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Month: August 2014

The Sexual Violence of Non-consensual Nudity

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Nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and several other young female celebrities were leaked on the internet today. That one sentence will elicit several responses. Some people will rush off to Google, to sate their curiosity. Some people will gleeful denounce her as a “slut” or think something to the effect of, “Well, she shouldn’t have taken them if she didn’t want people to see.” And only a very few people will feel sympathy for her, and recognize what distributing nude photographs without the subject’s express consent truly is: sexual assault.

The subject of nude selfies isn’t new. It’s been covered from so many angles, it’s practically a dodecahedron. Underaged girls sending their underaged boyfriends explicit photos of themselves have been accused of producing child pornography. Men sending unsolicited pictures of their genitals via text message has become so commonplace as to become the new normal. And if there’s a hot young actress or singer who hasn’t yet bared her body to our collective gaze through traditional media, there’s almost always discussion of how she’ll look “when her nudes leak.” We’ve become a society that feels entitled to the nudity of others; consent is not required, just as long as we get our fill of flesh.

The moment Lawrence’s private photos went on public display, social media erupted. Some Twitter users praised her body. Some criticized her figure. Neither seems an appropriate reaction to a gross invasion of privacy. Others bemoaned the low quality of the photos; this line of reasoning implies that if Lawrence was going to pose in the buff, she should have had the courtesy to provide us with the highest calibre revenge porn.

An overwhelming majority–mostly male–responded with images implying that they had ejaculated upon seeing the pictures, and jokes about uncontrollable masturbation. Confusing their personal sexual gratification for a genuine compliment seems to be the particular forte of heterosexual men. Some excitedly shared those images, but announced that they’d lost respect for the actress for taking the pictures they were so shamelessly enjoying.

Victim blaming runs thick in situations such as these. “If she didn’t want those pictures on the internet, she shouldn’t have taken them.” In other words, the price of these women’s private expressions of sexuality and joyous celebration of their bodies is public humiliation. Very little is said about the people stealing and releasing these photos, beyond the occasional words of gratitude to them for serving up what we are presumably owed.

“Don’t send nudes,” we tell our daughters, rather than telling our sons, “Don’t violate the privacy of a woman who trusted you enough to share herself with you in a playfully sexual context.” We don’t teach our children not to revel in revenge porn, we teach them to put boundaries on their sexual expression, to hide their bodies away, because that’s where the real shame is. Baring another human on a public stage for ridicule and critique is an excusable, even understandable, action.

We don’t tell our sons, “Don’t send people photos of your penis if they haven’t told you they’re okay with it.” It has become commonplace for men to send photos of their genitals in misguided attempts to woo potential partners, or to retaliate against some perceived wrong a woman has inflicted upon them. Why these men see romance and spite as two scenarios deserving of the same response is never examined. In fact, many men seem utterly baffled when their advances aren’t welcomed. “What do you mean you don’t want to see my penis? What are you, some kind of uptight feminist? Some kind of lesbian?”

Perhaps the most offensive aspect of our conflicting attitudes toward nudity and the importance of consent is that while women are derided for their own exploitation, the actions of a man forcing images of his genitals upon his victims are utterly erased when the tables are turned and his behavior is exposed.

As with all cases of sexual violence against women, we look so hard for ways to place responsibility on the victim, or to minimize the harm done to her. “It’s not rape rape,” people will argue. “It’s not like it hurt her.” Having aggressive male sexuality forced upon them is something women are expected to ignore, no matter how degraded they feel. Seeing their bodies thrown on the pyre of public scrutiny is something they deserve, their nude photos the scarlet letter that will brand them for the sin of having sexual urges or confidence in their bodies. “It serves her right, for treating a nice guy like dirt,” we say of revenge porn. “She was a bitch,” is accepted as reasonable justification for inflicting sexual harm.

Sharing photos of naked partners who did not consent to the release of their image, or sending explicit photos to people who did not consent to view them, is sexual violence. If a man walked up to a woman on the street and exposed himself, he would be arrested. If someone broke into another person’s house and took something that didn’t belong to them, it would be theft. A man who bragged about spying on a naked woman and masturbating while doing so may find himself on a public registry of sex offenders. Until we consider the violation of our digital privacy on par with the violation of our physical spaces, we perpetuate a cycle that encourages us to view female sexuality with scorn, and overt displays of sexual aggression from men as normal. There are only three appropriate responses to this problem: disgust at the perpetrators, unconditional support for the victims, and refusal to reward with praise and attention those who find entertainment in the exploitation and humiliation of women.

Merlin Club S03E05 “The Crystal Cave” or “Ewww OH MY GOD THAT’S HER DAD? That’s fucking gross, dude! AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO’S GROSSED OUT HERE?”

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Merlin club is a weekly feature in which Jessica Jarman, Bronwyn Green, and myself gather at 8pm EST to watch an episode of the amazing BBC series Merlin, starring Colin Morgan and literally nobody else I care about except Colin Morgan.

Okay, I lie. A lot of other really cool people are in it, too.

Anyway, we watch the show, we tweet to the hashtag #MerlinClub, and on Fridays we share our thoughts about the episode we watched earlier in the week.

Best Of: Recent Spam Comments

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Of all the dubious titles that fall under the umbrella designation of “Blog Owner,” “Comment Moderator” is probably my least favorite. See, back when I was running off of Word Press’s own site, and not running my own site with a WP plug-in, I never had to worry about spam comments. They just kind of slipped into a net of Word Press’s own design, and if I did get one, I could just magically remove it.

Now, things are different. I have to go in and moderate my spam comments, because comments from you get sucked in there, sometimes. That’s not so bad, but if I want to avoid the comments, say on some really contentious post about a pop song that I didn’t realize was a holy text or something, I can’t do that. I have to go in and sort them out. And I approve them all, even if they’re nasty and rude, because I don’t want to be that disingenuous person who tries to make it seem like everyone believes the sun shines out of her ass.

There is one good part of spam comment moderating. I get to read all the spam comments. Usually, you can tell if it’s spam from the dummy email address, which will invariably have “Louis Vuitton” or “Oakley Cheap” in them. But sometimes, oh, sometimes, you strike spam comment gold:

outside Mike Rust’s ramshackle compound tucked into the base of Copper Butte, you can just make out Great Sand Dunes National Park, 60 miles east across Colorado’s expansive San Luis Valley. The dunes form when southwest winds whip up sand on the valley floor that was left behind when ancient lakes receded. Here a saddle in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains stalls the gusts, allowing the sands to accumulate.

That’s downright poetic, for something attached to a comment pushing knock-off Nikes.

Sometimes, spam shows up to make you feel good about yourself:

Hurrah, that’s what I was exploring for, what a material!

existing here at this webpage, thanks admin of this website.

You’re welcome, Spamtron3000! It’s nice to feel appreciated.

If you’re trying to plan an event, spam comments are there for you, too:

I’m not kidding myself. My voice alone is just an ordinary voice. What people come to see is how I use it. Invitations are your chance to make a great first impression on your guests. Use homemade rock themed invitations to set the party off on the right note. A simple ticket design is ideal for a rock party.

Huh. I’ve never thought of throwing a rock party. But the philosophical bent at the beginning of the comment makes me realize that if I use my ordinary voice, alone, I am never truly alone, because I have lots of friends at my party:

This club is jumpin' off tonight! (That's a thing youths say, right?)
This club is jumpin’ off tonight! (That’s a thing youths say, right?)

At other times, I’m disturbed by the dystopian hell-world these comments describe:

officials told Newswatch 16 this error around the time of the fire may lead to a personnel issue. Right now, they aren talking about what specifically happened. Should die. In their shows they tossed hula hoops into the audience, encouraging people to do the hoop dance (13). The new combination of music dance and fitness weight loss exercises (especially music videos) has made the fitness programs more appealing to the people. Especially, the people who were not internally motivated enough to do physical exercises routinely on a daily or weekly basis became more interested in doing physical exercise by joining the group dance fitness programs.

Wait, so… did “the hoop dance” start the fire? Are the people who are are doing the hoop dance the ones who “Should die.”? Or the people who are enforcing the hoop dancing? I’m so confused, and frankly, pretty frightened.

Other comments find my already dense, novel-length posts too brief for their liking:

I do trust all the ideas you have presented for your post.
They are very convincing and can definitely work.

Nonetheless, the posts are very brief for novices.
Could you please lengthen them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

Awww yeah. Spambot can’t get enough of the J.

The J, by the way, is like my version of “the D.” Because I’m Peggy Hill and I have to change everything to say my name in it.

Spam comments may seem pretty useless, but check this out:

North Korea relies heavily on China for food and fuel aid and many consumer products. Chinese companies are the main investors in North Korean mining, and the sides recently signed agreements on road building and jointly developing an industrial park on an island near the Chinese city of Dandong.

See? You didn’t know that before. I’m not sure if it’s true, and I don’t know when I’ll use this information, but now I know it! It may have replaced something important in the finite storage capacity of my brain–WHEE! I DON’T KNOW LONG DIVISION ANYMORE!–but it was free learnin’ and you can’t get much better than that.

The next time you see me on twitter, raging about the sometimes ridiculous, pretentious, often hateful and degrading comments I have to plow through to separate the real people wheat from the spam chaff, don’t worry about me. I have a bunch of delightful spam to experience. And a rock party to throw.

Merlin Club S03E04, “Gwaine” or “MY SHIP HAS COME IN”

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Merlin club is a weekly feature in which Jessica Jarman, Bronwyn Green, and myself gather at 8pm EST to watch an episode of the amazing BBC series Merlin, starring Colin Morgan and literally nobody else I care about except Colin Morgan.

Okay, I lie. A lot of other really cool people are in it, too.

Anyway, we watch the show, we tweet to the hashtag #MerlinClub, and on Fridays we share our thoughts about the episode we watched earlier in the week.

State of The Trout: Going Away. Again. Whee.

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This is just a quick note to let you all know that I’m going away on family vacation this week. Does it seem like I’m constantly traveling? If it does, it’s probably just because I’m CONSTANTLY TRAVELING. After September, I think I have a whole month where I don’t have to leave or do anything.

The Merlin Club post will go up as scheduled on Friday, but I’ll be absent for #MerlinClub on Monday night because the hotel we’re staying in on Mackinac Island doesn’t have wifi.

In other news, I was on a local daytime show in Grand Rapids, MI this past week:

Notice that super cool dress? That’s from The next time you see me on TV, I’ll be wearing ModCloth, because they’ve graciously offered to dress me.

When I get back from vacation, I’ll have pictures of my recent cosplays, a new chapter of The Afflicted, and hopefully another Buffy recap.

More About That Bass

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Comments on this post are also closed: This is why we can’t have nice things.

Comments on the original “All About That Bass” post are closed: I’ve elected to close those comments after a threat I received on my Facebook author page. The comments have now been removed, but here’s a screencap so you can see why I’m basically 100% done with that post and anyone’s thoughts on it (you’ll have to click on the image to see it full-sized):

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 5.22.01 PM

I think it’s fair to say that since comments disagreeing with this story have been so passionate as to sometimes cross into vitriol, and now have escalated into threats, I’m not overreacting in shutting them down. Especially since Facebook has not responded to my concerns with anything other than a form letter to let me know that they don’t answer their email. I guess if I disappear mysteriously, you’ll know what happened to me. In the event of my death by skinning,  send updates to Facebook. They won’t read them or respond to them, because they couldn’t care less.

Clarification on my comments regarding reconstructive surgery after mastectomy: A few people have expressed concerns about this portion of the “I’m Not All About That Bass” post:

Why is it that we don’t view breast implants as body modification on the same scale as piercings or tattoos? I have this crazy feeling that it has something to do with misogyny. Maybe because the primary objective of breast implants is to conform to a specific cultural standard? How is that different from piercing your septum?

I know how it’s different. Men pierce shit, too! Plastic surgery is viewed as a way for women to make themselves more sexually desirable to heterosexual men for as far into their lives as possible. Even reconstructive plastic surgery after breast cancer fulfills this role; when performed for the patient’s personal comfort, it’s still done to uphold the standard that all women must have breasts (well hello, transmisogyny!), which is what’s making that patient uncomfortable in the first place. To be clear, I’m not shaming anyone for having any elective cosmetic surgery for any reason, just defining our world view and cultural expectations of breasts in this context.”

When I first started receiving comments from women who were angry that I’d said all women who have elective breast reconstruction post-mastectomy were doing so to be sexually attractive, once I went back and read it I realized that I had not worded the passage carefully enough. I do not believe that every woman goes into breast reconstruction thinking, “I’m doing this to be sexy again.” I realize that to many women, losing their breasts is traumatic, and they’re choosing reconstruction because they want to feel whole or remove the reminder of what they went through as best they can. Some have made the argument for balance and posture issues in the case of partial mastectomy, which I’m not dismissing at all . The point I was trying to make, before I messed it all up in clumsy wording, is that replacement of any non-essential body part with a new, non-functioning version of that body part for cosmetic reasons is due to our cultural perception of how bodies “should” look.

If we lose a leg, we get a prosthesis so we can walk again. If we lose a hand, we might get a little claw. These are body parts that help our bodies to function, and the function can be more or less restored using these things. But if we lose our nose, we can’t replace it with a new nose that can perform the same function our old one did. When we have reconstructive surgery to return our bodies to a “whole” or “normal” looking state, we’re doing so because of deeply ingrained expectations of what a human being looks like. This is not a judgment against people who elect to have these surgeries. It is an observation and condemnation of cultural biases we do not notice about ourselves and which we have no control over. I’m not saying this should change so that women are unable to receive reconstruction. I’m not wagging a finger at women and saying, “You shouldn’t do this, it makes you vain.” I understand the reasons a woman would have reconstruction. I absolutely would have one, because not having breasts would make me feel, as many women do, like something about me was missing. But I would not be making this decision without any cultural conditioning that tells me that an important piece is missing. I would be making this decision specifically because of that cultural conditioning. If it were my nose, or my ear, or the removal of a facial scar or a mole, I would be doing it for the same reason. There is no possible way to make a decision about how our bodies look that does not have something to do with our expectations for how bodies should look. When people lose fingers, it’s less common to get a prosthetic one for cosmetic reasons. Do you know why? Because we don’t place as much aesthetic value on our fingers as we do our faces and our breasts.

Reiterating: having reconstruction does not make a woman bad, vain, shallow, or stupid, but no woman is making this decision with a mind devoid of awareness of cultural expectations.

If you disagree with this, or you still believe that by saying this I’m pointing fingers at women who choose reconstructive surgery, then I can’t prove further that I’m not, and this is pretty much the last thing I have to say on the subject.

Women who have had breast cancer and who have opted not to have reconstructive surgery share their views on gender expectations and how they played into their decision to forego reconstruction, and you can find their work here:

“Cover Your Boobs Whether You Have Them or Not”
“Life After Mastectomy and The Choice Against Reconstruction”
“I Chose to Live as a Flat Chested Woman”
“The Sum of All My Parts: A Guest Post on Feminism, Breast Cancer Awareness, and More”

None of these women have suggested that no one get reconstructive surgery, nor do they shame the women who decide to. But to overlook their valid points about how they’ve been treated due to their appearance post-mastectomy would be just as bad as making that judgement against the women who choose reconstruction.

If you didn’t agree that the song reinforces misogynistic cultural tropes, have a listen:

 Former X-Factor competitors Emblem3 have covered “All About That Bass.” See how you feel about lines like, “Us guys like a little more booty to hold at night,” and “It’s pretty clear she ain’t no size two/but she can shake it shake it/the way she’s supposed to do,” when you’re listening to young men sing them.

Not only do they reinforce they original tropes that made the song so problematic in the first place, they up the ante on the misogyny and body shaming by changing lyrics to say things like, “She’s bringing booty back/go ahead and tell those skinny bitches that/no more joking/never say you’re fat,” and “My father once told me don’t worry about her size.” Are we supposed to applaud this? It’s positive to hear young men trash “skinny bitches,” just so some women can feel better about not fulfilling a standard of beauty they’re longing for? How’s that body positivity working out for you, women who showed up in the comments to tell me I’m the one doing the shaming?

Also, Emblem3, rethink your policy of covering songs by female artists and making them all about you. It makes you look like assholes.

If you liked the message behind “All About That Bass,” try this instead: Many commenters who disagreed with me suggested I was either a frustrated singer/songwriter who couldn’t make it, or that I should write a song and make it better than Meghan Trainors. As I am not a singer/songwriter, I can neither be frustrated by my non-existent failed music career, nor can I write a song, because I lack the necessary skills and education needed to do so. However, I can recommend some body positive songs that should make you feel as good, if not better than, what you’re hearing in “All About That Bass.”

I wanted to make this list longer, but it seems like it’s impossible for a woman to write a song about accepting our bodies without relying on the validation of the male gaze.

And now, I’m done talking about this song. When I wrote that piece, I had no idea that I would receive more outright hate mail in a few weeks than I did when I tore apart Fifty Shades of Grey over the course of two years, or when I wrote about Jennifer Lawrence and it wasn’t to fall all over myself loving how she falls all over. Congratulations, Meghan Trainor stans. You’re officially 100,000 times more frightening and unbalanced than 50 Shades readers and JLaw fans combined. That’s really, really saying something.

Still at AAD, but I had to share this.

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I just found this spam comment in moderation, and it’s AMAZING:

This is because CCS Elementary School is said to be haunted by the ghost of an elderly women was murdered in the building. It may be just an urban legend, but it is said that she was pushed down a staircase, where she lay in a heap until her murderer picked up her lifeless body and placed it in the dumpster out back.

WTF, spam comment. Don’t leave me hanging. What happened next?!

State of The Trout: Yet Another Whirl-Wind Travel Adventure

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Hey everybody! This is a head’s up to tell you that I’ll be gone from Tuesday until next Monday at the Author’s After Dark conference in Charlotte, NC. In the meantime, comments that go into moderation will probably not get moderated, because I’ll be hob-nobbing with all the reader elite, and desperately hoping someone buys my books.

• Are you in the Charlotte, NC, area? I’ll be signing books at a huge, multi-author book fair at the Westin Charlotte (601 S College St) on Saturday, August 9th, from 2-4pm. The signing is free, and there are going to be a lot of authors. I think like, well over a hundred.

• The  Afflicted chapter four is now available on Wattpad.

• If Ever I Would Leave You is on sale for $0.99 at Amazon and Smashwords. It’s still not available at other retailers, but you can get every format you could possibly need at Smashwords. It will eventually be available in broader distribution.

And… well, I guess that’s about it. Huh. I thought for sure I had more news this week. Guess I didn’t.