Saturday, January 12, 2013

Know your audience.

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Garlic bagel w/ cream cheese

 Censorship is a concept every person has to square themselves with at some point in their life, and more than once.  We must choose what we say, how we dress, even how we act around other people.  As parents, we have to grapple with these choices the whole way through our child's infancy to adolescence.  Even though, he's only two, should we let him be in the room for a violent film we don't think he understands?  The debate over what we allow other people to say and do is much more esoteric and comes only after we have instituted layer upon layer of self-censorship on ourself.

 I am pretty anti-censorship (I used to be a card-carrying member of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund back when I had the money), but I am also a big believer in tact.  I am forever the diplomat, as all my old performance reviews show.  This is because it matters to me that I am understood, that people can hear what I have to say.  So if I want my mother to read this or anything else I've written, I can't go dropping the f-bomb in every other sentence.  That's knowing your audience.  And if I want my mom as part of my audience, then the word "fuck" is the sacrifice I make to keep her there.

Obviously, though, I'm only going to make the sacrifices I feel I can make and still retain my voice, my self.  I ask myself, what is more important: to say what I need to say, or to be heard saying it?  And after all, if you can't speak without swearing, can you really speak?  Who is the master of your words?

But beyond the words, the songs, the art, there is the uglier censorship of society.  I've been reading too much lately about the ugly reality of rape culture, which, once we open our eyes, we find everywhere around us.  I'll let my more activist feminist friends school you if you don't think it's there.  (I watched "Mirror, Mirror" recently and was appalled to hear Nathan Lane's character drop a rape joke - in a kids movie!).  Every female in this society (and most others, sadly) must decide how much she will sacrifice for rape culture.

I recently re-posted a picture on my facebook page (mostly for the accompanying text) of a woman who was topless with only some sort of appliqu√© over her nipples and the words "still not asking for it" written across her body.  Needless to say, this was met with mixed responses.  One of the main themes, though, was about this woman making herself a target.

The bottom line is that if this woman, or any woman wants to run around buck naked, she should be able to do so without fear.  If that's what satisfies her as a human being, no one should ever be able to say that she's wrong.  We weren't born wearing clothes and it's really society that's weird to be so hung up on them.  But we also know, as she does, that she will draw attention to herself by not covering up.  And if she does become the target of violence, people conditioned by rape culture will likely still blame her for making that choice to not conform, to not cover up.  Oh, she didn't deserve it, they may say... but isn't she still "asking for it"?

No, in case you were wondering.  It is always, under any circumstance at all, one hundred percent the rapist's fault for rape.

So, what is a free-spirited nudist - as we all are when we are born - supposed to do in a rape culture like ours?  That is the dilemma.

As a parent, I will censor my children's nudity.  I will limit where they go and the people they play with.  I will restrict their freedom because I know their audience.  The world is full of monsters and I am afraid of them.  I will try to give my children as much liberty and self-expression as my fear will allow.  I will try to see all the good and wholesome people out there, and more importantly, I will try to teach them early to be good people, to not be monsters themselves.  But I will be on alert.  The truth is I sacrifice some amount of joy for that vigilance, but that is where I'm at.

And as a woman... I try to walk that line every day between vigilance and joy.  If I want to wear something revealing, something sexy, even walk down the street late at night wearing it, I refuse to say that I can't do that.  I refuse to say that it's wrong or dumb to do that.  Sometimes you gotta drop the f-bomb.  Sometimes you gotta "work it" (though if I thought too long about where that phrase comes from, I'd probably not use it).  But I can never forget my audience.  I'll always be vigilant, carry my keys in my hand as I walk, never allow myself to get drunk and be out of control of myself or my surroundings.

Know your audience...  But know your own voice, and never let the audience choose your words.


  1. I have mixed feelings about this post, and some of them very well may be a direct result of my own paranoia and self-consciousness. I was one of the people posting against that lady's picture. It wasn't because I think she's asking for it, or that I think she shouldn't be naked - it was because there is a big movement of women purposely objectifying themselves to fight objectification. It's counter-productive in my opinion - it doesn't get the point across to anyone but women and men who aren't attracted to women. Men will never see the point... they will only see her breasts so I just don't get why some people feel fighting fire with fire works.

    As for us all being born naked - that is true. It is also true that people should be able to be naked without repercussion. However, some of us wear clothing not out of shame, but to protect our vulnerable bodies. We weren't born with thick skin and thick fur, so clothing is our only defense against the elements. It's not practical to run around naked.

    As for knowing your audience - as a writer (I've been writing as long as I can remember and have studied the craft my whole life) there is an audience for everyone. I refuse to stifle my own voice (and therefore weaken my craft and lose something from my style that I have worked so very hard at perfecting my whole life) in the hopes of gaining a bigger audience. There are people I offend and people who want to fight me tooth and nail over things I say - but they STILL READ MY STUFF.

    If I were to write a children's book, sure, I'd censor myself. If I were to address a group of old people, I'd censor myself - but when I'm posting on my blog, or on Facebook I'm writing for those who seek me out... they know what they are getting themselves into. Same for those who might (hopefully) purchase my novel when it's done. Stephen King is one of the most prolific writers of our time (if not the most) and he has a huge following. F-bombs or otherwise.

    I don't mean for this to sound like I'm ranting at you - I know it's hard to tell tone through text. I say all this with love in my heart, these are all just very tender concepts for me. Good post, as always - keep it up!

    1. ...because this fucking thing can't count characters (and because I talk too damn much), here's the end of my other post...

      I do have to take issue with one thing you said, though. You said, "men will never see the point..." and I disagree. I have no idea how many men will have what reaction to naked breasts, but I must assure you that there are many men out there who will see that picture and will totally get it. Yes, there may be a part of them going "yay, boobies!" but they will also be going "you tell 'em, sister!" There are many male feminists out there - whether they all know it or not. I have known many wonderful men in my life who deeply respect women and understand the hardships and vulnerabilities that they endure in this culture. I was lucky enough to be raised by them. The good guys are not so rare, though it's sad enough we have cause to remind ourselves of that. Don't lose hope, my friend.

    2. You're right - there are good guys out there, but I do think they are rare. I have one of them, you clearly have one of them and I know we both know a handful of them. But there are what roughly 3 billion men on this planet? Thinking about the entertainment industry, the media, the fashion industry - we live in a patriarchal society where most decisions are made by men. Just looking at those decisions - the choices that are made wear me down and although I feel that it won't change in my lifetime, I won't lose hope. Thanks for addressing this.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Jenn. And I mean it, you are always very smart and insightful, and I really appreciate feedback. Let me clear up a few things...

    First, I wasn't bringing up the picture you're referring to because I was agreeing with her choice of protest tactic - and I totally get your criticism about fighting objectification with objectification. It was more that the picture got me thinking about how each person must choose how much they want to conform with society's expectations, or if they choose to fight them, and if so, how. A better example might have been The Naked Lady of Ojai.

    She is an honest-to-goodness free-spirited hippy who moved here from SoCal because of the city's tolerance of nudity. Yep, she likes to run around naked, though I haven't seen her lately, she may have moved on. (She does cover up for the winter, though). She is not fighting objectification, per se, but conformity and, by my point, self-censorship.

    Also, I am totally for clothing. I think society is weird about it, now, because it can no longer handle nudity. But, yeah, I am all for clothes. I think it's sexist and weirdly hair-obsessed to make women shave all their hair off and pluck their eyebrows into near non-existence, but I'm still shaving my pits and plucking my unibrow. I will conform that much. But hairy legs are my line in the sand.

    That's basically what I was trying to get across. Just that every person has to find that balancing point for themselves. When I brought up the f-bomb, I may have come across as advocating censoring the f-bomb to appease moms everywhere. That's not what I meant. I brought up my own deliberation of whether or not to use profanity in a given post. I have to weigh my desire to use it against my desire for my mom to read what I'm writing. I am going to reach a different conclusion for different circumstances. Sometimes, I'm gong to drop it, knowing that she's going to wince she reads it. I'm not always going to protect her delicate sensibilities. But, for me, the words themselves are not always as important as the point I'm trying to make, and I consider it an easy and simple sacrifice to just pick a different word. But it depends. Each time I evaluate and each time I reach the decision I am most comfortable with. Anyone else could reach another conclusion and I would consider it just as valid.

    When I asked, rhetorically, if you can really speak if you can't speak without swearing, that's a challenge for myself, not a critique of the validity or appropriateness of swearing. For me, if I can't do, then I'm not in control, I'm not a master of my language. For me, it's a challenge to match the right words for the person (or people) I'm speaking to get my message across. It's not about censoring myself - it's more like a personal quest, an art form I'm trying to master. It is important to me to not lose my own voice in trying to find what words are going to resonate best with other people. I'm not out to please, but to communicate.

    This blog is a little more free-form. It's not really tailored to an audience, and I'm still kind of finding my voice in this venue. We'll see where it goes.

  3. Thank you for clearing that up! I completely see where you're coming from, now.

    I, too, am a fighter for the natural... the only time I even shave my eyebrows is if I'm starting to stink and deodorant just isn't really doing the job (I can get pretty hairy). I don't shave my legs or pluck my eyebrows unless I'm going to a wedding or some other fancy affair, and then I'm only doing it so that my fellow girlfriends feel their pictures came out nice. I'll probably shave my face (yes, I shave, it's far too expensive to get it waxed or threaded as often as it's needed [and the store bought kits don't work on me] - a mix of PCOS and Eastern European blood leaves me quite manly...) for my wedding and MAYBE pluck my eyebrows.

    If we could be safely naked (meaning avoiding gashes and burns) without being objectified AT ALL, I don't think I'd have any problem being topless around people I knew and trusted, but that's a big IF.