The Trouble with Girls
Being a girl sucks—according to the media at least. There’s the thigh gap, Miley Cyrus, thehounding, the grooming, and the online abuse. Even Germaine Greer claimed recently that in the age of social media, women have it worse than they did in the 1970s.
But are things really that bad? In her new book, Girl Trouble, social historian and professor Carol Dyhouse argues that, although life’s always been pretty shitty for girls, it’s actually getting better. According to Dyhouse, without looking back at stereotypes and the way things were for women a century ago, it is impossible to understand the scope of the progress achieved by women’s liberation movements.
I caught up with Carol to talk about all the things that have made us the drinking, swearing, loose, career-driven women that we are.
VICE: Hi Carol, how did you get started with Girl Trouble?
Carol: I’ve had a very long career teaching and researching women’s history and I wanted to bring it all together. History hasn’t been kind to girls. They’ve been underestimated and misrepresented. It’s hard to find out what was happening to them and how they felt about it. There’s always been masses of people all too ready to speak for girls, but it’s harder to get young women speaking for themselves, especially as you go back in time to the late Victorian period or the early half of the 20th century.
So the problem is that the people who were recording history are mostly male?
Definitely. A good example is the British Medical Journal—you’d think this was quite a reputable source and yet what they say is quite shocking. They’re so quick to stereotype. In an article published in 1946, just after the war, one psychologist wrote; “They [good-time girls] spend a great deal of time on making up their faces and adorning themselves, although they do not trouble to wash and are sluttish about their undergarments. Their favorite reading matter consists of the weekly journals with the love lives of film stars and they live in a fantasy world of erotic glamor. Frequently, they’re a good deal more intelligent and sophisticated than their parents whom they outwit and despise.” It’s so negative and sexist. What were they so scared about? What I argue in that chapter is that there’s this category of female that was constructed out of male anxiety.
Confronting Campus Rape
A growing wave of grassroots activists is forcing universities to take a stronger stand against sexual abuse—and now the Obama administration is joining the fight.
It’s Time to Shut Up About Your Pubes
“There’s been much ado lately about pubic hair, from Cameron Diaz’s Body Book to Lady Gaga’s ‘au-naturel’ Candy magazine cover. Janeane Garofalo recently weighed in on the subject, and she is decidedly pro.” —Huffington Post
“If you are a woman brimming with pubic hair pride and you’ve been looking for someone to tell about it, Sunday is your lucky day.” —SFGate
“Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my pubic hair.” —The Bustle
A Google search for “pubic hair trends” reveals 187,000 results. Summer brings with it a veritable tsunami of bush-based thinkpieces, as columnists and feminists and ladybloggers and male writers hash out their thoughts on whatever “trend” exists for women’s body hair at the moment.
The Bustle piece quoted above—“Will The Full Bush Trend Continue Into Summer? Why Waxing Is Getting Even More Complicated”—is a perfect example of its kind. Its quick summary of pubes over the years, from the full bush to the Brazilian to the full-bush Brazilian, is followed by, well, this: “With ‘normcore’ pubes supposedly all the rage, will the beaches really be chockfull of women and their pubic hair this summer?” Can it be? Will we be applying #buzzword to #bodypart, and in #public? It concludes—as most pieces about pubic hair do—with a reminder that it really is a woman’s own choice, ultimately up to her.
Very personal, you know. Love your pubes, sisters. End thinkpiece.
But do we have to love our pubes? Is an apparently obligatory pride in our underbrush as unhelpful as the previously obligatory shame? Although certainly more positive, the end result is that we continue to endlessly dissect what’s happening in all of our ladygardens, instead of, say, our heads. Or even our beds.
Offline Activism Is the Tricky Part for #YesAllWomen
As with every mass shooting in the last decade, Elliot Rodger sparked a clash of ideologies. This being a misogyny-fueled massacre, instead of the usual gun debate, it provoked a nationwide Twitter war between anti-patriarchy feminists and a bunch of apologist white guys, with most tweets focusing on the fact that while not all men denigrate women, all women are denigrated by men, and culminating in the latest clicktivist hashtag #YesAllWomen. It’s a strong hashtag, and it has staying power, but does it have the potential to inspire people offline?
When a branch of the American Revolutionary Communist Party concerned with banning pornography for the benefit of women, called StopPatriarchy.com, organized a series of #YesAllWomen rallies in Seattle, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, and San Francisco, it meant another attempt at turning global social media awareness into community activism, in the hopes that the effort is broadcast somewhere, anywhere. Best case - recursively on social media; worst case - word of mouth. This cyclical advocacy happens fair often with little effect, #BringackOurGirls and #Kony2012 come to mind. Ralph Nader was right, “the Internet doesn’t do a very good job of motivating action.”
Coming on Camera: Beautiful Agony’s Orgasmic Non-Nude Porn
Hundreds of people around the world have seen Kamee* come. They’ve watched her lie down on her stomach and stare straight into the camera as she rubs her clit, her red lips forming the shape of a rapturous O. They’ve heard her quietly pant and moan as she climaxes, with her big brown eyes clenched tight. Every so often her eyes flicker up to the camera and smirk, and for a brief moment it’s easy to forget who’s actually watching whom.
“It’s not like I just want people to watch me come or anything like that,” Kamee told me. “I did it because I wanted to support a project that is a safe space for people who wouldn’t video-tape themselves doing something like this.”
That project is Beautiful Agony—also called “Facettes de La Petite Mort.” It’s an Australia-based erotic website that posts daily videos of people masturbating until they orgasm. The twist is that the videos are only filmed from the shoulders up, so all you see is a succession of O-faces. The videos are basically webcam versions of Andy Warhol’s experimental “Blow Job” short film. Anyone from a DDD-cup porn star to your 95-year-old granddad can submit a video of themselves getting their rocks off. The videos range from one-man shows to group circle jerks, but you never see what’s going on down below. The name “Beautiful Agony” speaks to the almost painful tension you feel right before you come, followed by a zen-like state. The beauty lies in watching people of all walks of life momentarily lose control in the best way.
Their Eyes Were Watching Twitter: Mikki Kendall and Her Online Beefs with White Feminists
You don’t need to know anything about the history of racial tension among white and black feminists to understand Mikki Kendall. But it helps. In 1870, a good many white suffragists opposed the passage of the 15th Amendment—which allowed African American men to vote—on the grounds that black males ought not to be given voting rights before white women. Frances Willard, a leader of the suffragist movement, even supported the predilection for lynching beloved by her white sisters below the Mason-Dixon Line. In an 1890 interview with the New York Voice, Willard said that “the best white people” down South had told her that “great, dark-faced mobs,” multiplying “like the locusts of Egypt,” had threatened “the safety of woman, of childhood, [and] the home.” Such an onslaught necessitated a vigorous defense, she believed, often by men in white sheets. A pioneering black journalist and suffragist named Ida B. Wells had the temerity to confront Willard. But Willard and other white feminists were unapologetic and attacked Wells. She had transgressed a bedrock principle of the nascent women’s movement: Women don’t criticize other women. They stand in solidarity.
One morning last August, Kendall, who is black, had Ida Wells in mind as she debated whether or not to violate this principle. An aspiring writer and full-time office worker for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Chicago, Kendall was curled up on a red love seat in the living room of her Hyde Park apartment, her computer perched on a small lap desk. She was thinking about “cuss[ing] out” Jill Filipovic, a white feminist writer and editor with whom Kendall had a Twitter beef. The origins of said beef are baroque and often confusing and always of the “(s)he tweeted, she tweeted variety.” To follow its thread requires one to know (and care) about the Twitter doings of a defrocked male feminist named Hugo Schwyzer, a young woman who goes by the Twitter handle @Blackamazon, and whether or not Filipovic had expressed support for the former at the expense of the latter. But the real import was Kendall’s belief that white feminists—not necessarily Filipovic, a reasonable sort who makes a poor target—behave in a Willardesque fashion and go unchallenged because of that same historical call to solidarity.
Kendall chose not to curse at Filipovic and instead drafted a hashtag: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. The slogan meant to reference the long history of internecine feminist discord, one in which black women are obliged to suppress their needs in defense of white prerogatives. She began riffing on #Solidarity, again and again and again, in more than 40 tweets: “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when you ignore the culpability of white women in lynching, Jim Crow, & in modern day racism”; “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when you idolize Susan B. Anthony & claim her racism didn’t matter”; “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when feminist discussions of misogyny in music ignore the lyrics of [the Rolling Stones song] Brown Sugar.”
She knocked out scores of Tweets in an hour, tapping the rich vein of black female marginalization until Twitter locked her out for over-tweeting. (This, apparently, is possible.) So she hopped off the couch and made herself a snack. By the time she returned to her computer she was famous.
Photo Real – Molly Crabapple on Photoshop, Feminism, and Truth
Two weeks ago, Jezebel published un-retouched outtakes of Lady Gaga’s Versace campaign.
Without Photoshop, Gaga’s wig was more wig-like, her makeup flat beige, but she was the same skinny, strong-nosed chameleon that Stephani Germanotta has always been. The outtakes were not interesting but showing celebrities without Photoshop is Jezebel’s brand.
Jezebel exploded in popularity in 2007 by offering a $10,000 bounty for originals of Faith Hill’s Redbook cover. The raw photos proved the magazine had liquefied the star’s waist, softened her nasiolabial folds, and brutalized her elbow into a bendy tube. This January, with more controversy, Jezebel paid another $10,000 for the originals of Lena Dunham’sVogue cover shoot. Those revealed only a tidied dress.
Jezebel’s is a feminism that seeks its scapegoat in altered images. To refrain from Photoshop is girl-positive marketing gold. Dove Campaign for Real Beauty delights itself by putting out fake filters that chide retouchers. Magazines sign “No Photoshop” pledges. Clothing companies crow that they’ve never taken a clone-stamp to their models’ thighs.
To these feminists, Photoshop is to blame to unrealistic body standards, poor self-esteem, and anorexia in teenage girls. The campaign against Photoshop is the perfect cause for white, middle-class women whose primary problem is feeling their bodies do not match an increasingly surreal media ideal.
Photoshop, the belief goes, takes a true record of a moment, and turns it into an oppressive lie.
But fuck Photoshop. Photos are already lies.
Watch VICE Profiles: Slut-Shaming Preacher
In August of last year, campus preacher Brother Dean Saxton caused outrage after preaching at the University of Arizona and holding a sign that read, “YOU DESERVE RAPE.”
This is typical behavior for Dean, who believes, among other things, that women shouldn’t be allowed to attend university, that feminism is evil, and that immodestly dressed women are asking to be raped.
VICE went to Arizona to meet up with Dean as he was preparing to protest the screening of a documentary about a rape survivor.
VICE Profiles is a weekly window into our eccentric and idiosyncratic world. Check back for new episodes every Monday.
I Love Wolf-Whistles and Catcalls, Am I a Bad Feminist?
Last summer I went to Ibiza, Spain, where I was catcalled, sexually objectified, and treated like a piece of meat by men the entire week. And it was absolutely awesome. It got to the point where I couldn’t even be bothered to follow any of it up. Every time some hot guy got fresh with me, I just thought, OK, I could fuck you, but there might be some even hotter stud serving it up later. I guess it’s like when I used to live by the sea and never got around to going swimming. It was just always there, you know? You forget to get wet.
So forgive me, looking around this misery we call London, England in March, for feeling a little sad that I’m not in Ibiza, Land of Sexual Objectification. I love catcalls. I love car toots. I love random men smiling “Hello beautiful!” like my mere presence just made their day. I like being called “princess” and ignoring them as I giggle inside. I like being eye-fucked on the escalator and wondering if I’ve just made him spring a boner. That eye-fuck, by the way, is an age-old mating signal. I live for it.
So yeah, I’m a bit of a slut. I also used to be a prostitute. And before that, well, a boy. Uh-huh. And I’m a total attention junkie. So I may not represent all women. Who does, though? I’m a feminist because I don’t like men telling me how to think or behave or experience the world and I don’t like women doing it, either. Laura Bates recently wrote an article for the Guardian called “Women Should Not Accept Street Harassment as ‘Just a Compliment.’” I truly admire the work Laura does with Everyday Sexism to highlight some horrendous abuse, and you should visit the site and check out some of the shit people have had to deal with. It’s awful. And she’s not wrong. No one should accept harassment. Harassment, by its very nature, is unacceptable. But is catcalling always harassment?