June 8, 2011

“Slut” Can Mean A Lot of Things, But “No” Is Always “No” (trigger alert)

I feel his body against mine, and then I feel his erect penis on the small of my back. I squirm, pressing myself against the wall, but he puts a hand over my mouth, hissing into my ear to be quiet so no one hears. He pulls my underwear down and struggles to align his penis with my vagina as I try to push him away and utter muffled cries. He penetrates me.

He flips me onto my stomach, repositioning himself on top of me. He pushes my face down, his weight crushing the breath from me. I struggle to say, “No,” and he growls, “Quiet bitch,” as he yanks my arms back.

“Aw fuck – red! Red!

“Oh god, I’m so sorry! Are you all right?”

I sit up, immediately released from his hold, and roll my shoulders. “Yeah, you just grabbed me sort of weird and it hurt…and not in a good way.”

He apologizes again and I assure him it’s all right.

I shower, dress, and kiss him on the cheek as I depart for SlutWalk LA.

June 6, 2011

What Being at Slutwalk Taught Me About My Activism: SlutWalk LA

Filed under: Event,Sexuality — Tags: , , , — Sarit @ 9:57 pm

I attended Slutwalk in my jeans and Converse, a flower in my hair and a camera posed before my eye. Frankly, I didn’t feel like I needed to be adorned in something revealing in order to take back my dignity. In fact, I don’t even think the word “slut” has the qualities of empowerment, and when folks started chanting “I’m a slut, so what,” I didn’t participate. Still, as a survivor of sexual abuse, I jumped on board with the Slutwalk movement viewing it as an opportunity to shed some light on the darkness and bring awareness to those witnessing the march itself.  For the most part, I still feel that way, but actually being there, immersed in the energy of the march, I did find myself struggling with an internal rift.

I started to pay attention not only to the list of remarkable speakers (Zoe Nicholson, Shira Tirrant, Morgane Richardson, Hugo Shywzer, councilwoman Lindsay Horvath, and several others), but to the varied media presence. I’m skeptical by nature, so when I noticed the CBS camera paying the most attention to the scantily clad Forest Nui Cobalt or the adult film star Alana Evans, I felt the familiar frustration I always have with the media’s propensity toward exploitation: Would the media actually “get” why we were really there in the first place? (Note, fortunately, the CBS footage ended up being pretty well-edited and the seriousness of the event was captured. In this case, the media did the right thing.)

It was empowering to listen to the likes of Zoe Nicholson encourage a passionate call-and-response: “Just because I breathe…” “…you may not touch me.”  Her fervency alone made me proud to be there. It felt good to hear so many survivors stand courageously before a crowd of cheering allies to share their incredible stories. In many ways, this was the reason I was there, as I’d kept my own mouth shut for too long. For a moment, I even felt remorse in not volunteering to share my own story! Nevertheless, there were some things I wish I had heard: Perhaps a more varied perspective on rape and sexual assault: spousal abuse; men who’d been victimized by sexual violence. Maybe next year.

I knew from the beginning that there might be a conflict of interest. I knew there would be a presence of sex-worker advocacy, and therefore sex-workers, and while I have no issues with sex itself (seriously, it’s fantastic, I just don’t want it to be my primary identifier), I do have issues with pornography. For me, there’s too much of a divergence in ideologies between stopping violence and a business that feeds on violence and rape culture. Do I think someone who works in the adult industry deserves to be victimized by rape or sexual assault? No, of course not—I don’t believe that anyone deserves that, regardless of their job, their attire, their level of intoxication, their sexuality, or their flirtatious nature. Their body is theirs, no question about it, but I do have to ask why one would continue to work in that same industry after being raped.  Alana Evans, one of the speakers who courageously shared her story still works in the adult industry. In fact, she says, “It’s just a job.” But is it, if it’s a job that continues to subjugate and objectify women? Is it, if its job is to feed the male fantasy of women always being “ready and willing” to suck, fuck, and be submissive?  Sadly, it only took me about 3 seconds to find an image of her on her own site where she’s victimized by violence. While sex workers certainly deserve the same legal protection against rape as I do, I’m still not inspired or intrigued by their career choice.  If anything, I feel it’s contributing to the problem we’re trying to eradicate. Regardless, there is something to be said for a movement that brings vast awareness to the issue of rape. As Shira Tarrant said in her recent interview for Ms. with Melanie Klein:

“SlutWalk is imperfect. All political movements are imperfect. Human beings are imperfect. But while we’re fighting amongst ourselves, sexual assaults keep happening.”

I can’t agree with her more.

As a photographer, I’m often asked why I won’t photograph certain things. Fellow photographers have told me, “Sometimes, you just have to do what the client asks” or “You can’t always pick and choose your clients.” But the truth is, I won’t sacrifice something I believe in for a paycheck. Heck, if I were offered a huge payout to photograph the likes of Dov Charney, I would decline. I feel this way about porn as well.  My role as a photographer is collaborative, and subjugation is never an option. Sometimes, being an activist and believing in something means sacrificing the convenience and the luxury of having something at the cost of retaining something inherently more valuable: dignity, morals and self-respect.

Bottom line: I’m glad I was at Slutwalk, despite the fact that I will never claim “slut” as a title.

Photograph by Sarit Photography. For complete SlutWalk LA photo album, click here.

March 28, 2011

It’s Not Just the Abercrombie ‘Push-Up’ Bikini That’s the Problem, It’s the Sea of Sexualized Products

Filed under: Sexuality — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 2:51 pm

Dr. Robyn Silverman was featured on a segment of the Today Show on MSN this morning in response to the controversy over Abercrombie + Fitch’s “push-up” kiddie bikini. She makes a point similar to the one I made last night about The Gap’s “always skinny” jeans ad campaign: it’s not just this one padded bikini top marketed to children that contributes to the early sexualization of pre-pubescent girls, but the cavalcade of products that sex-up our kids. It’s a point I mentioned in a post last year when I highlighted the countless products targeting our children. Listen to the full conversation below.

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January 18, 2011

An Open Letter to TLC: Cancel Toddlers & Tiaras

Originally written for Pigtail Pals- Redefine Girly by Melissa Wardy. Cross-posted with permission.
Recent beauty pageant contestant. She is two years old.

Dear Producers of Toddlers & Tiaras, TLC, and Discovery Communications LLC:

It is an extremely thin veil that hides the atrocious “Toddlers & Tiaras” as a documentary-style show for your network. For the past four seasons the show has done a good job, not so much with teaching, but of giving viewers a voyeuristic peek into the children’s beauty pageant world. We don’t need to see anymore. As Season 5 reaches its midpoint, the show now continues to do little more than become complicit in the exploitation of the little girls at its center. At best, it is now a mockumentary of the visibly unbalanced mothers (and a few fathers) who force their children to spend long and uncomfortable hours participating in these expensive pageants. Many of these children are too young to say whether or not they want to participate. When these children act out and demonstrate they do not enjoy what is happening, or do not want it to happen any longer, they are still made to participate by their pageant moms. Let us be clear from the outset that after this season it is time to cancel the show.

I’m sure inside your producer heads you think this is crazy, especially as the show has received some buzz-worthy, controversial attention recently and continues to pull in advertisers and an average of 1.3 million viewers each week….but as your mission statements goes, it is the job of the Discovery channel family to satisfy curiosity. TLC has done its job with this show, as almost everyone who has been exposed to the program finds it distasteful and widely condemns the child beauty pageant circuit. Our curiosity has been satisfied – as demonstrated with the several thousands of negative and disapproving comments left in the last couple of weeks alone. We’ve seen it. We don’t like it. We’re over it.

The idea of two year old girls strutting around with cones protruding out of her bustier and five year olds who sit trembling and screaming in a chair at a salon as she is enticed into a painful beauty treatment will tend to leave a bad taste in our mouth. It leaves us less interested in the pageants themselves, but more interested in gawking at and judging the deranged mothers who subject their poor daugthers to this twisted world of judged fake beauty. That might make for good ratings, but it doesn’t make for a happy and healthy childhood of the young girls who hold the title of this show. Just like their overbearing mothers, you exploit these children. A shameful act on both parts.

The duration of this show has coincided with a large effort by a small group of dedicated experts to raise awareness to the general public about the sexualization of girls. The parents we have reached now understand the emotional, psychological, and physical harm a young girl is exposed to when she is sexualized.  As the 2007 American Psychological Association’s task force report showed us, early sexualization can lead to self-esteem issues, depression, eating disorders, and early promiscuity.

Contestant on the children’s beauty pageant circuit.

“Toddlers & Tiaras” is a petri dish of sexualization. Little girls are taught, often times forced by their domineering mothers, to act coquettishly, learn suggestive dance routines, wear sexualized costumes and bathing suits, endure hours of hair and make-up, and are even put on restrictive diets in order to lose weight for competition. This is perverse. While TLC continues to air “Toddlers & Tiaras”, the network becomes an agent of this sexualization.


September 10, 2010

“Like in Gay”….or not.

With great enthusiasm (despite the trailer – which I’ll point out later) I went to see “The Kids Are All Right” last week. I was pretty stoked to be seeing a mainstream, Hollywood film produced and directed by a lesbian feminist – Lisa Cholodenko – whose other directorial credits include “Hung,” “The L Word,” and “Six Feet Under.”

The film is about two teenagers (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) who are being raised by their lesbian moms (Julianne Moore and Annette Benning). We pick up their story as they decide to contact their biological father/sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) much to the chagrin of Benning’s character, Nic.

First off, I want to get out of the way that I was really entertained by, and actually, liked the Bechdel-approved, film overall. So, don’t think I’m not a total stick in the mud. BUT, you can assume if that’s the preface to everything else I’m about to say – it was not without its problems. The number one most irritating aspect of this film is its depiction of lesbian sexuality. Surprising, given that it was written and directed by a lesbian…just goes to show how powerful those production dollars are.


August 15, 2010

Just What Every Toddler Needs to go With Those Heels: Skinny Jeans!

As if high heels, padded kiddie bikinis, thong underwear, stripper poles, and denim diapers weren’t enough, parents are now able to buy their toddler their own pair of skinny jeans.

Skinny jeans are just the latest item in a larger cumulative force that is turning babies, toddlers and children into miniature adults, in large part through overt sexualization.

Between the celebration of gyrating 7-year-olds, Baby Gaga‘s featured on Youtube, sexy toy makeovers, virgin waxing, glammed up toddlers in fashion advertising, and clothing with sexualized content such as “I’m a boob man,” “Lock up your daughters” or “Does this diaper make my butt look big? girls and boys are being harried into premature adulthood by corporate marketing forces seeking profit.

Cross-posted at Elephant Journal.

August 3, 2010

Dancing Spirit into Being

Originally posted at Elephant Journal.

The Tantric Dance of Feminine Power with Nita Rubio.

Watching Nita dance is watching poetry in motion.

Witnessing Nita is witnessing the Goddess.

Nita has long been a secret treasure for women in Los Angeles and Orange County,whose reach and influence is growing. Flowing with grace, wisdom and strength, Nita empowers women by “aligning them with their internal compass.” In a female-only space, women have the opportunity to turn inward, identify beauty devoid of the male gaze and dance spirit into being.


For over a decade, Nita has been passing on the ancient wisdom of the divine feminine, a sacred element contained in every woman waiting to be accessed. Through this work, Nita guides women as they access that wisdom. In doing so, women come in contact with the knowing of the body and are able to enliven, heal, create community and recognize the Goddess as they stand before the mirror and behold themselves.  Tapping into these gifts is made possible by the energetic container that Nita facilitates, a container marked by female solidarity and support. 


July 28, 2010

"Pretty" is not enough!

It was only a matter of time before the younger half-sister of the Kardashian clan, Kendall Jenner, joined in on the money making fun and modeled for a bikini photo shoot.  Kim posted the photos on her blog this past week and praised Kendall’s ability to do what the Kardashians do best: looking “pretty” (and reaping mega profits).

They turned out sooo gorgeous!! I am so proud of Kendall. She’s going to take over the modeling world… you just watch!

Now, where shall I begin?  I am beyond bored with the one-dimensionality of the Kardashian claim to fame.  The issue here is not necessarily that Kendall is wearing a bikini at age 14 or really even the fact that she has decided to pursue a modeling career.   The issue here in my mind is the fact that this is not surprising at all.  But then again, the Kardashian legacy is looking ‘pretty.’  The incessant downplay from the entire family  and her mother’s orchestration of the shoot doesn’t leave Kendall much room for growth outside of posing in a bikini and reiterates that the only component of self that she can have will be reduced to her looks.  I feel the same way when looking at these photos that I did when I found out the mom, Kris Jenner, was the one who convinced Kim to pose for Playboy– saddened and confused.  I was pretty surprised at the amount of acceptance this photo shoot received and am even more surprised as to why this is considered to be “typical” 14 year old behavior.  Shouldn’t her mother be trying to shield her from the inevitable dangers of the modeling world which is notorious for sexualizing girls at an earlier age and essentially chewing them up and spitting them out?


July 25, 2010

American Apparel Still Sucks: Deep Inside the Brand

American Apparel sucks.

With hiring and firing practices that include only hiring “attractive” people; their pervy, porny ads featuring waifish, jail bait models some call reminiscent of kiddie porn; and the arrogant, sexist founder and CEO, Dov Charney, a guy who “masturbated in front of a reporter, sleeps with his employees, promotes hot 17-year-olds to replace veterans,” “sweat-shop free” or not, why would anyone shop or work there?

Well, for one thing, it’s a job in an economic climate that makes landing even a low-paying retail job harder and harder to come by. And, lots of young things are attracted to the very idea of working for a company that has such picky hiring standards. If you’re hired, well, that must mean you’re special and super hot.

In fact, that is exactly the reason a former employee started working for Dov’s retail porn palace and, in the end, the reason I received this letter chronicling the dirty details so many employees have come forth with lately. The details of the following letter aren’t a novelty (see letter after the jump). In fact, stories like these have become commonplace for American Apparel and Charney which is why this letter is worth posting.

After multiple sexual harassment suits and similar exposes, what is striking about this letter is the fact that nothing has changed. Charney is so arrogant and confident in himself and his “politically progressive,” “hipster” brand image that the public masturbation, bedding of employees and controversial hiring, firing and at-work practices continue blatantly and without apology.


July 20, 2010

'Take a Breath,' Honey. It's just Sexism.

Filed under: Sexuality — Tags: , , , , , — Melanie @ 4:29 pm

My post, Sexist Meat Market:Pamela Anderson’s Newest Campaign for PETA, which was posted here and at Elephant Journal has garnered some interesting and thought-provoking feedback. Much of it has been insightful and extremely intelligent and some of it has been an affirmation of the reasons why we need to continue deconstructing images and creating dialogue.

The comments from the post at Elephant Journal, a journal catering to the “enlightened,” “conscious,” and “progressive,” proves that sexism is still en vogue, should not be taken seriously and enlightenment ends when it comes to women’s issues.

The list of comments below has been compiled from Elephant Journal’s facebook page and the post located on their blog. Critics accused me of being “too serious,” “too sensitive,” “selfish,” “whiny,” “prudish” and, get this, sexist.


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