saya woolfalk!
February 3, 2010, 1:16 am
Filed under: artsy art | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tonight I went to see the lecture by Saya Woolfalk and it got me thinking about art, the fetishism of otherness, and white guilt.

Saya makes amazing work about utopia, or what she calls “no place”. She works with ideas of fables and stories as a place where people can try different realities and possibilities. Her work used to be very much about gender and race in an overt way. She used to include images of genitalia and tropes of blackness in her art but she found that instead of questioning issues of race or gender they reinforced them.

I am sure her process is much more complicated than this, but she then decided to create “no place”, a utopia of how the world could be, populated by beings that can fluctuate through gender and color. Saya is herself Japanese, Caucasian and African American, so the sense of having to think about identity and race seems very personal. I related very much to that, the sense of being other, of not fitting, of being part of identities that are societally disconnected.

What I started wondering about once I got out of the lecture has not much to do with Saya’s work per se, but the bigger questions of people that are identified as “other” somehow being successful within the art world.

I would even venture to say that there is a sense of otherness being exotic, and desirable. If a gallery/museum/ art institution is exhibition work from a white anglo dude, than boring boring boring. It’s all about finding the most other, the farthest away from the canon. Though it seems that there is a positive change in whose voices are heard, I can’t help to also feel ill at ease.

Are the “others” just being fetishised? Are “others” becoming some sort of collective superficial riddance of white guilt? I am always weary of being seen as an exotic other, and I am especially weary of space that seems to be given to me because of it.

I have not talked to other people who are not white, not American, or straight or whatever other deviance from normalcy about feeling fetishised, or feeling used , but I am very interested to know how “successful” artists feel about this, or if it’s something that they think about.

open fire
August 7, 2009, 2:11 am
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oona and florence came back from italy today, and they are enormous, overgrown children, smallish adults. talking different, walking different, but also the same.

they are exiting kid and entering the amorphous zone in which a lot of things feel uncomfortable, including me. florence’s body is changing already – bumps sprouting and all, and it is so scary, and also great. 

this week a man killed three women in pittsburgh in a premeditated murderous spree that he outlined on his blog, a morbid pathways to his mind, and a source of endless fascination for the sensationalist media in the past couple of days. he opened fire because he hated women. simple as that.

he hated women because they would not sleep with him or have a relationship with him. a relationship he felt entitled to have , an entitlement that brought him to believe that women were at fault from holding back what was righteously his.

this was going through my mind as i sat across the dinner table from my daughter today. not a kid anymore really, not protected by the lack of sexualization of childhood, but a very soon woman to be. a target.

thinking that i moved across an ocean to give them more space, to let them and me become more than just what an overly sexist society was allowing us to be. now i look at them, and i am not so sure that we are safer here, or have more choices, or freedom. 

maybe the acceptable roles are different, but american society is not one were equality exists, not for women, not for people of color, or poor people or queer folks. but sexism is what seems to be so pervasive that it becomes invisible. it is ridiculed and trivialized, co-opted by ad companies, ignored by the media, even though a man living in such society felt it was ok to kill women, because he hated them. he is dismissed as a maniac, a deranged individual, no matter the fact that gender violence is happening all the time. 

i want to take my daughters and find somewhere safe, somewhere i know no one will cause them harm, but it’s impossible. i know that the only way for them to be safer is to change the conditions that would bring someone to have a sense that women are less then, that they are disposable, and that they exist to fulfill men’s needs or else they deserve to be hurt.

i feel engulfed by it sometimes, i see it all around me, and i have to force myself to remember that so many people are doing so many things to create a less fucked up world. they just don’t make the news

more Q&A

i am trying to post more questions from students as i get them, because there see, to be a never ending avalanche of them, and it is often a challenge for me to try to answer in a way that feels appropriate and thoughtful, accurate and helpful…

so there:

  1. Why are guys into sex at a young age (13)? Why are men more sexually attracted to porn than women?

These two questions are similar and both ask about men and boy’s feelings about sex.

Not all guys are into sex. There is a lot of pressure on guys to act or speak as if they were really interested in sex. We talked about gender and different messages we get from society on the first day we were there, and saw that for a guy it is expected to like girls, and to care a lot about sex. A guy might not really care or know much about sex and still feel like he has to talk/act as if he does, to get attention or to feel accepted by his peers. Similarly, it is more accepted for men in our society to use porn. Every person’s sexual desire is different and personal, and should be respected.

  1. Has anyone received threats while staying at the middle way?

Shelter was created as a safe place for women and children to live away from violence. The middle way staff and volunteers put in their best efforts to make it a welcoming and comfortable environment for the residents. We keep information about residents confidential, and respect their privacy. We also have specific plans to respond to threats or to abusers looking survivors at shelter.

  1. Why do people rape? Why do men rape more that women?

That’s a really good question! We talked a bit about that already. People assault mostly because they want to feel in control of another person, and have power over them. Many times people that rape/assault feel entitled to force someone to have sex with them, many times because they feel that they are better than the other person because of sexism, classism, or racism. Unfortunately we live in a society where rape and sexual assault are sometimes seen as acceptable and not a big deal. It’s up to all of us to change that, and to push for a society where people engage in healthy behaviors, and see each other’s as equals.

There can be many different answers to the question of why men assault more than women, and some research has been done to try to find out why rapists decide to assault. The most accurate answer I can give goes back to the ideas of gender we talked about on the first day, when we did the girl and boy box activity. Many boys and men still grow up in an environment that teaches them to be aggressive, insensitive and to see women as less then them. Interviews and studies done on rapists show that the vast majority of rapists hold very traditional beliefs about gender, and feel that having sex is their right, no matter what the person that they raped wanted .

    As Lisa Vetten , the Gender Co-ordinator of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in South Africa explains: “men rape because they believe they have the right to control and to punish women who do not obey their rules of behavior. Rape is an expression of unequal power relations between men and women. Such unequal power relations are not the result of nature or evolution but societies which, through legislation and social custom, have made women second-class citizens”
    I want to make it clear that even though men account for over 95% or rapes (Kats, 2006), most men don’t rape. Since most rapists are men though, men are in a unique position to help in the movement against sexual violence. I am attaching a few resources from men’s organizations committed to ending gender violence.


  1. Approach gender violence as a MEN’S issue involving men of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. View men not only as perpetrators or possible offenders, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers
  2. If a brother, friend, classmate, or teammate is abusing his female partner — or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general — don’t look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to him about it. Urge him to seek help. Or if you don’t know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a teacher, or a counselor. DON’T REMAIN SILENT.
  3. Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don’t be defensive when something you do or say ends up hurting someone else. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.
  4. If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help.
  5. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help NOW.
  6. Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence. Support the work of campus-based women’s centers. Attend “Take Back the Night” rallies and other public events. Raise money for community-based rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters. If you belong to a team or fraternity, or another student group, organize a fundraiser.
  7. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays are wrong in and of themselves. This abuse also has direct links to sexism (eg. the sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned, a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them. This is a key reason few men do so).
  8. Attend programs, take courses, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence.  Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between individual men and women.
  9. Don’t fund sexism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any Web site, or buy any music that portrays girls or women in a sexually degrading or abusive manner. Protest sexism in the media.
  10. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men’s programs. Lead by example

Copyright 1999, Jackson Katz.
Reprint freely with credit.

  1. How many calls do you get about rape?

It really depends; some weeks are busier than others, especially around the start of the school year and little 500. We have gotten as many as 10/15 calls in a week, or none at times. In 2007 we had about 70 calls to the hospital.

  1. What should you do if someone is trying to rape you?

Every person has a different reaction to being assaulted. There is not one “right” way to react. Some people freeze, and become really still during the assault because of fear, some cry, some try to push the perpetrator away. It’s important to listen to your instincts. Many people that are raped say that they felt uncomfortable with the person and unsafe even before the assault happened. If you feel unsafe/uncomfortable with someone leave the situation if you can, call a friend or trusted adult. And whatever happens know that it is not your fault, the person that decided to hurt you is responsible for it!

Here are some more general tips from the University of California rape Prevention Center.

  • Know the real picture. Most rapes (85%) are committed by non-strangers and in familiar, social situations.
  • Men who rape usually try to gain trust to test your boundaries.
  • Trust your very first feeling of uneasiness.
  • Don’t dismiss that feeling.
  • Act on it by firmly saying “no”, “leave me alone” or leave if necessary.
  • Don’t worry about hurting feelings or appearing rude.
  • Use a strong, serious voice. Don’t plead or play cute.
  • Don’t apologize.
  • Look for others to assist if you need to.
  • If the aggressor is an intimate partner, tell them in a serious tone that you are not comfortable and want them to stop. Now.
  • Believe in your right to your own body.

  • Be aware that men who rape often use alcohol to exploit your vulnerability. They tend to try to make you drink more than you intended.
  • Keep in control of your drinking.
  • Don’t leave a drink unattended, or accept a drink that someone else has given you. Most times this is harmless, but you are trying to avoid the one time it isn’t.
  • Think ahead. Have a safe way to get home already planned.
  • If in a group, plan ahead to watch out for one another.
  • If a friend looks as though she or he is losing control, step in and take care of them.
  • If a friend is harassing women, make it your concern.
  • Remember you cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys by appearance or good looks.
  • Watch out for someone who is pressuring you; who keeps giving you drinks; who wants to get you alone; who guilt trips you if you are reluctant.
    Don’t be afraid to ask for help if someone is making you feel threatened.
  1. How do boys rape boys (like physically how)? How do girls rape girls?

Remember that when we talked about rape we clarified that rape is any non-consensual intercourse. It can happen if someone pressures, threatens or tricks another person, and not just with physical force.  The law says that rape is any unwanted intercourse, meaning any unwanted vaginal or anal penetration.

  1. If someone is over the age of 18 and has sex with a 16 yr old, can the parents do anything about it since the 16 year old is under the age of consent, but still a minor?
    The legal age for consent in Indiana is 16 years old. Legally speaking a person that is 16 can consent to sexual activity. However, we discussed how there is more to consent than just the legal factors of being 16, sober, and awake. Consent is giving permission, meaning that a person has the information and the time to think in order to make a decision they are happy with. In a relationship where one partner is much older than the other, it can be difficult to maintain an equal relationship, and it may be easier for the younger person to feel pressured, or to be manipulated. Your parents or guardians are legally responsible for you until you turn 18, so they have the legal right to stop you from seeing someone that they don’t approve of. However they could not press charges against the person that is over 18 if the sex was consensual and you are over 16.
  1. Does the middle way help people in romantic relationships who are having problems but no evidence?
    Absolutely! In the majority of cases there is little evidence, in the traditional sense of DNA or witnesses, for sexual assault and rape. We support and advocate for anyone that needs it, and we believe what people say. Our role is not to prove crimes or question people, but to empower, support, and advocate for you.
  1. How many sexual assault cases happen and go to Bloomington hospital in a year? How many are female and how many are male?
    It is really difficult to figure out how many cases of sexual assault happen every year, because sexual assault is a widely underreported crime. In terms of the Middle way, we have gotten as many as 10/15 calls in a week for sexual assault and rape, or none at times. In 2007 we had about 70 calls to the hospital fro sexual assault.
    The majority of people that call for sexual assault are female, but we get calls from males also sometimes.
  1. What is the best was to fight or stop a situation that is going the wrong way?
    It’s hard to answer this question because it’s a bit vague. We discussed the difference between fighting and arguing. Healthy disagreements and discussion can happen between people and are characterized by open communication, listening, and feeling safe around the person you are arguing with. If someone is using intimidation, put downs, cuss words, and violence than it’s unhealthy and scary. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their relationships.
    In terms of stopping a situation that is going the wrong way, if someone is being violent towards you it’s their choice to do that, and they are responsible for stopping themselves.
    If the violence is happening to you, you have every right to be safe and to be in a healthy relationship. There can be many options to get out of a violent situation: You can decide to call for the police or if you are at school, you can call a teacher that you trust. If you see someone getting inappropriate attention you can also engage them directly and ask them if they are ok, if they need help or resources. You can also simply tell the assaulter to stop, many times people that assault rely on everyone around them being silent about what is going on, and calling attention to it can be a powerful deterrent. And remember the crisis line and the middle way resources are there for you.
  1. Does your “cherry” pop the first time for every girl?
    From the Sinclair Intimacy and Health Institute (Copyright 2002)
    The hymen, colloquially referred to as “the cherry”, has historically been a marker of a woman’s virginity. The belief that since the hymen blocked the vaginal opening, it should remain intact as long as a woman did not have sexual intercourse was widely propagated, especially in cultures where a woman’s virginity was highly valued.
    But it is scientific fact that the hymen can be separated for reasons quite unconnected to sexual intercourse. It can separate when the body is stretched strenuously, as in athletics; it can be separated by inserting a tampon during menstruation or through masturbation; and sometimes it is separated for no apparent reason.

A separated hymen is not an indication of having had intercourse, nor can it prove a loss of virginity. When the hymen is separated, whether during first intercourse or at some other time, there may be some slight bleeding and a little pain. Both the bleeding and the pain are quite normal and both usually stop after a short time. Some women experience no discomfort at all during this process that is commonly referred to as “losing your cherry”.

movie night

so i went to watch slumdog millionaire and the wrestler, which were both excellent movies. but that is another story. the one i want to tell tonight begins and ends even before the movie starts. 

first i was hit by an AXE special valentine’s day commercial11246_axe_chocolateman :







where a man turns into chocolate after spraying axe and, of course, is eaten alive by many, hot , young, extremely horny girls. everyone knows men only want sex and women are all hot for it.

so that made me mad already. it was a slap in the face for anyone that is trying to discuss and break down the fucked up stereotypes about gender that seem to saturate the media. 

then a trailer for the new movie “Obsessed” followedobsessedmovie







in which women are portrayed as psycho bitches that drug and rape men. it’s scary. not the fact that the movie is a thriller, but the extent to which gender violence can be misrepresented. from the trailer what i could make up is that the story involves a man with a happy family life and a successful career, ruined by his one time mistress that obsessively stalks, drugs hi, rapes him, and then goes on to ruin his life and marital happiness. again it made me even wonder how i can get up in the morning and do what i do and not feel completely hopeless.

but the grand finale was kid rock’s “warrior” clipkid_rock2








which is a 5 minutes long ad for the national guards in which images of iraq, nascar racing, and kid rock singing are juxtaposed to words reading things like

citizen- soldier – i am a member of a team – i will never accept defeat – i am the guardian of freedom

all the people shown are men, men that in order to be real men have to be soldiers, not just citizens, warriors ready to defend whatever idea of freedom sold.

the icing on the cake was the insane depiction of Iraqi children, playing in the middle of an obvious staged middle east.scaredforeignboy 








they kids are such a caricature of what an american person might imagine an Iraqi child looking like. one of the kids had big blue, innocent eyes, and very caucasian/european features. is that to indicate that he is “good”?

it’s so messed up i can’t even begin to understand it.

in the video the children kick the ball in the middle of the street as a U.S. convoy arrives. they are scared but the good soldier comes out of the tank and kicks the ball back with a smile. really?

so that was my pre movie experience, and i had to write about it, because i know i am not the only one being subjected to this. it hurts. it hurts to know that for every person i talk to about gender, race, class, entitlement and stereotyping there is an avalanche of messages reinforcing fucked up mis-representations that feed into the cycle of violence and injustice.

but as a woman, whose name i can’t recall,  told me at the CR10 conference “this ain’t no time to get tired”

just one dance
January 22, 2009, 10:42 pm
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as i was watching the dance between michelle and barak obama while beyonce sang “at last”, i could not help but have my gender lens on and rejoicing.

I have heard many of my friends and acquaintances talk about their weariness with the idea that obama will be able to single handily create positive change, or mend many of the fucked up realities going on around the world, and i find myself amongst their midst, hopeful but without a hint of cynicism.

as i was talking in schools in the past few days about gender though, i could not help but witness a subtle shift in the way both girls and boys addressed the societal pressures thrust upon them by society. in almost every class obama was used as an example by the students to describe masculinity, and a very different kind of masculinity than the one modeled by W. bush.

as i was watching the Obamas dance and talk to each other, goofy and tender, i witnesses a picture of equality, complicity and friendship that i cannot remember seeing in political leaders, ever. of course it would be shortsighted to think that a president is taken as a role model for all its nation, or even that it would be desirable for that to happen.

at the same time i see this change as a step towards a more equal society, not one that would turn on the news to see a smiling housewife with a vacuous look, and a distant grotesquely masculine husband like in the past 8 years, but a couple of people that are friends, that co-parent, and that exude mutual respect.

Italy, once more
January 8, 2009, 10:14 pm
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pimpblindfolded slaveholy place

i just came back from seeing my family in Italy for the holidays, and as always, i am filled with discordant emotions. It felt really good to be back, and simply to speak italian, or to easily orient myself through the cultural mapping of the country. As usual i was also hit by the bigotry and prejudice still present there, even in my own family. I was speechless to witness a variety of discussions about Obama’s election, some of which included comments on him being attractive because he has “not really black” facial features, or making distinctions between him as a good black, versus an undesirable ugly black.  The pope also made a hate speech about gender norms, and gay families while i was there. My mom simply responded that people can do what they want in their private lives, but that it’s right for him to lay down the law about what  is acceptable or not acceptable for the church. great!

it was disheartening, and a reminder as to why i just can’t live there at the moment, even though i miss it badly at times.

i am just posting a few strange encounters i had.

the first one is an open market in Rome, that was selling many pairs of underwear reading PIMP on the elastic band. i doubt most people even know what that means, but it was a sad reminder of fucked up gender norms getting exported over, in a country that frankly has enough without any help.

the second one was a mural from the vatican museums depicting a blindfolded african man. i asked the museum guard if they knew the story of the fresco, but all i got was that it dated about 1500. i wish i knew more about it. there is so little depiction of the slave experience in art of that time.

the third is a sign outside of the catacombs that bans people (man in blue, woman in pink) from wearing tanks and shorts. when will the catholic church stop making people feel bad about their bodies? soon, i hope.

“men speak out”
September 13, 2008, 5:08 pm
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i just devoured a book in 2 days, called “men speak out-views on gender, sex, and power”. it was hard to read at times, but filled this void in my ongoing internal gender discussion, and created a thread with so many disparate thoughts roaming through my mind.

it is a collection of essay written by men on masculinity, gender, and individual struggle with power.

when i started at the middle way i was working in the crisis line, and as an on scene advocate for people that have been sexually assaulted or hurt by their partners at the ER, most of the people i offered support to were women, and though the person hurting them was usually a men, they were absent from the picture, imaginary figures i never met.

it wasn’t until last year that i started facilitating workshops in middle and high schools where we talk about consent, healthy relationships,gender and sexual assault. in speaking with both boys and girls i had a whole different world opened to me, of kids that are trying to get out of being hurtful to the people around them, but are struggling continuously to find the appropriate tools, or even a language to talk about themselves and the pressure put on them as men and women in this society.

the essays offered an honest and direct window into the challenges tackled by men in their efforts to question and resist the narratives of masculinity most of them grew up with. it felt so rare to listen to voices of men that are not trying to justify, persuade, or defend when it comes to gender, but are willing to speak of their own difficulties with gender and power.

Hugo Schwyzer talks about his work with youth, and his experience in talking to boys about the pressure put on men to always want sex no matter what. it resonates of course, because i find myself struggling with that all the time in my work with high schools and middle schools. he approached the situation by simply asking questions, and discussing the line between being attracted to someone and objectifying them. no judgment or lecture, and it works much better.

another writer retells of the time when he first learned about sexual assault as a kid, and how his mother’s explanation was that “rape is when a men forces a women to have sex with him”. that very notion made it incredibly difficult for him to come to terms with being assaulted, because according to this description men are always the ones hurting, not vulnerable and with the power of forcing someone into sex.

there were essays about sexual harassment in the military, one about the experience of being an asian queer man, and the sexism and racism present it the gay community. one of my favorite is written by Richard Pringle, and relates different stories from men and their experience with sport, and the moments when they realized their own gendered way to do sports, and they ways they were affecting the people around them.

so, very good book, and a rare one at that.

grrler derby
August 24, 2008, 10:04 pm
Filed under: rants and such, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

i had my first experience with the wonderful world of roller derbying last night, and what a discovery. 

the ladies in the team were strong, and very skilled at the sport. they were also all kinds of body shapes, sizes and ages, and displaying an unaltered sense of strength. it’s rare to see a sport being  a woman’s space, and being attended by people with the same fervor reserved for more traditional games such as football or basketball.

another striking thing is the amount of rough competition that is part of the sport, intermingled with a clear sense of respect between players of different teams. more than once i saw ladies on the opposing groups shake hands, or give each other fives before the whistle, and then during the game shoulder each other with fierce determination.

i was a little apprehensive about going  because i expected it it to be a spectacle of creepy sexualization of women’s aggression and toughness, but i had to rethink.there is an element of sexiness in the tight, form fitting clothing, and mini mini skirts, but it doesn’t seem to be there in order to please the spectatorial male gaze.

it’s something i am definitely still figuring out , the fine line between wanting to feel good about your body, and falling into the stereotypes of conforming to what beauty is supposed to be like. there is a definite narrative of sexuality being a tool of power for women, but more often than not in compliance to male demands and desires.

still, i think there is definitely a space for sexuality to be radical, and empowering. so, it was really nice to see it possible even in a fairly mainstream space as the roller derby. as i was getting a ride with a friend though, she shared that people from her work were there at the game, and she has overheard them talking about how sexy the ladies in the team are, and how it gets them off to see them falling ad pushing each other. what a fucking bummer…