Orgasm Justice: Are You Entitled To Climax?

Header image source: Getty Images / Mic

If you’re a woman and listen to Nicki Minaj and Amy Schumer, sounds like you should be! But is there more to the story? Read on to find out. My colleague Rachel Kramer Bussel wrote a piece on orgasmic parity and interviewed me for it, where she explained the impetus for the article:

Recently, both Nicki Minaj and Amy Schumer have come out swinging for “orgasm equality”—namely, that when a woman has sex, especially with a man, she is entitled to an orgasm. Minaj declared in Cosmopolitan’s July issue, “I demand that I climax. I think women should demand that.” Schumer told Glamour in the August 2015 issue, “Don’t not have an orgasm. Make sure he knows that you’re entitled to an orgasm.”

It’s a great article that raises many valuable points, including how some people use orgasm as a bargaining chip or power-play tool, and I’m so glad I was able to contribute to it. Alas, as often happens,  I had way more to say than could fit in someone else’s article, and so here’s an expansion on my thoughts, beyond what got used.

Orgasms: What Do The Numbers Say?

orgasm gap

Jessica Valenti, in an article defending “orgasm equality” and Nicki’s words, gave us the scoop:

According to the Kinsey Institute, while 85% of men believe that their partners had an orgasm during their last sexual experience, only 64% of women report actually having one. And the Cosmopolitan’s Female Orgasm Survey this year shows that only 57% of women climax regularly with a partner. Those numbers change a bit depending on who women are having sex with though – a 2014 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that lesbians had a nearly 75% orgasm rate.

Men across the sexuality spectrum, however, all reported around an 85% orgasm rate, and another study shows that 75% of men report always having an orgasm during sex. Every. Single. Time.

Nicki And Amy’s Rx For Orgasm: Too Prescriptive?

I bristle at most definitive statements about how people should exist in the world. Whenever I hear “always” or “never,” it sends up red flags in my brain because those words usually erase a lot of nuance and variability of human experience, and often go hand in hand with oppressive ideas. I can’t help but eye-roll when people, especially professionals and/or media darlings who have big platforms, use prescriptive language about how people should be having sex  or perpetuate the assumption that everyone WANTS to be having sex in the first place. Still: that doesn’t mean Minaj or Schumer’s comments are entirely off the mark or unimportant.

I believe that Nicki Minaj is speaking from a place of seeing societal orgasm disparities and trying to resolve them in her own life, then, at its core, giving advice to others to not put up with inconsiderate partners [particularly men] who demand orgasm but do not reciprocate. That’s the key message I think people should take away from her comments. I see her speaking from a place of empowering women, even if she isn’t doing it in the most nuanced or inclusive way, and suspect that’s also because she wasn’t giving a manifesto on the matter, but instead briefly commenting on it. The people criticizing her for being “demanding” or “not caring about the man’s feelings” are missing the point AND also contributing to harshly judging the words of women of color, and especially Black women, who are already culturally presented as “loud and angry” for even existing.

Honestly, I care less about if Nicki self-identifies as a feminist or somehow embodies “perfect feminism” for all [coughrespectabilitypoliticscough] and more about what she says and does, and what we can learn from her that supports our personal visions of feminism—and there is a LOT there to work with. As scholars, educators, sexuality professionals,  activists, whatever: our work shouldn’t be to undercut Minaj, but instead further nuance her statements and get at their roots rather than a superficial understanding, especially if we want to reach the people she’s talking to.

Similarly, Schumer speaks about body positivity, being deserving of love regardless of size, introducing partners to the marvels of the human clitoris, and not letting dudes get away with just ignoring her pleasure. But her entitlement isn’t exactly the same as Nicki’s stance that women demand orgasms, and Schumer’s feminism often lacks a critical race analysis  that Minaj consistently brings to the table. In fact, Schumer has shoved her foot deep in her mouth around racial matters various times and excused some of her actions by holding steadfast to her “feminist” label. Is Nicki perfect? Of course not. But as far as I know she’s not pretending that her feminist cred exempts her from messing up.

amy-schumer-race

Entitlement: Revolutionary, Oppressive, Or Both?

The idea of ensuring women’s pleasure without an underhanded agenda is a radical idea, period. Even the heading for the Cosmo article where Nicki was interviewed—that calls her demands for orgasm “high maintenance”—shows why such demands can be revolutionary in a society that teaches women to be servile; the idea of women putting their pleasure at the forefront and on equal footing to men’s is seen as “too much.”

Especially for women of color, and particularly Black women, that message is key in a society that also exploits our sexuality and makes us objects much more than subjects. Heck, this also connects to age and ensuring that sexually active young women learn how to achieve or at least communicate about orgasms from early on instead of wasting precious years of sexual encounters being too timid, uneducated, unempowered, or whatever to navigate those waters. [That said, I’m not saying it’s young women’s fault that society does a terrible job with sex education or empowering us.]

From a feminist standpoint, demanding orgasms makes sense. “We’re here, we’re horny, and we want to come!” But which women are doing the demanding and which women are prevented from doing so?

In a White supremacist society that hypersexualizes women of color and gives more overall bargaining power to White women regardless of how sexual they are assumed to be, Schumer’s call to be entitled comes from both her body-positive feminism as well as her Whiteness. For both Nicki and Amy, this also intersects with their able-bodied-ness. For women with physical disabilities, who are often desexualized entirely or fetishized by select groups of the population, being entitled to climax with partners intersects with a host of other issues, including mobility concerns and worries about not being able to even enter a partner’s house if it’s not accessible. [Check out the work of Robin Wilson-Beattie with SexAbled, Bethany Stevens with Crip Confessions, and Shanna K. (as well as her peer-reviewed papers) if you’re curious about that!] For Millenials [shout out to my generation!] who are already billed as “spoiled brats” or “lazy and entitled” people who “haven’t paid their dues yet,” demanding better sexual encounters also operates at an interesting crossroads of identities, including age.

So while there can certainly be strength in entitlement, as well as the ensuing action when things aren’t up to snuff, we must not ignore the structural barriers to being able to demand orgasms and the reasons why some people find it waaaaaaay easier to be entitled than others. In short: if we truly want life, liberty, and orgasms for all [who want them], we need to do a lot of social justice work, not just generic sex ed and feminist action.

Is Orgasm Equality Where It’s At?

As was mentioned by other sexuality professionals in the Bussel article, people’s understandings vary in regards to how orgasms happen in the first place, who is responsible for whose orgasms, the value of orgasms vs. the overall sexual journey, and if one can ever truly “give” someone an orgasm or if a better word is “facilitate.” Because of that variability, I don’t really care to focus on the “should you be entitled?” question once I have your attention. I’ll even let you in on a little secret: I actually don’t believe in orgasm equality. I think it misses the mark.

What do I advocate for instead? I believe in striving for pleasure equity and orgasm justice: pleasure, including but not limited to orgasms, for those who want them in the amounts they desire. It’s about giving people autonomy to figure out what they want from sex, the space to communicate it, and the resources to work toward it, not forcing people to have sex to fit someone else’s standards. It’s not about EQUALITY, which means SAMENESS; it’s about FAIRNESS. This graphic that has made the rounds in activist circles explains it perfectly:

equity-vs-equality

During sex, if orgasms are desired, I see them as the product of collaborative effort unless negotiated otherwise. I believe in sexy times where the goals are negotiated among its participants, whether that’s one or twenty one. Is the goal overall pleasure? Is the goal orgasm specifically? Is the goal stress-reduction before a big event, building intimacy, making a baby, making money, something else? Whatever it is, it can’t just be unilaterally decided.  Each person should measure their sexual satisfaction based on their reasons for having sex in any given instance, and goals can be multi-faceted and complex.

Death Salon LA: A Recap

death salon skullIf you know me well, you know I like me some creepy things. I used to park myself in front of the Discovery Health Channel, watch Disney’s So Weird as a kid, and browse websites for tales of the supernatural. During my gawth intellectual phase, I listened to Cradle of Filth, googled all the fancy words and characters in their lyrics (e.g. Gilles de Rais, Erzulie, Lillith, Faust, Walpurgis, and so on), and ended up writing a term paper about Elizabeth “The Blood Countess” Bathory. I even thought I wanted to become a forensic scientist of some sort once I graduated high-school.

Instead, I ended up going to Brown University and concentrating on gender and sexuality studies, but the passion for these issues lived on. Nowadays, this interest in the “creepy and dark” manifests more obviously in things like my love of the TV series Hannibal, unique earrings (e.g. baby doll arms, a bobcat’s jawbones), and the history of medicine. I’m still entranced by mortality, rituals, bodies, and how we deal with all of these, so it must have come as no surprise to my friends and colleagues when they heard I was attending Death Salon LA.

After avidly consuming tons of posts from The Order of the Good Death website (finding it via the founder’s Ask a Mortician series on YouTube), I heard about this event and promptly freaked out with joy. I immediately told one of my colleagues (the inimitable Megan Andelloux, or “Oh Megan”) who shares my fascination with these topics. After some deliberation because our schedules were pretty packed, we booked our trips from Rhode Island to Los Angeles and got ready for a weekend full of intellectual stimulation.

In just one day at Death Salon LA, I learned about demonic semen transfer systems, the mortification of female saints, cadaver saponification, decorated Bolivian and Peruvian skulls that are said to be miraculous, the mummified Capuchin hanging wall friars in Palermo, the democratization of images via post-mortem photography, anthropomorphic taxidermy, anatomical Venuses, St. Bartholomew’s flayed skin that he held as a sash, death cabarets in 20th century Europe, and more.

The experience was wonderful and illuminating, and it balanced subjects so there would be something for everyone. Still, there was definitely a big emphasis on gender and sexuality, which I obviously really appreciated, and the interdisciplinary, multimedia approach catered to a variety of knowledge levels. I’m terribly excited to see where it goes from here, and though I probably can’t go next year (it’s in Europe in 2014), I’m looking forward to it in 2015 when it comes to Cleveland.

As a demonstration of my obsession with documentation, and as a means to share information with those who couldn’t attend this year, I tweeted up a storm while I was there, and upon returning to RI, crafted a recap of the media bits I nabbed in LA. You can check out the 2 days’ worth of relevant images, tweets, and pieces I corralled:

You can also see the version posted on the official Death Salon website. I was sadly unable to attend all the events, so I wasn’t able to recap the Atlas Obscura trip to a local cemetery or the Death Salon LA Soirée with death-themed food and drinks. I’ll leave you all to dig up those resources, no pun intended.

Re: The White Elephant in the Room

This is my response (edited from my Tumblr version of it) to Black Girl Dangerous/Mia McKenzie’s post about The White Elephant in the Room. (Please go read that first!)

When “woman of color” includes Latin@s of all stripes, then yes, I am a woman of color.

When “woman of color” is just shorthand for “African or African American,” then no, I am not a woman of color and would never claim to be. (And I mention this because many spaces I found, especially initially, were for WOC and QWOC but only had African American folks in them—no other groups were represented/part of those spaces).
When “woman of color” includes people born in the Caribbean and Latin-America, whose culture and upbringing and politics were not those of white U.S. Americans, whose heritage includes slaves and indigenous folks and colonizers all wrapped up in one, whose native tongue isn’t English, who don’t have the privilege of NOT thinking about their race/ethnicity/culture, then yes, I am a woman of color.
When “woman of color” means that I’m oppressed based on my skin color, then no, I am not a woman of color and would never claim to be. (The kind of shit I get for my skin color is not oppression, and now that I’m living in the U.S., is even less of a talking point.)
Though it’s not the same thing (obviously), I feel there are important parallels to sexuality and gender here, the feelings from folks who are “visibly” queer in one or both of those arenas vis-a-vis those who can “pass.” The important thing is for those who can “pass” as a dominant group to ACKNOWLEDGE their (our!) privilege, use it for the best (cross-reference that video I posted a while ago about using white-privilege), and help speak for our communities, but be aware that we should also help to centralize folks of the most marginalized positions instead of just repeatedly highlighting the same voices who are “most palatable” to dominant groups. It means being aware of WHY we have privilege and HOW we have privilege, and striving to do something about it instead of going “oh well, I can’t help my privilege!” or “it’s so HARD to be privileged!” It means not being content when something that claims to represent queer folks really is just “cisgender/normatively-gendered white-looking queer people” or feeling all self-satisfied when we work for the inclusion of POC in white spaces and all the POC are suspiciously white-looking. It means we need to try harder and step back more sometimes, and it means our identities are never at rest.
At the same time, for ALL of us, it also means knowing that there are people within and behind all those long laundry lists of identities, and that identities can be painful and joyful and help us build communities but also keep us out of communities that once felt or should have felt like home. It means knowing there will be rage and sadness and hope and laughter and that we need to have at least a little understanding and compassion in our hearts, but that our feelings are valid and don’t need to be 24/7 crafted into tasteful, polite little snippets.
For someone who can pass as white (though I am usually on a mission to make it clear who and what I am), I don’t get harassed on the basis of my skin color on the street. For someone who can pass as heterosexual (if I try/when I have male partners/etc.), I can go without getting harassed for my choice of partner.  These are things that make my life easier. A lot of POC and a lot of queer folks and a lot of people at those intersections don’t have those privileges, and so I need to own them very clearly. Heck, on a more “superficial level,” I can purchase makeup and not wonder about how it will look on my skin because the models on the ads have the same skin-tone as I do. I can listen to love songs and not have to *always* switch pronouns and genders around. I can watch movies and see people that look like me on the surface. On both life-or-death as well as day-to-day levels, I have a ton of privileges that make my interactions with the world similar to those of a white, cis, hetero person. Still–that doesn’t suddenly make me a white, cis, hetero person, and it doesn’t erase all the ways in which my identities as a Latin@, queer, genderqueer/fluid/hotmess do affect my day-to-day experiences in ways that clearly align with those/my communities.
If we’re building community based on our culture and background and queerness, it’s not okay to be told “oh wait, you’re not queer enough, please leave” or “you’re not enough of a minority, this isn’t for you” or “whatever, even though your heritage is X you look like Y so let me erase your entire experience.” It DOES mean people can tell me to shut the fuck up if I’m speaking about an experience that’s not mine though, for sure, and it means that we might all be POC/queer/whatever, but that our intersecting identities make it so that all our experiences aren’t the same, and that we can’t hold hands and pretend that we all experience the same level of oppression. We need to learn to build our communities, as complex as they may be, and also learn to stand in solidarity with those that are different from us, be they part of certain spaces we inhabit or be they complete outsiders.



And re: the OP, relating to that last point about light-skinned privilege vs. white privilege—what would “visibly POC” mean? Very curly hair? Slanted eyes? A wider nose…? Or…? I also ask because the idea of separating “white skin” from “light skin”doesn’t make sense to me unless we’re saying that using the language of “light” vs. “dark” poses dark skin as its “default” and so you can have a “dark black/brown” skin tone or a “light black/brown” skin tone and beyond that, it’s just “white skin.”

What Not To Do When Housemate Hunting

As it happens, I was housemate hunting recently. The following is text from an email-exchange that ensued after a very singular dude replied to the posting. See, while humor is awesome, using this kind of humor when you’re a cis-dude and we don’t know each other at all = not the best choice.


Hey girls!
In response to your CL listing, here I am.  Your listing and requirements are almost exactly what im looking for!
– Im LGBT-friendly (Im currently traveling Europe with a gay friend and a couple straight ones).
– I like to share household utilities (down to groceries, netflix, bar tabs)
– I throw occasional extravagant parties (maybe twice a year).  Dinner parties are great too.

Im a 28 y/o male engineer going in for a masters in entrepreneurship at Brown this fall.

So a little about me.  To sum it up, im a social, spontaneous, sporty, clean(ish) and nerdy guy.  I was born in Oregon, lived all over the US, but living in Boston for the last 5 years working at a tech startup managing the manufacturing and various engineering aspects of our products.  When im not working I enjoy cycling, hiking, snowboarding, ultimate frisbee, inventing/building random things, traveling, meeting new people, and going out with friends.

Now that you know a little about me, id love to hear a little more about you guys.  The only concern that I have at the moment is… living with THREE girls?  But you guys sound pretty awesome.

Best, XXX


Hi XXXX!

What does an “occasional extravagant party” mean to you? That sounds fancy! 😀 Is it more on the “fancy fabulous party” or “beer pong rager” end of things?

And yes—three girls. Have you been primarily living by yourself or with guys…? We’re pretty awesome if I do say so myself. The question is—are we all compatible? That’s what we have to find out! Do you think you could Skype with us for a chat tomorrow or in the coming days?
On our end, we’re all sociable folks with Venn-diagramming lives. We have our own things going on (and it seems like all fervently love our jobs and doing good for society), but do like to spend time together. For example, we hosted a couchsurfer these past two nights, all of us had dinner together yesterday and then watched a movie about an evil Santa Claus in Finland. Then, today, one of the housemates (Jenna) and I got home from work, chatted over some pineapple-y wine, and watched an “offbeat romantic ghost story” about a married fisherman who has to reconcile his love for a man with his life and society’s social mores. Sometime in August we’ll be hosting a monthly (or so?) feminist book club, and there are plans to go down to Newport sometime because I’ve never been and that’s quite a tragedy.

If that sounds at all interesting, let’s set up a time to chat!


Hey Aida,

The occasional extravagant party means I like to throw epic memorable parties which i invest fairly heavily in.  These are no ordinary beer pong ragers, I dont even allow it.  These are epic themed parties where massive props are made, fog machines, disco balls, candles, blacklights, meticulously created playlists, dance floors, etc. and funded by the young professionals who like to show appreciation to their good friends a couple times a year.  Youve never been to a party like this before.  (Note from Aida: I am simultaneously intrigued and put off.)

Ive been living with 3 boys and 1 girl in boston for the last 5 years.  A few people have cycled, but the ratio always remains the same.  I like to live with at least one girl to keep the place in check.

Im daunted by your “feminist book club” and three “social justice minded” women.  Im pretty sure you guys will want to kill me by the first night if you take my asinine crass humor seriously.  Im pretty over-the-top.  While I appreciate your time, I think im going to have to respectfully decline.

Good luck finding someone!


The problem is, while this guy sounded kind of interesting in a way, he can’t expect me to trust his intent once I’ve already been slammed with sexist bullshit over and over. And even if I WERE to think “well he’s just being ironic/funny,” this kind of shit is not funny to me anymore 99% of the time, especially coming from men, and cis, straight men at that.

If we do not have a relationship, do not have a rapport, and do not have ANY remote smidgen of comfort with each other and knowledge about where we’re coming from, this kind of humor doesn’t make sense and doesn’t make me feel good about our interactions. A lot of what he said just sounds like regurgitations from shitty conversations I’ve had with people who have been clueless, sexist, and/or disrespectful. Does anyone think that’s cool or comforting? That it’s funny or cool to make people feel like they might have another person in their life who devalues them, even if only just for a moment, for the sake of humor, and reenacts the daily sexist bullshit they face?

People can’t expect folks from an oppressed/marginalized group to trust the intent of people from a majority/oppressive class when the latter are going down the same path of shittiness. “Oh oh oh, but I was being FUNNY/IRONIC” is not an excuse. Still shitty. When experience has told me and my communities that this kind of behavior is indicative of sexist and misogynist beliefs, WHY in the world would I just “hope” that this person would be different? Why would I even TRY to excuse them and give them the benefit of the doubt, especially if it’s about living together? Come on. Doesn’t make sense.

Does finding this problematic make me humorless? No. It makes me someone who prefers a more sophisticated and less oppressive brand of humor. I used to be one of those “you can joke about anything! bring on the dark humor and horribly offensive shit!” kind of person, especially before I hit college… but once one’s been exposed to how this kind of thing actually plays out and is the lived reality of people, it’s hard to find that shit funny anymore. That shit is REAL and EVERY DAY and EXHAUSTING. The harm these jokes and cracks make is far higher than their funniness, and from a purely utilitarian perspective (as well as one that focuses on kindness and respect more so than momentary wittiness), IT’S BETTER TO REFRAIN FROM SUCH “JOKES.”

And before someone says “well that’s censorship,” welcome to the world. We all have to “censor” ourselves sometimes. We should HAVE the freedom to be shitty people to some extent and say whatever we want, but consciously CHOOSE to not be shitty to others. We need to strive to be better, and create a world that’s a safer place to be. Just because we “can” do something doesn’t mean we SHOULD do it.

Humor that relies on oppression and marginalization, no matter how small, is LAZY HUMOR. It’s EASY to use the pre-existing power dynamics to “make a funny,” and it pretty much requires no thought or wit or spin–just a pretty straightforward mimicry of what’s going on in the day-to-day. Let’s strive for more instead of just rolling around in the muck.

I asked a friend “Do you think I’m just slowly turning into a pissed off lesbian separatist stereotype?”

Our conclusion was that no, I wasn’t, but I think I’ve more recently come to fully understand those “angry, humorless feminist/woman of color/queer” stereotypes ‘cause I feel that ish right down to my bones. Things that maybe I didn’t care about before, or just let slide by, are no longer okay. Once you start seeing inequality and start realizing how pervasive racism and sexism and homo/trans/biphobia and all these things are, it’s hard to ignore.

Of course I’m angry, after cis-men feel entitled to my body/time and don’t ask for consent, after my queer community is denied rights, after people feel like they have the right to tell me how I can or can’t have sex.

Of course I’m angry when women, especially women of color, make less than men in the same positions; when people of color are vilified in the media and whiteness is insidiously and subtly upheld as the standard; when companies produce skin-lightening creams that reap the benefits of colonialism and ideas about how precious pale skin is.

Of course you’ll think I’m “humorless” when I don’t laugh at the jokes that come at the expense of women/queers/POC, that trivialize inequalities and the fucked up shit some of us have to deal with on a daily basis.

Sorry, but my definition of “funny” no longer encompasses things that rely on oppressive stereotypes and judgments, and yours shouldn’t either. It’s not just being lazy with comedy; it’s outright being a privileged piece of shit who cares more about making a joke than about the harm that joke can cause to people.

Presidential Memorandum — Establishing a Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence Against Women and Girls, and Gender-related Health Disparities

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Presidential Memorandum — Establishing a Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence Against Women and Girls, and Gender-related Health Disparities

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES
SUBJECT: Establishing a Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence Against Women and Girls, and Gender-related Health Disparities
Throughout our country, the spread of HIV/AIDS has had a devastating impact on many communities.  In the United States, there are approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS, including more than 290,000 women.  Women and girls now account for 24 percent of all diagnoses of HIV infection among United States adults and adolescents.  The domestic epidemic disproportionately affects women of color, with African Americans and Latinas constituting over 70 percent of new HIV cases in women.  The spread of HIV/AIDS is, in and of itself, a primary concern to my Administration.  However, gender based violence and gender related health disparities cannot be ignored when addressing the domestic public health threat of HIV/AIDS.  HIV/AIDS programs often ignore the biological differences and the social, economic, and cultural inequities that make women and girls more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.  In our country, women and girls are all too frequently victimized by domestic violence and sexual assault, which can lead to greater risk for acquiring this disease.  Teenage girls and young women ages 16 24 face the highest rates of dating violence and sexual assault.  In addition, challenges in accessing proper health care can present obstacles to addressing HIV/AIDS.  Gender based violence continues to be an underreported, common problem that, if ignored, increases risks for HIV and may prevent women and girls from seeking prevention, treatment, and health services.
My Administration is committed to improving efforts to understand and address the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women and girls, and gender-related health disparities.  To do so, executive departments and agencies (agencies) must build on their current work addressing the intersection of these issues by improving data collection, research, intervention strategies, and training.  In order to develop a comprehensive Government wide approach to these issues that is data-driven, uses effective prevention and care interventions, engages families and communities, supports research and data collection, and mobilizes both public and private sector resources, I direct the following:
Section 1.  Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence Against Women and Girls, and Gender-related Health Disparities.  There is established within the Executive Office of the President a Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS,
Violence Against Women and Girls, and Gender related Health Disparities (Working Group), to be co chaired by the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women and the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy (Co Chairs).  Within 60 days of the date of this memorandum, the Co Chairs shall convene the first meeting of the Working Group.
 (a)  In addition to the Co Chairs, the Working Group shall consist of representatives from:
  (i)the Department of Justice;
  (ii)    the Department of the Interior;
  (iii)   the Department of Health and Human Services;
  (iv)    the Department of Education;
  (v) the Department of Homeland Security;
  (vi)    the Department of Veterans Affairs;
 (vii)   the Department of Housing and Urban Development; and
  (viii)  the Office of Management and Budget.
 (b)  The Working Group shall consult with the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, as appropriate.
 (c)  The Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Gender Technical Working Group shall act in an advisory capacity to the Working Group, providing information on lessons learned and evidence based best practices based on their global experience addressing issues involving the intersection between HIV/AIDS and violence against women.
 Sec. 2.  Mission and Functions of the Working Group.  (a)  The Working Group shall coordinate agency efforts to address issues involving the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women and girls, and gender related health disparities.  Such efforts shall include, but not be limited to:
(i) increasing government and public awareness of the need to address the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women and girls, and gender related health disparities, including sexual and reproductive health and access to health care;
 (ii)  sharing best practices, including demonstration projects and international work by agencies, as well as successful gender specific strategies aimed at addressing risks that influence women’s and girls’ vulnerability to HIV infection and violence;
 (iii)  integrating sexual and reproductive health services, gender-based violence services, and HIV/AIDS services, where research demonstrates that doing so will result in improved and sustained health outcomes;
 (iv)  emphasizing evidence based prevention activities that engage men and boys and highlight their role in the prevention of violence against women and HIV/AIDS infection;
 (v) facilitating opportunities for partnerships among diverse organizations from the violence against women and girls, HIV/AIDS, and women’s health communities to address the intersection of these issues;
 (vi) ensuring that the needs of vulnerable and underserved groups are considered in any efforts to address issues involving the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women and girls, and gender related health disparities;
 (vii) promoting research to better understand the intersection of the biological, behavioral, and social sciences bases for the relationship between increased HIV/AIDS risk, domestic violence, and gender related health disparities; and
 (viii)  prioritizing, as appropriate, the efforts described in paragraphs (a)(i) (vii) of this section with respect to women and girls of color, who represent the majority of females living with and at risk for HIV infection in the United States.
 (b)  The Working Group shall annually provide the President recommendations for updating the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.  In addition, the Working Group shall provide information on:
 (i)   coordinated actions taken by the Working Group to meet its objectives and identify areas where the Federal Government has achieved integration and coordination in addressing the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women and girls, and gender related health disparities;
 (ii)  alternative means of making available gender sensitive health care for women and girls through the integration of HIV/AIDS prevention and care services with intimate partner violence prevention and counseling as well as mental health and trauma services;
 (iii)  specific, evidence based goals for addressing HIV among women, including HIV related disparities among women of color, to inform the National HIV/AIDS Strategy Implementation Plan (for its biannual review);
 (iv)  research and data collection needs regarding HIV/AIDS, violence against women and girls, and gender related health disparities to help develop more comprehensive data and targeted research (disaggregated by sex, gender, and gender identity, where practicable); and
 (v)  existing partnerships and potential areas of collaboration with other public or nongovernmental actors, taking into consideration the types of implementation or research objectives that other public or nongovernmental actors may be particularly well situated to accomplish.
 Sec. 3.  Outreach.  Consistent with the objectives of this memorandum and applicable law, the Working Group, in addition to regular meetings, shall conduct outreach with representatives of private and nonprofit organizations, State, tribal, and local government agencies, elected officials, and other interested persons to assist the Working Group in developing a detailed set of recommendations.
 Sec. 4.  General Provisions.  (a)  The heads of agencies shall assist and provide information to the Working Group, consistent with applicable law, as may be necessary to carry out the functions of the Working Group.  Each agency and office shall bear its own expense for carrying out activities related to the Working Group.
 (b)  Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
 (i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department, agency, or the head thereof; or
 (ii)  the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
 (c)  This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
 (d)  This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
 (e)  The Secretary of Health and Human Services is authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
  BARACK OBAMA

In Mississippi: Vote NO! Save the Pill on 26! Save the Vote on 27!

This is reposted from an email bulletin by Sister Song, a women of color reproductive health collective:

In Mississippi: Vote NO! Save the Pill on 26!
Save the Vote on 27!
What is Initiative 26?    
 
     On November 8, 2011, Mississippians will be given the opportunity to vote on a dangerous amendment to the state Constitution, which will read, “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof?” This amendment would redefine personhood at conception and it seeks to undo laws that protect abortion rights, stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, and even birth control.
     Many of the amendment’s supporters view it as a means to overturn Roe v. Wade in the state of Mississippi, in order to persecute women who decide to have abortions and the doctors that perform them. However, there are implications for people who decide to parent. By defining “personhood” at conception, this could end up criminalizing women who experience miscarriages, stillbirths, or women whose lives are at risk who decide to save their own lives, rather than the fetus.  Initiative 26 could lead to more government intrusion into women’s personal lives, such as accessing our medical records to investigate miscarriages, dictating what kind of birth control we use and interfering with medical decisions in treating women whose lives are at risk. By giving constitutional rights to a fertilized egg, the amendment could ban emergency contraception, birth control pills and IUDs as well as all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman or girl. In short, our rights will be violated in order to uphold the rights of the fetus.
     This amendment will disproportionately criminalize (low-income) women of color as we have seen in other states. Mississippi has the highest concentration of African-Americans, high poverty rate and low education ranking, allowing for this issue to be at the heart of intersectionality for women of color, especially Black women. Because the majority of anti-choice proponents are Republican and white, this issue is highly racialized. Pro-life often means something different in the African-American community. Because of issues around gender, race, class and cultural history, Blacks may describe themselves as being both pro-life and pro-choice.   We cannot allow Initiative 26 to become a moral issue, especially when it directly impacts and criminalizes so many women, especially poor women of color. We must not be influenced by rhetoric that considers women who choose to have an abortion as “murderers” when 61% of women who undergo the procedure are mothers, and 84% will become mothers.
What is Initiative 27?
     On the same ballot there is also a controversial Voter ID exclusion measure, Initiative 27, which will allow voting restrictions that will directly impact women of color. This initiative, if passed, will implement measures that are reminiscent of the 1960’s lack of access to the ballot. These two initiatives may be one of the most important opportunities on the ground for the Pro-Choice and Reproductive Justice Movements to work together. To read more about these two Initiatives and what the related intersections mean to women of color, specifically Black women, click here to read an article by our National Coordinator Loretta Ross.
How to join the fight:
What You Can Do..
  • First educate yourself on what these Initiatives really mean and the consequences of their implementation.
  • You can help in this get-out-the-vote effort by voting and urging everyone you know in Mississippi- your friends, family, co-workers, or members of groups you are affiliated with-to Vote No on Initiative 26 and 27 on November 8, 2011.
  • To take direct action, you can donate to various organizations to help the statewide Mississippi coalition campaign buy desperately needed television and radio ads.
  • You can share informative posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets to dispel any myths and clarify the impact of these Initiatives.

 

Your Ignorance Is Showing: Ridiculous Comments on Empowerment, Objectification, and Domestic Violence

 Alternatively titled: “A Response to Cate Stewart and Lisa Lansio”
For those of you who don’t know, I’m one of the two co-leaders of SHEEC this year–a group with which I’ve been heavily involved since its inception in 2008/2009. I was at a conference in Colorado this week and sadly had to miss 3 of our events, including a showcase/open-mic in honor of Wear Purple Day/Spirit Day and Love Your Body Day that would benefit Sojourner House, a local domestic violence agency founded by Brown students in 1976. The Showcase featured 2 local poets, the Gendo Taiko (Japanese drumming) crew, Attitude (a dance troupe), as well as a few other performers (of the singing/acoustic-guitar variety).
After a set of great performances, the last two individuals who signed up for the open-mic portion took the stage and began to attack the event and the people who were in it, saying that having a campus pole-dancing troupe perform was “not respectful” and that “it just perpetuated gender roles and objectified women.” One said that “she came here expecting to be empowered, but that’s not what happened for her at all” and that we “need to stop singing about gendered things” (and I believe the example was getting kissed in parking lots? Which…what?). 
The other added that “women need to stop playing the victimized role, stop blaming men for our problems, women bring it upon themselves” and that “women have the power just as much as men and are as much to blame for abuse as men, that women are not chained to the floor and can just walk away from abusive situations.”  That same one mentioned some of the performers who talked about abuse or abused women and their mindsets have no right to speak issues that they were not physically a part of (which is actually inaccurate, but I’ll get to that later).
This is my response, not only as SHEEC’s Co-Chair,  but as an individual:

First of all, the controversial pole-dancing performance. I’m tired of defending and explaining this one, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. Empowering women doesn’t mean desexualizing them. Objectification is only a problem if it’s not paired with due subjectification (read this post as well as the comments). Finally, we support a group of educated women who want to “stretch the boundaries of pole dancing as something far more than simply sexy,” who “want to create a place where people feel comfortable, athletic, and yes, sexy!” and who “consistently challenge the stereotypes that surround vertical dancing, and seek to bring together a wide range of art forms through experimentation and openness in [their] performances.”

We wanted to showcase individuals who would address the core of our event, who would speak to their relationships with their bodies via song/dance/poetry and would show us a bit of themselves through their art. This event wasn’t meant to empower every person, but provide a space so people could share what empowered them and talk about what didn’t. Sorry, Cate and Lisa, if this didn’t empower you personally, but that’s not what the event was for. We wanted to start the conversation and show the varied emotions people had regarding their bodies, trying to focus on the positive, but also trying to highlight the complexity and (thus billing it as something “silly and serious and complex” in our advertising).
Now, what I consider the most egregious part of this evening (again, from what I’ve been told) was the commentary around abuse and the power women do or don’t have.
  • As a CLASS of people, no, women do not have the same power men have. This, of course, is affected by the intersections of people’s identities and how they affect their place on the social ladder/s, but if we’re only considering it on the axis of sex, no. We are not seen as equal and we do not have the same power men do. Some individual women may have more power in specific contexts, but ask yourself–is that because they’re women or is it because of something else? And furthermore, think of the difference between winning a battle and winning the war. Few and exceptional individual cases of powerful women don’t erase the massive inequalities across society.
  • We are not blaming individual men for “our problems.” First of all, they’re EVERYONE’S problems. Second of all, what we *are* blaming is a system that in most instances, privileges men and masculinity and devalues or even punishes women and femininity (not that the two–m/m and w/f–are inextricably joined, but are often thought to be). It’s not the fault of individual men (or women) acting in a vacuum; it’s the fault of everyone taking actions that contribute to this system, and that’s why EVERYONE has to work against it.
  • “Women bring it upon themselves” is such a problematic statement, I don’t even know where to begin. My first reaction is to say “Your privilege and ignorance are showing.” I’ll call upon the words of S. Biko: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” READ ABOUT OPPRESSION AND POWER. Expand your myopic view. Your personal experience as a a woman and even as a victim/survivor of abuse does not qualify you to invalidate the experience of others, particularly women who have experienced trauma.
  • Abusive situations are DEFINED by a power and control imbalance, so NO, if the abusive partner in a male/female couple is the male, the female partner does NOT have the same power. She is also NOT TO BLAME for the abuse; no victim of abuse ever is. Read up on slut-shaming and victim-blaming to educate yourself on this. Intimate partner abuse is also often reinforced by other forms of institutional abuse/power; again, these things don’t occur in a vacuum. Context is important!
  • Many circumstances make it difficult for women (or any abused partner) to walk away from their situation, and the comment about them “not being chained to the floor” is offensive in its disrespect and flagrant ignorance. This an excellent resource that answers the “why doesn’t she just leave?” question so often posed to and/or about victims. Also check this  out for more information. I personally hate this question because it blames, shames, and disenfranchises victims, though I understand where it comes from (because I once asked it too).
I commend Jenn, Chay, Linh and the other SHEEC planners that were there and handled this as gracefully as they could given the circumstances. Thank you for positively representing SHEEC and doing damage-control, for letting those two girls know that you respected their right to have an opinion and their desire to share it, but that they did not have to attack other performers to express them. I also want to thank the performers for weathering that storm and for reaching out to us after the event with very touching emails.
Having a conversation or constructive dialogue is not the same as being argumentative and rude. Debating a point is not the same as attacking a group of people and not listening to their defense. Constructive criticism is no the same as ignorant remarks made to shame others and devalue their experiences. Learn the difference, Lisa and Cate, and then try again. We’re willing to listen if you are.
SHEEC is a group that was made to address issues of gender, sex, sexuality, and all the things that go along with it. This means we aren’t going to shy away from difficult conversations, controversy, and tackling the taboos. In fact, it means we’re more likely to address them because we come from a place that sees addressing those topics as a PRESSING NEED instead of as something to be avoided. We want to make people feel challenged and productively uncomfortable while also nourishing those who need it and providing support for folks marginalized due to their sexuality or desires. If you are looking for a “safe” group that doesn’t push envelopes, this is not it.

For Gloria Anzaldúa (in the vein of “Your Body Figured”)

You were always a precocious little girl.

Bleeding before your time, red where only other colors should be.
Secret rags that you washed and hung on a low cactus, chest bound tight as if you were trying to shove everything back inside of yourself.

Did you ever feel special encased in those girdles?
Did you feel snug and protected, cradled like a little doll inside a chrysalis?
Or did you feel trapped, squeezed inside a too-small cocoon that was made by someone else—your mother-moth?

Stunted growth at twelve only affected your body; everything else kept expanding, including the pain. It made you dissociate—thoughts carried off somewhere else while your nerves screamed, energy coursing to your brain, telling you to do something. Years later, fibroids and fevers, body pulsating and rocking and drowning all at the same time. Everything floating out of you, concrete reality left behind, in a twist of fate, the tighter the pain and the girdles and the world coiled around you.

You were always a spiritual person.

Your name—a chant, a praise raised as a glory to whom?
In life, to your heritage: mestiza, a borderlands calling for a new consciousness.
Maybe now that you’re somewhere else you’d say the earth, warmed with dripping blood that haunted you for so long, blood that shamed parts of your body into hiding.

Your name made you a bearer of good news, a daughter of Eve and angels, unholy union that brought us all closer to peace through gospel-song. You would not be socialized into silence; you would rebel and write and claw at the privilege, the ground, and the barbed-wire fences meant to separate us. You focused on the gaps and the connections that you could create there, fashioned out of your own flesh, the bones in your back, a stairway to heaven constructed out of ribs. Your back, broken and rebuilt as a bridge for others to cross. Your innards scooped out to deal with the pain and the lumps, leaving a hole where you could finally live, where others could rest from the world. Dark and cavernous, you dove inside to write from the core. Yet there was still pain, its epicenters on your skin, drawn all over your body like tiny targets.

You were as groundbreaking as an earthquake.

They called you traitor, a cultural betrayer, for rocking the boat and exposing the rot, the soft underbelly—so pale from being hidden from the light. You knew what you were doing.

You knew you were born a queer.

The Devil and Shelley Lubben

Shelley Lubben: The sketchiness around her, her work, and her “charity” is really intense. In short, she’s an ex-porn performer turned anti-porn activist who runs a non-profit called the Pink Cross Foundation. In their own words:

Pink Cross Foundation is a faith-based IRS approved 501(c)(3) public charity dedicated to reaching out to adult industry workers offering emotional, financial and transitional support. We largely focus on reaching out to the adult film industry offering support to women and men. Pink Cross Foundation also reaches out to those struggling with pornography offering education and resources to recover.

Pink Cross Foundation also works to combat community deterioration due to pornography and prostitution through attempts to educate legislation in order to enforce health and safety laws within the pornography industry, to protect adult industry workers from sexually transmitted diseases and other job-related abuses, to ameliorate the secondary negative effects of pornography on the general public and to toughen laws to protect children from accessing online pornography.

However, I hope we all know that what someone CLAIMS to do and what someone ACTUALLY does can often be two very, very different things. As a 501(c)(3), the Pink Cross Tax Returns are public record. Check out toward what the money has gone! You can turn to one of the comments on this blog post that succinctly highlights it. Also, check out these LENGTHY exposés: Part 1-2 and Part 3. Want more? Check out this and this.

When you look at the numbers, it really seems like she’s only marketing and helping HERSELF.

Personally, I have ZERO respect for this woman. Profiting from her fake desire to “help those stuck in the porn industry,” placing the blame for her mistakes and situations on the porn industry and taking ZERO responsibility herself, spreading lies and misrepresentations to further her own agenda instead of providing clear facts in context, overacting to elicit “compassion” and show “how intense” her “struggle” was? Horrible, horrible stuff. As someone in academia and the sexuality field, I think what she’s doing is damaging, irresponsible, WRONG, and utterly reprehensible.

Anyway, what this post was actually about–I wanted to let you know there’s a documentary in the works about her! Parts 1 and 2 are HERE and HERE.  P.S. RACISM ALERT. There’s a lovely bit in Part 1 of the documentary where she discusses a client who was “a crazy Chinaman” whose penis was “too small” for a condom. She goes on to say he accidentally impregnated her and how horrible it was because she didn’t want to “give birth to an ugly Asian baby.” WHAT. She also does a marvelously insulting faux Chinese accent. Check it out. Way to go, interlocking systems of oppression.