Sunday, May 13, 2007

Nimoy's Nudes

We all know what William Shatner's been up to these days, but who knew Leonard Nimoy (that's Mr. Spock, for those of you whose mothers weren't teenage Star Trek fans) was shooting nudes and showing his work?

Okay, actually lots of people knew. I just wasn't one of them.

Anyway, the Times Magazine piece on his latest work with women of size -- a collection of photos he's been working on for eight years -- isn't too terribly interesting, but it's a good summary of how he ended up taking photos of fat women and how he feels about it. It tries to give the reader a glimpse of fat activism, kind of, but it doesn't really.

I really want to see the photographs now. Luckily some of them are showing in Northampton (apparently the most liberal city in the most liberal state in the country, according to gallery owner Richard Michelson), where I will be in the middle of next week. At first I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get the beau to go with me, but then I remembered: he loves photography. Oh, and naked women.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I will stand in the rain on the corner...

It’s pouring here, the kind of rain that’s perfect for a first date. Two people who’ve just met, or met last week, or who’ve known each other for years and were suddenly drawn to each other by the immense heat of the past week – they’re out on the town, glowing, giving each other those looks. I saw those looks over and over tonight, before the rain started. “I can’t believe you’re with me,” is what that look says, and to anyone who will pay attention, “look! she’s with me!”

And then the rain starts, and sheer summer shirts stick to wet skin, and suddenly everyone is laughing. Rain like this always feels a little absurd because it seems to come from nowhere, and when it comes it isn’t kidding. You’ve got no chance to prepare yourself for this. Couples on first dates stand together under awnings, laughing and wringing out their shirts, proffering jackets, offering to hold umbrellas, gauging the probability that the rain will let up and considering making a run for it, whatever ‘it’ happens to be. And they’re grinning. They look like drowned rats, and yet somehow they just can’t wipe the smiles off their faces. I hope they take advantage of the downpour – few things are more romantic than making out in that kind of driving rain, especially when it comes on the heels of this kind of heat and humidity. I hope they tell their kids one day about getting caught in a downpour on their first date.

I walked home alone, my umbrella stowed away in my bag, my flip-flops squeak-squeaking as I struggled to keep them from sliding off my feet. Rain like this is meant for running through grass and on blacktop in bare feet and rolled up jeans (or, y’know, underwear), seeing who can make the biggest splash. Poorly drained city streets with god knows what in the stormwater aren’t made for that kind of romping. But city streets in summer storms were made for first dates.

(photo: Amanda a la drowned rat, El Yunque PR. Somehow we managed to forget that it would probably rain in the rainforest. Man, that was an awesome day.)

There’s something fishy going on.

Researchers studying water and aquatic life have found males of several species of fish whose gonads don’t quite match up. In waterways around Seattle, some male English sole have proteins normally only found in females. Male Potomac River bass and sunfish have been found carrying immature eggs. Down in Nevada, male carp in a particular lake – one subject to Las Vegas wastewater runoff – have depressed levels of male sex hormones and smaller than average testes. And in California, male fish off the coast of LA and Orange County have been found with ovarian tissue in their testes. Feminized fish are also found in England, Japan, and Denmark.

The culprit? Many would have you look no further than that little pack of pills on your bedside table. Synthetic estrogens in hormonal birth control trick the body out of ovulating, but they don’t just stay in the body and build up forever. A woman takes her pill with her morning coffee, drinks her eight glasses of water a day, and eventually those hormones get flushed town the toilet. When wastewater is spilled or leaks into waterways (through leaky sewers and pipes, storm drain overflow, or from wastewater treatment centers), those hormones are released into the wild, where they act as endocrine disruptors for fish. The endocrine system regulates growth and development in all animals – disrupt it, and you get animals that don’t develop correctly.

Scientists have found relatively low levels of estrogens in most of the bodies of water examined, but those low levels have been enough to have an impact on the development of aquatic life, and many are concerned for the reproductive future of fish. If you’re not worried (you never really liked fish anyway), think about the worst case scenario: feminization of male fish leads to widespread reproductive failure, declining fish supplies, the collapse of the fishing industry, increased reliance on non-aquatic protein supplies, and not enough land for the necessary increase in agriculture. It would be a problem in the US, but for Japan it would be a disaster, and for non-industrial countries relying primarily on protein from fish it would probably be the beginning of the end.

But we’re not there yet. Doomsday scenario aside, there is something going on with all those estrogens. Many news reports have implied that the bulk of the blame lies with hormonal birth control (and, to a lesser extent, hormone replacement therapy), meanwhile ignoring the vast number of estrogen-mimics in the environment from pollutants. Chemicals contained in many detergents, in bath oils and some cosmetics, and in pesticides act as endocrine disruptors in the same fashion as synthetic estrodiol. Even more pervasively, plastics often contain ingredients that mimic estrogens – one of which, bisphenol A, has been linked to birth defects in humans. These chemicals are often referred to as ‘ubiquitous’ by researchers who realize that the compounds will be found (in varying degrees) in essentially any water test performed.

Hormonal birth control, meanwhile, may be one of the most sustainable inventions ever created – if we use it properly. Because pills are relatively expensive and difficult to distribute (both problems which probably wouldn’t be that hard to overcome), their use in developing countries has yet to become widespread. Giving women and families the option of hormonal birth control (along with condoms and education) could go a long way towards solving the population problem. Otherwise, dwindling resources coupled with increasing populations will likely lead to population control via genocide and war (as in Rwanda; Jared Diamond’s extraordinary book Collapse does a great job of analyzing that scenario).

It’s true that synthetic hormones in birth control are contributing to the feminization of fish. As a first world country, we should take the lead in developing birth control methods that are even more sustainable – both personally and globally. For the time being, women who would prefer birth control sans hormones can consider using a diaphragm or IUD.

Meanwhile, cutting back drastically on our nasty plastic habit would decrease the amount of trash in our landfills, the level of endocrine disruptors in our water, and our over-dependence on petrochemicals. That’s three problems in one fell swoop.

Researchers are working on ways to filter endocrine blockers out of wastewater, and no one is actually suggesting that women should stop using hormonal birth control. Still, the Pill is getting an undue amount of attention in the fish feminization scandal. We (the media, all of it) should put a little more emphasis on the plastics industry and the byproduct of our petrochemical dependence.

(fabulous fish photo by wistine)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Good Magazine: Pornographic Transparency

Over the past week I have fallen in love with Good Magazine -- and this video just solidifies that. Good is a magazine "for people who give a damn", and the current issue features articles on corporate greenwashing, innovative transportation solutions in Europe, and (this is novel) an unbiased look at women married to inmates. Their hard copy is even on recycled paper.

In the video, model/actress Kelle Marie's body is the canvas for a series of factoids about internet pornography. I think the term 'ironic' can be appropriately applied here. Via Fleshbot.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pro-Choice Birth-Activist Reproductive Freedom Fighter

Radical doula Miriam Pérez believes that pro-choice activism and birth activism go hand in hand. Those who subscribe to the beliefs of either group don’t generally agree: pro-choicers are so caught up in protecting women’s rights NOT to parent, and midwifery groups so busy diligently advocating for pregnant women, that neither has the time to examine what the other has to offer (and, of course, not all midwives and doulas are pro-choice). But, Pérez points out, “Anti-choice activism and overly-medicalized birthing practices are both based on a lack of trust in women.”

Her Campus Progress article does a great job of pointing out the ways in which the two camps compliment each other. Both movements address “the narrowing scope of women’s choices.” They attempt to offer safety and support to women as they undergo difficult procedures, too often under difficult circumstances. And in both the delivery room and right-wing politics, the woman in question is forced to take a back seat to the fetus she carries. This, to Pérez, is the strongest correlation between birth- and pro-choice activism: “Both are attempts to fight back against rhetoric that prioritizes the unborn fetus instead of the adult woman.” The article also does a great job rounding up the basic facts and figures about home and hospital births.

But oh, these divisions! Pérez is right, birth activists and pro-choice activists have a lot in common. And they have a lot in common with those who advocate for comprehensive sexuality education. All three often have a lot in common with those who lobby for universal health care and for flex-time. When we talk about all of these issues, more often than not, we’re talking about the same thing: reproductive freedom. But abortion is a divisive issue, as are comprehensive sex ed and even universal health care for some. It’s true: allying abortion rights with universal health care would probably hurt the case for universal health care. So instead of getting together and agreeing that we’re all talking about the same thing (more or less), we divide it up into bits and pieces. In the end, though, all of those things affect reproductive freedom. It’s about the right to reproduce – or not – when and how we want, the right to affordable and accessible health care, the right to the knowledge we need to make informed decisions, the ability to make motherhood a viable part of our complex lives if we choose to, and the right (and the NEED) to be heard and supported when it comes to our reproductive choices – whether that means choosing not to continue a pregnancy or choosing to give birth naturally. All the little slivers of the overarching issue, put together, could mean huge advances for women’s equality.

Check out Miriam Pérez’s blog Radical Doula for lots more information on midwifery, reproductive freedom and progressive politics – it’s good stuff!

PS - thanks to Frank for the tip!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

It's baaack...

Last month a friend called and asked for a quick consult on STI testing. I ran down a list of STIs I thought were relevant: Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, HIV, and herpes, HPV if insurance covered the more expensive and slightly more accurate test. "What about syphilis?" my friend asked, and I felt a little silly for having left it off the list, but (despite the outbreak in season two of Grey's Anatomy) rates of syphilis dropped enormously over the course of the 20th century, and generally speaking it's not something many people need to worry about.

But according to this Washington Post article, rates have been on the rise again in the past three years in Virginia and DC. The article alludes to outbreaks occurring in the gay male community, but the jump in numbers is alarming no matter who you're sleeping with: in the District, it went from a record low 38 reported cases in 2003 to 115 cases in 2006.

Much more info in the CDC Syphilis Fact sheet.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

How I spent my day off...

I just looked around and realized that I'm laying in bed with a vibrator, a bag of chocolates, and a notebook and pen. This is how days off are meant to be, I think. At least once in a while.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Sustainable Underwear

Remember my quest for the perfect black lace bra? I found one. I’m not sure I’d call it perfect, but it is black lace and sexy as hell (if I do say so myself). I got the matching underwear, too, but because the website I bought the bra from didn’t have the underwear in black I had to buy it from a different company and have it shipped separately. The underwear arrived first, and as I unwrapped it I was totally blown away by the amount of packaging that had been used to send me one itty bitty piece of fabric.

It started with a brown shipping box, somewhere along the lines of 8x8x6. That’s a lot of box for not a lot of underwear. Inside the box, a couple of sheets of lavender tissue paper were meant to make me feel as though I was receiving a present. (An old trick. Back in my days at the toy store I was a sex-toy shipping queen: slip the toy into a satin storage bag, surround it with leopard print tissue, write the customer a glowing thank you note along with any care instructions for the toy, and toss in a few packets of lube to show our appreciation – that’s how you get repeat customers.) Beneath the tissue were two printouts – a return form, and an advertisement from the company – on standard paper, printed in color ink. And beneath that…

My underwear? Oh no. That would be too straightforward. Instead I found yet another box, this one about a tenth of the size of the first, printed with the fancy French lingerie company’s name. and inside that, finally, were my new panties – panties so small they fit literally in the palm of my hand. Amazing the resources that were used to get this little pair of underwear onto my bottom.

By amazing, of course, I mean sad and scary. I didn’t think to check the return address to see where they had been shipped from, but I’m guessing it was fairly far away (meaning lots of carbon output). Add to that the synthetic materials used to make the underwear, the fact that I have no idea where or how or under what conditions they were made, and you’ve got one very non-sustainable purchase. Shame on me. On the upside, the experience was significant guilt-inducing that I’ll be a lot more thoughtful the next time I purchase fancy undergarments.

Certain companies have caught on to the fact that we – ecologically conscious consumers of sexy stuff – want more than just organic cotton briefs (although those are great too). For great options in “green” underwear, check out Enamore, GreenKnickers, and Peau-Ethique. Also Buenostyle, whose "Eat Organic" panties are freaking hysterical, and BUTTA, whose products are made in Africa under good work conditions. The only problem is that every time I look at their website I can distinctly hear my first boyfriend hissing "bring me the butta" in his best mobster accent. Ah, memories.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Happy No Pants Day!

I've never liked pants very much. The beau and I had only been "dating" for a couple of weeks when I walked through a rainstorm to his apartment, threw down my bag, and immediately stripped off my soaked-to-the-knees pants. At the time he was a little less keen on no-pants than myself, so I was worried that he'd think I was weird -- after all, what kind of girl walks into a room and takes off her pants? But I'm happy to report that my no-pants policy has, um, rubbed off on him.

Like the bio says, I'm a big fan of no pants time. I mean really, they just get in the way, and they're restrictive. As long as there's no one around who minds, who needs them? I'd much rather be in my underwear or my ex-boyfriend's boxers. Or in my unpants, which are size XL elastic waist tee-shirt material pants that say "Smith" across the ass. They're so comfy it's like you're not even wearing them.

Some very bright people at the University of Texas invented No Pants Day to bring no pants time to the masses. I've got to say, of all the silly made up celebrations, this is probably my favorite. Now all we need is to get business and workplaces to understand the importance of No Pants!

C'mon, take 'em off. You know you want to.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Theory Heads, Take Note

Heather Corinna has written a long and very interesting post about the problematic nature of "sex positive feminism" as a category. It's really worth a read if feminist theory interests you. This response post is a little less to-the-point, more rambly, and less cohesive than my usual post, but bear with me.

Clearly, sometime this fall, I decided that "sex positive feminist" was a label I could claim for myself. Before that I had claimed "sex positive", but as for feminist... I guess I thought it went without saying. Anyway, Corinna raises some very important points, most importantly (I think) that these kinds of divisions amongst feminists aren't beneficial. While it's true that my opinions on pornography and sex work and the "adult industry" might differ from another feminist's, we still have a common goal, and for most of the relevant issues our differing perspectives on sex won't be pertinent.

She points out the sex-negative "strawfeminist" -- that is, that no such feminist exists -- to which I initially reacted "well of course no one labels herself that way." She creates a women's sexual autonomy manifesto of sorts, which is worth quoting:
To whit: women DO need the agency to have sex (or physical and emotional intimacy combined, however you’d like to put it or whatever you’d like to have) on their terms, and by their definition, that is pleasurable, that is real communion, that honors our bodies and selves.

Women DO need real sexual autonomy and ownership of our bodies and our sexualities.

Women DO need a cultural sexuality that includes them, truly allows for them, and which holds them in equal regard.

Women DO need to be able to define sex on our own terms, whatever they may be, and have equal allowance made for us to even be able to discover what our authentic sexualities and terms even are — to truly author our own sexuality — free of pressures to make our sexuality fit, support or enable a cultural model of sexuality which men created, not women, and which men created without much, if any, accord for women. Hell, we didn’t even get to be the ones who named our own parts.

She follows it with an assertion that radical feminists recognize that masculine sexual culture is one source of women's oppression. That may be true, and I also think she's right that most feminists affirm the importance of women's sexual equality, but I certainly feel like issues of sexuality are often treated as frivolous and unimportant in radfem circles. The exception, of course, is when pornography and sex work are being burned at the stake as the primary means by which men are keeping women in their place (okay, I'm taking a deep breath, I'm moving past it).

Corinna also worries that adding "sex positive" to the label "feminist" weakens it by half:
To plenty of men, that sex-positive in front of feminist says that either I am the sort of feminist they just don’t have to worry about, because I pose no real threat to them — since I don’t appear to want to take away or limit access to sex — or worse still, in some cases, it says additionally that they will get the heart of what they really want from me — sex — regardless, so who freaking cares if I’m feminist, right? So, you nod and smile when I talk women’s equality and it’s all cool: you’re still getting laid, Joe.

This reminds me of my own rejection of the term "bisexual" based on the fear that people would hear it and assume I was 'easy' or 'greedy'. A housemate of mine put "bisexual -- and still not interested in you!" in her facebook profile to combat that perception; I chose queer as a label instead, for several reasons, but definitely to prevent people from thinking that I'm just a horny bitch who'll do anyone she can get her hands on.

But if we reject terms like bisexual and sex positive based on what other people think we mean by them, aren't we just perpetuating the stereotype? I am sex-positive; that doesn't mean I'm not critical of sexual culture (in fact it may well mean I'm more critical than most), and it sure as hell doesn't mean I'm going to sleep with you. Why should I allow anyone to think that my intellectual and political interest in sex means I'm indiscriminate when it comes to sexual partners? I want a bumper sticker: "sex positive -- and still not interested in you!"

So. Corinna makes a lot of good points, although I don't agree with all of it. Certainly lots to think about, in any case; I think one of the most basic, and most important, points she makes is that feminist "community" isn't sweet and gooey and always supportive. It's hard, and challenging, and critical, and in order to be a part of it you have to be willing examine what's really behind your position.

"Mommy, why aren't yours that big?"

Someone in a New Jersey Comcast facility was very bored yesterday morning. And possibly looking to get fired.
LINCROFT, N.J. Many New Jersey residents watching the Disney Channel Tuesday morning were outraged after the family-friendly programming turned into a pornographic display.

Jennie Sherman still can't believe what happened while she was watching the show "Handy Manny" with her two twin sons.

"We were just sitting here and the screen just froze and then all of a sudden I saw very graphic pornography on the television and I scrambled to get the remote to shut it off," Sherman told CBS 2.

Sherman said she immediately recorded the X-rated graphic video on her DVR. She then e-mailed to report the shocking news.
Comcast appologized and pointed out that the mistake was theirs and not the Disney Channels.

But seriously, dude: replace MTV with porn, or even ABC Family, but the Disney Channel? That's just wrong.