“Whenever you put your body online, in some way you are in conversation with porn.”
– Ann Hirsch
“Whenever you put your body online, in some way you are in conversation with porn.”
– Ann Hirsch
The Bad Mother letters usually raised the question of informed consent. But the kids were visually sophisticated, involved in setting the scene, in producing the desired effects for the images and in editing them. When I was putting together “Immediate Family,” I gave each child the pictures of themselves and asked them to remove those they didn’t want published. Emmett, who was 13 at the time, asked me to exclude one picture from the book. He had been playing Bugs Bunny and fell asleep still wearing nothing but long white socks on his arms, meant to look like the white legs of a rabbit. He was uncomfortable not because of the nudity but because he said those socks made him look like a dork. It was a question of dignity.
Maintaining the dignity of my subjects has grown to be, over the years, an imperative in my work, both in the taking of the pictures and in their presentation. As my father weakened with brain cancer, I tried to photograph him, in the manner of Richard Avedon or Jim Goldberg, whose work I admire. But I put away my camera when I began to see that photographing his loss of dignity would cause him pain. (Once, after his death, I was asked what he had died from, and I replied, “Terminal pride.”) I did not take a picture on the day that Larry picked up my father in his arms and carried him like a child to the bathroom, both of their faces anguished. To do so would have been crossing a line.
It’s hard to know just where to draw that stomach-roiling line, especially in cases when the subject is willing to give so much. But how can they be so willing? Is it fearlessness or naïveté? Those people who are unafraid to show themselves to the camera disarm me with the purity and innocence of their openness.
Larry, for example. Almost the first thing I did after I met Larry Mann in 1969 was to photograph him, and I haven’t stopped since. At our age, past the prime of life, we are given to sinew and sag, and Larry bears, with his trademark stoicism, the further affliction of a late-onset muscular dystrophy. In recent years, when many of his major muscles have withered, he has allowed me to take pictures of his body that make me squirm with embarrassment for him. I call this project “Proud Flesh.” In taking these pictures, I joined the thinly populated group of women who have looked unflinchingly at men, and who frequently have been punished for doing so. Remember poor Psyche, chastised by the gods for daring to lift the lantern that illuminated her sleeping lover. I can think of numberless male artists, from Bonnard to Weston to Stieglitz, who have photographed their lovers and spouses, but I have trouble finding parallel examples among my sister photographers. The act of looking appraisingly at a man, studying his body and asking to photograph him, is a brazen venture for a woman; for a male photographer, these acts are commonplace, even expected.
One of the most intelligent discussions on mothers creating art and documenting the lives of their children in public that I’ve yet seen. Sally Mann’s Exposure in The New York Times.
My column is here:
What becomes apparent from all of these clothing determinations is that a girl’s body can’t just be. Rather, it is to be viewed and interpreted by us and sanctioned accordingly. Yet another recent news item reported a female student being sent home from school, after first being lectured in front of her class, for wearing shorts. As her mother subsequently pointed out – the denim shorts were neither torn nor worn low on her waist. There was nothing particularly suggestive about them and you can’t help think similar shorts worn by a boy student would likely be seen as quite sexless. But those bare female legs, even on a hot summer day, can be judged misbehavior.
.. and that is that some people will suspect you are going to grow up to be a paedophile because you’re a guy. It’s a horrible and unjust stigma and I have known several male friends who were victims of abuse and who struggled with this additional shame in identifying themselves as victims.
This is superb writing from Martin McKenzie-Murray in The Saturday Paper with “Inside the mind of a paedophile”.
I lied about not being angry. There was something that stung me. In the messy and confusing aftermath, some blamed me for what happened – specifically, I was asked if I had encouraged it. That hurt and, after a stunned pause, I bitterly expressed my incredulity.
This wasn’t the most disturbing consequence. Not long afterwards, a family member mused thoughtlessly in my company that abuse engenders abuse. I instantly felt sick. The comment shredded me, and I carried it for some time. I thought, naively, that I was doomed to be an abuser myself – conscripted by fate to play out what happened to me. I was cursed.
As a young man I moved to South Korea to teach English to young children. One day, while supervising the kids in the playground, I began brutally thinking about my curse. I broke out in a sweat. Was the curse real? Should I be here? Was I doomed to offend, to play out some cyclical indecency? I wasn’t and I’m not, but that loose comment years earlier took a while to leave my system.
I admit when I started reading his article I thought nice work here but if this is another one of those pieces asking me to empathise with paedophiles (and I try my very hardest to empathise with anyone relating their perspective to me), without ever reconciling with the terrible damage these people can do then I will be infuriated. Because, I understand that everyone has a story and in everyone’s life there is some pain and tragedy, including in the lives of abusers, and sometimes people do awful things without necessarily being awful people.. but there is a bit of a thing going on lately with edgy journalism examining the stigma around paedophilia and crossing right on over to victim blaming.
So, I very much like this piece by McKenzie-Murray because it is written in such a way that yes, you may see a paedophile’s point of view and that’s important, but you will not be leaving the show without damn well seeing the point of view of a victim, too.
Posted in bratz hatred/pornification/sexualising children, classism, feminism, feminist motherhood, motherhood, motherhood sux, pop culture, raising daughters, school kids on April 1, 2014 | 9 Comments »
Posted in body image, bratz hatred/pornification/sexualising children, feminism, feminist motherhood, motherhood, motherhood sux, pop culture, preschoolers, raising daughters, raising sons on January 16, 2014 | 2 Comments »
Deborah: Tell us a bit about your book that’s coming out next fall, The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years (Source Books, 2014). Is there any way in which you think girls can be active agents in princess play? In what ways do you hope your book will steer popular debate? And what do you most want to change?
Rebecca: Thanks for asking. The Princess Problem is really a handbook for parents to raise media-literate daughters–girls who are able to think critically about marketing, the beauty ideal, gender stereotypes, and race representation. This is an important task for 21st-century parents: We must coach our children, guiding them to become critical viewers of media culture in general. And yet media literacy is not something that’s a mainstream concept yet in the U.S.; many other countries include media literacy in their K-12 curricula, but that’s not the case here. I’d like that to change.
I focus in my book on princess culture in particular because “princess” is so pervasive–it’s THE defining pop culture phenomenon in early girlhood. And it’s the perfect example to use in a text on raising media literate girls because the issues we need to discuss with our daughters so often differ from than the issues we would discuss with our sons. (For example, body image issues are a very different beast when it comes to girls and boys.) But the principles I teach in The Princess Problem could easily be extrapolated to raising media-literate sons, too.
And yes, I absolutely believe girls can be active agents in princess play. Kids are not passive victims of media and toys; they’re active consumers who regularly defy our assumptions. That’s a position I’ve espoused in some of my earlier work–for example, my study of girls and Bratz dolls.
It’s important to note, then, that in The Princess Problem, my goal is not to persuade girls that princesses are bad or to “de-princess” them; rather, it is to help parents help their girls reason become critical viewers who can see that there are many, many ways to be a girl.
From Girl w/ Pen! with Deborah Siegel interviewing Rebecca Hains in “Girls, Boys, Feminism, Toys”.
I have a new article up at Daily Life commenting on a piece by Jane Pratt about taking your child to a sex shop and why combining breezy nonchalance towards sexuality with breezy nonchalance towards motherhood might be more difficult than Pratt imagined.
As happens sometimes with publishing, the article ended up being published some weeks after the piece it was commenting on was published. When this occurs there is a sudden need to re-jig an article and make it more general and less specific. In this case, I think the decision to take away all that context makes it difficult to actually decipher my thinking from the article. But then, writers are supposed to disagree with their editors, aren’t they, because we get so attached to our words, even the out-of-date ones, actually, especially the out-of-date ones. Anyway, I love editors and the very hard work they do to make this publishing thing work, and there is a new article of mine out there.
There was a time when simply visiting a sex shop would have made for bad mother confessional fodder, but my generation is beyond all that. Our sexuality is, in some ways, part of our public identity – its intimacy somewhat neutralised by close ties with fashion and even health.
Some women, such as Pratt, may see their sexuality as requiring little more privacy than discussions of their exercise regime.
On occasion, I am one of those women. But a breezy nonchalance towards sexuality is difficult to combine with a breezy nonchalance towards motherhood, though both are now individually celebrated.