“WE NORMALLY DON’T HAVE A spring crop,” says Paul D’Anna, a home gardener in Metairie, Louisiana. But this year—maybe it’s the weather or, though he’s loathe to talk himself up, maybe it’s his green thumb—he got lucky: His backyard vines have already produced around 70 fruits.
RICHARD LIGON’S 17TH-CENTURY MAP OF Barbados shows an island surrounded by sea monsters. But the most mysterious inhabitants of Richard Ligon’s Barbados are also the most banal: five curly tailed pigs. Half of them are hairy and feral; the other half are smooth.
Read more at Atlas Obscura. Photo: Public Domain.
FOR OGBODO NKIRUKA, THE SLAP of a hand hitting a watermelon is a welcome melody. A fruit vendor who’s been selling watermelons from a roadside stand in the Nigerian city of Enugu for 15 years, she identifies the ripeness of her wares by ear. Each melon has its own music, a deep, hollow thump—ba ba, ba, ba— indicating a fruit that’s perfectly ripe.
Check out Adam Howard’s great piece on the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise over at Playboy It’s a great examination of the contradictory appeal of this very contradictory franchise—featuring some commentary from yours truly:
I do think it’s an interesting franchise because it’s premised on this whole idea of the forbidden,” Reina Gattuso, a columnist for Feministing who writes about gender, sexuality, violence and consent, tells Playboy. “If I wanted to see people having sex, I would just watch porn.”
But Gattuso concedes that for some women who may be more inhibited or may be constrained by a conservative atmosphere, material like Fifty Shades of Grey may provide a necessary outlet for sexual expression. “I don’t want to trash something that helps someone figure out their sexuality,” she says. “I would hope that if someone finds Fifty Shades of Grey to be really arousing, and [it] helped open up a space that they really couldn’t explore before, that could serve as a launching point for further engagement with these issues of sexuality and consent.”[…]
Now, the question remains whether the focus can shift to weightier issues like power: Who has it, how is it wielded and how can it be used in a positive way? “Being sex-positive means that sex is not the moral issue,” says Gattuso. “The way we treat one another is the moral issue.”
Read the full article at Talkspace.
For most of us, orgasms are, simply, awesome. Yet from the origins of modern psychology in the late nineteenth century, a combination of cultural stereotypes, pseudoscience, and plain old misogyny created an enduring notion that women’s orgasms were a problem to be solved, rather than a normal part of sexual pleasure and mental wellbeing.
From the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, many psychologists, inspired by Freudian psychoanalysis, argued that women should only achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration by a man. Any other kind of female sexual pleasure — including masturbation, queer sexuality, and any stimulation of the clitoris — was considered a sign of “masculinity,” imbalance, or even insanity.
While historical stigma against women’s sexual pleasure contributes to an orgasm gap that persists today, contemporary psychologists are drawing on the work of pioneering feminists and sexuality researchers to correct misinformation and celebrate the diversity of healthy female sexuality.
Here’s how contemporary women came to take our sexual pleasure (and our clitoral orgasms!) back.
Read the full article at Talkspace.
Find the original article on Talkspace.
During the Civil Rights Movement, white psychologists invented a so-called mental illness. Dubbing it “protest psychosis,” these psychologists used the racially-motivated “syndrome” to explain away the reasonable rage of black Americans demanding an end to segregation.
Sixty years later, racial disparities in the mental health care system remain, including lack of access to mental health services for communities of color, inadequate addressal of the real psychological trauma caused by racism, and racially-motivated diagnoses like the now-scrapped “protest psychosis.”
But that doesn’t have to be the case. Increasingly, anti-racist advocates in the mental health community are encouraging us all to recognize mental health as a racial justice issue.
Find the complete article on Talkspace.
The full essay is published at Critical Collective, an Indian journal of art and visual culture.
In December 2013, under Delhi’s smoggy winter skies, the queer community gathered in response to bad news: The Supreme Court had just upheld Section 377 of the Indian penal code. Prohibiting all forms of sex besides heterosexual intercourse, the antiquated law had long been a focal point of queer struggles in India .
A month later, two Urdu-speaking outlaw women lovers drove off into the sunset together on the Indian big screen. They were Begum Para and Muniya, the two protagonists of Abhishek Chaubey’s 2014 Dedh Ishqiya. We can read their story as a moment of queer vision and re-vision coincidentally emerging at a time of political setback.
Dedh Ishqiya’s plot employs the double vision of the Hindi buddy film to reveal queer possibility hidden in plain sight. Second, the film hinges upon reference to women’s intimacy within the Urdu literary and cultural milieu.
Find the original article at The Ladies Finger.
Sometimes, you just want to clock a man on the head with a beer bottle. This, at least, is the lesson I draw from Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink. And boy, is it true.
The past few weeks have been one of those times. It’s the beginning of cooler weather in Delhi, and as the monsoon semester slides the long slope to winter, a rape case against a senior left activist has rocked Jawaharlal Nehru University, where I am a student. Discussion around the case has shaken into view the broader problem of pervasive sexual harassment and assault at JNU and beyond. Meanwhile, conservative commentators and right-wing politicians continue to sing gleefully about how giving women too much freedom — rather than teaching men sexist bullshit — is the reason for sexual assault.
In this climate I hear of Pink, a feminist courtroom drama whose poster features three young women lorded over by a god-like photo of Amitabh Bachchan. So I and a classmate set out for a showing at Amba Cinema, at Delhi University North Campus. It’s 5.30 in the evening when I step onto the metro, wary of men’s roving eyes and hands. After a month of intense campus debate about sexual assault, my patience level for male bullshit is zero.
Anyone on this train gropes me, I think to myself as I quick-walk to the women’s compartment, and I’ll motherfucking punch them.
At North Campus, the cinema has a decent beginning-of-the weekend crowd. The audience is approximately 70/30 men/women. I wonder how this will affect their reactions to film, but as far as I can tell, this mostly means lots of hooting at every new appearance of Bachchan.
We munch 40-rupee popcorn as the lights dim.
Here’s a plot summary: Edgy-sexy relative newcomers Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, and Andrea Tariang play three “normal working women” — Minal, Falak, and Andrea respectively — who, after an all-too-recognisable “bad night” at a rock concert, end up being relentlessly stalked by a convincingly creepy Rajveer (Angad Bedi) and his Posse of Horrible Men.
Rajveer is the archetypal South Delhi rich boy rapist, a be-blazered douchebag whose brief stint at Oxford was funded by daddy’s pocketbook and whose “youthful indiscretions” (read: likely history of committing sexual assault) are brushed under the rug by daddy’s political cronies.
For most of the film — the first half of which details the stalking; the second half of which is a courtroom drama — we are left in suspense as to what, exactly, happened at the rock concert that caused Minal to smash the fatal beer bottle on Rajveer’s head. But even without knowing the exact sequence of events, sexual violence is everywhere in the film, from the plot to the very atmosphere of South Delhi.
Delhi is portrayed as a city of anxiety, its cloudy skies and smoggy highways creating suspense and a sense of pervasive corruption. The foggy, oxygen-less ambience evokes both Delhi’s signature bad air quality and near-constant gender-based violence.
Meanwhile, posh South Delhi is represented through a series of claustrophobic shots of bunker-like house exteriors, interiors like forts against the world. The women are shown scrambling to open the heavy gate in front of their house at night; we are not sure whether it locks rapists out, or locks the women in. Rather than cutting conveniently from location to location, the film frequently shows the women anxiously awaiting cabs. Their curtailed mobility also constrains us as viewers in the small, paranoid world of the Amar Colony elite.
The women are hemmed-in not just by gates, but by gaze, as the residents of the colony constantly surveil them through open windows. A neighbourhood uncle even goes so far as to testify against the women’s characters in court. It’s a nightmare made into reality: an actual panel of prying, probably perverted old men testifying that we should go to jail for our sexual profligacy.
Two thirds through the film, we shift from the confines of the colony to the confines of the court. In an act of typically entitled revenge, Rajveer and Horrible Rich Boy Posse have pulled strings in order to charge Minal with attempted murder (and therefore get out of having attempted to rape Minal) and all three of the women with soliciting.
At first, chances for the women look bleak. Rajveer and Co’s ruthless lawyer is a slut-shamer extraordinaire, and he does a stunning job wallowing in the depths of gendered contradiction inherent to Rajveer and Co’s — and much of the court’s — patriarchal mindset.
Into this contradictory space, Sehgal/Bachchan (let’s be honest, he’s not anything but Bachchan) goes for the long-strategy for the women’s defense, choosing to prove not that they are “good girls,” chaste girls, girls who do not drink or smoke or laugh with boys or have sex, but that they are — pure and simple — girls who did not consent.
Tension builds until Sehgal cross-examines Minal about the “encounter” with Rajveer.
“What did you say?” Sehgal asks her.
“I said no,” Minal repeats.
“You said no.” Sehgal/Bachchan’s voice fills the space. “She said no.”
And then, in his final courtroom speech, Sehgal/Bachchan hits the high note. Any woman, he says, no matter who she is, what she has done, what her sexual history is, or what she has had to drink, has a fundamental right to consent.
Bachchan’s bass rings over the court: “Na ka matlab nahin hota hai!”
And I’m off: tears, chills, nose dripping snot all over my kurta. Here I am sitting in a single-screen theater in North Campus, surrounding by a bunch of hooting men, and I’m crying because Amitabh Bachchan — of all people — has just affirmed women’s basic right to consent.
Alright: it’s totally didactic. The fact that Bachchan, rather than any of the women, makes the final triumphant speech is male saviour bullshit. And yes, the film reads like Chowdhury decided to make a “Serious Important Film that responds to the Serious Important issue of sexual violence.” Bachchan is transparently employed so the film has a major star seller — and so the message can get through the (often thick) skulls of young men.
But damn, as an educational piece on Consent 101, Pink hits home. I want mandatory screenings for all of my prospective male sexual partners.
Of course, the film is a fantasy. In the actual Indian legal system, one can hardly imagine an old feminist male lawyer patiently and emotionally explaining slut-shaming to an engrossed courtroom and receptive judge. One can hardly imagine the misogynist rich boy going to jail; the independent bourgeoisie girls getting off scot-free; and everyone’s favorite aging action hero thanked by a policewoman in a final nod of gratitude that is frankly classist on the part of the filmmakers — oh thank you for saving little old policewoman me, big fancy lawyer Amitabh Bacchan!
In the actual Indian legal system, the film might well be the subject of court action for inciting women to whack men on the head. But one hopes Amitabh Bachchan’s deep voice and not the threat of errant beer bottles will suffice to beat “na ka matlab nahin hota hai” into young men’s brains.
Meanwhile, I sit on the rattling Delhi metro on the way home from Amba Cinema, glass windows reflecting my skin sallow in the yellow fluorescence of public transit. The long walk between the metro platform and the exit is, as always, choked with the male gaze. Thick as smog, gaze is a presence; it cakes like dust onto your skin. Sometimes walking through it feels physical, like fighting through a flock of birds.
When I emerge from Hauz Khas metro it is a warm evening; the air is thick and sweet — rancid as overboiled chai. An auto ride back to campus in the headlight-heavy night, and on the verge of campus the trees let out their seductive sigh. I am home again, but home for women— as for Falak, Minal, and Andrea, and as we at JNU have recently seen all too well — is never entirely safe.
I think of the last shot of the film as I pull into campus. The shot, brief and sunny, is of the three women on the terrace of their flat, their arms around each other, silhouetted by perfect Instagram sunlight against an open sky. They have been let off and their would-be rapist will go to prison; for a moment, in this whalebone corset of a neighbourhood, they can breathe.
It is a beautiful ending, and I am suspicious of it. On one hand, we know that actually, everything is not okay. Outside the frame, the neighbourhood is still watching. The uncle who testified against them will continue to rub them with his groping gaze. Their parents will hound them. The women will bear their trauma forever; all cannot be purified in the wash of perfectly-filtered sunlight.
Still, stumbling out of the auto in the middle of campus, I want to believe — I do believe — that the final image of female friendship is not total fantasy. I remember when I first moved to Delhi, how it was a city of haze and constant threat of male violence, but also of held hands and ganja, of dusty rutted roads giving way to taupe houses reaching toward a light-smudged night sky.
There is, after all, a transcendence in friendship.
Read the original article at The Advocate.
Adrienne Rich was not writing in an age when women could video chat each other while riding their male partners cowgirl-style. But when she wrote about existence as a spectrum of decentralized pleasure—about the hands and the clit and the cunt, about the wrists and the toes rather than the vagina—she might as well have been writing about Broad City.
Season One, Episode One: The opening image of the show. Abbi and Ilana—two young women whose codependent best friendship and stoned New York City adventures star in the Comedy Central series—are video chatting. Ilana bounces to music as the women plan their day. Or we think Ilana is bouncing to music. Suddenly, she adjusts the webcam, and we discover that Ilana is mid-intercourse with a man.
“Okay,” says an exasperated Abbi. “I don’t want to see you have sex.”
“That was hot. That was cool. That was like a threesome,” Ilana says.
Abbi and Ilana are partners. They spend each day together. They video chat in the morning and before bed. They are obsessed with each other. They are, for all intents and purposes, in love. But Abbi and Ilana never have genital sex.
Other characters think that Abbi and Ilana have sex. Ilana wants to have sex. She routinely attempts to glimpse Abbi naked; she suggests they try a sexual position called the “Arc de Triomphe”; her world shatters, momentarily, when she learns that Abbi has made out with another girl. Abbi always turns Ilana down.
Yet Abbi and Ilana’s relationship is intensely, even grossly, physical. Ilana stores the pair’s weed in her vagina. She manually moves Abbi’s poop when Abbi’s crush is over and the toilet is clogged. Even the more squeamish Abbi likes to call Ilana during hookups: post-sex next to a sleeping man in bed, or from the bathroom mid-sexual encounter to discuss the merits of anal penetration. The women want sex, they have sex, they talk about having sex, and they do all of it together.
The weird physicality of Abbi and Ilana’s relationship—the intensely intimate, yet non genital-sexual physicality—is more than a story of best friendship. It challenges the very dichotomy between genital and non-genital eroticism. In doing so, the show speaks for and to the ambiguous snugglers and the lip balm-sharers, to those of us in wild friendship. Broad City opens up new kinds of desire with our friends.
What’s the difference between friends we do and don’t have sex with?
Despite the moral uproar about millennials being a generation of friends with benefits, our thinking has maintained a fundamental dichotomy: There is friendship, and there is romance, and the two different kinds of relationships are distinguished by whether or not we have genital sex.
This binary is hierarchical. Yes, we love our friends. Yes, we value them. But what we ultimately want—the climax of every marriage plot; the ordering logic of Sex and the City—are “significant others,” as though only our sexual relationships are significant. Or, as though sexlessness leaves us as unfinished Platonic bodies, “other halves.”
But in Broad City’s universe, Abbi and Ilana’s obsession with each other is the central story. And it’s pungently physical. Yes, the women have genital-sexual partners. But they are rapt with each other. Abbi watches erotic cupcake-eating videos with Ilana, not with her sex partner. And when Ilana goes into anaphylactic shock from a shellfish allergy, it is Abbi who, in the slow motion of a romantic hero, carries her out.
“We begin to discover the erotic in female terms: as that which is unconfined to any single part of the body…as an energy not only diffuse but, as Audre Lorde has described it, omnipresent,” writes Adrienne Rich in her 1980 essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Rich is one of a coterie of lesbian feminists, including the likes of Audre Lorde and Monique Wittig, who seek to liberate eroticism from the vagina. Though with diverse political and cultural affiliations, these theorists agree on one thing: Decentering the linear and patriarchal logic that privileges genital sex can reorder our relationships with our bodies and each other. This more diffuse eroticism is politically radical. Rich argues that non-linear lesbian pleasure challenges institutional heterosexuality. And in Wittig’s work, eroticism between women can reorder the very logic of the body.
Abbi and Ilana’s relationship follows this alternate logic. It is not the neutered homosociality of demure lady friends, the female friendship carefully sanitized, the duo in a quest for men. Ilana telling Abbi, as they sip ice coffee on Ilana’s bed, that she’ll watch her give birth even if Abbi poops during the process (“Bitch, duh!”) isn’t exactly The Lesbian Body. But it’s close.
In an essay on racialized sexuality published in The New Inquiry, Luke Pagarani argues for weird friendship as a political practice. For 2300 words he writes that Grindr culture creates a neoliberal grocery-store model of sexuality. And then he says, screw it.
Forget sex. We live in a time when friendship can be more revolutionary than sex. Society seems to fear the transformative potential of friendship, that amorphous concept of partiality…Perhaps we should take that seriously and see love as that desire to discover new desires with our friends, the base unit of politics.
With their pseudo Skype sex and strange codependence, their knowledge of each other’s habits and excrement and hands, Abbi and Ilana challenge the dominance of sexual and narrative linearity. The intense physicality of their desire for each other—the intense physicality of our desire for each other—disrupts the tyranny of the genitals.
Broad City tells us that sexless, we are not half-absence, but full to the brim. We are collaborators in pleasure with our friends.