Archive for the ‘sexuality’ Category

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Abortion and contraception: a radical lesbian perspective

July 11, 2009

intercourse

The issue of abortion and contraception seems to be a straightforward one for most feminists. They are considered to be a fundamental right, and access to safe, legal and affordable contraception and abortion on demand is said to be necessary for women’s sexual freedom. I would argue that from a radical lesbian point of view, the reverse is actually true.

Now, I do not deny that access to contraception and abortion is absolutely necessary for women to have any semblance of control over their reproduction, right now… as we are living under male supremacy and women’s Selves and sexualities are fundamentally controlled by male ideas of women’s sexual function. Women’s sexual awareness is tightly controlled by the media, by the porn industry, by father’s, brother’s, husband’s, lover’s, son’s; and our function is clear: we are fuck objects, our function in sex is to be fucked.

Intercourse is central to sexual relations between men and women in our male supremacist society. Most of us do not question its primacy and its place in sexual intimacy… it just is. When men and women get together and have a relationship they are expected to fuck on a regular basis. If they are not fucking on a regular basis, something is considered to be wrong… the relationship is not functioning… sex is not occurring. For a detailed deconstruction of intercourse and the way that men and women are conditioned into coital sexuality read Anticlimax by Sheila Jeffries and Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin.

Anyways, centering abortion and contraception as necessary for women’s sexual freedom and as a fundamental human right presupposes that intercourse is a natural expression of women’s sexuality and that intercourse will continue to occur with the same frequency once women have complete control over their own bodies. Now I would argue that that is one hell of a presupposition.

The reality is that intercourse is the cause of unwanted pregnancy. Given that we know, as women and as radical feminists, the extent to which women are bullied, coerced and downright forced into allowing men access to their bodies… do we really think that intercourse will happen anywhere near as frequently as it does now, once women have actual sexual freedom? I personally doubt it.

While I agree that abortion and contraception are necessary at the moment, because we are living under male supremacy, women do not have any level of sexual freedom and intercourse is an unfortunate reality in many women’s lives… I am also looking forward to a time where abortion and contraception are no longer necessary. A time where women can engage freely, safely and lovingly in relations with other women, or in non-coital relationships with men.

I cannot in good conscience jump on the abortion/contraception is great for women bandwagon. In my opinion it has done as much damage as good. In reality, it gives men another crowbar with which to wedge open women’s legs. Yes, it gives *some* women, *some* level of control but it is a very, very far cry from actual liberation.

What does real freedom look like? Well, I have never had to take any unnecessary hormone pills for one thing. I have had lots of wonderful, messy, lusty, loud, sexually intimate moments with my last partner and I have never had to run to the chemist for a morning after pill, never had to buy condoms… or any of the other weird paraphernalia of heterosexual relations. Lesbianism is a 100% effective, safe and affordable contraceptive.

To summarise: intercourse causes unwanted pregnancy. Intercourse is totally unnecessary for women’s sexual pleasure. Access to abortion and contraception has not delivered either sexual or reproductive freedom for women. Demand for abortion would decrease dramatically once women have control over their physical integrity, and once our sexualities are no longer conditioned and controlled by men.

Basically, I don’t think that either contraception or abortion is the ‘solution’ to women’s reproductive rights even though I fully support women’s right to access free, safe and legal contraception and abortion.

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That Girl

May 22, 2009

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Something I wrote the other day on the train. I’m having a great deal of difficulty doing any creative writing at the moment. This is the first poem I’ve written in months.

That Girl

sometimes I forget about that girl
who molded her body,
like it was clay
molded her figure
around and
into his palm
sweat-soaked
fear pooling
deep
body
fear

sometimes I forget about
that girl
putting on her face
a different one
for each day
to mark her presence

sometimes I forget

that girl who
hitches up that skirt
curves her ass
just that way
to fit into his eyes
knee-high boots
squirming on the dance floor

“smack my bitch up’
‘superman dat ho’

and sometimes I am that girl
soaking it up
bleeding bits of myself
on the dance floor
and they watch
and they watch
and they watch
and they watch

sometimes I forget
but mostly I remember

sometimes I wonder where
she’s gone to
where she got to
seeing slivers
of other girls
catching the corner of my eye
and I think she’s gone
far away

but mostly
I feel her inside me
that girl
she jab me fierce
watching men
watching her
she is in me still
watching men
watching other girls

skin tight jeans
dark lined eyes
and a smile to say she don’t give a shit

that girl
she in me now
curve of her ass
my body
her body
fits into her own hands
and she comes
when I come
and here she is
smiling now
and giving him/they/them
the fucking finger

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Why ‘lesbian’ has become a dirty word by Amazon Mancrusher

May 5, 2009

*This is a thought-provoking guest post written by my sisterfriend Amazon Mancrusher.*

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Why lesbian has become a dirty word

You would think the word lesbian would have gotten less radical rather than more radical since the 1970’s but that doesn’t seem to be the case. These days, fewer young women seem to be identifying as lesbian, choosing instead to use queer, gay or pan to describe who they have relationships with and how they feel about their sexuality and political identity. This article will explore why young women who have intimate relationships with other women have rejected the term lesbian.

The word lesbian originates from the island of Lesbos in Greece, where a poet called Sappho lived. The people of Lesbos have historically been known as lesbians. Sappho wrote love poems to other women, many of which were destroyed by religious fundamentalists and the term lesbian became known as a term to describe women who love other women.
In the 1970’s, many women organised a feminist women’s liberation movement, in which lesbianism become a highly politicised and revolutionary concept. Many lesbians broke away from the gay liberation movement in favour of the women’s movement after making the analysis that they had more in common with straight women than gay men. They believed that gay men still benefitted from the gender hierarchy, know as patriarchy, in which the needs and human rights of women are invisible or secondary to the needs of men and where men dominate women through sexual and domestic violence. Their analysis showed that this still applied in the gay and lesbian community, where the political and social focus often focused on gay men and silenced the needs of lesbians.

Lesbians became highly visible in the 1970’s women’s liberation movement and many women who had previously seen themselves as heterosexual made choices based on their feminist politics to become lesbians, claiming that intimate relationships and sexuality are not biologically determined, but rather politically influenced. Feminists argued that heterosexuality was the cornerstone of male domination, because men are brought up to think that through heterosexual power relations, they have automatic sexual rights to women’s bodies. Feminists pointed out that the sexual power that men are granted encourages them to see the bodies of women as property or a commodity. This concept is backed up by society’s historical and cultural social structures through the laws of marriage and the culture of prostitution.

During this time, heterosexuality was ‘outed’ as something that was politically and socially compulsory rather than natural. Many feminists engaged in the women’s movement soon realised that there was a different choice and they chose lesbianism. For many women this was a choice of political resistance against compulsory heterosexuality, marriage and all other forms of male domination and gender hierarchy. Women also realised that they could make different decisions about what clothes to wear and whether to shave or wear makeup and many chose to reject feminine stereotypes. Sexual violence was finally theorised as stemming from power relations and male political domination, rather than a by-product of the ‘natural’ sex drive of men that they cannot control. This analysis meant that sexual relationships had to be politicised and the term ‘the personal is political’ became a well known feminist slogan relating to personal relationships.

Unfortunately, revolutionary lesbian resistance did not come with money and societal power and men with power in society, who control the media and finances, soon drove a powerful backlash campaign against lesbians that remains so toxic that it still poisons the lesbian community to this day. Worldwide media ran articles and news stories inflicting hatred upon women who rejected heterosexuality or rejected femininity, and claimed that lesbianism is ugly and that the rejection of femininity is inadequate for the physical desires of men. Another type of backlash against lesbians involved the depiction of women having sex with each other in pornography. These depictions were created by men who felt threatened by lesbian’s rejection of heterosexuality and wanted to place male needs back in the centre of the lives of lesbians and to recreate lesbianism in a way that they could control. Attitudes in society and the media continue to perpetuate the myth that lesbians are monstrous, revolting, unsightly beasts and lesbianism, especially in pornography is frequently represented as existing for titillation of heterosexual men.

So is it any wonder that women are rejecting this identity?

Lesbians themselves, especially those growing up in the backlash, have had little choice but to internalise this plethora of hatred and look for more palatable ways to survive and become more acceptable to their male peers and heterosexual friends. As a consequence, during the 90’s, lesbians increasingly withdrew from the women’s movement and returned to the gay liberation movement to seek political support from gay men. Many lesbians began to call themselves gay because it felt more palatable and less confrontational to their male friends.

Feminists have and continue to acknowledge that lesbians and gay men both face hatred for rejecting heterosexuality, and that a commonality exists but they also argue that the needs of lesbians and gay men are very different and that when they politically become a homogenous (same) group, that the needs will default to gay men, because as men, gay men have more economic and societal power.

The 1990’s also saw the rising influence of neo-liberalism and post-modernism, which both reject an analysis of social structures of oppression in favour of the analysis of individual power. Post-modern theorists claim that power is like a toy that can be played with by anyone, regardless of gender, race and class. Queer politics stemmed from post-modern theory, and argues that gender and sexuality can be performed and played with like a game. Adopting a queer identity became a way that lesbians could reject gender but remain palatable to gay men at the same time. Terms such as queer and pan have become used as a way of blurring the boundaries of gender. Many feminists claim that some post-modern and queer perspectives were harmful because they distort the reality of people’s day to day lives and deny the lived experience of women under patriarchy. Women living in domestic violence relationships or surviving rape are harmed by real violence stemming from real power structures. They ask how queer performance will ever help women around the world surviving rape, trafficking and domestic violence.

Queer politics proposes that if women play with their gender and do drag performances and reject the identity of woman then they will gain power. This technique has been used in recent events in the lesbian community with theme nights like Playboy where women were encouraged to dress up as Hugh Hefner in order to subvert the power dynamics. What queer politics does not tend to explore, is if these notions of male power are in fact positive in the first place and if women should claiming or subverting them will not just in reality just continue our gender binaries, albeit in a more performative way. Interestingly, queer politics has not been used by any other group to challenge hierarchy. Aboriginal people do not have colonial theme nights and dress up as white imperialists in order to distort racism and I have never heard of Jewish people coping with memories of the holocaust by holding a Nazi theme parties and playing with the role of being a Nazi. Any attempt to organise such an event would be met with confusion and probably outrage, but feminists and survivors of violence who criticize such notions of so called ‘subversion’ seem to be taken much less seriously.

To conclude, the backlash against women’s liberation has made it acceptable for the real lived experiences of women to be denied and almost impossible for lesbians to hang onto lesbianism as an alternative to a world where men’s needs dominate. It is easier, more palatable and less confrontational to be known as queer, gay or any other identity that decentres the needs of women.

by Amazon Mancrusher

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Where are all the younger lesbian feminists/separatists?

March 12, 2009

eva-johnson

Eva Johnson, Aboriginal playwright and radical lesbian feminist

In these times, where pornography abounds and young men expect young women to gratify their unnatural urges to dominate/control and make slaves out of us, where sexual slavery, the buying and selling of women as sex, is seen as liberation, where evidence of men’s hatred of us blares itself from movie screens and billboards… in these times, lesbianism, as a political choice, makes sense. It seems ridiculously simple. Men hate women. Why the hell would you want to sleep with one?

renate-klein

Renate Klein, biologist, activist against dangerous reproductive technologies, radical lesbian feminist

I chose separatism as a way of life fairly early on. I saw my mother being abused by my father and stopped speaking to him as a form of protest. I realise now that it was also one of the first separatist acts I made, in addition to being an act of sisterhood with my mother and my sisters. It wasn’t long before my not speaking to my father became me not speaking to any male peoples whatsoever. I was a ‘beautiful’ girl. Both men and boys would follow me around, ask me out, touch me, wolf-whistle etc, etc. I rarely had a day that I was not sexually harassed during my teenage years. This is not atypical however. Most women experience this kind of harassment on a daily basis.

audre-lorde

Audre Lorde, poet, writer, radical lesbian feminist

So I decided that all males were as bad as my father and refused to speak to any of them. I guess this meant that I automatically invested in my relationships with women. My primary relationships were with my mother and one of my sisters. But I had a succession of other deep friendships. Those friendships only waned because I moved around a bit. It was the love and support of those female friends that got me through highschool, through an eating disorder, through being suicidal and messed up.

sheila-jeffreys

Sheila Jeffreys, professor, activist against prostitution and all forms of male terrorism, radical lesbian feminist

I was aware of my attraction to females fairly early on. I loved Xena. Definitely my first ‘girlcrush’ as Rain likes to put it. But despite the fact that I was raised in a strict christian household, I didn’t really feel any guilt from my attractions to women. In fact, in order to cause trouble with my father, I would purposely go to see ‘gay’ films and buy ‘gay’ music. It was actually really funny. When I was about 14 my father asked me out to get an ice-cream. I agreed to go, thinking he wanted to maybe try and repair our relationship or something. Anyway, we go and buy ice-cream, we sit down and he proceeds to give me a lecture about not sleeping with boys and not taking drugs!!!! Oh, I was trying so hard not to laugh. He was so way off the mark it was so, so hilarious. So, yes… um no worries with that one, daddy.

mary-daly

Mary Daly, poet, visionary, spinster, sister, radical lesbian feminist

Anyway, I didn’t have much trouble avoiding boys. They gave up trying to talk to me in school as I completely ignored all of them. But when I was 17 I started working. One of the boys at work showed an interest in me, and whether it was curiosity or something, I agreed to date him. He was really boring, he kissed me and it was so unbelievably gross. I dumped him. For some reason, up until this point, I still thought of myself as straight. I had spread rumours around the school that I was a lesbian 1) because I like negative attention and 2) because I had had some really embarrassing incidents with boys inviting me out in front of the whole school and I did not want anything like that to happen again. But despite this, I was primarily attracted to males, even though I couldn’t understand why I was. I really willed myself to be attracted to other girls because boys and men were just so unbelievably disgusting.

staceyann-chin

Staceyann Chin, poet, activist, performer, radical lesbian feminist

So fast-forwarding to uni where I met and fell in love with a gay boy, the son of a lesbian feminist no less. We had a great relationship, while it lasted. Neither of us wanted sex from each other, just love and emotional intimacy. Unfortunately, like most men, he had no problems at all sorting out his priorities and I, of course, was dumped to the bottom of the list once I stopped being interesting to him. I ditched him and it was all very sad, but I decided that he was the last man that I was ever going to care about.

nedra-johnson

Nedra Johnson, singer/songwriter, radical lesbian feminist

But that relationship did bear fruit. I met his mother when I signed up to do volunteer work at The Women’s Library. Both her and her partner were an invaluable source of support and care during the time I was in Sydney.

I had a few brief heterosexual encounters in uni but they all bored and disgusted me. Looking back, I have no idea why I let myself get roped into them. I guess it was a mixture of curiosity and the whole ‘everyone else is doing it’ thing. Which is strange because I’ve always been very reluctant to do anything that everyone else is doing. Also, despite everything, I was still more attracted to men than women.

robin-morgan

Robin Morgan, poet, writer, radical lesbian feminist

The reason that women find men more attractive has NOTHING to do with sexuality and everything to do with socialization and validation. I had serious work to do on myself psychologically, before I could see women as being life partners. I was easily attracted to women, but could not envisage being with them in a relationship. And I don’t think I could really understand why. Not to mention the fact that I was seriously addicted to the male gaze (hence the eating disorder).

susan-hawthorne

Susan Hawthorne, poet, novelist, aerialist, radical lesbian feminist

After a wake up call, which started with a man befriending me when I was desperately lonely, and ended with sexual assault, I decided to tell my best friend of my feelings for her. She reciprocated and I entered my first lesbian relationship, my first relationship period. And it was really good. It didn’t work out long term, although we are still really good friends. During the time of my first relationship I discovered political lesbianism and lesbian separatism by reading about them in The Women’s Library and that felt like the world breaking open. I couldn’t believe that these women existed and that I’d never heard of them. Oh, I had been looking all of my life for them. And I hadn’t found them. And then suddenly they were there. And my imagination was on fire, but it wasn’t a dream, these women actually existed. They were real, and they were just like me. They shared the same hopes and dreams, they believed that a world without violence could exist and they set about making that a reality. And, oh, I wanted to be a part of that so, so much.

sisterhood

But I look around and I don’t see many younger women being interested in political lesbianism and separatism. There are only 2 lesbian feminist bloggers under 30 that I know of. I find this really sad. I think lesbianism is a very powerful and immediate solution to male supremacy and violence. Women-loving women, women-touching women are the ultimate anti-thesis to this woman-hating world. As much as I hate to agree with the ‘fun’-feminists, I do think that feminism needs to change its image. We should be saying, “Feminists ARE hairy, man-hating, prudish, fat, ugly, dykey and radical”. And we are a hell of a lot happier than the women being treated like sexual and domestic slaves by men who say they love women.

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Joss Whedon is so unbelievably sick

February 10, 2009

Just read part of the Season 8 Buffy comic in the library today and I am still dry retching. EWWWWWWWWW!!!!!

ewwwww

EWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!

buffy-les-porn

EWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!

Repeat after me kiddies: “Pornography is not fracking empowering.”

Lesbian porn for male gratification is fucking sick. Besides DYKES DO NOT LOOK LIKE THIS JOSS WHEDON YOU PERVERT!!!!

Showing teenage girls in their underwear is fucked in the head. YOU ARE A CHILD PORNOGRAPHER, JOSS!!!!

Just needed to get that off my chest.

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The Price We Pay

October 25, 2008

Another piece from a womyn of colour at Michfest. This one is close to my heart. She talks about resisting the shitty dom/sub, butch/femme destructive heteropatriarchal dichotomy in lesbian relationships… as well as other things. Thank goddess for sane womyn like this.

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Objects in Space: Black masculinity through the paradigm of whitemale lust

October 15, 2008

Objects in Space was the last episode of the television series Firefly before the series was cancelled. This episode was revealing in a number of ways. I am going to look specifically at the construction of lust in the episode and the way in which Whedon charactrises lust, the differences in his treatment of lust between his whitemale characters and his Black male characters. The way that Whedon positions the Black man as a violent, sexual monster and the relationship this construction has to the characterisation of whitemales as protectors/owners of white women.

The straight whitemale is the default audience for Firefly and Whedon immediately sets up a paradigm of objectification of the female characters. In the first episode Serenity we have a deliberately provocative shot of Kaylee eating a strawberry. Soon after there is a shot of Inara half-naked, bathing in her shuttle. Both scenes cater for the whitemale sexualised gaze, setting up whitemale lust as a central and necessary part of audience engagement with the show.

The centring of whitemale lust continues throughout the series as female characters are consistently observed through the eyes of the white male characters. We have Wash objectifying Zoe, with his comments about how he wants to watch her bathe. In a separate occasion in the Bushwhacked episode, he reduces Zoe to body parts. I find this to be a very telling scene and the contrast between Zoe’s reluctance to part with the sacred details of her love for Wash, and Wash’s disgusting objectifying comments could not be more stark.

Wash: The legs. [laughter] Oh yeah, I definitely have to say it was her legs. You can put that down. Her legs and right where her legs meet her back that actually that whole area that and above it. Have you seen what she wears? Forget about it. Have you ever been with a warrior woman?

Also in the commentary for the episode Shindig they talked about how Zoe wore her necklace thingie as a symbol of her slavery (love) to Wash. Wash does not wear any ‘love’ token.

In later episodes we see vulnerability as ‘sexy’ through Mal and Jayne’s eyes in their objectification of Saffron. Obviously the more vulnerable, submissive and pliable the woman, the ‘sexier’ she is. Yet another viewpoint worth mentioning is Jayne’s objectification of Inara when she is with her female client. Don’t even get me started on the ickiness of that scenario.

Joss Whedon’s depiction of lesbianism as hot pornography for his whitemale audience is beyond excusable. This is not the first time he has depicted lesbianism as pornographic fodder for whitemale lust. He did it a few times in Buffy: the Vampire Slayer also. At the end of the fourth season there is an episode where the character Xander fantasises about Tara and Willow together for his (and the whitemale audiences’) sexual gratification. What makes this even worse is the fact that Willow is supposed to be Xander’s best friend. Later, in the seventh season Xander again fantasises about the potential slayers (15-16 year old girls) having erotic pillow fights in his bed. Really sick stuff.

Hmm. Well I really could go on forever about the many ways in which Whedon centres whitemale lust as the primary carrier for his phallosophical televisions shows but I did really want to talk specifically about the othering of Black men and women of all colours within the framework of whitemale lust as default, normal, natural.

In Firefly we see lust being constructed in different ways. I would argue that Whedon has constructed Mal’s lust as the baseline and we use his lust as a measure of normality. Mal is a rough and ready kinda guy. He lusts but his lust is tempered by his inner moral code. This inner moral code seems to justify most male behaviour. You can be a scumbag, but as long as you don’t cross that invisible line, you’re really a great guy. This is the same moral code as the one in wider society where men are congratulated for not being rapists. Also known as the Nigel phenomenon.

But the stupid men do not realise that it is only in a society where the majority of men are rapists that Nigels are congratulated for not being rapists. Stupid men. Anyway, Mal is a ‘safe’ man, because he never crosses that invisible line. Of course he rapes women. That is shown quite clearly in the episode Heart of Gold. Of course he treats women like possessions, that shines through clearly in his treatment of Inara, see episodes Shindig and War Stories. But that invisible stretchy moral line, he never crosses it. That makes him a good little Nigel.

So we have the bottom line of whitemale lusty Nigelism set by the dear Mr. Reynolds. Next up we have Wash another whitemale Nigel who likes to objectify his wife, and cut her up into little fetishised pieces. His lust is neatly contained within the bounds of holy, male supremacist matrimony, the bonds of which he never breaks (unless he knows he will get away with it). He too likes submissive women (see attraction to Saffron in the episode Our Mrs. Reynolds) but he also fetishises Zoe’s independence and strength in his pornographic fantasies of her as a dominatrix (‘warrior woman’). Most importantly his lust is not threatening to Mal’s leadership within the chain of command on the ship. Wash is tempered by Zoe as an outlet for his lust and object for ownership. Men need to own what they lust and lust what they own, therefore Wash’s possession of Zoe, within the male paradigm of imperialism, renders Wash unthreatening to Mal.

We then come to Jayne. In the comments of my last post I analysed Jayne as Whedon’s ‘fall guy’ for feminism. I think Whedon deliberately exaggerates Jayne’s whitemale lustiness in order to define ‘proper’, egalitarian lust. So Jayne’s lust is caricatured and made fun of. His overt masculinity is contrasted with Mal’s kinder, gentler, more feminist desires. The whitemale audience is supposed to distance themselves from Jayne’s unsophisticated masculinity and are invited to position themselves within Mal’s paradigm. Not only this, but Jayne is subject to Mal’s rule. He is not the Alpha male on the ship, Mal is. Jayne’s unsophisticated lust is tempered by Mal’s leadership. Jayne, in his natural state, is a dangerous man, but Mal’s control of Jayne and his rapacious nature, renders him ‘safe’. This clearly positions Alpha whitemale’s as protectors of women and children and as regulators of other men’s sexuality.

As an aside, this is why white men invade countries like Afganistan and Iraq and try to justify it by saying that their actions will spell women’s liberation. Whitemale think deplore the actions of other men, refusing to acknowledge the slaughter, terrorism and violence done in their own countries against women and children, by their own hands. Here we are talking again of the ‘good’ man Mal and the ‘bad’ man Jayne. In reality both commit violence against women, but each refuse to acknowledge their own violence.

Whedon explores a different kind of masculinity with the character of Simon. Simon’s masculinity is based on his intellectual achievements and social position. He acts as his sister River’s owner and protector, which also feeds into his sense of self. Simon’s intellect and compassion are mocked and punished by the ‘real men’: Mal and Jayne, who do their best to undermine Simon’s less valid claim to manhood. But Simon still wields his lesser manhood to some effect; his opinions matter more to Mal than the female characters opinions do. More air time is dedicated to dealing with Simon’s backstory than is given to the female characters. Simon still has male privilege, despite being a ‘lesser’ man.

Book’s character has already been commented on by a few other feminists and anti-racists, as being a stereotypical ‘magical negro’. I would agree with this assessment of his character. Book is a kind of ‘Uncle Tom’ character, the opposite of Early who is Whedon’s whitemale pornographic fantasy of the Black man as a hypersexualised, aggressive monster. Whedon neutralises this threat in his Book character by making him subject to his religious principles. It goes without saying that what regulates Book’s sexuality is a whitemale belief system. His Bible is modeled on the Judeo-Christian tradition; which is inherently whitemale supremacist. So the threat of the Black man’s lust is shown to be regulated and neutralized by the white man. Book becomes feminised, neutered, unthreatening.

In this way Whedon sets up and defines whitemale lust as characterized by Mal, as healthy, normal and natural. He also centralizes whitemale lust as essential to the audiences’ engagement in the text. (This was very much true of Buffy the Vampire Slayer also.) He defines ‘normal’ whitemale lust against an exaggerated version in order to set up whitemales as regulators of other men’s sexualities. I find it really fascinating how blatant Whedon is able to be with his misogynist masculinising. Anyway. In the episode, Objects in Space, Whedon takes this regulation of desire another step and shows the whitemale defeating the monstrous manifestation of unleashed Black male desire. Again, I find it really fascinating how blatant Joss Whedon is able to be with his pornographic race-hating depiction of Black male lust.

Gail Dines, the awesome feminist anti-pornography activist, in her essay King Kong and the white woman: Hustler magazine and the demonization of Black masculinity (read it in Not For Sale), talks about the characterization of Black men as sexual monsters. She makes many points that are pertinent to this discussion.

From the box office success of The Birth of a Nation in 1915 to the national obsession with O.J Simpson, the image of the Black male as the spoiler of white womanhood has been a staple of media representation in this country (US). The demonization of Black men as rapists and murderers has been well documented by scholars interested in film, news and rap music. While this image stands in sharp contrast to the feminized ‘Uncle Tom’ which was popular in early Hollywood films, both images serve to define Black men as outside the ‘normal’ realm of (white) masculinity by constructing them as ‘other’ .Although both the ‘Uncle Tom’ and the sexual monster continue to define the limits of Black male representation in mainstream media, it is the latter that dominates, and, according to Mercer, serves to legitimise racist practices such as mass incarceration of Black men, police brutality and right-wing government policy.

I would argue that Whedon is very definitely working within the Black man as sexual monster: Early; or neutered ‘Uncle Tom’: Book dichotomy, with his construction of Black male characters.

Early is played by a Black actor who is darker skinned and younger than the actor that plays Book. He is virile, uninhibited and very dangerous. He is depicted as cruel, depraved and not mentally balanced. His costume is a dark space suit, painted a burnished red, the colour of dried blood. The clarinet theme for the character is eerie and melancholic. Everything about the character screams malevolence.

When Early first boards the ship he immediately takes out Mal in a short and violent scene. He then locks most of the crew in their cabins while they are still asleep. Then suddenly he is in the engine room with Kaylee. Now this makes no sense to me in the scheme of the plot. Early’s supposed objective is to find River and take her to the Alliance. What the hell is he doing in the engine room? Oh, that’s right. We have to have a scene where The Black Man threatens The White Woman with rape.

James Snead, in the book White Screen, Black Images: Hollywood From the Dark Side, asserts that ‘in all Hollywood film portrayals of Blacks… the political is never far from the sexual.’ I think that this point is made very clearly in the scene where Early threatens Kaylee with rape. In this scene, Whedon is playing on all of the whitemale fears of the terrifying lust of Black men.

KAYLEE: River…?

She stands, looks. Nothing. She turns back to the toolbox, squats down to toss in a part, comes back up and Early is RIGHT behind her, she spins to see his face staring impassively inches from hers. She gasps, stumbles back. She’s up against the wall here.

EARLY: I like this ship.

She says nothing. Looks frantically around.

EARLY: (cont’d) Serenity. She’s good-looking. I mean she looks good.
KAYLEE: How did you get on…?
EARLY: It strains the mind a bit, don’t it? You think you’re all alone… Maybe I come down the chimney, Kaylee, bring presents to the good girls and boys. Maybe not, though.

He comes closer to her. She shrinks closer to the wall.

EARLY (cont’d): Maybe I’ve always been here.
KAYLEE: What do you want?

He looks at the turning engine, mesmerized.

EARLY: That’s her beating heart, isn’t it? You pull off any one of a thousand parts, she’ll just die. Such a slender thread… (still looking at the engine) Have you ever been raped?

A small beat —

KAYLEE: The captain’s right by —
EARLY: The captain’s locked in his quarters. They all are. There’s nobody can help you. Say it.
KAYLEE: There’s… there’s nobody can help me.
EARLY: I’m gonna tie you up now. And you know what I’m gonna do then? (she can’t answer) I’m gonna give you a present. Get rid of a problem you’ve got. And I won’t touch you in any wrong fashion, nor hurt you at all, unless you make some kind of ruckus. You throw a monkey wrench into my dealings in any way, your body is forfeit. Ain’t nothing but a body to me, and I can find all unseemly manner of use for it. Do you understand.
KAYLEE (tiny voice): Yes.
EARLY: Turn around and put your hands behind your back.

She slowly does, terror on her face, as he pulls out a thin roll of tape. Pulls a strip out, says:

EARLY (cont’d): Now tell me, Kaylee… where does River sleep?

Kaylee’s fear is absolutely central to this scene. Whedon emphasizes this in his commentary, excitedly describing Kaylee’s terror as ‘so achingly perfect and beautiful’. No big surprise there, white men like Joss have always gotten off on women’s pain. But the extent of the white woman’s fear is the measure of Early’s maliciousness. The more fear he inspires in her the more monstrous he becomes.

Early visits Inara too. Again, inflicting pain on a woman by hitting her. Not because he has to. Neither Inara or Kaylee are a physical threat to him in the same way that Mal and Book are portrayed.

Inara is sitting up in bed. Simon stands near the entrance of the room, looking tense. Inara, vulnerable and more than a little confused, looks from him to Early, who is peeking in the back room, gun trained steadily on Inara.

INARA: You can still walk away from this. I know you’re tired.

He violently pistol-whips her, pointing the gun back at Simon as she feels the blood on her lip.

EARLY: Don’t go visiting in my intentions. Don’t ever.

He moves to the entrance. Before he shuts the door:

EARLY (cont’d, to Inara): Man is stronger by far than woman. But only woman can create a child. That seem right to you?

Joss just loves putting pointed misogyny into the mouths of Black men, doesn’t he? In this scene Inara’s vulnerability is highlighted in the script, in sharp contrast to Early’s contempt. So Joss creates this Black male character who is a violent, malicious sexual monster. He is a bounty hunter and his bounty is River, a 16 year old white girl. Given the treatment we have seen him give Kaylee and Inara, the threat he poses to River isn’t really left up to our imagination. So whitemale lust and misogyny is the default ‘normal’ lust whereas lust and misogyny in a Black man is monstrous and must be contained and controlled by the whitemale.

We eventually find out that River has escaped the Firefly and is on board Early’s own ship. She pretends to go along with Early’s plan to steal her and give her to the Alliance but secretly she is in contact with Kaylee (after convincing the terrified white girl that the big, bad Black monster isn’t going to get her) and Mal, putting into place a plan to trick Early and escape. She tells Early to come back to his ship and she will go with him. Early believes her and steps out onto the outer hull of the Firefly in order to return. But Mal is there waiting. He pushes Early hard and Early goes spinning off into space. Then River comes floating down from Early’s ship, an ecstatic look on her face as she is gathered up in her white saviour’s arms. The whitemale role as protector could not be made any clearer than it is in this scene.

The final scene shows River playing a game with Kaylee while the defeated Black monster is floating alone in space, becoming the final object in Joss Whedon’s phallosophising wankfest. The Black monster no longer poses a threat and the whitemale has emerged victorious having put down the threat to the (whitemale) social order. To quote Dines “King Kong’s death at the end of the movie remasculinises the white man, not only by his conquering of the black menace, but also by regaining the woman.” In Objects in Space Mal is able to reassert his ownership/protection of all three of the women threatened by Early: Kaylee, Inara and River.

Well, that concludes my analysis of Objects in Space. It would be remiss of me to talk about racism in Firefly without mentioning the appropriation of Asian culture within the series. Go here and here to read critiques of the series from that perspective. Thanks to all the Whedonites who have been following my posts, I couldn’t have done this without you. (Scarily enough I actually mean that!)

First Firefly post, second, and third.