Blood Family, Chosen Family

I have blood family — in-laws, actually — and my wife and I almost always spend holidays with them. I love my in-laws and I like them, and most of the time when we visit them, I dress how I usually dress. I put together outfits that are quirky, comfortable, and stylish in a relaxed and fun way: strong prints, jewel tones, boots unless it’s boiling hot.

But on big holiday dinners with them, I dress like I’m going to a work conference. Dressy, cheerful-but-tasteful, almost entirely non-sexual. I’m festive, don’t get me wrong: it’s just a very respectful version of festive.

I also have chosen family. I do holiday things with them every year, too. And when I dress for the holidays with my chosen family, I dress, not to put too fine a point on it, like a hussy.


Thus begins my latest piece for Femme Feminism, Blood Family, Chosen Family. I explore how, in the symbolic language of fashion, there are lots of different ways to say “family holiday celebration” — because there are different holidays, different families, different ways to celebrate, and different ways to feel about all of it. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Blood Family, Chosen Family

Art and Craft

When men do it, it’s art. When women do it, it’s craft.

People have long debated the difference between art and craft, and have struggled to define the terms. Craft is defined as technical ability; art as creative ability. Craft is defined as producing useful objects; art is created for its own sake. The process of creating art is seen as open-ended; craft has a specific goal in mind from the beginning. Art is seen as expressing emotions or ideas; craft isn’t. There are dozens more definitions and distinctions, each hotly disputed by artists, craftspeople, critics, and audiences.

But another factor is at play in this distinction. When lots of men do a creative endeavor, it’s seen as art. When lots of women do it, it’s more likely to be seen as craft.

This plays out in lots of arenas. The craft of everyday cooking, for instance, is seen as women’s work, while high-paid, high-prestige culinary artistry is seen as a man’s world, with male chefs “elevating” the plebian. But one of the places we see it most vividly is in fashion and style.


Thus begins my latest piece for Femme Feminism magazine, Art and Craft. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Art and Craft

Femme, Adjective or Noun?

I’ve always been a bit confused by the word “femme.”

This might surprise people who know me. I’m a dyke who wears dresses and skirts 98% of the time, who almost never leaves the house without makeup, who has her shoe collection in a display case and her boot collection hanging from racks on her walls. But “femme” as an identity has always puzzled me. I don’t object to it, I totally support people who use it — it just doesn’t resonate with me. I’ve often said that I’m “femmey, but not a femme.” For me, femme is a description, not an identity; an adjective, not a noun. And part of the reason is that I don’t really grasp, intellectually or instinctively, what that identity means. People who identify as femmes have a strong, clear sense of what this means to them, and how it shapes not only what they wear but how they think of themselves. I don’t have that.

But even people who do identify as femme, as a deeply personal identity-noun, sometimes struggle to define the term. Years ago I attended a femme conference: one of the panels was asked, “What does femme mean?” — and almost all the panelists fumbled and stumbled. That’s not to slam them: it’s a hard concept to define. But the clearest definition, the one that’s stuck with me over the years, was given by Susan Stryker:

Femme is adopting the trappings of femininity in a way that subverts them.

That stuck with me. And I think it explains why I’m happy to take on “femme” as an adjective but not a noun; as a description but not an identity.


Thus begins Femme, Adjective or Noun? It’s my first contribution to Femme Feminism, the new magazine dedicated to joyous expression of femininity within the context and exploration of feminist values. To read more, read the rest of the piece. And check out the rest of the magazine! Other articles so far include On Respectability, Afrocentrism & Accepting Fashion as Self-Care, not Self-Indulgence by Tajh Sutton, Redefining Fem(me)ininity by Lauren Munro, and Femme: a Case Study by Rebecca Aylesworth. Have fun!

Femme, Adjective or Noun?

Notes from a Pornographer on Sexist Sexual Imagery and Behavior – UPDATED

Please note: The comment policy for this post is somewhat different than usual. It’s at the end of this post.

Bending cover
So, I’m a pornographer. I have written pornography, produced it, published it, edited it, sold it, bought it, reviewed it, modeled for it, narrated it, read it publicly, and performed in it. I have written/ produced/ published/ edited/ sold/ bought/ reviewed/ modeled for/ narrated/ read/ performed in pornographic fiction, video, photography, comics, and probably other media I can’t remember now. (I’ve even written about erotic cave paintings. No, really.) I was a sex writer for decades before I was an atheist writer: in fact, my first several pieces of professionally published writing were for On Our Backs, the by-lesbians-for-lesbians sex magazine. I started working in pornography in 1989, and I’ve been doing it in some capacity, more or less constantly, ever since.

So. Please bear that in mind.

I am sick to death of hearing that feminists are sex-hating prudes because we don’t want imagery of women in videogames to be overwhelmingly sexual. I’m sick of hearing that we’re sex-hating prudes because we want conferences to have rules and guidelines about sexual conduct at conferences, so people are not harassed and groped and assaulted against their will. I’m sick of hearing that we’re sex-hating prudes because we think there are times and places where explicit sexual imagery is not appropriate — such as, oh, say, just for example, the public media announcement of a major landmark in scientific discovery.

Repeat for other issues, as appropriate.

The idea that sex-positivity and sexual liberation means everybody expressing every sexual thought and acting on every sexual desire, the minute it pops into our heads — this is bullshit. Continue reading “Notes from a Pornographer on Sexist Sexual Imagery and Behavior – UPDATED”

Notes from a Pornographer on Sexist Sexual Imagery and Behavior – UPDATED

Fashion Friday: On Looking Like a Middle-Aged Lady

There’s a pattern I’ve been noticing when I shop for clothes or get dressed in the morning. If I try something on and think, “This makes me look like a middle-aged lady,” I immediately reject it and put on something else. If I look at an article of clothing on a store rack or in a catalog and think, “Nah, that might look good on someone else, but on me it’d make me look like a middle-aged lady,” I won’t even try it on.

And I’ve been wondering: What’s that about?

Greta in sweater dress
After all, I am a middle-aged lady. I’m 52 years old. And I’m generally comfortable and happy with my age. There are downsides to aging, of course, mostly in the area of physical health and ability — but there are serious upsides as well, mostly in the area of confidence and experience and perspective. And I’m happy to have my clothing reflect my age. In fact, I’ve written on the topic of age-appropriate style more than once, and although I have some issues with some of the details of how that concept plays out in our culture, the core of the concept is one I embrace. I am a different person now than I was when I was 20, and I want my style to reflect that. So what does it mean that I’m comfortable with my age, and am comfortable looking my age — but that I don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady?

I’ve been thinking about this. And I think I know what it is.

When I think, “I don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady,” what I mean is, “I don’t want to look like society’s perception of a middle-aged lady.”

When I think of the cultural tropes and stereotypes of middle-aged ladies, especially when it comes to fashion and style, the words that come to mind are: Conservative. Conventional. Modest. Sexless. Inobtrusive. Invisible. Stodgy. Frumpy. And none of that describes me.

Greta in batwing minidress and octopus necklace
I don’t want to look flashy, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to command attention. I don’t want to flash my flesh, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to express my sexuality, and in some situations I even want to flaunt it. I don’t want to flagrantly ignore cultural standards, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to express independence and even defiance, albeit in a more thoughtful and selective way than I did in my youth. I don’t want to look like a kaleidoscope took mescaline and threw up, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to express exuberance and joy.

It’s a tricky thing. As I’ve written before, it’s hard to use the metaphorical language of fashion and style to express “sexy middle-aged woman,” when the very concept of a sexy middle-aged woman is one that’s seen as incoherent. And it’s hard to accept and respect the basic idea of using fashion and style as a form of expression and communication, while rejecting many of the assumptions that the language is based on. The assumption that youth, by definition, equals beauty and desirability; the assumption that after a certain age, expressing your belief in your sexual desirability is just embarrassing; the assumption that unless you’re Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep, once you’ve reached a certain age you might as well just give up — these assumptions are deeply woven into the language of fashion.

And of course, any number of impossible contradictions are woven into that language as well. There’s an assumption that looking younger means looking better — coupled with a perception that people should age gracefully. There’s an assumption that of course everyone over 30, indeed everyone over 25, wants to look younger and should try to look younger — coupled with the perception that women who try too hard to look younger are making fools of themselves. There’s an assumption that it’s embarrassing to try too hard — coupled with the perception that it’s also embarrassing to not try hard enough, to “let yourself go.” We’re supposed to try the exact right amount, I guess. (More accurately, I think, we’re supposed to look younger — but it’s supposed to look effortless. A theme that crops up a lot in cultural beauty messages. But that’s a post for another time.) We’re supposed to find that perfect sliver where we accept our age, but also accept that of course it would be better to look and be younger. And that perfect sliver gets narrower and narrower the older we get — until the walls pressing in on us collide, and cross, and we enter the zone where the expectations of us move from being narrow to being literally impossible.

So how do I find my own voice in this? How do I find a way to express middle age, while resisting the cultural assumption that being middle-aged — or at least, being middle-aged and female — means not commanding attention, not expressing sexuality, not showing exuberance and joy?

Maybe the issue is with the word “lady.” I don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady: I am not a lady, and I do not give a flying fuck about being a lady. (Obviously — if I did, I wouldn’t toss around the F-word so freely.) I am not conservative, conventional, modest, sexless, stodgy, frumpy, inobtrusive, or invisible — and I do not give a flying fuck about being any of these things. To the contrary. I am radical, shameless, sexual, defiant, obtrusive, and as visible as I possibly can make myself be. And I embrace all of these things.

Greta in striped jacket and boots
I don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady.

I want to look like a middle-aged woman.

Fashion Friday: On Looking Like a Middle-Aged Lady

My Light the Night Walk Dare — The Bubblegum Pink Manicure

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Light the Night Walk logo
So Freethought Blogs has gotten into the Foundation Beyond Belief/ Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation Light the Night game, and has started a virtual team! Even small donations help — it really does add up. As of this writing, we’ve already raised almost $6000!

For each $1000 we raise, I’ve promised to do a different forfeit or dare. I’m having to do them somewhat out of order — largely because I have to get the first draft of my new book written by October 31, and some of these dares will take time — but I’m posting the ones that I can do as soon as I can do them.

So here, as promised, because we raised $4000, is my bubblegum pink manicure.

Bubblegum pink manicure 1

Bubblegum pink manicure 2

And in case you don’t trust that this is really me — if you think I just pulled a pic of a bubblegum pink manicure off the Internet —

Bubblegum pink manicure 3

For those who don’t know me and my fashion aesthetic: This is a manicure I would not have gotten in a million billion trillion years. And to show just how committed I am to this cause, I would like to point out: This is a shellac manicure. Those are the super-special manicures that last 2-3 weeks.

Update on my other dares: Because we raised $1000, I will dye all my hair purple and green, for Skepticon. I’m going to do that right before Skepticon, so the color will be super-fresh and bright. Because we raised $2000, I will go to church. I won’t pray — that would be dishonest — but I’ll attend, and I’ll even be polite. (It’ll have to wait until after the book is finished, though.) Because we raised $3000, I will wear a Tea Party hat and make a ridiculous speech about health care. That’s coming up next. And because we raised $5000, I will dress as a nun and sing the Leslie Gore song, “You Don’t Own Me” to a crucifix. This should be coming up soon: fortunately Halloween is close, so the nun costume should be relatively easy to come by.

And as of this writing, we’re just $113 away from our next benchmark! Right now, we’re at $5,887. If our team raises $6000, I will eat entirely vegetarian for a month. (I’m largely vegetarian-ish now, but I make exceptions. For a month, I won’t.) This should be an easy one, folks!

Other lofty goals to aim for: If our team raises $7000, I will eat entirely vegan for a week. If our team raises $8000, I will read, and review, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” (Again, though – this will have to wait until my book is finished.) If we raise $9000, I will eat bugs. And if we reach our team’s fundraising goal of $10,000… I will eat broccoli. Seriously.

What’s more: If you participate in the Light the Night Walk by just donating some money to our team and then walking up and down in your living room as part of a “do it yourself” walkathon — and you videotape it and put it on the Internet — I will personally donate $50 to the FTB Light the Night team. $50 per video, capping out at $500. (I’ll also post links to the videos on my blog.)

foundation beyond belief logo
And if the entire Foundation Beyond Belief team reaches its goal of raising $500,000 in 2013, I will walk across the entire city of San Francisco, in the wildest outfit I can come up with. (With sensible shoes, though — I’m not stupid.) Yes, I’ll be doing my very own personal Bay to Breakers, with whatever friends and family I can sucker into joining me.

I won’t be the only Freethought Blogger doing assorted forfeits and dares if we reach various fundraising milestones, btw. PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, and Avicenna are all offering themselves up as sacrificial lambs as well. (PZ has already blogged about tumor suppressor genes while naked and wearing a pirate hat.)

What’s more, fellow blogging network Skepchick is offering a bunch of seriously cool dares and offers for their own Light the Night Walk virtual team, including custom superhero drawings, custom cocktails, shaven heads, juggling videos, comic reviews, and more. Rivalry! Rivalry! We can beat those Skepchicks! Rah! Rah! Go team!

todd stiefel
And Todd Stiefel — the Foundation Beyond Belief Light the Night International Team Captain, the guy who came up with the whole “Foundation Beyond Belief and the atheist community supporting the Light the Night Walk in a big way” idea in the first place, and whose Stiefel Freethought Foundation is doing matching funds for a big-ass chunk of it — has promised that if either the Freethought Blogs team or the Skepchick team raises $20,000, he’ll get a buzz-mohawk. (His hair isn’t long enough for a big one). And whichever team gets to the goal first will get to pick the color of his mohawk!

In addition to (or instead of) being part of our virtual team, you can actually take part in the Light the Night walk in your own city: as part of a Foundation Beyond Belief team, or as part of some other team, or just on your own. You don’t have to be part of an official team to be part of the walk — you can just register as an individual, either online or at the event.

So sign up! Be an official part of the Freethought Blogs Light the Night team! Get me, PZ, Ed, and Avicenna to do awesome, embarrassing, painful, or hilarious things against cancer! Let’s make use of human beings’ evolutionary tendency towards tribalism and group loyalty and pointless competition — and our tendency to treat irrelevant sacrifices as both a social bonding mechanism and proof of serious commitment — and turn it towards good! Go, team, go!

My Light the Night Walk Dare — The Bubblegum Pink Manicure

Fashion Friday on Saturday: Atheist Shoes

There was some fabulous fashion at the Director’s Reception (tonight? last night? what do you call it when it’s after midnight but you haven’t gone to sleep yet?) for the 5th Atheist Film Festival. (Happening today, Saturday, September 14 — you can still get tickets at the door.) In particular, there were loads and loads of truly awesome shoes. So I spent much of the party asking people if I could photograph their shoes (which makes for an interesting ice-breaker), and documenting the shoe parade. And I thought I’d share with the rest of the class.



More after the jump. Continue reading “Fashion Friday on Saturday: Atheist Shoes”

Fashion Friday on Saturday: Atheist Shoes

Ilk Necklaces by Surly Amy!

Are you one of Greta and Jen’s ilk? Then say it to the world with a Surly Amy necklace!

The commentariat here seems to have named themselves! PZ at Pharyngula has his Horde, and now I apparently have… the Ilk. (As in, “Jen, Greta, and their ilk.” And yes, I’m more than happy to share a commentariat with Jen.)

And Amy Davis Roth — a.k.a. Surly Amy of Surly-Ramics, jeweler to the atheist and skeptical communities for many a moon — has made “ilk” necklaces! There’s an “ilk” necklace in blue and purple:

ilk necklace surly amy blue and purple

And there’s an “ilk” necklace in red and brown:

ilk necklace surly amy red and brown

BTW, she also has a “feminist” necklace, in blue and green with the word “feminist” in a lovely, delicate feminine script:

feminist necklace surly amy bllue and green

And don’t forget — there are still Ilk T-shirts for sale! Continue reading “Ilk Necklaces by Surly Amy!”

Ilk Necklaces by Surly Amy!

Where I Got the Science Nerd Chic Accessories

When I put up my recent post about my Science Nerd Chic outfit for the Academy of Sciences’ “Nightlife at the Museum” Fashion Night, several people expressed admiration for the accessories — especially the shoes. So I thought I’d let you know where you can get them.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 3

The shoes are the Icon, made by Hades. Mine are black, but they also come in brown or mustard. I got mine at Steamtropolis.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 4

The tights are the Universe style from Foot Traffic. They have them in several styles and sizes, in both gray and blue.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 5

The octopus necklace is actually pretty ubiquitous: I’ve seen pretty much the exact same thing in lots of places. I bought it at a second-hand/ vintage store, but a quick Google search for “octopus necklace” turned it up at Modcloth, in both silver and gold colors. Also, if you do a search for “octopus necklace” on Etsy, you’ll find the exact same piece with slight modifications — with an owl face, with a diving helmet, adorned with pearl beads, painted pink, and more — as well as straight-up.

Happy shopping!

(Oh, and the the computer-innard bracelet was made custom for me by my friend Josie, as a gift.)

Where I Got the Science Nerd Chic Accessories