I’m Proud to Be a 49er, and You Should Be, Too.

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Peter Shih didn’t know who he was picking a fight with when he posted his anti-San Francisco screed. Bay Area dwellers can take a joke or two about our busses and fog, but we have no patience for such transphobic, classist, misogynist shenanigans. He’s been taken down brilliantly again and again, and given his recent apology, it seems that message is sinking in.

However, no one’s had the time to unpack his “49er” slur. I wish this sort of nonsense didn’t create anxiety and competition among cis-gendered straight women, but I still see it poison the heads of women in my life. Also, I’ve heard other blogger dudes make similar cracks about SF women, so I’d like to take that one on:

“I’m referring to all the girls who are obviously 4’s and behave like they are 9’s. Just because San Francisco has the worst Female to Male ratio in the known universe doesn’t give you the right to be a bitch all the time.”

Ah, how dare San Francisco reject the famous 10-point scale of female hotness!

Listen, I don’t object to physical attraction. In fact, I think it’s one of the magical parts of being human. When it’s mutual, it’s pretty heady stuff, all those hormones rushing and sparks flying. But most people realize, fairly quickly, that it’s not enough to sustain a relationship—you have to connect in other ways. Sometimes having the hots for each other isn’t even enough to guarantee a great hookup.

But I believe physical attraction is a personal, subjective experience. No doubt, some women and men out there have been so genetically blessed that most people would agree they’re easy on the eyes. However, most of us are some combination of beautiful, unremarkable, and “ugly” or “imperfect” features, and we tend to find ourselves attracted to people who are beautiful, unremarkable, and “flawed.” A “flaw” can be the thing that drives you wild. How can you quantify that in a linear 10-point scale?

I do reject the rigid set of impossibly “flawless,” Photoshopped standards of female beauty that TV, movies, and magazines keep telling us we all agree on. It becomes tyranny when these the messages insist, that a woman’s appearance—determined by how attractive she is to heterosexual men alone—is the whole of who she is, not just part of it. Then this fleeting state of perfect beauty becomes a virtuous goal in and of itself. For cis-gendered straight woman, it becomes the mythical golden ticket to fulfillment, true love and amazing sex, and success in all arenas. To see how the conceit of “sexiness as a virtue” works, look at the photoblog, Hot Chicks With Douchebags. To all those straight guys bemoaning the babe snuggling with a Vanilla Ice clone, did it ever occur to you that she might be a douchebag, too? No, because her beauty is the only virtue she needs to be a prize worth pursuing.

That brings me back to Shih, and this 10-point system of physical attraction that’s supposedly uniform among dude-bros and frat guys: It only makes sense if you’re too dumb to understand probability. For the sake of argument, let’s say you could actually rounded up all 3 billion women in the world and apply the supposedly universal (cough, Western white cis-gendered straight, cough) Hollywood standards of attractiveness to rank them on a 10-point scale. So you’d put, let’s say, whoever looks most like Barbie at 10, as I’m assuming that’s the plastic measuring stick Shih and his ilk use. Kate Upton? Beyoncé? Angelina Jolie? Claudia Schiffer in the ’90s? Whoever you want. Now, it’s tricky when you want to talk about the most unsightly woman on the planet, because that poor woman has had something horrible happen to her, such as being ravaged by disease or a disfiguring accident. That’s not so back-slappingly funny, right? But you find her and you put her at 1, and you do your sorting into 10 equal levels.

Guess what? It would look like perfect bell curve, as few people are horrendously ugly or devastatingly gorgeous. Most of women—millions and millions of us—would land squarely in the middle. The young would scale higher, like 7 or 8, and the old (assuming a frat boy’s perspective) would skew lower, like 3 or 4. So that when a dude and his bros hit a club, they’re pretty much guaranteed to enter a room full of women who are all 7s. They may all look completely different, with their diverse heights, weights, body shapes, faces, skin color, hairstyles, but on a scale of 1-to-10, they’re all hot young women dolled up for a club, just a few of the millions of 7s roaming the planet. Jackpot!

Now, of course, this logical fact would render the 10-point game pointless for dude-bros. The truth is, a good deal of women are simply invisible to Shih and his friends: older women, masculine or genderqueer women, sick women, homeless women, etc. (Damn San Francisco and its visible homeless people, amirite?) These guys are only ranking women they consider bangable. A 1 would be a girl you’d sleep with if you just had no other options. A 10 would be the celebrity you’d sell your soul to spend one night with.

This ranking system is designed so that dude-bros can keep score while competing with each other, and also put women in their place. A 9 is supposed to have certain privileges, like self-confidence, even arrogance, and the right to say “no” to men’s advances. But a 4? She isn’t virtuous enough to deserve bodily autonomy. A 4 should be excited that a completely average-looking guy would even talk to her. Doesn’t she know it’s her job to give him sex as soon as he shows a hint of interest? Of course, as soon as a 6 comes along, he’s going to drop her like a hot potato, and she must accept that.

The truth is, in certain circles, women do work toward that Barbie standard of attractiveness like it’s a full-time job. Given what the media tell us, I don’t blame them. And some of them simply enjoy being femme and expressing their sexuality. I get that, too. These women, in addition to their natural genetic gifts, are master illusionists and devoted disciples. They work the magic of hairstyling, body-hair removing, makeup applying, tanning, manicuring, and scheduling dental work and even plastic surgery. They adhere to strict diets, ranging from healthy to deadly, and slave away at the gym. And they invest good money in Wonderbras, Spanx, stiletto heels, fashionable skin-tight dresses, teeny shorts, low-cut tops, and an assortment of bling. They put on the Hollywood image of untainted hotness, then they hit the clubs. (And sometimes they’re not even looking for male attention—shopping, being fit, getting done up, and going dancing with friends are rewards in and of themselves.)

But I suppose it creates a shock when a guy like Shih moves to a place where these practices are not a priority. What Shih doesn’t understand about San Francisco Bay Area women—perhaps excepting some lovely ladies in the Marina—is that they’re just too busy and cash-strapped spend their time, money, and energy on ALL of that. Some do SOME of that, of course. But women here would rather start companies or lead nonprofits, and struggle to do so in an area with some of the most astronomical rents in the country. They’d rather eat local, organic food because it’s delicious and good for the planet, and they’d rather do yoga for health and peace of mind. They’re busy educating underprivileged youth, organizing voters, and leading protest marches. They’re building installations for Burning Man, making experimental theater pieces, knitting sweaters for bike racks, and drawing comic books. They’re planning trips around the world, joining the circus, performing burlesque, and competing in roller derby. They’re swimming with sharks, starting community gardens, and inventing new ways to have sex or commune with nature. They’re building bicycles, they’re singing karaoke, and they’re playing in noise bands. They’re emceeing poetry slams and MC battles, and scratching records with their boobs. They’re learning Arabic, getting post-graduate degrees, taking the bar exam, and yes, even writing code.

In short, those so-called “4s” are actually astounding. Contrary to Shih’s assertion, the numbers in SF seem to favor cis-gendered straight men in the romance game, who can have a date with a different phenomenal woman every night of the week if they want. It’s an embarrassment of riches, one guy admitted to me. And the single cis-gendered straight women I know have no trouble getting laid here, but commitment is the virtue they find rare among SF men. Plenty of these women would give an unremarkable-looking guy a chance, but not if his approach involves clichéd PUA negging, PMS and transphobic jokes, and cruel plans for the homeless. Plus, if all he’s interested in is the surface—or upstaging his bros—then I guarantee you these savvy women smell his shit a mile away.

In a way, I (almost) feel sorry for guys like that, what they’re missing out on. Even the “9s” are have more going on than trying to please bros. They have friends, families, hobbies, and passions, too. Many of them are brilliant at their jobs, whether they turned their beauty expertise into a career like hairstyling or modeling, or they work double-time as lawyers, journalists, teachers, mothers, or community leaders. But when you rank women on a 10-point scale, making their physical attractiveness the most valuable thing about them, none of them get to be people in your eyes.

It’s that vampire lovin’, it’s just got me buggin’ …

Oh, Buffy, where have you gone when we need you?

With the latest batch of vampire romances, I’ve noticed a somewhat alarming trend: All the vampire heroes — you know, the immortal dead-inside blood suckers who possess tremendous strength and superpowers — are male. The vampire lovers — the comparatively weak, fragile humans who are bound by mortality — are female.

Lady vampire lover of yore (also known as 1997), Buffy Summers, while human, was at least a Slayer, also endowed with vampire-butt-kicking superpowers. She also died twice without truly dying. And although she’s been known to be seduced by the brooding vampire sex appeal, she never loses her mission: Rid the world of as many evil blood-sucking monsters as possible.

But here in 2009, we no longer have Slayers. We have pensive, conflicted vampires and the moody young women who love them: “The Vampire Diaries” teen drama just debuted on The CW last Wednesday; the “True Blood” Season 2 finale aired Sunday on HBO; and the second movie in the “Twilight” saga, “New Moon” hits the big screen on Nov. 20.

Ain’t them the breaks? FINALLY you meet a guy, and it’s always something. “Hey Mom, I met the perfect guy, and he says he would totally date me, if he weren’t already with a live-in girlfriend … Wow, this boy I just met is sooo dreamy; too bad he’s moving to another country next week …”

Pfft! Those are garden-variety problems. What if your dream man is cursed for all eternity? What if you’re always unsure whether he’s looking at you with burning sexual desire or just craving a juicy human steak? What if he’s an old soul who can hold his superior life experience over your head while he’s in state of arrested development — always the sulking, skulking teenage boy?

Let me preface this by saying that I have not read the “Twilight,” “The Vampire Diaries” or “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” books, so the complaints I’m logging are based solely on what’s on the screen — and may well be dealt with in the novels. Let’s talk about what we’ve seen so far …

***********SPOILERS AHEAD*************

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You gotta let him know, you ain’t a bitch or ho

In light of Kelis and Nas’ divorce, I am reminded how much Kelis warms my heart when dating has me down in the dumps.

See her awesome screaming freak-out in “Caught Out There.”

Not to suggest I endorse domestic violence, but it is refreshing to see a woman react to a breakup and a man’s deception — not by crying, not by begging him to come back, not by singing the blues — but by screaming and tearing things up. With her wild rainbow-streaked hair, she is a force of nature.

Sure, everyone got fed up with that silly “Milkshake” song, but for this “Young Fresh N’ New” video, I will always love her. She mounts a big monster truck, rolls over some cars, loads up some runaway kids to hit the road with her.

Speaking of feminist hip-hop pioneers, let’s talk Salt-n-Pepa. I danced to their killer beats for 20 years before I stopped to think about how ground-breaking they were. When “Push It” became Top 40 sensation, I was too young to understand the significance of women aggressively asserting their sexual desire. Yet Salt-n-Pepa were creating a hip-hop revolution with just with one simple stanza:

“Yo, baby pop, yo you, c’mere, give me a kiss.
You better make it fast or else I’m gonna get pissed.
Can’t you hear the music pumping hard like I wish you would?
Now push it. Push it good. Push it real good”

Look at those outfits – aren’t they badass?

What’s interesting to me is that today, 22 years later, there’s still a backlash. Continue reading

Sonia Sotomayor: Hysteria when you’re near

It astounds me — truly astounds me — that even in this day and age public figures can get away with attacking women leaders just for being women. A woman who is strong-willed, opinionated, assertive, forceful, or unwilling to suffer fools — all qualities valued in male leaders — is labeled an “angry bitch.” And not just! See, she has this thing called a uterus, and has these hormones called estrogen and progesterone, she must be unable to control her emotions. Back at the turn of the century, the previous turn of the century, they referred to this imagined phenomenon as “female hysteria.”


(Neurologist Jean Martin Charcot demonstrates a case of “hysteria” c. 1885)

As soon as President Obama named federal appeals judge Sonya Sotomayor as his nominee for the Supreme Court, right-wing commentators jumped on the chance to attack her — since they apparently are only against sexism when it’s politically convenient for them (i.e. making misogynist comments against Sen. Hillary Clinton, but claiming critics of former Gov. Sarah Palin are sexist).

An excellent article by McClatchy Newspapers on Wednesday predicted the coming firestorm:

WASHINGTON — Judge Sonia Sotomayor can be blunt, aggressive and impatient. So get ready for another public debate, and probably some insinuations, about her judicial temperament.
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Shaking up a nation of zombies

Last night, I went to the benefit screening of “America the Beautiful,” which originally came out in spring 2007. For someone who is very aware of media messages to women about beauty and sexuality and how we, as a culture respond, very little of the movie was surprising or new information. However, women (and men) receive hundreds and thousands of these negative messages every day, so I am always in favor of someone new trying to counter or break down these communications.

When it comes to this kind of feminist commentary, people always say, “Oh this has been said before!” Yes, but has it been said enough? How many headlines in a week screech, “Major Celebrity Gains 10 Pounds and Is Totally Fat Now.” Oh, that’s been said before. Does not stop them from saying it again.

Here is what made this film interesting to me: Continue reading

Is Joss Whedon trying to creep me out?

After watching the first two episodes of Joss Whedon’s new show, “Dollhouse,” starring Eliza Duskhu, I was feeling thoroughly squicked out.

I loooved Dushku’s character in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” as Faith “the dark slayer.” My good friend Chanelle used to complain that Buffy was too femme, that she didn’t look tough. And Chanelle never bought the slayer superpowers business. I can see both sides, as one hand, tough, well-muscled, un-dainty and un-pretty girls are hardly ever in the spotlight. On the other, I am a small woman who often is underestimated, so it thrilling to watch someone so little and cute kick butt. But Dushku could never be doubted. She exudes toughness. Even in the cheerleader epic “Bring It On,” you knew Dushku could rough all those girls (and boys) up.

So it is more than upsetting to watch “Dollhouse,” a show in which Dushku is stripped of all her power. Here is the premise: Women (and men) are sold or sell themselves into slavery (it’s not clear how much is voluntary and how much is done through blackmail or straight-up slavery) with a secret organization called Dollhouse, which then strips each slave of all his or her memories and personalities. She or he is then rented out to a millionaire for an exorbitant fees and programmed to have whatever personality and skills said millionaire requests.

*** SPOILERS ALERT***
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18-year-old basketball sensation

It’s always inspiring to see a young woman — especially one in high school — break through a glass ceiling. Here is the sort of teen who inspires me, more so than the “lost little girl” celebrities like Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan. Look how far we’ve come since Title IX.

Brittney Griner named nation’s no. 1 player

“She will change the face of women’s basketball.” Nimitz coach Debbie Jackson said. “There really is not a high school player that has played like Brittney Griner has. There’s no doubt in my mind that she will be one of the top notch collegiate players, and it won’t take long for her to do that.”

Phenomenal woman: Cheryl E. Leonard

My good friend Tanya, a phenomenal woman herself, wrote this beautiful article about sound artist Cheryl E. Leonard:

Tanya writes:

The sound of snow crunching under treading feet has a soothing quality. There’s nothing quite like the rhythm of little ice particles crushed by an eager boot. Concentrate on the sound for a long while, and eventually it becomes a small symphony of pressures, tones and pauses. Cheryl E. Leonard understands this. Recently, the San Francisco-based musician and naturalist received a grant from the National Science Foundation to go to Antarctica and develop musical compositions based on the natural elements and sounds of that cold, vast region.

Read the whole piece here

It should be mentioned that her article appears Coilhouse an awesome blog and print magazine produced by three fascinating ladies. See their posts on a woman gettting a mermaid tale, a feminist sci-fi writer, and the 25 Things About My Sexuality site.

Also, I am delighted by this list of topics they cover:

* cryptohistory and misanthropology
* abandoned structures + sprawling metropolises
* pre-apocalypse pleasure islands
* Genghis Khan’s bow and Hiro Protagonist’s sword
* Siamese twins, and other such nature’s curiosities
* otherworldly beauties with faces painted bright
* unreasonable footwear
* complicated hair
* technological body enhancement
* incredibly strange music
* flagrant futurism
* whalebone, absinthe & silk
* patricide girls
* body scaffolding
* dressing for war

If I ever disappear … look for me in the Carpathian Mountains

Because I can only hope some day to be such an awesome warrior woman.

These photos were taken by French photographer Guillaume Herbaut and originally posted on Oeil Public. Thanks to Dahlia Rideout on Divine Caroline for uncovering and my buddy James for pointing me to her post.

A group of about 150 women, calling themselves “Asgarda,” devote their lives to training in boxing and fighting with medieval weapons up in the Carpathian Mountains. Apparently, their hero is controversial Ukraine prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, an energy baroness-turned-reformer and leader in the Orange Revolution of 2004. At the very least, Tymoshenko seems like a force to reckon with, and I would say she also rocks some fierce Princess Leia braids, but that’s silly — surely Ukrainian women came up the ‘do way before George Lucas did.

From Herbaut’s photo essay on Asgarda:

Katerina Tarnouska (founder of Asgarda) looks at me in the eyes. She is a thirty-year-old blonde with a ponytail, wearing a white dress. “Time has come to get separated from the men.” She dreams of a walled world where women would live among themselves. A world like the one of the Amazon tribes.

Turns out the Amazons may have been women warrior tribes located in the Donesk area of eastern Ukraine. Rad!

See the photo essay here

Dahlia Rideout’s Divine Caroline post

Why I’m not into “He’s Just Not That Into You”

No, I’m not going to see “He’s Just Not That Into You,” as I’ve detested the concept and the book since it first came out. But I don’t need to. I’ve read enough to learn the whole plot of the movie. And I actually skimmed the book (there aren’t many words in it) when it was on the giveaway table at the San Francisco Chronicle.

What’s amazing, actually, is that comedian Greg Behrendt (and co-author Liz Tuccillo) have managed to make millions with a book based on a six-word phrase that is so self-explanatory a book could only be redundant. And it is! I think women read it just to go, “No, really, is that all you have to say?” Yes, it is!

[[EDIT: To be fair, I should note that Liz Tuccillo is the co-author of “He’s Just Not That Into You,” and I’m told she penned most of the book. But my tirade is directed at Behrendt because he’s always smarming about how he came up with the phrase when he was a “Sex and the City” consultant and posing as a relationship expert on TV.]]

(Seriously, are you going to listen to this guy?)

Here’s my problem with “He’s Just Not That Into You” — it’s a lie. It’s not just a lie; it’s a bald-face, hateful attack on single women — particularly those single women, like so many I know in urban centers, who’ve had a long chain of relationships that didn’t succeed or even really start.

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