October, 2009

How Do We Measure A Film Like "Precious?"

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Its official. Hollywood is holding its breathe for the premiere of “Precious“. Gossip, speculation, excitement, buzz…  How many Oscars will it catch? Is it “too urban”? Will it reach the art-house crowd and the Tyler Perry crowd? How much $$ will it bring in for Lionsgate?

But will anyone be addressing the social impact of a film like “Precious”? What happens to an audience when a life of incest, poverty and rape is writ large on the big screen? How do we measure a film that has already provoked painful truth-telling from the producers, director and actors? Executive Producer, Oprah Winfrey has long been vocal about the physical and sexual abuse she suffered as a child, but Tyler Perry? His disclosure could have been a career-killing move, but he told his story anyway. Mo’nique, made the bold decision to play the film’s villain, and came out about the sexual and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her brother. She talks about using the experience to fuel her performance. In Sunday’s New York Times, a twelve page profile of Lee Daniels, covers both his successes and his father’s beatings.

We are slowly making space as a public to listen to what we all know to be true: someone you know can relate to the story of Precious. Her story, and the stories of those who brought it to light, will spark a torrent. And as we continue to lift the shame, how will we measure the tidal wave?

Pay As You Go: Sex Worker Shorts

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I’m thrilled to be invited and included in Brooklyn’s first ever Sex Worker Shorts film series. Sexuality rights & new media activist Audacia Ray and the folks at $pread Magazine have organized the event at Union Docs, so I can even ride my bike over. $pread is a magazine dedicated to illuminating the sex industry whose motto is: “We believe all sex workers have a right to self-determination; to choose how we make a living and what we do with our bodies.” Amen!

THE LINE is showing alongside films from India, USA, Macedonia, Cambodia, France, UK and Canada. I’ll also be speaking on a panel with Audacia Ray and Violeta Krasnic from WITNESS and artist Damion Luxe discussing how we can use video as an advocacy tool. I’ll be particularly interested to hear about how new media is changing and effecting the work of Witness’s HUB, the world’s first participatory media site for Human Rights.

How Do You Define "Sex-Positive"?

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A friend asked me what “sex-positive” actually means, and why we use it to describe the work we’re doing with THE LINE. I had one of those New York bubble moments, where you assume everyone gets your terminology and uses it in the same way. I immediately texted my sister, my trusty litmus test for all things suburban-American/open minded/fairly mainstream. She’d never heard of it, but guessed that it combined sex + positive attitude. I googled and found your basic Wikipedia definition, this members-only site called Blackbox Republic, a documentary that I need to see and the Center for Sex Positive Culture.

I put the question out to the great Facebook oracle and here’s what we got:

knowing how to enjoy and how to control.

consenting

attitude: not seeing sex as a taboo subject, but rather as something that is healthy, enjoyable, and a commonality among all peoples that can and should be discussed. Seeing as something that is different for each person, and knowing that this is acceptable. When used with “education” as in, “sex positive education” it means the teaching of the proper use of contraceptives, how to safely engage in sexual acitivity (if the program is really good, it will teach about anal and oral sex, as well as mutual masturbation and outer course), and teaches the importance of yearly testing.

honouring the life force, from procreation to healing

my understanding is that we as human beings are sexual, and to respect that. Sex is not a bad or wrong thing if both parties consent. We all have different ways of expressing our sexual selves and we should honour rather than suppress or feel shameful for it.

a lot of sex between consenting adults? (I laughed that she put “a lot” and she replied:) it must be a lot otherwise it’d be called sad yearly sex between bored consenting adults. can you tell that i’m still crazy about my boo in spite of all the years that have gone by? in my opinion, if a romantic relationship were based on a lot of mutual respect but no sex it’d make no sense whatsoever to me. i don’t understand the intricacies of surrender when i hear of young couples that barely have sex. what made them give up this basic need? maybe they never liked each other that way… hmmm… personally, i’d rather adopt a cat…

One way to look at it: Wingnut values = guns good, sex bad. Sex-positive values = sex good, guns bad. (But seriously, I’ve used “sex-positive” when pitching a story about a superhero named Captain O…I think you can guess what the O stands for.)

we need a comic book with captain o as the hero! that would be pretty sex-positive. captain o could teach young women how to figure themselves out, and young men how to be respectful while still being able to “help” women in the quest of self discovery, etc. though i can also foresee how this comic book could easily turn into porn…

I then posed the question to Friday night’s rollicking panel at Blue Stockings about Men & Feminism, and the overall theme from the panelists was that of pleasure, and the inclusion of pleasure in the dialogue with human and gender rights, no judgment, and space for many types of sexual expressions within feminsm.

Anything to add?

Is Gang Rape A Typical Workplace Dispute?

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Rape-Nuts
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Political Humor Ron Paul Interview

This piece is lifted directly from the Huffington Post, they won’t mind. Kudos for Franken for putting this forward (he did get a lot of heat for his rape jokes prior to the election). Love the outrage from Jon Stewart, and how boldly those 30 Republicans stand up for corporate interests!

In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her Halliburton/KBR co-workers while working in Iraq and locked in a shipping container for over a day to prevent her from reporting her attack. The rape occurred outside of U.S. criminal jurisdiction, but to add serious insult to serious injury she was not allowed to sue KBR because her employment contract said that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration–a process that overwhelmingly favors corporations.

This year, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) proposed an amendment that would deny defense contracts to companies that ask employees to sign away the right to sue. It passed, but it wasn’t the slam dunk Jon Stewart expected. Instead the amendment received 30 nay votes all from Republicans. “I understand we’re a divided country, some disagreements on health care. How is ANYONE against this?” He asked.

My Line Is Vaginas!

500_vaginasI love his little smile in the background. He thought he was going to get in trouble for even thinking it. My eye was tucked behind the lens, but I heard him say “My line is vaginas!” and his friend said “you can’t put that…” Oh yes you can!

I Am Not A Fuck Doll!

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Last night, the screening at Pace University exceeded my expectations. The seats were full, about 50% male, and the crowd was at varying stages of comfort and exposure to the topic of sex, consent, assault and boundaries. Once the lights went up, the hands shot up. Two passionate student leaders from Students Organized Against Rape, and a representative from the counseling center joined me on the panel. Having students tell their peers why they chose to bring THE LINE and why the film is relevant and meaningful to their lives was a great way to kick off discussion. It helped me understand what is going on for them, and allowed the students to guide the conversation. We decided to challenge what we think as private.

The conversation moved from harassment, promiscuity, risky behavior, “rape culture” and sexual exploration. We talked about bystander behavior, and what some of the barriers are to calling someone out – generally fear and shame. I asked the audience what they thought the root of rape culture is, and we discussed religion and the indoctrinated belief that sex is bad, a sin, and shameful. The students were direct, asking their male counterparts to step up and help create the solution. I have a feeling that a men’s group could blossom by next year.

One young woman asked me (and I loved it), “well, let’s say you meet someone in Times Square and you decide to go home with him, just like that… I mean…talking about ‘your line’ is something that takes time.” She’s totally right. It can take time, sleeping with complete strangers can be risky, and that provided a great moment to talk about casual sex and how it can and should still be respectful. Another student chimed in, “being young is about exploring sexuality, and we all have a right to do that and be safe, without judgment.”

Another student asked me if I said “no” loudly enough – and said, “by consenting to going to his house and getting in bed…” and someone replied: “just because someone invites you over for dinner, doesn’t mean you can steal their silverware, plates and napkin holders when you leave!”

When we finished, the line snaked through the room with people holding up stickers waiting to be photographed. It felt positively revolutionary! Check out the rest of the photos and feel free to comment!

Screening at PACE University Tonight

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Tonight is my first New York City screening at Pace University! The Center for Community Action did a great job securing co-sponsors and building what promises to be an excellent panel. The event is co-sponsored by Dyson College; the Counseling Center; Multi-Cultural Affairs; Women’s and Gender Studies; the Body and Mind Peace and Justice Houses; Pace’s Task Force on Sexual Assault Policy; Education and Prevention; Students Organizing Against Rape; the Freespeech Forum, and the Stonewall Coalition.

This will be the first screening of the year that will be linked with a panel. The panel includes representatives from Students Organizing Against Rape, and Professor Ida Dupont, a Professor of Criminal Justice and Victim’s Advocate.

Exciting! They have strict no group photo rules, so I can’t document the space, but I’m bringing the camera, stickers and consent forms to document what audience members have to say.

"Rape Culture" or "Russian Roulette"?

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This is an excerpt from my recent interview for HEEB Magazine. Defining rape culture is one of those questions that in some ways feels very tricky, but its also very simple. Kind of like my film. The context is complex, the message is simple: communicate and respect each other. I thought I did a pretty good job with the answer, and gave Judaism some props for the groovy sex-positive tenants in our marriage contract.

A rape culture is one that assumes violence will happen during sex. It says: ‘Watch your drink’ or ‘men are pigs’ or ‘what did she expect?’ It asks women to live in the narrow roles of either virgin or whore, and tells us to be fearful. Jewish girls get somewhat of a break here, thanks to Dr. Ruth and our sex-positive roots in the Judaic marriage contract, but for men, rape culture expects them to be dogs and tells them they have to trick or coerce girls into bed. If given the choice, most people want to have good sex, where both parties initiate, are into it and are begging for more. A rape culture tells us that sex is bad, so you either have to steal it, rush through it, or get punished for doing it, or—God forbid—liking it.

Today, someone piped in to disagree with me on the site. I would roll my eyes if it wasn’t such a typical and disturbing response. In addition to misreprenting recent sex crimes in the news (its a wide net, only Kobe Bryant is missing), this person’s “solution” dictates that women be the gate keepers for male behavior. In its essence, it is exactly what rape culture is all about!

I will reserve final judgment until I see the film, but it also strikes me given the number of women like Laura Garza and Natalee Holloway who meet horrible ends by getting drunk and then leaving a bar with a strange man they have just met and of whose character and history they know nothing about; we would better served with fewer cliches about society as a whole, and more small scale, common sense campaigns advising women not to play Russian Roulette with their bodies.

How do you feel about being told not to play Russian Roulette with your body? Is it better to be safe than sorry?

“It’s Just Not About Physical Sex, the Genital to Genital Fucking.”

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From our screening at American University on September 24:

“It’s about love. And if it’s not about love, it’s about genuine passion and it doesn’t even have to be sexual passion. I mean it’s just not about physical sex, the genital to genital fucking. No, get to know me. Likely if I’m with you and I haven’t willfully left yet then I want to know you and I want you to get to know me. That way maybe we could form the relationship where we both feel completely comfortable with what we’re doing, and we could take it somewhere awesome from there. Because even if it’s just sex it’s not really just physical sex because we have this awesome, comfortable, honest connection. It could be genuine fun. I think we should try it.” – Sara Kokkelenberg

And here’s our Flickr set with all our photos from American. (See yours? Leave a comment on Flickr, and we’ll post it to the blog here.)

17 Things to Remember About Sexuality

This Summer I had a kickass honeymoon in Turkey, a glorious and complicated place; religious, sensual, ancient, modern, all things juxtaposed at once. A destination at the crossroads, lots of different people visit Turkey to play. I saw Saudi Arabians shopping like crazy, Russians doing “business”, and Brits frying themselves on sand beaches and engaging in a dangerous combination of karaoke and pole dancing. I could have stayed there a year.

After gallivanting in the sun, I topped off my trip with some serious feminism. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Efsa Kuraner, from Women for Women’s Human Rights, an organization at the forefront of Women’s Rights and Women’s Sexual Rights in Muslim societies.  They were preparing for their second conference for the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Society. I was honored when Efsa decided to include THE LINE in their program and share it with activists from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.

Here is one participant’s round up of the conference, published on Bekhsoos, a Queer Arab magazine.

I particularly like this bit:

Sexual health is about the well-being of every human being, not just the absence of disease. It involves safety, freedom from discrimination and violence, as well as respect. Much like health is a fundamental human right, sexual health must be a basic human right. Sexual health is an ongoing process that covers the entire life span, people of diverse sexualities and forms of sexual expression. It is influenced by gender norms and roles.

All Posts from October, 2009