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How Not To Be A Nice Girl

Something about me is perpetually sweet. Despite the tattoos, the songs about sex and whiskey and meanness, and the ferocity bubbling just beneath the surface, I seem to strike the average stranger as some breed of twee little big-eyed mammal. Every waitress over 22 calls me “sweetie”, every Petco employee insists on carrying my dog food to my car, and everybody’s grandmother wishes I would wear a dollbaby dress with sailboats on it. People I just met tend to describe me as “sweet” or “cute” or “so nice”.

I am resigned to being sweet, and cute doesn’t rankle me like it used to (usually). But here’s the thing: I’m not nice. Niceness is not something I’m into. I try to be kind, and thoughtful; I hold doors open, I give rides to the airport, I take my friends out for waffles when they get broken up with. But to me, “being nice” involves clamming up, putting on a happy face, and forgoing one’s own convictions and desires to avoid rocking the boat. 

I am no clam, people. I love to rock the boat. 

Let me rephrase that, actually. Rocking the boat is incredibly uncomfortable for me - it gives me stress dreams and sweaty hands - but I was born to rock the boat. Making other people uncomfortable is one of the byproducts of my best and most satisfying work, including many of the thoughts and feelings I have every day. Anything inside me that says otherwise is usually not me, but the years of be-a-good-little-girl conditioning that I accidentally absorbed from the air around me (in spite of my parents’ best intentions), like most women, in most of the world. 

If you’ve been smoking what I’ve been smoking (sugar and spice and everything nice, Disney Princesses, rom coms, etcetera), you may be asking the same question. What do we do about all the bullshit we’ve inadvertently inhaled? 

I think the antidote to this variety of bullshit includes a lot of real-world, large scale, external changes (like access to education and birth control for women everywhere, equal pay for equal work, and for people to stop acting like douche bags (and for that matter, selling them)). But I also think that we have opportunities to combat bullshit with the magic of our own minds. 

So ladies (and gents… but mostly ladies), I hereby invite you to make yourself comfortable in your own life. I want us all to feel that there is no need to apologize for the size or intensity of our bodies, our minds, our feelings, or our choices. 

I have a few ideas about how to implement this. We all got different bullshit cocktails, growing up, and we’re all equipped with different bullshit-filtration devices, so I don’t expect that everything in this post applies to everybody. Here’s some of what I’m grappling with, and how. 

1) Cultivate a healthy sense of entitlement. 

Entitlement has a bad reputation, and it’s mostly well deserved. I don’t enjoy being shoulder-checked by a trustfund dudebro (stumbling down the middle of Royal street texting, like a blind yeti) any more than the next gal. But there are some things we are entitled to: 

We are each entitled to our bodies, our experiences, and the choices we make about our own lives. 

When I say, “I’m entitled to my life”, I mean that I hold the title: I am the captain, the President, the head honcho, and the sole stockholder. Nobody else holds even one share. 

Here’s what that means: if I have a feeling, and somebody else doesn’t like that I had that feeling, that’s tough titties for them. I should no more apologize for that feeling than a weed should apologize for growing in my garden. Maybe I don’t like the weed, maybe I wish the weed would grow somewhere else; but the weed has no responsibility for any of that. It’s there because of the sun and the wind and the bird that shat it out, and the whole course of the evolution of the universe. It’s entitled to be there. 

 Similarly, your body takes up the amount of space it does, it’s shaped how it’s shaped, and it feels how it feels. It gurgles and sweats and aches and farts. Your body is entitled to do all these things, and you, as the Chief Executive Officer of your body, are entitled to these things as well. 

Your thoughts are in there, strung about like confetti after a party, and your memories, and your feelings. You are entitled to them all. You are entitled to everything that has ever happened to you, and all of the choices you’ve made, and all of the choices in front of you. If you fuck up, it was your decision to fuck up, and nobody else’s; and now it’s your decision whether to apologize for it, or fix it, or not. 

I can remember most of this, most of the time, but occasionally I still get confused. Who decides if I should get another tattoo, for instance? I forget. Is it my husband, who’s not particularly keen on tattoos? Is it my mom, who’s acutely creeped out by them? Is it the old lady sitting next to me at this café, scowling? Is it that one loudmouthed fan of mine, who insists on airing his opinion of tattoos every time I post a picture on facebook? Well, let’s see…. my body is the one being tattooed, and I am entitled to my body. Nobody else is. 

I have brainfarts in this area professionally and artistically, too. For example, who am I to write this post? I’m writing about topics that the feminist movement has been dealing with for years, and I’m not very well educated on the history of feminism. I haven’t read Gloria Steinem. I don’t have a degree in women’s studies – in fact, I don’t have any degrees in anything. But on the other hand, I am me. I am a human woman, and I have thoughts and feelings about that, and a blog to post them on. I’m entitled to my thoughts and feelings, and nobody else is. 

A lot of people, mostly women, pick up the habit of prefacing their sentences with “well I kind of think that, like, sometimes…” or another excruciatingly long and self-immolating prefix. To me, this says, “I have a thought, but I don’t believe that I’m entitled to it.” 

I hereby invite all of us to cultivate a healthy sense of entitlement to our own bodies, experiences, and choices. For clarity’s sake, here are the things we’re not entitled to: other people’s bodies, other people’s experiences, other people’s choices, and other people. They hold the title to their lives; we hold the title to ours. 

2) If you have a problem with the way you look, find a bigger problem. 

Like most women I know, my feelings about my own appearance vary widely from day to day (and from moment to moment). Sometimes, I look in the mirror and see a total sex bomb. Other times, I see a blubberous ogre. In almost thirty years of research, I’ve only found one way to combat that Cosmo-reading, trash-talking, mean-girl demon in my head: find something more interesting to worry about. 

The way we look is probably one of the least interesting things about us, and unquestionably one of the least interesting things about the world. Your head, regardless of its shape or accoutrements, is carrying inside it the most complex phenomenon in the known universe. 

So next time you look in the mirror and scowl, or see an unflattering picture of yourself, or catch a peripheral glance of your blubberous ogre thighs, remember this: the world is chock-full of stuff that is infinitely more fascinating than the girth of your thighs. In this corner, we have AIDS and climate change and abject poverty. In this one, we have the Grand Canyon, wombats, and Mary Oliver. Pick any of these, think about them for twelve seconds, and laugh at yourself.

Let’s all begin to consciously prioritize our own pleasure, satisfaction, and self-expression over sitting and looking pretty. Here are some tricks: 

Eat what you want. 

Food is one of the primary sensual pleasures that the gods have allowed us, and if you’re reading this, you are living in a time of unprecedented culinary abundance and variety. You can very likely walk out of your house right now, and within an hour be back at home eating oysters, or chocolate ice cream, or bacon-wrapped dates, or a grapefruit the size of your head. You could be sipping a mango lassi, even though it’s February in New England. This, my friends, is a fucking miracle

If I hear one more woman making her culinary choices based on the girth of her thighs alone, I’m going to drown myself in mango lassi. Sure, eat a salad sometimes, for health reasons or cosmetic ones. But other times, eat the bacon-wrapped dates, because they are a fucking miracle. Choose joyfully from the menu of your life – it’s long, and broad, and sacred. 

Wear what you love. 

Similarly, wear things that make you feel happy and wacky and soulful. Wear things that remind you of your childhood, or the beach, or mind-blowing sex. Don’t automatically resort to the thigh-fatness metric. If a dress makes you feel delighted and creative and full of magic, but your thighs look like overstuffed sausages, so be it. Now they are magic sausages. 

Don’t just sit there and look pretty. 

If someone snaps a picture of you doing something important or funny or inspiring – say, scaling a fish, or painting a house – and the demon in your head says you don’t look pretty, tell him to fuck off. Post that photo online. Instagram needs to be reminded that we are complex creatures; a woman can be pretty sometimes, and other times she can be happily (and greasily) scaling a fish. There is no law requiring perpetual prettiness, THANK GOD. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

We are entitled to our faces and bodies, however they are composed, whether anybody finds them pleasing or not. Post a picture in which you’re not pretty, but full of some other kind of light. 

 3) Become a sexual subject. 

Sexual objectification is a big, nasty, complicated problem. As women, we bear the brunt of that problem most of the time. Here are just a few of the things that suck about it: 

We objectify ourselves and each other

As alluded to above, most women (yes, even us creative, smart, professional movers and shakers and doers and thinkers) have a deep–seated conviction that we’d be better off in life if we were prettier/thinner/taller. This is maddeningly stupid, and we know it, but it’s all smashed up in our subconscious primordial ooze, with the Disney Princesses and the Nationwide Insurance jingle, and we have a very hard time rooting it out. 

We enable each other’s self-objectification by sizing up our friends (and enemies), commenting about their appearance, and complaining about our own appearance. When we say “have you lost weight?”, or “my thighs are getting so fat”, we are feeding each other’s demons. 

I’m working on this one by putting the kibosh on all appearance-monitoring of my female friends, and all discussion (complainy or otherwise) of my own appearance. If that sounds really hard (like it does to me), remember the wombats and Mary Oliver.

Self-objectification makes us dumber

Self-objectification results in a phenomenon called body monitoring, which literally makes us dumber. Body monitoring means thinking about how we look, imagining what we might look like to the other people in the room, fidgeting with our hair and clothes, and arranging our face and body in order to look more attractive. It happens so often, and takes up so much brain space, that it has a measurable effect on our ability to focus and perform

This one is tough to combat, but my current approach is this: when I’m in a public place, and I notice I’m sitting in a way that might not look cute, I bite the bullet and keep sitting that way. I’m trying to train my demons the way I train my dogs: no rewards for bad behavior.

When we objectify ourselves during sex, we don’t get to have sex.

Sexual objectification makes us feel that we are not the subjects of our sexual encounters. I’m using “subject” here in the grammatical, sentence-diagramming sense, as in “the entity that is doing or being”; as opposed to the “object”, the “entity being acted upon”. 

It’s simple grammar, folks: when we’re being sexually objectified, we’re not having sex. We are being sexed at, or in, or upon. 

So here’s my challenge: the next time you have sex, verbalize a sentence in which in which you are the subject. That sentence should probably start with the word “I”, as in, “I want you to…” or “I like that”, or “I don’t like that”. (Interestingly, it seems like the most commonly-depicted phrase of dirty talk uttered by women in movies/books/porn is “fuck me”, or some variation of it - a sentence in which the speaker is still the object).

Of course, sometimes, sexual objectification can be fun (fear not, Fifty Shades devotees). I’ve been known to enjoy a helping of it from time to time. I’d argue that if it’s something you can openly discuss and ask your partners for, you are in fact acting as a sexual subject. (When you ask to be objectified, you have to make yourself the subject of the sentence, eg: “I want you to tie me up.”).  

For extra credit: orchestrate a sexual encounter wherein you’re the subject. If someone were writing a story about the encounter, you would be the subject of most of the sentences (“she took off her dress” or “she climbed on top of him”). I am challenging us all to initiate more of the sex we have, and initiate more of the things we want during sex. 

Join me in the pursuit, ladies: we’ve been getting fucked for millennia. Let’s start fucking. 

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Thanks to Kerry Genese and Lauren J. Andrews for co-creating and collaborating on these ideas with me. 

Thanks to Caroline Heldman for her work on objectification and body monitoring. Watch her brilliant TED talk for more. 



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Sexuality is a Superpower.

Yesterday, along with about a million other people, I read this blog post. In it, “Mrs. Hall”, a Christian mother of teenage boys, cautions teenage girls against posting pictures of themselves on social media wearing “skimpy PJs” or “only a towel”. And by “cautions”, I mean patronizes, berates, and shames.   

The post, thankfully, was subject to a swift and glorious backlash. Some friends and I posted a series of photos on Facebook and twitter in protest (see below - then make your own - #solidarityselfie). 

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I was pleased to see other bloggers writing thoughtful responses, many of which emphasized the idea that it’s not a young woman’s job to keep young men from thinking about her in a sexual way; it’s a young man’s job to learn how to look at women without objectifying them.   Although I think that’s a valid position, and certainly less damaging than the original post, I don’t think it addresses my biggest problem with this all-too-common worldview. I will attempt to do that here.  

I think both arguments (“girls shouldn’t wear skimpy clothing” and “boys should control their lustful feelings for girls”) stem from a shared paradigm: “Sexuality is dangerous, and we must protect our children from it.” 

Here’s how I hear it:

  • Mrs. Hall: Women’s sexuality is dangerous to men. “Some young men are fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds pure.” 
  • Nate Pyle: Men’s sexuality is dangerous to women. “Discipline yourself to see her, not her clothes or her body.”
  • Me: Sexuality is not dangerous.

Yes, I understand that bad things happen to people because of sex. Rape, sexual abuse and molestation, STDs, unwanted pregnancies, physical and emotional damage of every flavor and variety are real and present dangers of unchecked sexuality. I’m not interested in sugar-coating the issue.

  I’m interested in this idea: the experience of ourselves and other people as sexual beings is not inherently dangerous. Nor is it shameful, or shallow, nor does it rob us of the ability or opportunity to engage with people in other ways. The act of expressing our sexual selves can be empowering, fun, and pleasurable. The act of experiencing someone else’s sexual expression can also be empowering, fun, and pleasurable.    

Furthermore: sexuality is a built-in part of the human experience, and there is no avoiding it. It doesn’t matter how conservatively you dress, how hard you pray, how much “discipline” you have, or how many teenage girls you block on Facebook. Sexuality is everywhere – within you and without you.    

So, here’s what I want to say to teenage girls, and boys, and people of all ages:

Your sexuality is a superpower.  It can be a force for good in your life, and in the lives of others. Just like your intelligence, your ambition, your talent, and every other aspect of yourself, it’s one of the things that makes you who you are. It’s not a weapon; it’s a gift.   From there, we still need to do our damnedest to educate our children about how their actions affect those around them.

Just like it’s wrong to use your intelligence to harm someone else, it’s wrong to use your sexuality to harm someone else.

We have to teach our kids about kindness, compassion, and personal responsibility, and how those values relate to every area of life. 

I’m not saying these lessons will be simple; I’m saying just the opposite. Unfortunately for Mrs. Hall, these lessons will be messy, uncomfortable, and complicated - there are no shortcuts.



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Why I’m Not Done Writing About Sex

(or, If You Thought That Last Video Was Too Risque You Better Brace Yourself)

I wrote my first blog about sex back in August. I made the decision, with that post, not to be private or coy about my sexuality, my interest in sex, or the sexual content of my work. I made the decision to “come out” as a woman who likes sex. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I got a bunch of fan mail in response to that post (only a very small percentage of it inappropriate or creepy). I got to have dinner with Dan Savage and Chris Ryan. I had women of all ages come up to me in person and thank me for writing about female sexuality. I got hit on a lot more often at my shows, and more directly (which is fine with me.) 

 Occasionally, I get a different reaction. A few people have told me that they’re “bored” of this topic, that I ought to write about something else. A friend told me that I should show less cleavage in my promotional pictures, or people might “get the wrong idea”. People have said that they “fear for my safety”, that I should probably “tone down the sex stuff”. Well, I’m about to release an EP. It includes one song about sex, one song about sex and murder, and one song about sex and bravery. That last one is accompanied by a music video which features two burlesque dancers in their underwear, two very tall men in suits, and yours truly, dancing lasciviously and looking like I’m about to make some mischief. NPR just told me they wouldn’t post it to their website because it’s “too risque”. So, for clarification purposes, I’d like to tell you why I won’t tone down the sex stuff.  

Just Exactly What I Stand For

It’s not my job to sing pretty songs. It’s not my job to be cute, or to make people feel comfortable, or nice, or happy. My job, as I’ve chosen to define it, is to live vibrantly, and tell everyone about it. 

I stand for aliveness. I stand for joy and pleasure and inspiration. I stand for human beings having a vibrant experience of their own lives. I stand for sex and desire and passion and lust because those things make me, and most other people, feel alive. For the same reason, I also stand for music, love, honesty, silliness, poetry, bravery, chocolate, parades, and painting things pink. I will stop writing about sex, and music and love and honesty, when those things stop making people feel alive. So don’t hold your breath.


“I Fear for Your Safety”

Aliveness is inefficient, messy, and hard to control. It’s difficult to monetize, difficult to quantify, difficult to compete at. Aliveness does not increase GDP. What’s worse: everybody wants it more than money. In a society like ours, aliveness is automatically threatening to the status quo.

Sexual pleasure, being one of the most potent bearers of aliveness, is surrounded by a sort of gloppy, tarry, whiny puritan shame. That shame is society’s way of protecting itself – think of it like porcupine quills, or the fake blood that some lizards cry. Shame, and its attendant propaganda, floats around in the ether and pours out of other people’s mouths before they realize what they’re saying. 

If you dedicate your life to aliveness, or anything that inspires it; be it sex or music or humor or painting-things-pink; people will tell you to get a job. They will ask you about your fallback plan. They will say, “I could never do that”. They will tell you they fear for your safety. They will tell you to show less cleavage and write about something else and focus and get serious and grow up and tone it down. 

 In essence, they will tell you that there are better things to do than run around feeling alive. I’m here to tell you that there aren’t.



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