Interesting posts, weekend of 7/19

07/18/2009 at 6:03 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Posts I found particularly interesting over the course of the week.

Oh and hay, post links if you got ’em.

Women and Men – a look at how male vs. female employment effects the great recession of 2k9, and vice versa.

Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy #20 – blog link roundup, delivers what it promises.

The 1973 NOW Sexuality Conference – Betty Dodson reflecting on her experiences preparing for and participating in the one and only conference NOW held on female sexuality.

Cosmocking: August 09! – Holly picks apart the newest issue of Cosmopolitan.

Sex ed in the UK: actually about sex (NSFW) – I liked Violet Blue’s take on this. A topic making the blog rounds this week is that a sex education pamphlet released in the UK actually addresses sex for pleasure. People are freaking out.
I’m actually a little torn up about this myself – not because of a fear that addressing sexual pleasure will encourage teenage promiscuity or moral decay – but because for me, it’s…
Not really that easy… Apparently pleasurable sex is supposed to be that easy but sometimes, finding pleasure isn’t that simple… I’ve been trying to find a copy of the leaflet itself so I can analyze it, but so far I have been unsuccessful. So in my head I’m thinking, “Well yes sex is supposed to be pleasurable but does the pamphlet have any advice on what to do if it’s not? Does it even consider the possibility? If it doesn’t, what does that say to & about people like me?”

Women, confidence, and fear of male judgment – Laura talks about how anxiety about being judged as a female participant in male-dominated activities influences her performance. I’m familiar with this phenomenon since I’ve heard of it before & it’s documented. It’s very catch-22.
For me, if I’m participating in a usually male-dominated activity (most frequently video games,) my fear is that the other participants will gang up on me & target my character in order to “Put me back in my place,” so to speak. She thinks she can play games (and believe me, I can,)  so I feel like I have to work twice as hard to prove myself. And if I fail, it must be because I’m a girl and therefore not good at it. But if I win, the guys gripe about being beaten by a girl, which is disgraceful, as opposed to being beaten by a genuinely good player, which isn’t so bad.

Speaking of video games, What more could a girl want? – how video game companies so frequently fuck up when they produce games they think girls want. I find that game marketing in general tends to be run along gender and age stereotypes though.

And speaking of marketing in general, The Peril and Promise of Pink – You know, I actually like to collect pink objects, but what’s up with pink = girls buy this? I think part of the backlash against the color is a direct result of this type of marketing – it’s infantilizing and sexist.
And being pink does not make up for putting out an otherwise shitty, overpriced product. And don’t forget to think before you pink while you’re shopping.

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Book Review and thoughts on: Naked on the Internet

05/09/2009 at 7:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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How appropriate that I should finish reading Naked on the Internet by Audacia Ray on the eve of the Sex 2.0 conference in Washington D.C.

It is an interesting coincidence that I should finish reading the book now, since it had (has? Present tense? The conference is today,) its own coverage & follow up at the event. I didn’t plan for it to work out that way – it just did.

Alas, clearly, I did not attend this conference, and indeed, I’m not sure I’m ready for it at this point. I’m interested in attending some nerd conventions but always seem to miss out, either due to time or financial constraints. But someday…

In the mean time though, until I can start getting out & going to some of these events, let’s expose & explore Naked on the Internet.

Naked on the Internet is a book about female sexuality and the internet, to say the least. More accurately, it is a book that explores feminism, sex & sexuality, women’s health, entrepreneurship, pornography, sex work, the history of computers, and especially the internet. Among other things, Ray talks about how women use the internet to explore their sexuality, how much they reveal about themselves, risks vs rewards, and what those rewards are – be they orgasm, money, validation, and/or something else entirely.

I wanted to like this book. No, I wanted to love this book. It sounds so perfect. I’m fascinated by the topics contained within its pages. I want to know more about feminism, sex, and the internet. I want to be a feminist, and I guess a sort-of sex blogger? (Here my own internalized  insecurity nags, “More like a lack-of-sex blogger.” “Vagina blogger” may be a better term & one I’ve been accurately referred to – you were talking about me, right Esther? I’ll embrace that. It’s not wrong.) So I was eager to start reading & dive in.

And it’s a good thing I dove in when I did…

Because at this point, the book is two years old, and the internet updates fast. I’m a little late getting to the party.
Ray states that “One offline year is the equivalent of ten Internet years” (18).  I’ve heard similar statements before – things like, a month in “Internet time” is like a year of real time passing. The amount of new content on the web just keeps growing. Websites, social networks, trends, blogs come & go.

Welp. I better hurry up & read then. These blogs & websites aren’t going to sit around waiting for me to come along, and indeed, many of them have changed since they were mentioned in this printed old media. Other, newer ones have also come up – Twitter is becoming all the rage right now. That service didn’t make it into the book at all. On the other hand, some of the websites were already deleted by the time Ray committed their URLs to paper. Why bring them up at all then? Because of their historical value. Besides, even if it doesn’t exist anymore, like JenniCam, I can probably still learn about thanks to Wikipedia.

However, I believe that as the web becomes older & more ubiquitous (at least to those privileged enough to use it,) it is becoming… slower. More long-lasting. The ratio of internet time to real life time is leveling out. I actually very much enjoy reading old posts from a few bloggers. Old content sometimes gets reposted under labels like, ‘Oldie but Goodie.’ Since I work full time, and I tend to get long-winded, I myself will post about topics long after the fact, since I’m only discovering them now. It’s new to me.

And, many of the websites & bloggers Ray refers to in her book, are still around. Websites mentioned in the book, including Blogger, CraigsList, Adult Friend Finder, Alt.com, Livejournal, YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia still exist and remain ubitiqous. They have not fallen into obscurity – they just have new friends that didn’t exist or weren’t well known at the time of publication, like Twitter.

I said earlier that I wanted to like this book. So did I? Yes, I would say so. I enjoyed reading it. It didn’t take very long either – the book looks longer & thicker than it actually is. I burned through it in a little less than a week.

I liked learning about the women that Ray interviewed for the book. I never heard of most of these women before, although it turns out I’ve actually been exposed to some them – I just never put two and two together before. “Oh so that’s who that person is,” “Oh that person? Wait, I’ve heard of her. She still writes!”

I enjoyed reading about the women who started up their own sex blogs and porn sites, their motivations, their business models, and the daily grind such a business requires. I never really knew much about the “How to,” behind the scenes work maintaining such a website requires – other than the obvious of course. So it turns out things can be a lot more complicated than just producing content. There’s hosting, advertising, monitoring site popularity, revenue vs. costs, employee drama, which credit card processing site to use, etc. There’s also interaction with the audience to consider, thanks to comment features & e-mail. Not all of these interactions are pleasant.

Likewise, I enjoyed reading about how sex workers use the internet to make contacts and keep in touch with one another. I learned a little bit about the networks they use, online and off. It’s more complicated than I thought.

With regards to her chapter on Women’s health and the internet, I was already pretty familiar with this topic. After all,  it was the internet which pointed me in the right direction for a better sex life than I otherwise could have had if I became an adult 10 or 20 years ago. It was through internet health & support groups for women, and access to journal articles, that I was able to learn about and decide on my best course of action for my treatment of vulvodynia & vaginismus. Even now I speak relatively freely to strangers whereas I stifle myself in person. But of course, my lived experience is much different from someone seeking post-abortion support or support within the trans community, and I appreciated these anecdotes.

Mostly I just found the last chapter about cyberdildonics funny. I first heard about these things a long time ago, and thought they were funny then, so this chapter did not shock me at all. They’ll always be “Teledildonics” to me, even if the “Tele-” prefix is outdated. For those that don’t know, it’s exactly what it sounds like – a sex device to be used remotely, using a computer. As Ray illustrates, the technology still isn’t exactly feasible yet. And it will probably never really replace human interaction. I wouldn’t worry about that.

I didn’t get the impression that Ray judged any of the women she interviewed, in one direction or another. She neutrally presents what her interviewees told her about their experiences with the internet. Or maybe Ray was not completely neutral, since she is herself a former sex worker, and so empathetic to what they do. But I like that she didn’t try to psychoanalyze. I think there’s quite enough of that already outside of the book.

So yes, there were a lot of things I very much enjoyed about Naked on the Internet. I feel like I learned a lot.
But did I love the book?
No, not really. Like all things, it’s not perfect.

Naked on the Internet is not the best work of prose I’ve seen, and I’m disappointed by that. Sometimes I feel like I’m tripping over Ray’s words. It’s not that it’s too academic or cerebral; Ray’s had a lot more lived experience dealing with sexploration and the internet than I have.
Although there is one highly cerebral section dealing with Cyborgs that I think could have just been completely thrown out because that went waaay over my head.

The reason I say it’s not the best work of prose is that, many of the paragraphs presented one feature of the internet in a positive or neutral light and then immediately followed with a “But,” “Though,” or “However” statement describing problems that come along with it. Which isn’t necessarily bad or wrong. But (and now I’m doing it!) I felt these ideas could have been better fleshed out with more detail in whole separate paragraphs. I suppose her contradictions held within the same paragraph are reflective of the contradictions inherent on the tubes. For every pro-something website you can find, there is going to an anti- website somewhere else. For every positive online interaction that you’ve ever had, somewhere, someone else, is getting harassed. All of this takes place simultaneously in the larger context of this digital universe.

Most of Ray’s comments and conclusions are drawn from interviews with other bloggers and sex workers. By nature of the medium, I suppose this had to be the case. But I would have liked to see more hard statistics backed up with verifiable sources. It would be a mistake to universalize the experiences of a just a few people.

The table of contents (and the cover) makes the content of Naked on the Internet sound more “Juicy” than it actually is. I was expecting to see more in-your-face raunch and graphic descriptions. It’s not like that at all – there’s really not much drama in this book, although drama certainly went into creating some, if not all, of the conflicts Ray describes.
So if you’re looking for something “Wetter,” for lack of a better term, look elsewhere.

I felt that the chapter on the history of women & computers was dry, and, to someone who has already lived through it, common knowledge. I got my start on the internet back in the late 90s and that’s actually how I met my current partner, so to me, much of the history is old news. Been there, done that. Wrote the blog. This chapter would be more useful & interesting to someone younger than I, who got online only after the Y2K fiasco.
However, perhaps to make up for this, I did very much enjoy Ray’s insights into the history of pornography and how the internet has changed (continues to change) the industry. That was new to me.

I would have liked to see something about women who produce porn & erotica not by taking pictures & videos of themselves, but by writing or drawing it.

For some reason, the book does not have an index. This annoys me to no end.
Perhaps to make up for the lack of an index, there is a pretty comprehensive list of useful links & resources in the back, as well as a glossary.

There are no pictures whatsoever, not even any witty little Ziggy comics below chapter headings. Sometimes I like irreverent black & white pictures. I would have liked to see a graphic of a timeline or maybe some diagrams depicting the interpersonal links that Ray goes into detail about. Or a picture of what exactly a “Cyberdildonic toy” looks like (use your imagination, it’s probably exactly what you’re thinking…) Hell, I would even settle for a LOLcat.
So I would have liked to see some graphics – and I’m not even a visual learner! Most of the time if I look at charts & graphs, they just confound me. Perhaps Ray, like me, is totally comfortable with walls of text. It just seemed strange to see a book talking about a multimedia platform and yet have no multimedia of its own to present.

As Ray concludes, she could not address every little corner of the internet and make any definite conclusions within her book. The internet is too fluid, constantly changing. But it’s still a pretty good book, and much of what was true in 2007 remains true today. I’m hoping that there’ll eventually be a second edition printed, with follow ups to the interviews. Luckily, even if that does not happen, that is what the Sex 2.0 conference was (is?) partly for.

Naked on the Internet would be a useful title to pick up if you have an interest in any of the topics it covers – feminism, sexuality, the internet (And who isn’t interested in at least one of these things?) You may pass over some parts briefly since you already know about them. You may identify with some of the women & situations they find themselves in. You may learn something new.

Just remember to read it asap while the data remains relevant. Do it now before the information on the web gets written over.


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