Unannounced With Flowers.

My long winter was bitter.

No rain to make the air less brittle.

No merry taps on my roof.

But spring inevitably comes.

Arriving unannounced with flowers.

Trailing an equinox rain.


Kung Fu Titties.

Happy International Women’s Day!

To celebrate, I give you this artwork by Geoff Dunbar (from his 1979 animated film, Ubu) alongside a screed concerning the benefits of weaponizing titties. Enjoy!

Anyone who reads these blog posts regularly knows that I have complicated views when it comes to titties. On the one hand, I have a pair and am comfortable with them; on the other, I’m bothered by the fetishization of titties in our culture.

It disturbs me that women are harassed for breast-feeding in public, or that it’s legal for men to be topless in public, but not women. It also bothers me that teenage girls can’t wear “i heart boobies” bracelets to school in support of breast cancer awareness because it titillates the boys too much. Pun entirely intended.

(And if you’re a dude out there who is guffawing right now, saying all sarcastic-like as you leer at the screen: ‘Heh-heh-heh-SNORT! Fine by me if the ladies want to go topless in public. I’m all for it!’ then all I have to say to you is, you’re not helping. I was also going to call you an idiot, but I thought the better of it because I myself have been known to have the mentality of a twelve-year-old boy on occasion, so I don’t want to judge you. Idiot.)

This titty fetish of ours is related to our objectification of women - another complicated issue. Some people think that ANY objectification of women is bad. That reducing a woman down to the “quality” of her body parts is completely unacceptable under any circumstances, and that as a society we need to work actively against such objectification. I agree - up to a point.

I think you start running into problems when you insist that people should repress a natural behavior. The fact is, we hairless apes objectify each other. We’re visual creatures who judge one another and formulate opinions about our fellow human animals based on what we see. We do this subliminally much of the time. Often, we're not even the slightest bit aware that our brain has formulated a distinct opinion about the person in front of us based upon their appearance - usually before we’ve finished shaking hands and exchanging names. It happens in a flash, and these “first impressions” are almost irreversible.

So to insist that we completely repress our urge to notice what we can’t help but notice seems a bit unreasonable to me. Which leads me to believe that my problem is not so much THAT we objectify, but HOW we objectify - and what we choose to objectify.

This brings me back to the fetishization of titties. I’m pretty much convinced that our current obsession with surgically-achieved titties comes from Hugh Heffner, Playboy magazine, and Barbie dolls – all products of the 1950s. I’ve written before about how this absurd fake titty phase has stuck around because there’s a lot of easy money to be made by selling people on an unattainable female ideal. So what if fostering a desire for unnaturally-huge titties is horribly, horribly dangerous and causes any number of social problems? To the bank! But first, to the cosmetic surgeon!

However, when you combine this manufactured preference for an unattainable female ideal with the social mandate that “serious” or “respectable” or “professional” women don’t reveal their bodies, here’s what happens: You have images of absurd fake titties paraded in front of us, all of the time, in all manner of media, with almost no representation whatsoever of what real, normal, titties look like - in all of their wonderful incarnations.

(And in case you haven’t guessed it by now, in order to be cheeky and get attention, I’m using the word “titties” as a representative word for the entire female form - “titties” becomes the object which represents the whole. See how I did that?)

This subject becomes even more complicated when you consider the fact that these gigantic unrealistic titties that are endlessly paraded in front of us don’t come out of the blue. They’re not magic titties that fall like raindrops from the sky. These titties are attached to real, actual women (although the titties themselves are usually not real, actual titties). And there’s no shortage of women who are willing to let a surgeon alter their bodies so that they may objectify themselves in front of us. They just keep coming, decade after decade, titty after titty.

Why? Because these women figure (and they have a point) that if people are going to ogle titties anyway, it may as well be THEIR titties, and they may as well turn a buck. And before you judge these women too harshly (like I haven’t already done that for you), it’s worth pointing out that we all want to be desired and admired by the other human animals, so I imagine it would be pretty easy to talk yourself into being admired for cash.

This makes me wonder: What if a woman were to objectify herself for something other than cash? What if a woman were to exploit our cultural urge to objectify in order to promote a morally-just cause?

This is a picture of naked people protesting the widening of Highway 101 in Northern California. To widen the highway at this point, Cal Trans would have to take down those ginormous trees that the hippies are hugging. Yes, Cal Trans wants to take down dozens of redwoods that are thousands and thousands of years old because we need another lane so we can get places faster and faster. And while you may be looking at all of that T and A that’s on display, you’re also looking at those gigantic, amazing trees. And hopefully thinking, man, there’s something wrong with chopping down something so irreplaceable and magnificent. And you know what else? You wouldn’t be looking at this photo AT ALL if it weren’t for the titties. Sure there are some men in that photo, but let’s face it, most of us are looking at the titties.

Here’s my point: As a woman, if I take your urge to look at titties and use it to do good in the world, doesn’t that move me from a position of weakness (being objectified) to a position of strength (exploiting your urge in order to advance social justice)?

That’s some pretty good Kung Fu.

My friend Melinda is up there in that Richardson Grove photo somewhere, and she’s one of the bravest people I know. When she’s not in India using dance therapy to help the children of sex workers, she’s here at home teaching kids to dance. She also leads an artistic burlesque troupe called Les Filles Rouges that sells out every show and gives the proceeds to charity. (That's my gorgeous friend Samantha up there in that promo photo!). Following one recent show, the group donated all of the profits to a local animal shelter. The theme of this performance? "Titties for Kitties." How can you not love that? And how can you not appreciate the cleverness of using nudity and objectification in this context?

Or in this context? Here are some Northern California women who call themselves “Unreasonable Women Baring Witness” demonstrating for peace in Point Reyes. These are women who normally wouldn’t walk into their own kitchens without a robe. However, here they are, objectifying themselves to gain attention for the cause of peace - attention that they would have never have gotten if it weren’t for all of the nakedness. Even better, because these are not models or celebrities, viewing their bodies in this more-acceptable context exposes us all to a more realistic image of the female body. And the more realistic-looking titties we see, the more likely it is that we can begin the process of appreciating the female form in all of its phases and incarnations.

Which makes this photo of naked women protesting at a Versace fashion show in Milan that much more interesting. Here are women using the desire to see the hidden bits of the female body to protest the fashion industry’s promotion of an unhealthy image of the female body. Brilliant, if you ask me.

The recognition that women can self-objectify to advance social justice is a global one. These Nigerian women are protesting the destructive practices of a multi-national oil company that is exploiting their natural resources. In their community, there is a powerful cultural taboo against female nudity. Further, people are often killed for protesting, so these women protested topless at a great risk to themselves and their families. Yet they did so despite the risk because they knew the attention that it would garner for their cause - attention they would not receive otherwise.

One of my favorite naked protest groups is FEMEN. Here they are shown protesting corrupt elections in Russia. You know, the ones Putin just stole. Putin. The former KGB guy. The guy who poisons his dissenters with polonium 210 until they’re irradiated to death. These women regularly go to dangerous places and protest over very touchy issues. Pun, once again, completely intended. They’re arrested and sometimes beaten by the police, but their use of nudity has drawn a great deal of attention to issues that otherwise would have been ignored by the media.

All of this attention is the product of our overwhelming desire to objectify. Which leads me back to my initial point that it might not be the ACT of objectification that’s the problem.

I started thinking about this issue because I’ve recently become the contributing editor to a facebook fan page called Book Porn. (It’s a public page sponsored by Yoe! Books - go there and “like” it if you want.) It’s facebook, so nothing truly salacious goes on. We mostly post photos of art made with books, gorgeous book collections, amazing booksellers, and stunning libraries. But we also post saucy photos of men and women in various states of undress, reading books. We want to promote the idea that “smart” and “sexy” are not mutually-exclusive terms. Plus, we want to encourage people to buy books, go to libraries, and to READ, for crying out loud.

But I come from an academic background, and as an academic, I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to LIKE the idea of using female nudity to promote social consciousness. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be 100% against the objectification of women in this way - otherwise I suspect that I will never, ever, ever be taken seriously. Ever.

And yet… I find that I DO like it. I DO think it’s brilliant. And I DO think it’s very, very good Kung Fu.

Because if catching a glimpse of a woman’s body also makes you want to catch a glimpse of what she’s reading, then…

I am the Master;

You are the Grasshopper.

Feel free to look;

Then pick up a book.