tackle an important, yet subtle, element of the structural inequality within the film industry: the kind of roles minority actors and women get. While people of colour may only make up 16% of the total cast of 2014’s biggest blockbusters, they end up playing similar characters time and again: the sassy black sidekick, the tough-yet-warm-hearted convict, the swag drug dealer, the goofy immigrant with a hilariously poor grasp of the English language, the math nerd virgin – these are the roles our minority ethnic actors are relegated to, rarely getting to tackle a role with real depth and therefore rarely getting the opportunity to showcase their talents.

For women, too, the story is much the same – a blockbuster film led by a female protagonist is still very much an anomaly in movie theatres. Worryingly, the industry seems to be becoming even more exclusionary over time, with fewer women than ever involved both in front of, and behind, the camera.

For women of colour, the outlook gets even bleaker as they made up just 3% of all the speaking roles in 2014’s biggest blockbusters. Once again, this statistic doesn’t quite paint the full picture, as that 3% is overwhelmingly made up of black, or mixed race black/white women. If you are an East Asian woman, roles outside of the sultry, accented “dragon lady” or “comedy immigrant” are practically non-existent. South Asian actresses hunting for work in Hollywood may as well be hunting unicorns.

The effects of Hollywood white-washing go far beyond out of work actors, however. As people of colour, our children grow up in an environment where they see no reflection of themselves in mainstream culture. Personally, I don’t want my children to grow up in a society where the only representation of themselves they see on screen are as nerds, sultry objects of white male fetishism or kung-fu geniuses, because as much as art may attempt to represent reality, conversely, it’s clear that it works to shape perceptions of it as well.

In Solidarity With #ThisTweetCalledMyBack

18 Dec

Last week, a collective of the seven of the most incisive and insightful feminist/womanist social and cultural critics working in contemporary digital media, who are Black Women, AfroIndigenous and women of color, began a social media blackout. Over the past five years, across various social media platforms, they have created what they describe as “an entire framework with which to understand gender violence and racial hierarchy in a global and U.S. context“, one which is deeply analytical and highly critical of mainstream feminism and heteropatriarchy, as well as cishet activist movements. We at Sisters of Resistance have often engaged with, been challenged by, and learned from them and their work.

And yet, as they explain, far from being celebrated and embraced for the enormity of the work and contributions they have made to 4th wave and digital feminism, their body of work has been colonized, plagiarized by mainstream white feminism and mainstream media while they themselves have been vilified, said to constitute ‘Toxic Twitter”, had their livelihoods threatened and their physical and mental welfare put at stake. Rejected, harassed and provoked by people in mainstream media, academia, and the non-profit industrial complex, who at the same time hijack their prolific and movement-inspiring thought and theory, this collective of women is taking a stand against the status quo with this statement and their conspicuous absence from Twitter.

Here are some of the questions that they ask:

In an age where young women often have cell phones with internet access before they have access to healthcare and social services, why are so many so quick to demean the work of digital feminism in the hands of Black women? When depression, anxiety and disability make it so that getting out of bed, much less into the streets, is a debilitating challenge and risk, why do we demean social media and tell people they cant fully engage without taking up physical space? Whose interests are we centering if we constantly hyperfocus on the limits of grassroots social media, instead of the impact and possibilities, while not making the physical spaces safe or accessible for these women?

They point out that an expanded understanding of violence is necessary to address the kinds of issues they and many others like them/us face and experience, even within “leftist” and “activist” circles:

Once we expand our understanding of violence to include plagiarism, harassment, gaslighting, emotional abuse, ableism and exploitation of labor, we find huge fissures in a movement that the women we are prescribing solutions for fall through on a daily basis. We find a replicated system of violence that prioritizes those closer to systemic and hierarchal values of bodies rather than anti-violence.

They challenge those who will listen to consider the following questions, which are incredibly necessary for our time:

“How do we, as a movement, engage unaffiliated women with no institutional covering or backing, on the grassroots level? How do we close ranks around these women in both digital and physical spaces so that they can continue this work? There is a refusal to legitimize the words of women of color without the backing of academia, established media, and non-profit monikers. How do we then legitimize the lens with which marginalized women of color view their lives and the spaces where they are actually allowed to assert their agency?

The collective includes: @tgirlinterruptd, @chiefelk, @bad_dominicana, @aurabogado, @so_treu, @blackamazon, @thetrudz

Those who have signed in solidarity include: @blackgirldanger, @cheuya, @notallthots, @jazzagold, @natashavianna, @mizzblossom, @sarahkendzior, @scATX, @lilybolourian.

At the same time, we wish to call to mind @redlightvoices, who we believe has been very much a part of this same wave of work, and who expressed many of the same sentiments during the time that she was still on Twitter.

We have so much respect for all of these women. We offer them our solidarity and support in their decision to step out of the Twitterverse and assert their humanity in the face of such despicable systemic discrimination and harassment. We stand with you! #ThisTweetCalledMyBack


Individual personal statements are also being posted here.

Read more about the groundbreaking work by radical women of color, This Bridge Called My Back, the 1981 anthology, to which the conversation #ThisTweetCalledMyBack refers.

Rondeau Redouble

14 Oct

There are so many kinds of awful men –
One can’t avoid them all. She often said
She’d never make the same mistake again;
She always made a new mistake instead.
The chinless type who made her feel ill-bred;
The practised charmer, less than charming when
He talked about the wife and kids and fled –
There are so many kinds of awful men.
The half-crazed hippy, deeply into Zen,
Whose cryptic homilies she came to dread;
The fervent youth who worshipped Tony Benn –
‘One can’t avoid them all,’she often said.
The ageing banker, rich and overfed,
Who held forth on the dollar and then yen –
Though there were many more mistakes ahead,
She’d never make the same mistake again.
The budding poet, scribbling in his den
Odes not to her but to his pussy, Fred;
The drunk who fell asleep at nine or ten –
She always made a new mistake instead.
And so the gambler was at least unwed
And didn’t preach or sneer or wield a pen
Or hoard his wealth or take the Scotch to bed.
She’d lived and learned and lived and learned but then
There are so many kinds

poem by Wendy Cope, b. 1945