Celebrating the “uns”

On this rainy day, I revisited a chapter that I initially read nearly two years ago in one of my first graduate courses. The contents of the chapter (and I must admit – the book) had become hazy and the details long lost, but, delightfully, in (re)opening the book I (re)discovered the wonderful notion of celebrating the “uns.” This book, Challenging the Professionalization of Adult Education, describes the life & work of John Ohliger, a ‘radical’ adult educator who made substantial contributions to our field; and in this particular chapter, Lee Karlovic describes Ohliger’s fascination & focus on the “uns” – which  Ohligher himself described as “unabashed, unafraid, uncensorable, unconventional, uninhibited, unorthodox, unpretentious, unstinting, unsung, untiring, and finally, definitely unique!” (Ohliger, 2000, p. 2).

I, too, want to be a part of this celebration of the “uns.” I am so fascinated by the unlikely and unconventional places of learning – such as my favourite place – the in-home sex toy party. I like to think of unlikely places as spaces of cultural resistance, in which popular culture can be used “to resist and/or change the dominant political, economic and/or social structure” (Duncombe, 2002, p. 5). Sure, sex toy parties are a venue to sell sex toys, but in my experience, they are also a venue to resist powerful and entrenched, sex-negative rhetoric – such as viewing female sexuality as difficult & problematic, difference as pathological, and sex toys as deviant. It is my belief that this particular consumer space actually creates the opportunity to (re)visit and (re)write our beliefs about sexuality in a new & different way. From where I stand, sex toy parties can be pleasure-based, sex-positive, self-directed learning at its best! With a facilitator as your guide and your friends as your sounding-board, you can explore ideas and seek information that is meaningful to you on topics that are rarely openly & honestly discussed.

So, to quote John Ohliger, “here’s to ‘the uns'” (Ohliger, 2000, p. 2) – may this thesis journey be full of the unlikely, the unconventional, the unexpected and the previously unseen!

References:

Duncombe, S. (2002). Cultural resistance reader. New York, NY: Verso.

Karlovic, L. (2009). A mindful commitment to connecting women toward intellectual community. In A.P. Grace & T. Rocco (Eds.) Challenging the professionalization of adult education: John Ohliger and contradictions in modern practice (pp. 257-278). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ohliger, J. (2000). The early days at the back porch radio: Spread the WORT? Madison, WI: Basic Choices.

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The Medicalization of Everything… Including Sex Toys

After watching the excellent documentary Orgasm, Inc. and subsequently joining The New View Campaign (they have an excellent listserv!) – I feel like I now see with new eyes. We, as a society, are part of a systematic and ongoing attempt to medicalize everything, but our overpowering cultural rhetoric does not allow us to recognize this as dangerous…

In Orgasm, Inc., filmmaker Liz Canner familiarizes us with the powerful, pharmaceutical lobby behind the ‘disease category’ of female sexual dysfunction (FSD). It seems as if notion of dysfunction is accepted without question due to the high profile of erectile dysfunction (no pun intended!) in our everyday lives (think: commercials, billboards, print ads, etc.) in addition to the pervasive discourse that female sexuality is difficult to work with – therefore we must work around. Throw some questionable research, responsible for initiating the figure that 43% of women suffer from FSD (Laumann, Paik, & Rosen, 1999), into the mix and… Voila! Female sexual dysfunction is Truth and it must be remedied… with drugs…

Unfortunately, this is but one strikingly obvious example of the medicalization of our everyday lives. It seems that ‘health’ has now subsumed pleasure. We are no longer able to experience things because we love them and they make us feel good… instead they must be good for us, they must improve us OR they are not worth doing AND we must value them for the good they are doing us. When things like art, dance, animals, and yes – even sex toys – are only legitimized for their therapeutic value, the rights of everyday people to experience these things for reasons other than health-related ones are eroded. For some things, such as sex toys, this notion has even become legally entrenched.

Vibrators originated in the late nineteenth century as a  medical device for the treatment of ‘hysteria.’ In the century that has come and gone, the medical community have come to realize that what had been defined as hysteria “may have been, at least in large part, the normal functioning of women’s sexuality in a patriarchal context that did not recognize its essential difference from male sexuality, with its traditional emphasis on coitus” (Maines, 1999, p. 3). Despite this shift in our understanding of female sexuality, there is still tension surrounding the use of vibrators. In the United States, there has been a strong movement towards banning the sale of vibrators and other sex toys – “all states currently place at least one prohibition on the sale of vibrators and other sexual gadgets” (Lindemann, 2006, p. 3). As a means of combating these prohibitions, sex toys are positioned as therapeutic tools – and discussions about personal freedoms (and pleasure!) are not part of the legal argument. This has created a “modern-day, legal emphasis on the vibrator’s use as a treatment for female sexual dysfunction and the contemporary court’s repeated attestations that the device’s worth lies in its therapeutic value brings us full-circle to an era when the device was legitimated only as a treatment” (Lindemann, 2006, p. 1).

This concerning trend illustrates the primacy of health in the most intimate aspects of our lives. Yes, it is important to be mindful of our health and to promote sexual health in ways that allow everyone to experience their sexuality to the fullest, but it need not be the main or only reason we engage with our sexuality – and our sex toys!

References:

Canner, L. (Producer & Director). (2009). Orgasm, Inc.: The strange science of female pleasure [Motion picture]. United States of America: Astrea Media.

Laumann, E.O., Paik, A., & Rosen, R.C. (1999). Sexual dysfunction in the United States: Prevalence and predictors. Journal of the American Medical Association, 281(6), 537-544. doi: 10.1001/jama.281.6.537

Lindemann, D. J. (2006). Pathology full circle: A history of anti-vibrator legislation in the United States. Columbia Journal of Gender & Law, 15(1), 326-346. Retrieved from http://login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=qth&AN=20364559&site=eds-live&scope=site

Maines, R. (1999). The technology of orgasm: “Hysteria,” the vibrator, and women’s sexual satisfaction. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkin’s University Press. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/2027/heb.00062.0001.001

Posted in Feminism, Sex Toys | 4 Comments

Men need sex toys too! (two words: the sleeve)

Ok. My favourite subject – sex toys. As I was coming home on the bus tonight, I had the distinct pleasure of tuning into the weekly Savage Love podcast. Mr. Savage’s opening “rant” this week was all about the sex toy double standard and by this he was referring to the phenomenon of female sex toy use being defined as adventurous and cool (think Sex and the City), while male sex toy use is often seen as pathetic and desperate (think what the fuck is wrong with this guy!? Can’t he find someone to have sex with him!). I, for one, would like to say here! here! to Dan for bringing this conversation to the fore… so that we can squash this annoying double standard once and for all, right here right now.

Having worked as an in-home sex toy party facilitator for the past four plus years, I can tell you firsthand that this is truly the impression of male sex toy use. I often hear toy party participants saying “guys don’t NEED sex toys” and to tell you the truth, I want to march my husband right into their living room so that he can extoll the virtues of sex toys and blow their freakin’ minds. But instead I calmly work in a funny little anecdote about my good old hubby, who worked in the oil & gas industry, selling “sleeves” (Google it!) to an overworked, under-rested co-worker going through a bad break-up. This usually creates a few nervous laughs and sideways glances. And then I tell them how once word got out around site, this 1 toy snowballed into a cottage industry of sleeve-lube combo packs being sold out of the back of our subaru wagon in the parking lot of his place of employ. Then the smiles break out, the laughs become heartier and they promptly buy one for their partner.

I’ve been researching and writing about the educational value of in-home sex toy parties for two years now and I have never come across any literature that talks about men attending these parties – in fact, many party companies do not allow men to even attend! I think this is really unfortunate and short-sighted (simple economics people). While I love getting together with a group of women who want to talk about sex (and sex toys) and partaking in a little consciousness-raising, I truly feel that there is great value in bringing men into these conversations. I rarely have the pleasure of conducting these parties with men in the room, but when I do I find the conversation simply digs deeper at all sorts of issues, whether it be a great anatomy conversation or a whole unpacking session of gender norms & stereotypes. We simply cannot address questions of sexuality that ultimately point to greater social issues as effectively with only one gender in the room.

So essentially I am saying that men need to join in on The Great Sex Toy Conversation. And in order to do so, they need to be given the freedom to attend, to talk, to experiment. And if you want me to do a party for you just to get the ball rolling, let me know – but I promise, once you go there, there is no going back… And I am really excited about that.

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Studying & The Wire

“My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous.” – Michel Foucault

As this long winter has melted into spring, I really struggled to keep up with my studying. It is not for lack of passion or motivation, but I just felt tired and fresh out of ideas. It seemed like my brain was standing still… No matter how much I read and how many notes I took, nothing felt like it was gelling into something meaningful. Then my hubby & I started watching The Wire. I found the first couple of episodes really jarring and I wasn’t sure that this was a series I wanted to watch, but the more I started to think about it, the more I saw what I was reading about in this show – it was poststructuralism in (television) reality!

To me, it is so fascinating to watch a show in which the main goal seems to be the illustration of the multiple & intersecting positionalities that make up each character based on their gender, race, class, etc. I really appreciate the complexities of the people and the systems examined in The Wire. The police are not the saviours nor are they the power-mad despots of their communities – well sure, some are, but overall each individual is somewhere in the middle, vacillating in between the extremes based on their own lived experience. The drug dealers & gangsters range from sociopathic to loveable ruffians to college students to (il)legitimate businessmen – and that is all the same character! This same shades-of-grey notion plays out with politicians, teachers, the media, etc. and has viewers of the show all turned around about what is good and right and worth fighting for. In this way The Wire defies the right/wrong binary and the need for a neat & clean resolution – and in doing so, it challenges us to think about our own binary logic and the assumptions that drive us to use it in particular ways.

I love finding inspiration where it’s least expected…

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In Honour of Northern Japan

This gallery contains 10 photos.

After seeing the footage of the devastating earthquake that rocked Japan today, I had an overwhelming urge to share some beautiful photos of Tokyo & northern Honshu, the areas most affected. My husband and I embarked on a two month … Continue reading

Gallery | 1 Comment

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today is the centenary celebration of International Women’s Day. Events are occuring around the world to mark the progress that has been made regarding the advancement of women. Some visions of equality have become reality and it is important to mark these changes; however, it is also a day to rally together and pressure for change on those issues that have been ignored or fallen stagnant. In 2011 women are still not full participants in society, our contributions are still not fully perceived as equal to those of men, and there is still much more ground to be gained for the advancement of our gender. For more information on today’s events around the globe, please go to  International Women’s Day 2011.

I would personally like to mark this occasion by acknowledging the women in my life who are a source of inspiration. Happy International Women’s Day to my mother – who made me a feminist when she stood up for what she believed in, even though not a single soul followed her as she left the church. Happy International Women’s Day to my father – a self-described feminist, who talks to his midlle-aged male friends about women’s issues and never fails to engage me in lively debate. Happy International Women’s Day to my sister – who shows that you can be a feminist and look good doing it. Happy International Women’s Day to my boss & co-workers – each has conquered the task (in a multiplicity of ways) of being well-educated, sharing their talents through a meaningful career, and raising children to think critically! And finally, Happy International Women’s Day to my grandmother – she traveled across Canada as a young woman to start her career as a nurse; she raised three daughters – who all raised daughters (and one son); she fostered a meaningful relationship with me, her eldest granddaughter and taught me that I can make my own rules (and I can break them once in a while too!) and I can have it all, as long as I don’t hurt anyone else in the process.

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A response to David Frum and his ideas on feminism

David Frum: Feminists need to admit that Western men are not the enemy

I am posting out of frustration. Mr. Frum, your perspective on feminism is quite archaic, so let me provide you with an update…

The broad movement of Feminism is made up of a collective of feminisms. This postmodern perspective of feminism arose as the women’s liberation movement, which was largely made up of white, middle class women, failed to capture the lived experience of all women. It is now widely recognized within the feminist movement that women, and all people, are made up of many intersecting and often conflicting positions based on the gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and so on, of the individual. Feminist analysis places gender at the heart of oppression and this analysis still rallies to the mantra of ‘the personal is political.’ However, “to politicize means not to bring politics in where there were none, but to make overt how power permeates the construction and legitimation of knowledges” (Lather, 1991, p. xvii).

Given this current perspective of the feminist movement, your argument, Mr. Frum, regarding the enemies of feminism seems to have developed a few holes. To pit feminism against multiculturalism verges on irresponsible, because as you know, women are found in all cultures. This reductionist perspective fails to recognize that “gender is not the sole determinant of a woman’s identity” (hooks, 1994, p. 77). Additionally, your Islamaphobic examples of multiculturalisms failings does not allow us to engage in critical discussion regarding the successes and challenges of our ever-shrinking world. All cultures will be challenged as populations become more integrated because interacting with those with differing beliefs forces us to examine our own and hopefully, it also forces us to acknowledge the shades of grey within every ideology and doctrine.

There is one thing that we can agree on Mr. Frum, women’s rights around the world are seeing a backslide. This includes the rights of Western women who are still making 20% less than their males counterparts and who still conduct the majority of unpaid work -something that we will no longer be able to measure in Canada since it has recently been removed from our long-form census. So it seems that feminism has a few “enemies,” including but not limited to, religious zealots (fundamentalists of all religions included) and the Harper Government. However, I am confident that we feminists will continue to persevere against all forms of oppression around the world by subverting the notion that feminism is obsolete and working together, along with male allies, towards an empowered and emancipated future. Happy 100th International Women’s Day!

References:

Lather, P. (1991). Getting smart: Feminist research and pedagogy with/in the postmodern. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

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