Sunday, August 19, 2012

12 Questions

1. What is your hometown?
Los Angeles, East L.A.
2. With what fictional character do you most identify?
It would have to be a mashup of Kara “Starbuck” Thrace from Battlestar Galactica and Jane Eyre. Kara Thrace was a badass but seriously fucked up. Jane Eyre grew up poor and disenfranchised but she was never humbled; adversity made her strong and resilient. I love and can closely identify with both characters.
3. In the movie of your life, cast an actor to play you.
That’s a tough one because ideally I’d want to have a Latina play me but when I saw Charlize Theron in Monster, I thought I could see a bit of myself on the screen – there was real rage in her performance. I haven’t seen many performances like that, so a Latina who can bring that kind of believable rage to the screen would be perfect.
4. What work of art speaks to your soul?
Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth. I know it’s a painting of a woman who had polio or something like that but I didn’t know that when I first saw it and to me, she just looked like a woman trying to crawl her way home. I sensed determination, longing and isolation in her and while I saw a long, labored path ahead of her, I could imagine her eventually making it home. 
5. What books are you currently reading or recommending?
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Cunt by Inga Muscio.
6. What song or album is currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?
I haven’t been playing my ipod lately. I have a bunch of records, tapes and CDs that I’ve acquired on my travels. Now that I’m home, I’m catching up on the music of some of the local bands from the cities I’ve toured. Lately, I’ve been listening to a band from Tucson called Clusterfuck.
7. What’s the last movie that made you cry?
It’s a little embarrassing but it’s an animated Pixar movie called Brave. My daughter asked me to see it with her. The movie deals with a young woman’s struggle for independence from her parents, especially her mother. It’s about the evolution of the mother/daughter relationship. My daughter and I are in the midst of that journey and we’ve hit some major potholes along the way but when my kid reached over in the darkened movie theater and squeezed my hand, I went all weepy.
8. Cat person or dog person?
Dog person. I have a rescue mutt named Cinnamon and she’s a loving, loyal companion. I’m allergic to cats.
9. What is more important, truth or kindness?
In serious matters, truth; in trivial ones, kindness. Even in trivial matters I’m uncomfortable lying but I sometimes redirect to avoid needlessly hurting someone. I don’t lie to avoid responsibility, I think it’s cowardly to do so.
10. How do you define sin?
Since I see myself as part of God, I would say that violating my own integrity would be a sin. A sin is when my actions and beliefs are out of sync.
11. How do you define virtue?
Virtue is subjective; I define it as acting in accordance with your values but only if your values align with mine. I’ll take integrity over virtue any day. People who simply follow the rules determined by culture or society can be defined as virtuous without ever having to do any deep soul-searching as to what is right or wrong, whereas integrity requires you to live your life based on your own set of beliefs and the knowledge that you have available to you. Integrity requires you to take the driver’s seat, making choices about your life, shaping who you become and shaping the world around you.
12. Design your headstone: What does it say? What does it look like?
I don’t care about a headstone but when I was younger and enamored with all things Egyptian I wanted to be mummified and placed in a sarcophagus. I imagine that a sarcophagus with a large piece of glass resting on top would make a lovely coffee table. Then I could be in my family’s living room in the middle of all the action.
Bonus Question: Who would you like to see answer these questions?
Vaginal Davis – she can school you and make you laugh at the same time.

A repost of the  original 12 Questions with Alice Bag, which appeared here:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Olympians and Other Heroes

Now that the London Olympics have concluded and school is back in session, I find myself basking in the afterglow of the empowering bonding experience that the Games provided for me and my daughter. I also have time to ponder the significance of the increased participation of women.
For two weeks, my daughter and I made a daily habit of selecting a few events to watch from the hours and hours of Olympic programming we’d recorded. “What shall we watch today?” I asked one day, to which she responded, “I like watching the events with women in them.”  I smiled inwardly, thinking that I felt the very same way. My husband jokingly accused us of watching swimming events to ogle the scantily clad male swimmers but those events were really not the main attraction. It was much more interesting to watch women who had pursued their dreams and reached the height of excellence in their chosen sport. It was inspiring. 
I am not by any stretch of the imagination athletic but I know how to swim, I’ve played volleyball before and I can (or maybe could) do a pretty good cartwheel. Suddenly, I could imagine myself on the U.S volleyball team, or swimming a lap in a relay or doing cartwheels while twirling a ribbon around. I know my daughter had the same experience because on the days when rhythmic gymnastics were on TV,  I had to take a circuitous route through the den to avoid bumping into her as she worked her way across the room, hula-hooping, or throwing and catching a small ball in imitation of the gymnasts.
It was exciting to learn that this was the first year in which every country participating had sent females athletes to compete; we felt like we were witnessing history in the making and in fact, we were. We watched Sarah Attar of Saudi Arabia wear traditional Muslim head covering during her race.  She proudly represented her country; her presence there not only helped to dispel myths about women and Muslims, it also prompted the TV commentator to point out that Saudi Arabia is a country which still denies women the right to drive. Like many people who followed  #Women2Drive on Twitter, I was already aware of their struggle but for millions of TV watchers this was new information. Perhaps the dissemination of that information will gain Saudi women additional supporters and expedite their inevitable triumph. Maybe that’s why it took so long for Saudi Arabia to send female athletes. Perhaps it was this very thing they feared:  the Olympic spotlight can bring glory to a country but it can also attract scrutiny.
At the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government did not escape the scrutiny of human rights advocates. Although the IOC asks host countries to remedy human rights violations,  it is the public who must ultimately monitor and exert political and economic pressure on those who do not comply. I wonder how Russia will fare under that type of scrutiny as they prepare to welcome the world to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics? I wonder if Putin has given any thought to how his country and his administration will be perceived by the world if they choose to suppress dissenting views with trials that make the Russian judicial system the laughing stock of the rational world - why else would the judge in the Pussy Riot trial feel compelled to prohibit laughing? It would be funny if it weren’t so sad because these young women are being tried by what might as well be called the Russian Inquisition. 
Get ready for your close up, Mr. Putin.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Cosmo Girl - Helen Gurley Brown

“Are you a Good Lover?”
“Ten Raging Sexual Fantasies”
“What Real Orgasms Feel Like”
“Facts and Fallacies about Love-Making”

These are just a few of the articles that were featured in Cosmopolitan when I was growing up during the 1960's. This magazine and the views of its editor, Helen Gurley Brown, would profoundly shape my views on sexuality and the rights of women.

Even though the Catholic Church opposed any artificial method of birth control, thanks to the Pill, many Catholic women were enjoying sex without the worry of an undesired pregnancy. I hoped to one day be one of them; unfortunately, with my hormones raging and my thirst for sexual knowledge growing, I was living in an information desert. My mother couldn’t even name any body part below the waist and above the thighs. She simply used the expression "down there" as in, “Do you have cramps, down there?” The idea of my mom explaining anything about sex was unimaginable. At school, even the progressive nuns avoided the subject. All I had was my rock magazines, where rock stars sometimes mentioned a sexual escapade in passing, and Cosmo, where you could read a whole article written by what I imagined were sophisticated, sexually liberated women.

The more I read Cosmopolitan, the more I understood that everything I knew was wrong. I had grown up with the message from my community, church, television and movies that nice girls waited to have sex until after marriage. Despite the fact that my mother was eight months pregnant with me when she married my father, she had told me that virginity was important. It was different for her because she had been married before and had children from a previous marriage. I’m not sure what she meant by that, but I gathered that sex was like smoking marijuana: once you tried it, you became addicted.

My mother sent out some confusing messages. When I decided that I wanted to switch from sanitary pads to tampons, she became alarmed. “Tampons are only for married women,” she warned, “you will damage yourself if you try to use them.” That scared me for a long time. Virginity, as my mother defined it, had everything to do with having an immaculate hymen. A girl without a hymen was simply not marriage material unless she was a widow, like my mom had been when she met my dad, and then — woo-hoo! — everything was okay.

Cosmo filled in the gaps in my sexual education. Helen Gurley Brown, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, had made her mark in a post-pill world as the author of the bestselling book, Sex and the Single Girl. Even the title was scandalous! The book’s main character is a sexually liberated, single woman who many people believed was based on Helen herself. If you were to pick this book up today, some of the passages might seem dated, but to appreciate a cultural phenomenon, you have to try to understand it in the context in which it occurred. Helen was a maverick who ensured that her readers had up-to-date information about the little-discussed subject of female sexuality, and she provided women with the inspiration to advocate for themselves in the bedroom as well as in the workplace.

It was from Cosmo that I first learned what an orgasm was, what oral sex was, and much, much more. It was from reading Cosmo that I finally came to understand that touching myself down there had a name; it was masturbation, and no, I wouldn’t go to hell for doing it; in fact it was common, normal and…hallelujah, I had permission to do it again! I guess Cosmopolitan may have also been responsible for my increased interest in sex and in losing my virginity. It had taught me that sex and marriage didn’t necessarily have to go together, and, if I understood correctly, that meant there was no reason to marry for a long, long time. It made me question the double standard which labels a sexually active man “a stud” and a sexually active woman “a whore.” I remember, later in life, one guy telling me, “I won’t think less of you if you sleep with me on the first date,” to which I replied, “I won’t think less of you, either.” The nerve, assuming that I needed his approval to do what I wanted to do.

I thought my definition of promiscuity around that time was very progressive. It had less to do with the number of sexual partners you had and everything to do with your reasons for sleeping with people. I don’t know if it had been influenced by a Cosmopolitan article, or if I finally just synthesized Cosmo’s values. In my book, a woman could have as many different sex partners as she wanted without necessarily being promiscuous, because women are different and have a wide range of sexual appetites; however, sleeping with someone as a means to get something other than sexual pleasure seemed like promiscuity to me, because it meant you were not motivated by an honest desire for sex but were having sex because you felt there was no better way to get what you were really after. This bothered me, mostly because I’d known so many girls who had been looking for a love relationship and thought they could get it by giving in to a sexual relationship that they didn’t want. That, to me, seemed promiscuous. I wished they’d read Cosmo.

Over the years, my views have changed but I think Helen Gurley Brown would still approve. I don’t label people “promiscuous” anymore, even if they want something other than sex from sexual encounters. I just think of the word as a term by which society tries to regulate and suppress human sexuality.

- An excerpt from Violence Girl, by Alice Bag

For Helen Gurley Brown 1922 – 2012