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Objectification! It's Not Just Women's Studies Jargon, it's Evil Poisonous Bullshit

Or, How My New Music Video is Smashing The Patriarchy for the Good of All Your Sons and Daughters, You’re Welcome.

OK so, yeah, I made a music video of myself lounging in various corners of a mansion while hot men wait on me hand and foot. And yeah, it was fun. And sure, maybe it happened to satisfy a number of my personal fantasies. 

But I also believe that making this video was a radical act of revolutionary patriarchy-smashing moxie. It was a brick thrown through the window of The Man’s corner office, and I’m proud of it.

Because, my friends, most of the TV and movies and music videos we’ve been imbibing throughout our lives, despite the pleasant buzz, are full of objectification. And that’s not just a Women’s Studies jargon word, it’s Evil Poisonous Bullshit. And regardless of your gender, it’s ruining your ability to think, talk, and ever have decent sex.

Here’s how.

Evil Poisonous Bullshit Idea #1: Women’s bodies are for looking at.

On TV, all the women are beautiful. The heroines are beautiful and the villains are beautiful. The love interests are beautiful and the ninjas are beautiful. The leading ladies are beautiful and so are the extras. The moms, the daughters, the check-out girls, and the mean ex-wives are beautiful. The only women who are allowed to be less-than-beautiful are the comic relief: the fat friend, the crazy neighbor, and the grandma.

Thusly, we learn from TV that if you’re a woman, regardless of your other roles in life, your #1 job is to be beautiful at all times. Your only choices are between kinds of beauty: are you cute or lovely? Are you hot or pretty? Are you a Carrie or a Charlotte?

If you’re a man, on the other hand, you can choose from an array of jobs. You can be beautiful, sure. But you can also be strong, competent, funny, evil, brilliant, kind, foolish, geeky, gutsy, witty, or rich. Male characters are frequently endowed with the gift of complexity, female characters aren’t. Male characters are allowed to be unattractive, even if they are a lead character; female characters are not.

The implication is: if she’s not beautiful, at every moment and from every angle, how will we know that we like her?  

(Good news though: TV is changing. Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, the makers of Orange is the New Black and others are dismantling this bullshit as we speak, with panache. It doesn’t matter if you like those shows, they are improving your daughters’ futures, you should thank them.)

In other words, your main job as a woman is to be a decorative object. This is called “objectification”. Because that’s a jargony word, I’ll explain it more thoroughly.


There are at least three problems with living inside a body that is a decorative object:

1)   If your body is for looking at, it is not for doing things with.

A male body is a tool with which he can manipulate the world; a female body is a pretty thing for other people to look at.

And as Ani DiFranco pointed out, life imitates TV. Try to count the number of times you hear a female child being called “cute” or “pretty”, versus a male child being praised for a physical action like “fast” or “strong”. The difference starts young, and the contrast gets turned up as the kid ages. I believe this is at the root of why many women believe that we are inept at driving, lifting heavy objects, fixing mechanical things, killing bugs, etc.: we have been taught that our bodies are for looking at, not for using.

Here’s a partial list of other things that we believe a female body isn’t for:

  1. Climbing
  2. Running
  3. Eating
  4. Fighting
  5. Screaming
  6. Digging
  7. Building
  8. Contact sports
  9. Motocross racing
  10. Smashing the patriarchy.

If, by chance, a woman on TV is allowed to use her body for one of these activities, the need to be beautiful trumps the need to do that thing well. One of my favorite recent instances was the movie “Jurassic World”, wherein the female lead (Bryce Dallas Howard) runs from a series of life-threatening dinosaurs, through rainforest and rock quarry, for the duration of the two-hour movie, all while wearing high heels.

It’s as if the director was saying to us: remember girls, even when threatened by a velociraptor, your #1 job is to be beautiful.

2)   “It is better to look good than to feel good.” I stole that from a mid-80s Billy Crystal skit from Saturday Night Live, but it’s a perfect description of this problem. If you’re focused on how you look on the outside, you’re not focused on how you feel on the inside. (This concept is beautifully illustrated in Peggy Orenstein’s newest book, Girls & Sex, which I could not recommend more highly.)

If you’re talking to someone, and you’re thinking about how your lipstick might look on your mouth, you’re probably not deeply processing the words being said. If you’re having sex, and you’re thinking about how your cellulite looks from this angle, you’re probably not noticing the sensations inside your body.

It’s difficult or impossible to focus on both at once; and if you’re a woman, you’re programmed to prioritize how you look. In other words,

3) Being a decoration is distracting. When it’s my job to look pretty – which TV would have me believe it always is – it’s harder to concentrate on a problem or task in front of me. This phenomenon has been studied and documented, and it only works on women.

The study linked above shows that when women are asked to solve math problems in a swimsuit, their math performance suffers significantly. When men are asked to do the same, theirs does not. That means our poisonous programming has been so successful that we can no longer turn off the sense that if we are being watched, we must make it our top priority to improve our physical presentation.

Add to that the stereotype about women and math, and you’ve done stupefied more than half of the human population. Nice work, The Man.

In Vim & Vigor, I attempt to create a scenario where male viewers of the video can have a taste of how objectification works. Ie: we objectified the male bodies in the video, and avoided objectifying the female one (mine). The men in the video are improbably hot and muscled because I want male viewers to question their own physical fitness and attractiveness. I touch all the men’s packages in the video, because men’s penises are one of the only physical attributes they are culturally programmed to be insecure about (as women, on the other hand, we are programmed to feel insecure about literally every part of our bodies – from the volume of our hair to the size of our “thigh gap”).

I want male viewers to feel that they are being sized up physically, and may not measure up. I want them to wonder, “am I thin enough? Strong enough? Handsome enough? Do I have a big enough dick?” I want them to feel that tremble in the pit of their stomach, and to wonder whether they are worthy of a woman’s attention. I want them to think they might be dismissed, ignored, or humiliated, simply because of the shape of their physical form.

It’s not that I’m a sadist, though. It’s all in the interest of creating empathy. I want you to feel this way, gentlemen, and I want you to recognize that this is what it feels like to walk through the world as a woman, every fucking day.


Evil Poisonous Bullshit Idea #2: A woman’s value is based on how desirable she is to men.

As TV would have it, any female character worth a damn is some dude’s love interest. This applies to superheroes as well as house wives, and it’s hazardous to our health in a variety of ways (it gives us a weird and tragic sense that a single woman is a worthless woman, for example). For now, I want to focus on just one aspect: on TV, a character’s value is correlated with her sexual desirability.

This is what it means to be a “sex object”; we believe that our value is based on our usefulness as a tool for men’s sexual pleasure. There are at least two major problems with this one.

1) We are unwilling to do or say anything that might make us less desirable.

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why do we need to train men to ask for consent? Shouldn’t women be able to say that they don’t want sex?” this is the reason. And believe me, I am at least as frustrated as you are. Tragically, this particular poison has rendered many of us speechless in situations that involve suppressing or interrupting a man’s desire. We’re taught to believe that our value as a person is linked to our desirability, so if you want us, that’s good! If we say “stop”, and you lose your boner, we have just downgraded our desirability, and thus, our value as human beings.

Again, big thanks to The Man for that one. Really nice job.

Date rape aside, though, it’s worth noting that our need to be desirable to men applies to ALL MEN, even those we are not attracted to, don’t want sexual attention from, or don’t like. We feel driven to maintain a backlog of male desire, or we start to feel worthless. This is why many women won’t say “no” or “leave me alone” or “fuck off, drunken douchebag” to a drunken douchebag who is harassing them in public. We are taught to believe that all male attention, even drunken douchebag male attention, increases our value.

Less crucially but still worth noting: it’s is also why many women don’t like to eat in front of men, or wear something unflattering, or fart, or mention that we take shits. We are supposed to be sex objects, like a porn cartoon or a blow-up doll. And sex objects don’t take shits (unless that’s the kind of porn they’re appearing in).

2) We prioritize men’s pleasure above our own pleasure.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: women like sex just as much as men. There is no biological reason for women to be less interested in sex, or less turned on, or less easily sexually satisfied. I repeat, NO BIOLOGICAL REASON! (And don’t come at me with the latest evo-psych, either, because this particular crock has only been served for the past couple centuries. Before that, the crock was that women were insatiable hysterical sex animals. So which is it, science?)  

Regardless of our libidos, we’ve been poisoned, since birth, with a hallucinatory drug that makes us believe that sex is something we do for the benefit of men. And who’s going to tell us otherwise? The men believe it, too. Our own desires get buried deep beneath our many concerns about the pleasure and satisfaction of our male partner, or even an imaginary male witness.

It’s not that we don’t like sex, it’s that we’ve don’t get asked to consider what we like. It is not our job to have desires, let alone pleasure or satisfaction.


Conversely, in Vim & Vigor mansion, my desire is the only desire that matters. The men who surround me may or may not desire me; that is beside the point. I don’t care to titillate or satisfy them; I don’t even allow them to display desires of their own.

This was a thrilling and mind-bending point to discuss on set. When talking through our roles in each scene, any suggestion that involved a man looking turned on or pleased had to be quashed immediately. If anybody was gonna do “blowjob pose”, it was gonna be me (and, it was me, thank you).

I wanted my value and power as a character to come from something other than my desirability to men, and I wanted my own pleasure and satisfaction to be prioritized 100% of the time. 

In this case, my value as a character comes from the fact that I am the queen and owner of this mansion, and every man in it, and I can do and ask for whatever I want. My value had nothing to do with how many men want to fuck me. Quite the opposite, in fact: the men are only allowed into my mansion if I want to fuck them. Otherwise, they are worthless.

In other words: “I don’t give a fuck if you find me foxy.”

This very statement, my sisters, is a battle cry.  I hope you’ll put on your favorite ugly outfit, take a messy bite out of giant cheeseburger, and say it with me. We don’t have time to be a pretty object or a sex toy, we’ve got a patriarchy to smash; grab a brick and join me.

—–


Special thanks to:

Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein

Dietland by Sarai Walker

The whole cast & crew of Vim & Vigor for executing my vision selflessly and without ego, especially director Andrew Rozario.

 



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Sex, Shame, and Your Ferocious Inner Pleasure Goddess

Since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in sex. I’ve been fascinated by it, titillated by it, amused and inspired by it. I was the kid who pretended her Barbies were prostitutes. I was the kid for whom “playing house” included the Mommy and the Daddy having sex (i.e. making out with my friends under the bed). I was the kid who found the stack of Playboys in my dad’s office, and distributed them.

And as long as I’ve been interested in sex, I’ve understood that my interest was something to be ashamed of. I was the kid who got blamed when J’s brother got suspended for bringing Playboys to school. And when M’s mom caught us making out under the bed - and subsequently activated the Rural Virginia Concerned Moms phone tree - I was the kid whose friends stopped answering my calls; who got disinvited from parties; who got shunned, publicly, in gymnastics class.

Apart from the occasional public shaming, though, I didn’t catch much of the usual anti-sex propaganda. I was raised in a sort of new age Group Therapy Commune, by an atheist and an agnostic/Christian mystic Jew. Nobody ever told me outright that sex was bad, or that I was bad for being interested in it. Of course, this is how shame prefers to operate: covertly, behind-the-scenes, under the cover of night. Nobody had to feed me shame; I breathed it in and absorbed it.

Sex is hip, desire is square.

As a teenager, very little changed. I wanted to try everything, to feel everything, to make out with everyone. I remember the first time my boyfriend went down on me - I was stoned, and the room was dimly lit, and it was like I was seeing the stars for the first time. Pleasure, sweet and bright and fluid, filled my whole body.

But I also remember being called a slut, and “nasty”, and being told repeatedly to “change into something appropriate”. I remember my boyfriend telling me he didn’t want to have sex with me because “sex ruins everything”. I remember a series of drunken hookups, all of them fun at the time, all of them followed by ugly words and dark, shame-infested high school dramas.

And I remember the slow realization that, despite the cultural imperative for every woman to be a recently-shaven, fresh-smelling “down there”, Kegel-squeezing sex bomb for 100% of her life (waking or sleeping), it was not actually cool to want sex, or to enjoy it.

I’m thirty now, and my little perverted heart remains unchanged. Sex is still the central fascination of my life. It is one of my primary sources for joy, inspiration, and connection. Sexual energy, for me, is the same stuff as creative energy; my songs come to me by way of my libido.

But the shame also hasn’t changed. When I’m feeling insecure, sex is the hammer I use to bludgeon myself with. Every hot-cheeked, sweaty-palmed moment comes rushing back, from that humiliating gymnastics class to the other day, when I tried and failed to initiate sex with my husband. “Why do you have to ruin everything?” I think. “Why are you so obsessed? “ “Why can’t you just be cool, like a regular gal?”

And then, in my funk of self-loathing, I’ll turn on the TV. And that is almost always a mistake. Because there, I find an alternate universe where every man is always turned on, and pursuing sex with a goofy, dogged-but-endearing determination. And every woman is the hot and flighty babe-next-door, for whom sex is a sort of side-hustle; the game she plays to win the stuff she really wants: romance, marriage, nail polish. If she does deign to have sex with him, it’s because he said something mushy; in which case she will grab him by the head and suck face like a CPR instructor, then remove exactly one item of clothing, and be primed for penetration in four seconds flat.

Or, maybe she is “troubled”, and thus uses sex to get other stuff she wants: attention, social status, the jealousy of other women. Rarely, if ever, does she want sex because sex is fun - because it inspires her, and fills her with bright and fluid pleasure.

How to Feed Your Pleasure Goddess

So, I am making my own media. I wrote ‘Vim and Vigor’ from the perspective of my righteous, unabashed Id – the Pleasure Goddess who lives deep inside me. She is full of desire and delight, she is ferocious and unashamed.

“I know I got a dirty mind
It’s in the gutter all the time
I don’t believe that it’s a crime
I consider it a service!”

In the video, we find her in her desire mansion, surrounded by men who turn her on, get her off, and feed her cake, according to her whims. She eats burgers by the pool. She has a pair of tap-dancing butlers, and a thousand pairs of pink shoes.

This creature lives in me, and I believe she lives in you, too. Maybe your Pleasure Goddess loves pie, or snowboarding, or women, or fennec foxes. Maybe she lives on a boat, or in a cave. But I’d wager she is down there now, making mischief and getting perma-laid. I’d wager she comes out to play sometimes, when you are truly in your party place.

And the great irony is this: the people who shame us, the so-called Good and Decent People? The gym teachers, and the pastors, and the moms who activate the phone tree? The Pleasure Goddess lives in them, too. She is in there somewhere, on her velvet throne, drinking Sake and watching Patrick Swayze (circa Dirty Dancing) shine her shoes.

But eventually, because they never let her out to play, she becomes a Goddess of Destruction, and starts to eat them up from the inside. So they lash out - they try to beat down their own desires by beating you up for yours. 

And before long, these people are not good and decent, tempered by their love of God and country. These people are bullies.

And bullies do not respond to reason, nor do they back down from intimidation. You can’t fight bullies with bullying. You can only fight them by being good to your own Pleasure Goddess: by living, delightedly and ferociously, right in front of their ugly, stupid faces.    


The ‘Vim & Vigor’ music video comes out next week, on my birthday: July 22nd. 

image

(Photo by Ben Berry of Mountain Craft.)



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How to DO Creativity - Part II.

The truth is, friends, I’ve got a top-secret project brewing, and it involves me interviewing some of my favorite creators about how creativity works. It’s been inspiring and informative, and has only thrown fuel on my obsession with the creative process.

I’ll be sharing some of what I learn on this blog - then, one day, I’ll share the top-secret project itself!

1)   Get into an altered state.

Inspiration is impractical, and it is not often drawn to practical-minded individuals. When you are in a practical state - primarily concerned with money, housekeeping, or keeping your job - chances are not good that the muse will pay you a visit.

Inspiration is itself an altered state. Being inspired feels a little like being in love, or sleep-deprived, or high. The creators I’ve been talking to agree that to kick oneself into that altered state, it helps to be in another one first: falling in love is a common catalyst - so is heartbreak, and loneliness, and anger, and lust. Our brains are full of chemicals, and their combinations cause all kinds of interesting responses; creativity is one of the best.

But in case you’re not in love or heartbroken or angry, many creators find ways to alter their mental states using external stimulus. Common methods include travel, sleep deprivation, naps, alcohol and marijuana (just reporting - not recommending… necessarily).

I believe in muses and song-angels, but I also believe in science. If I’m speaking in sciencey terms, I think it’s fair to say that what we call ‘inspiration’ is probably what happens when the innovative, associative, emotional part of our brain is fired up, and the inhibiting, analytical, self-conscious part is temporarily switched off. Inspiration feels like riding a wonderful right-brain wave – the art of it is learning how to keep your nervous nellie of a left-brain from pushing you off (more on that later).

2) Allow your mind to wander.

Creativity requires idle time. I don’t mean staring-at-your-phone time, or watching-Netflix time, but an actual empty expanse of time, when your mind is free of distractions and can alight on whatever is at hand.

It helps to put your mind in a comfortable physical space: creativity especially seems to like beauty and silence. It thrives in quiet rooms, empty houses, and the outdoors. It doesn’t like phones, or anything else that can interrupt it abruptly.

It also helps to give your body something to do while your mind wanders. Some common mind-wandering activities include: moving through space (walking, driving, skateboarding, rocking chairs and hammocks), drawing, washing dishes, sweeping, cooking, gardening, kicking or throwing a ball. For best results: do these things alone, in silence, and without fear of interruption (ie: turn off your phone).


 3) Have a deadline.

I am working on songs all the time. Like, for 100% of my life, since I was thirteen, I have been working on a song. I am not always working actively - sitting in a chair with guitar in hand - but I always have journals and iPhone memos and the back half of my brain full of little scribbled song snippets: lyrics, melodies, chords, titles and themes. Mostly, I scribble these ideas down and then forget them, at least consciously.

When I say “I wrote a new song”, I usually mean “I finished a song I’ve been working on for a while”. Only about 10% of the time do I start with a brand-new idea and complete it in one sitting.

Two things can shove these half-finished songlets into full-fledged songs. One is inspiration (usually brought on by one of the altered states listed above). The other is a deadline.

One of the things I love about making albums is that, without fail, the prospect of being in the studio shakes loose a whole cascade of songs. They wriggle out of my subconscious and wake me up at night, as if to say, “Wait! Don’t forget me! I’m coming too!”

The artists I’m talking to, and interviews I’ve read with songwriters who worked in the Brill Building, or on Tin Pan Alley, say similar things: you might think that a deadline would scare inspiration off – and sometimes it does. But just as often, inspiration shows up at the last-minute and sprinkles a little fairy dust before you turn in your work.

4) Practice.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the point of practice is not just improving at your craft. The point is making your ego so mind-numbingly bored that it wanders off and bothers someone else.

Creativity means doing something new, and your ego hates it when you do new things. Your ego wants you to be successful at things, and nobody is successful at anything new. If you try writing a new song, for example, and ask your ego what he thinks about it, he will say that it is stupid and lame and contrived of six other songs, and that all of your songs are in fact stupid, and that if the world needed more songs it would ask Patty Griffin to write them, and that Patty Griffin by the way would agree that this is a stupid song.

It’s hard to get your ego to shut up. No amount of begging or bribery seems to do it. I recommend boring it into a stupor. Meditation helps with this, so do long drives and plane rides, and so does practice.

You want to start training your mind that when there’s a guitar in your hand, and you’re sitting in a quiet room, your ego might as well go do something else because nothing interesting is about to happen. After the 600th time you sit down to practice, your ego will wander off unbidden, and you can write a song in peace.

5) Be carried away by pleasure.

Songwriting, at it’s core, is about the pleasure of making sounds. Painting is about the pleasure of form and color. Dance is about the pleasure of moving your body. Science, as Richard Feynman famously said, is about the pleasure of finding things out. All creative acts are driven by a single motivator: the deep, personal, sensual pleasure of creating.

If you can connect to the pleasure of the things you make, and stay connected to it – if you can reconnect to that pleasure when your ego comes crashing through your mind – you will have a long and happy relationship with your muse. 

The muse is a hedonist. Everything she does, she does because it feels good; and just like any good lover, the best way to please her is to please yourself.




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