An open letter to Creative Loafing Atlanta on the occasion of the inauguration of Are You Shaved

Dear Creative Loafing,

The cover story for your December 15-21 issue, sporting the title, “Melysa Martinez, our new sex columnist, asks, ‘Is Atlanta uptight?‘” has forced me, at last, to write the letter I’ve been meaning to write ever since I read your embarrassment of a “college guide” issue a few months ago (of which I re-purposed fifteen copies to protect my hardwood floors from cat piss while training my cat to use his litter box).

The title led me to a few related assumptions before I had even opened the paper. First, since Creative Loafing had hired a woman to write its sex column, I figured I could look forward to a little less of the doltism – and, often, brazen misogyny — exhibited by the dude who preceded her. But second, I worried, as I am wont to do whenever a faux-progressive media outlet hires a woman to talk about sex, that once again I’d be seeing consumerist, destructive, male-centric ideas about sexuality insidiously smuggled into the minds of the unthoughtful under the guise of being woman-approved. It was worse than I thought. It appears that not only will CL be selling hackneyed rehashings of bro-ish sex fantasies in boxes stamped with the woman-approved seal, but the (empty) “punk rock” imprimatur will also help ensure that no one analyzes or criticizes those fantasies lest they be deemed uncool.

There are things I like about Atlanta, but Atlanta’s take on counter-culture is not one of them. I understand that many of the people who live here have come here to escape reactionary, conformist realities of which most people may never be able to apprehend the depths. Still, I expect that anyone claiming to occupy a socially transgressive role actually do so, and that is simply not the case with many people in this town. It’s 2011. Getting tattoos, advertising one’s love for tits/tacos/booze by means of wacky novelty t-shirts (vintage or not), or involving oneself in the local horror movie lovers’ scene does not make one a revolutionary, but rather a consumer of one or more commercially conceived and marketed lifestyles. The fact that the bulk of the counter-cultural activity in town revolves around Clothing Warehouse and people getting wasted in one of eight or so bars can be blamed in part, I’m sure, on the gentrification of the city in recent years, as well as on the corporate media concentration which began in the late 90s and saw all of the avenues for rebellious expression bought up, repackaged, and sold to kids who would never be the wiser. But Creative Loafing is also complicit in the devolution of the city’s cultural life. There are smaller cities in this country with far more interesting music, art, and political environments. What they all have in common is a thriving, responsible alternative media presence, not a choice between a weekly headed by a Republican asshole and a weekly that exists to advertise the fact that some dude partied with some shitty band, that yet another new junk food chic restaurant is trying to sell $18 burgers with sous-vide dog turds on them while no one knows where to buy dumplings on Buford Highway, and that there is a chick in town with tattoos who drinks whiskey and likes to fuck (you don’t say!). In the text of the article, Martinez makes reference to playing tug-of-war with her “four-legged daughter,” mentions a thwarted desire to move to New York City, and recounts a conversation with a male friend from San Francisco in which she bemoans the fact that men don’t ask her out, concluding that men are intimidated by her. Where have I heard this before?

I don’t expect much from Atlantans anymore when it comes to thoughtfulness, especially when it comes to discussions of human sexuality, but I suppose I’ll scream into the void anyway and voice my grievances with the article itself.

A sex column called Are You Shaved? Really, now. Martinez claims in comments to the online version of the article that she chose the name after hearing the question posed to the title character in the movie Amelie. I’ve (unfortunately) seen the movie, but I forgot that line. So did everyone else. Leaving aside the juvenile asininity of such a title, is there a female human being under thirty (surely, Creative Loafing imagines its audience, roughly, to be 18-30-year-olds) who isn’t? I was under the impression that the porn industry had ensured by this point that there are only nine heterosexual men alive in America who don’t pressure their female partners to remove their pubes regularly, to the point that women, when surveyed on the subject, have come to feel such shame over the natural state of their bodies that they claim to remove their pubes in toto because they think they are “dirty” or “unsanitary.” Martinez says that she likes “to see the question as a metaphor for whether or not we can be stripped of what makes us insecure, leaving us naked and vulnerable.” So, shaving one’s pubes metaphorically equates to shedding decades of social conditioning that has resulted in epidemic proportions of women (and men) feeling ashamed of their bodies because they don’t measure up to an ever-changing – and always impossible – standard created by an industry that exists to make a profit by manipulating and exacerbating human insecurity and sexual shame? War is peace, I guess.

Martinez claims there is no such thing as a pervert. What the fuck are we supposed to do as a society when there is no such thing as a pervert? I’m pretty comfortable with labeling anyone who pursues non-consensual activity a pervert (e.g., rapists, pedophiles, etc.) In fact, I’m cool with labeling anyone who finds the dehumanization of a human being orgasmic a pervert, because that’s what the definition of sexual perversion is: a warping of human sexuality such that one finds something other than sex – such as power – more orgasmic than sex itself.

The term “pervert” has been used as a tool for shaming and dehumanizing sexual minorities, which is unacceptable, but it still has uses. The problem with people like Martinez is that they can only see two options with regard to sexuality: reactionary sexuality and sexual (lower-case L) libertarianism. Reactionaries deploy the concept of the pervert — and other forms of psychological and physical violence — in order to shame women, homosexuals, and anyone else who doesn’t follow the patriarchal sexual script into either getting on board or disappearing themselves from public view. Sexual libertarians have taken things too far in the other direction, beginning from the assumption that any criticism of any form of sexuality ought to be verboten. That would be a great thing, were it not for the fact that we still live in a straight white male supremacist society in which the range of sexual expression for those who are not straight white men is limited by what straight white men can deal with. It would be nice to see some sexual liberationists take things a step further by taking it as a given that people ought to be free to explore their sexuality, but questioning the bases of the social construction of sexual desires and how they might affect our social and political realities. With freedom comes responsibility and shit.

The general thrust of Martinez’s monologue is that she’s devoutly anti-shame, but there’s a decided “get with it” tone present throughout the discussion. She ham-fistedly insinuates that Atlantans are uptight because we don’t all act like rockabilly teenagers and aren’t keen to shout our most private fantasies over the first PBR. She assures us that there’s “nothing wrong with [our] likes and dislikes” but then tells men whose girlfriends “won’t give in” and submit to some “backdoor action” to find someone who will. Shaming people for wanting to do something consensual might not be cool, but shaming people who don’t want to do something – which amounts to pressure, which is a form of social and interpersonal coercion — is downright fucked.

Martinez asks men what kind of porn they watch and what their fetishes are, she writes, quite early in the getting-to-know-you phase. It’s the fear and hostility people feel with regard to sexuality that underlie many of the most destructive forces in human psychology, and thus creating space for frank and realistic sexual discussions is necessary to a healthy sexual existence and to a functioning society. But is the goal really to reduce every potential relationship to whether or not the two people involved like to have the same kinds of props in the room when they fuck? No one ought to be ashamed to engage in a sexual discussion, no matter what the content of that discussion, provided that the time for the conversation is appropriate. But if a dude were to go straight from asking me whether I’m into the Black Lips to asking me whether I do anal, I’d sneak out before he got the chance to stick his dick in my face unannounced. A woman broaching the subject of fetishes with a near stranger doesn’t carry the implicit threat that a man doing so does, but it’s still creepy. Boundaries matter, as any sex columnist who gives a shit about the concept of consent ought to know.

Still, let’s say the context isn’t creepy, and that Martinez is simply bemoaning the fact that men can’t seem to deal appropriately with a woman who discusses sex openly. She writes that, when she does so, men either “retreat into their good-boy shells,” or that they “assume [that her questions about sex mean] they get a straight pass to the bedroom.” Maybe these men aren’t uptight. Maybe the explanation is that the men she hangs out with — as most men do — suffer from a virgin/whore complex and have learned to deal with sexually open women by shunning them as “whores” or attempting to take advantage of them, deeming them good for nothing else. Where is the suggestion that men learn to view women as human beings rather than as caricatures who exist solely as extensions of men’s egos?

It’s fairly disheartening – though by no means surprising — that porn use is a given, and that all that’s left to discuss is which version of commodified sexuality one consumes, how degrading it is, and whether one partner can emotionally withstand knowing what forms of dehumanization the other finds orgasmic. We can simply no longer imagine a sexuality, apparently, that transcends scripts dictated to us by an industry that banks on fulfilling (and manipulating) male desires to the detriment of women’s humanity. But let’s not discuss that and what it might mean for our sex lives and our emotional development as human beings. That shit wouldn’t give anyone a boner.

This might be hard to believe, but one can tire of constant exposure to banal, unreflective, heteronormative/heterosexist discussions of fucking, and there are people in the world – Atlanta included — who might like to read and think about something a little more complex.

Martinez and Creative Loafing have both got it wrong. The problem with Atlanta is not that its people are uptight, but that they’ve somehow gotten the mistaken idea that being pro-porn, pro-microbrew, and pro-Rob Zombie is the opposite of uptight. Probably at least in part from Creative Loafing.

Please try a little harder. This is embarrassing.



22 thoughts on “An open letter to Creative Loafing Atlanta on the occasion of the inauguration of Are You Shaved

  1. Nice to see you blogging again!

    People have really come to see “depravity” as the only acceptable form of sexuality, haven’t they? The idea seems to go “either you engage in the most gruesome acts or you cannot possibly have sexual feelings”.

    Being coerced into stuff you don’t want to do is just as bad as being coerced into not doing what you do want to do.

    What really scares me is that everyone pretty much accepts that this stuff is “f*cked up”, (as you can see by the language people use… “she’s so dirty she likes it ***”; if it were “ok” or “acceptable”, then it wouldn’t be “dirty”, wouldn’t it? ), but people are embracing it really strong.

    It’s like rightwing politics really: it’s trully bad for everyone, but we’ll be real fanatics.

    In short: people write about this stuff nonstop not because they have to justify their acts to some “uptight other”, but because they are anxious about what they are doing. They know in their heart of hearts that it is wrong. They need to invent some kind of “uptight” opposition to oppose and so they can justify their acts to themselves.


  2. Why should we be surprised this is in Creative Loafing? Atlanta, like so much of the South, is stuck in the old slave state dichotomy wherein you’re either a genteel, traditional good Southern belle or beau or else you’re “white trash” or worse yet, the “n” word. No shock then that (especially as a woman) you can either choose to be an uptight prude or a lurid whore as many here can’t conceive of anything in between and they like it that way. So, on the one side, we girls raised in the South are brought up to be good little belles to please daddy and granddad but then encouraged by the porn culture all around us to be as trashy as possible to please all the rest of the males everywhere. While patriarchy and sexual oppression exist everywhere, I’m glad I’m leaving the “dirty South” next summer, never to return.


  3. ND, I’d love to enter something pithy and profound on this subject, but between yourself and first commentor Mary Tracy, you’ve left me with nothing left to add that could possibly outshine what you both have to say. Just a word then of thanks, as always, for helping to expose the so-called ‘transgressive culture’ of this country for the commodified, knee-jerk shill it mostly is–if the kids only knew that, in some salient respects, they’re even more reactionary and lockstep in their cultural thinking than the old folks!

    Always good to see you back… as an old-time feminist it invariably makes my day to read your pieces here, and know the fire-breathing willingness to get in the face of accepted
    thinking about ‘teh wimmins’ (no matter what current mask of ‘unconventionality’ it might choose to don) is still alive and well .


  4. ex-peach,
    you can’t escape being a turd magnet; altanta, l.a., it is all the same, as we live in the same society. every woman i know complains about the men they know by region or ethnicity as their native men to be rejected for some new foreign or transplanted substitute, only to repeat their original mistake/trauma/whatever… we just end up trading phil spektor for o.j. simpson, for robert blake, and so on.
    i don’t have a better solution than this: look within, adopt from a shelter, and it’s never too late to change your mind/say no/say goodbye.


  5. please bear with me on this long post, but i promise it serves to reinforce/expand the themes ND has quite handily laid down.

    i was on the imdb board for tod browning’s “freaks,” and i replied to a comment about the ending of the film. i am reposting it here because it contains some links to lend a sense of history to the commodification of the counterculture:

    “whitespirit26, i read another comment of yours, and i think i get what you are saying; someone else offered up the idea of slaying a dragon in relation to the movie, but that is not in fact what happened. the villagers hunted, mutilated, and tortured the dragon and forced it to live in captivity– that’s not slaying….
    …a simple killing would have been vengeance enough and not made people who were already seen as objects of grotesquerie seem equally grotesque on the inside. but that is what browning gave us. he made the choice to portray the freaks as anti-heroic rather than heroic, as future counter culture icons, typically obsessed with castration and misogyny (for example, buñuel and burroughs).”

    i hope this works

    this one too

    the links are from *Cutting edge: art-horror and the horrific avant-garde*
    by Joan Hawkins, and the TL:DR vers. is that the movie and its subsequent revival was foundational in the po-mo antihumanist art of the mid-century and beyond, from burroughs to the gabba gabba hey of the ramones, hence, punk and its icons owe a lot to the successful selling of our society’s own misogyny back to itself, repackaged as rebellion.


  6. Thank you so much for this post. Now my greatest hope is that this rag will publish your letter. I despair for the younger women growing up with this vile messaging.

    Thank you.

    Thank you.


  7. (Totally unrelated)

    I come here to ask for advice from all you fellow feminists.

    So… In my family, as in most families, the women do all the work during holidays.

    I’m 19 and I know that when the previous generation of women in my family becomes older, my female cousin and I will have to do everything.

    But we have a male cousin… and it is very obvious that no one expects him to do anything. No one asks him do to any kind of chore, whereas my female cousin and I are constantaly asked. Things are shaping up to be exactly as they are now for our mothers.

    And I don’t want it to be that way. I refuse to let it be that way.

    But the problem is that I don’t really know what to do. I suppose I could just talk to my family and my male cousin. But it is not that simple: these sexist values are so ingrained in our family that me telling them this won’t do anything. They have all been socialized to believe that it’s women’s obligation to do the chores and the cooking. And, of course, because I’m young, they don’t take my words seriously.

    Do you have any advices? Any personal stories? I could really use them.


  8. @Sara: Are you living with your family? If so, at the age of 19, it’s time to move out and start asserting your independence. Alternatively, if you’re not yet in a financial position to get your own place…just simply refuse to do said chores. Observe your male cousin; he sits on his ass and does nothing…follow his example. LOL When family members start pressuring you, point to him and say “If he doesn’t have to do it, neither do I”. Just put your foot down, be stubborn and refuse to give in to their demands.

    In the meantime…get money, save money & move out ASAP.


  9. Sara,
    some of my relatives are like that. You can always try to talk, but often it’s hopeless. In similar situations, I just refuse outright any chores if they are being allocated based on gender.. I might also just say things like, “please, it’s the 21st century” or “I see feminism is still much needed”.



  10. Chiming in to lend support to Sara. It is indeed the 21st century and you are (as surprising as this may be to your family) allowed to set boundaries. If, when asked to help in the kitchen, you wish to be as polite as possible while making your point, invite your cousin to join you. If he balks remind him of the century and ask him if he is suffering from any broken limbs which may be an impediment to his getting his ass into the kitchen to mash some potatoes. Then stand your ground. It won’t be pretty, but in the end it will be worth it. And don’t lose hope! Not all families are like this. My father and brother do most of the holiday cooking, and if you hang tough, that may end up being the case in your family as well. Certainly when you have your own home you can make damn sure that it is.

    Also, brilliant observations 92. Tattoos and ironic facial hair does not necessarily a progressive make. :)


  11. Ex-Peach: I hate to disappoint you, but being a Southern Girl born and raised, moving to LA and living there for 10 1/2 years, then moving back to semi-small-town South, the only difference between the places is the form the misogyny takes.

    To second ND, patriarchal ideology is still patriarchal ideology, no matter how many tattoos and piercings it sports. Exhibit A: The Suicide Girls, which just make me want to commit homicide.


  12. Sugarpuss: I live with my mom, so this is not an issue in my home (thankfully). This situation happens only when the entire family gets together, and that’s basically the holidays.

    Thanks everyone for the suggestions, I’ll try to use some of them.


  13. Only semi-related to the subject : I have come across the most misogynistic radio show EVER (ever meaning approx. 2 weeks in this case). It’s called something like Famous Corsets, or Corsets that Changed the World, and consists of a creepy historian presenting what he calls “feminists”. Which he seems to believe means “woman who sucks dick”. He talks for an hour about famous prostitutes of the past and how they were “liberated” for their times… Usually with a few paternalist comments like “She was smart but she would have been nothing without her breasts” or “She was clumsy but had a lot of sex-appeal”.

    He is trying to brainwash people into believing that you can’t go anywhere without looking fuckable (if you’re a woman), that spreading one’s legs for everybody is the best thing one could hope for and that those who don’t think like him are hopeless bigots.

    The worst thing is that the woman who co-stars the show doesn’t seem to see anything ridiculous in it.


  14. Thanks for this, ND. You’ve managed to put your finger on that undercurrent of male-approved sexiness as feminism and sexuality as something sacred that could never be criticized no matter how gross or harmful. It always irritated me but I could never quite figure out WHY, because whenever I protested it I was accused of being uptight or insecure or worst of all “second wave”.

    The reason our view is unpopular I think is because it’s nicer to believe that we’re wrong. It’s easier to exist in a man’s world with male approval. As a hetero lady I really do want to believe that men are not my oppressors and that there’s nothing wrong with misogynist porn or dudebro culture. But to do otherwise just feels hollow. I wonder if women like this one ever feel that way.


  15. Not really related to the topic per se, but I am curious as to why you let men comment on this blog. I have been going through your archives (I’m on page 15 right now) and I’m starting to be wary of reading the comments because it seems that, while you’ve got a lot of intelligent female commenters that have lively discussions, the few male commenters (and one or two female quislings) invariably break the intelligent discussion and make it all about them, them, them (“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MANS?!?!?!”). Radfem blogs that don’t allow men to comment (e.g. femonade) seem to have much more worthwhile comments threads. Just my two cents.


  16. Francois,

    I know what you mean, that more often than not, men post whiny comments about how they’re “nice guys” and all that, but I respectfully disagree with you.

    However, I feel that a blanket exclusion of men from the debate is a mistake. For every man who is a misogynist, there is at least one who respects and values women, and sometimes they have very valuable things to add to the discussion. Furthermore, it is my belief that eradicating the roots of misogyny and rape culture necessarily involves male allies who will reinforce feminist values with other men.

    It’s one thing to have a policy where inflammatory comments will be deleted, but another to say that because one has a penis, they have nothing to contribute. Because that’s basically the reverse of what we’re all fighting against, isn’t it?


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