there’s a place in France where the naked ladies dance…

I would hate to live as a pretty girl in America. Of course, when I say America, I really mean Los Angeles as I believe it represents the rest of the country, but if I were to say, “I would hate blah blah blah in Los Angeles,” the statement feels so much smaller. Anyway, back to my grand point about gender in America (Los Angeles). If you meet any modicum of the standardized notions of beauty – skinny, leggy, busty, blonde – even if you only acquire one of these criteria, you become subject to the incessant stares of the opposite sex. I say this because I observe it both in other men and, of course, myself. I don’t particularly like being a part of it, and yet there I am, standing on the opposite side of the Rock-n-Roll-Ralph’s salad bar, surreptitiously trying to check out the coke-skinny rocker chick in the wife beater, black bra and over-sized sunglasses as she tries to decide between the light vinaigrette or the slightly more indulgent “lite” blue cheese.

I hate those goddamned sunglasses. They’re obnoxious, unnecessary, and inspired by the porn stardom of Paris Hilton, assuredly in a bid to make her head, and by extension her body, appear relatively small underneath those insectoid lenses. But when I consider how brazenly most guys stare at these girls, as if these girls are no different from the mini corn or spinach leaves in front of them (me), I can understand why these chicks might want a blackened barrier between them and the lasers directed at their boobs. Ignorance, even willful ignorance, as they say, is bliss.

It comes from this whole crock that men are visual creatures by nature. You show me any biological – as opposed to sociological – study that proves men are more visual than women, and I’ll show you just as many studies showing that babies of both genders stare for an equal amount of time at what are considered pleasing images (though of course the definition of pleasing is interesting in and of itself, but more on that later). Rather, I look to the voyeur theory and studies on the power of the gaze. There is a higher place of privilege in watching a woman dance for you than being the woman dancing, no matter what kind of financial interaction may or may not be happening at any given point. At a strip club, even though women are reaping the financial benefits, it is men who are firmly placed in the sociological driver’s seat. They first of all have the money to pay for this kind of entertainment, but second, by being the watcher, they are allowed to be passive; they don’t have to do anything but watch, while the subject has to do all the work. To take a more extreme example, the peeping tom gains information from his “victim” without ever having to risk anything of him(/her)self within the contexts of the relationship between viewer/viewed. To watch is to be in a place of privilege, and there’s too much power in patriarchy to make me believe that this can possibly be a chicken-or-the-egg argument.

That said, it is hard being a man and not succumbing to what I consider to be sociological programming. Everyone has a type, and I’m no different: I don’t really know what it is about redheads and my curious appetite for them. Is it because in my inextinguishable quest for passion, I assume there to be an insatiable fire in these women that cannot be contained by their porcelain skin, that must erupt erupt erupt! from the top of their heads, reaching to the sky where I can run my fingers like rivulets through their blazing forest, tangibly experiencing the whirlwind of their being, perhaps even plucking one strand to serve as a kindling for my own endeavors; and more importantly, from their down-there region, where the furnace of their lust will open worlds for me, take me sailing outside of myself until my corporeal being is but a speck on the distant map below, until she slips slips slips her had in mine, until she smiles that devil smirk filled with canines and mischief and plunges me back down to earth, to reality, to myself with some kind of new understanding I could only have acquired through this eagle eye view?

Of course, most redheads dye their hair, so what does that tell you? So do blondes, which is why I’ve rarely been attracted to the flaxen persuasion. Perhaps this is why, more than not, I find myself pulled toward those women with raven locks, as if that’s the most “real” hue of hair. Perhaps they are darker in spirit, more critical in thought, brooding even. But what a crock’a shit. These qualities of which I wrote above can and are found in women of all hair tints, body sizes, skin colors. And to speak the truth, this lust for a carrot top is more in theory than anything, for I’ve never actively been involved with one (in fact, the real women to whom I’ve found myself legitimately attracted I think have had a consistent brownish, maybe even dirty blonde hair color). Now, I do not want to diminish the potency of physical attraction here – it is the corner stone from which the foundation of love is built. Nor do I want to slight the notion of a “type”, for most people find more than enough information about a person via the way they present themselves to the world, either through their hair color or style, the cut of their shirt, the car they drive, the size, shape, and orderliness of their teeth, or the brand of sunglasses they wear. Whether that is considered the bad side of being judgmental I’ll leave up to you, for nevertheless the case is the same.

I’ve just noticed the stewardess on my flight – fuck, flight attendant – has short red hair. Did I mention I also have a thing for short hair? I try not to stare, but there are times when she’s attending to someone else that I can’t help it. And I feel bad, because she has no sunglasses to protect herself.

I have a hard time dealing with men who constantly and socially spend copious amounts of time categorizing women. “So and so is HOT.” “I dunno, dude, I’d prolly just make out with her.” “Aw, no, man, I’d get fucking nasty with her!” “I bet the carpets match the drapes.” “I bet she has no carpets!” (together:) “WOODEN FLOORS!” Score. I typically roll with this shit, these kinds of conversations, the ones which have no other purpose but to arrive at some kind of masculine consensus as to what defines “hotness”. Hell, I even find myself participating in them, and not always because I see no other escape. But in my heart of hearts, I wish I had no time for them. Many might say, “that’s the feminist ideology dictating your emotions” (actually, anybody who could make that kind of intelligent statement is probably also smart enough not to). But in truth, it’s the other way around: my feminism is informed by my pre-established, even socially programmed, discomfort. Perhaps because I feel trapped into objectifying these women I end up judging my fellow men for doing so, but only because I am judging myself so harshly. On either account, it is not a desirable trait.

I’ve been trying to remember that one schoolyard chant, and it finally came rushing back to me: (sung to the tune of “The Streets of Cairo” – you know it, the kinda/sorta snake-charmer song, which is actually an American concoction composed for the 1893 worlds fair in Chicago, home of the White City – alright, here are the words) “There’s a place in France where the naked ladies dance / There’s a hole in the wall where the men can see it all / But the men don’t care, ‘cuz they’re in their underwear.” Obviously, as with all folk songs, there are various variations, but this is the one with which I remember growing up. It’s a strange little rhyme, because at first it asserts the power of the boys through their hole-in-the-wall spying, but then it doubles back on itself with that last line – why don’t they care? Should they even be “not caring” in the way the rhyme implies, as if there is a communal shame in the nakedness of the women that the boys merely shrug off? Especially considering the boys are half naked themselves? Of course, one might trivialize this as some kind of masturbatory fantasy, but considering this is a schoolyard chant, spoken at a time before sexual yearnings peek through newfound tufts of hair, it is more tempting to read the boys’ lack of over-garments as a cause for embarrassment. Despite their place of privilege, they themselves are brought to the same social level as their female objects of desire through the implication of exposure.

Exposure, ladies and gents, is the great equalizer. When the emperor has no clothes, he’s no different than you or me, her or him. For in the end, despite our obvious physical/chemical/biological differences, underneath all the make-up and curls, the goatees and muscle shirts, the black bras, beanies, sandals and sunglasses, we’re all looking for the same thing: to be loved. To belong. To be respected as equals seen not as objects of desire, but fully-humanized individuals, each with our own set of desires. And that’s always worth considering when you’re (I’m) assembling your (my) salad at the Rock-n-Roll-Ralphs (America).

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Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 1:17 am  Comments (2)  

the blame game, part 2 – white powder

So who’s the jackass who sent an envelope filled with unidentified white powder to the Mormon temple in Westwood yesterday? Whoever you are, you’re making us all look like hate-filled assholes.

Come on, people. I know many of us are angry about Prop 8 passing and the extent of interest the religious right – particularly the Mormon church – took in the matter, but is this really the best way to deal with it? Doesn’t this just hurt the cause and potentially ostracize people of faith who might be on the fence? I mean, if the lies were really as bad and blatant as we say they were (and they were), shouldn’t we be directing energy toward countering those lies with a more persuasive message of the truth? Like, I dunno, focusing on the fact that out governor and congresswoman are opposed to this amendment, not to mention our state school superintendent? And shouldn’t we get a few gay couples as spokespersons, instead of just Samuel L. Jackson, badass as he may be? Might that not assuage the fears of the people who have been told the entire queer community is some Barbara Streisand loving, mesh shirt wearing, strap-on fucking orgy from the planet Transsexual (in the system of Transylvania) sent to wreak havoc on our ever-so-fragile belief systems?

While the time for outrage may not yet be over, the time for thoughtful, productive reactions started over a week ago. Instead of resorting to tactics categorized by the government under “terrorism”, let’s make arguments like the one below:

This is about love, people. LOVE! Get excited about that!

Published in: on November 14, 2008 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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the blame game, starring prop 8

The world can breathe a collective sigh of relief now that America has pinned her hopes of restoring her once illustrious world (and domestic) reputation on the man currently referred to as President-Elect Barack Obama. Unquestionably the most historic election in modern American – if not world – politics, November 4th, 2008 will be noted as a day when Americans chose hope over fear, excitement over anxiety, and awarded the nuclear (nee nucular) codes to a man who not 20 years ago would have fallen victim to the bigotry that still had yet to be sufficiently stymied by the previous 20 years of civil rights fights. Yes, America, no matter how President-Elect Obama ends up performing (since our previous POTUS has graciously set the bar below knee level), a change has most definitely come.

But there is no joy in California, for the No on Prop 8 campaign has struck out. Like 47.6% of Californians, I am not only unhappy with this popular verdict, I am flat out outraged. How could this happen, here of all places? This is California, damn it! When the rest of the country sucks, we’re the ones who are still fighting to keep abortion rights on the books! Who pave the way for alternative energy and lower emissions standards! And since we’re not Oregon or New Hampshire, we don’t look like crazy hippies doing it! So how could we, as a state, so royally blow it by CONSTITUTIONALLY curtailing civil rights on the same day that we overwhelmingly support the election of the first African-American president?

Like I said, I feel one with the collective frustration, and like most people, I am looking to point some shameful fingers. So in my blind rage, I say shame on the Mormon church for preaching to its parishioners the heavenly virtues of donating to the Yes on 8 campaign, even if you don’t live in the state! Shame on Focus on the Family for trying to dictate morality in government policy under the guise of “common sense” and “tradition”! And shame shame shame! on the Yes on 8 campaign for propagating lies about the pseudo-side effects of gay marriage on our churches and (gasp!) children! Oh, the children, who would woefully be unwillingly corrupted at such a tender and innocent innocent innocent age! I mean, never mind the fact that gay marriage legislation specifically protects a church’s right to refuse religious service to anyone it feels violates their sacred teachings (I actually say this last part with no sarcasm whatsoever). Nor mind the fact that nowhere in California’s education policy is marriage a mandated part of mainstream education. The only time marriage is “taught” is during sex education, out of which a student may be pulled at the parents’ discretion should they deem the curriculum counter to their home teachings (which makes sense. After all, this isn’t Massachussetts). I mean, these were BLATANT LIES intended to play on the fears and emotions not only of the very devout, but mostly on the casually religious and the undecided voters, who are surely rational people – keep in mind, 52% of Californians also struck down a parental notification law for underage abortions that would have surely left young victims of rape and incest vulnerable.

How could these lies, these mistruths, these obfuscations take root in the heart of good, decent Californians? Was it the Mormons? Focus on the Family? The religious minorities who came out to support Obama? The elderly and hillbilly who cling to their guns and religion? It’s gotta be somebody, so who is it?

I went through all these options, granted, with a built-in hesitation since some of my very good friends happen to be Mormon, though I cannot speak to how they voted. But, ultimately, my disdaining glare fell mostly on the No on 8 campaign itself. From the get-go, these cats, virtuous in their intentions, took their lead in the polls far too much for granted. We were all riding the high of the Superior Court’s May ’08 verdict, but once Prop 8 was put on the ballot, these organizers should have immediately been reaching out to the fence straddlers, showing how non-existant a threat gay couples actually posed to their own heterosexual “lifestyle”. And as soon as the negative propaganda ads hit the airwaves, there should have been counter ads broadcast within 24 hours, not the next 4 days. And while No on 8 ultimately raised more money than the Yes kids, that was only after a finish line surge of donations. For more details, check this article here, courtesy of that delightful bastion of the left, The Nation, outlining all the ways the No on 8’ers failed, not least of which being a lack of plan B should, God forbid (yes, that’s right. God), Prop 8 actually passed. To this day, the No on Prop 8 organization has yet to post anything as to what the next step is, whether that be to organize protests or fight this out in the courts; the only response has been the tempered if appropriate statement calling on their supporters to, ahem, stop blaming everybody else.

Of course, I also blame myself. There were phone banks to man, communities to visit, and the most I scheduled myself to do was to make a handful of calls for Obama/No on 4 and 8 to registered Democrats on the day of the election. Yes, every little bit helps, and I’m proud of the time I was able to donate; but if I’m really looking for reasons why No on 8 failed, I need to look to myself first, and ask if I did everything I could have done. The answer, much like the way I feel about the No on 8 campaign as a whole, is sadly no. And this is a very hard pill to swallow.

I’ve already posted my strong feelings on the matter of gay marriage and the secular/religious arguments against it (the entry is below). But it took Prop 8 passing for me to really understand why I was so fired up about it. Yes, it is a civil rights issue, the predominant one in my lifetime. Yes, it is a church and state issue, a line I feel has been blurred over the past 8 years. And yes, both these issues in and of themselves are worthy of my passion and ire. But I also felt, with the passing of Prop 8, that it wasn’t just homosexuals who had their rights curtailed. I had my rights curtailed. While I am not gay, I still want the freedom to marry whomever I so choose. Should I happen to fall in love with a man and decide to enter into a legally binding, state recognized relationship with him, why shouldn’t I? And be honest with yourself: do you really ascribe civil unions the same social currency as marriage? Granted, both institutions share virtually the same legal rights (minus, most dramatically, divorce law, of all things). But that’s virtually the same thing as saying the black school has the same curriculum as the white school, so what’s the big deal?

The one great thing that has come out of this is people are getting publicly angry, taking to the streets and marching for what they believe is right. I’m a big fan of justified civil disobedience and social inconvenience, so to hear about these marches happening across the state, with ground zero being right here in Los Angeles (odd that it’s not San Francisco) is very exciting. There’s a great article about the protests here, basically documenting how it is a leaderless, disorganized youth movement, and how that is actually turning out to be a good thing, especially since the No on 8 people still seem to be reeling from defeat. Someone’s gotta pick up the baton and show that we will continue to fight the good fight for rights all of us deserve… even if that person is a globulous rage searching for something or someone to hold accountable. But let’s hope that at some point soon we take a good look to each other and ourselves, no matter how painful or shameful that is. Because, remember, it’s always easier to blame the “other” for our own shortcomings.

Published in: on November 10, 2008 at 7:28 pm  Comments (5)  
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