the world to begin

Ladies and Health and Media and How We Really Live

Regarding the recent internet kerfuffle on XOJane.com’s Health Critic, Cat Marnell:

I love Cat’s baldly honest writing, even though sometimes (all the time really, no judgment, I promise) she comes across as a bit of a mess. A self-confessed mess. A flawed and funny human being. It is interesting as hell to read what she has to say about benzos, lipgloss, Kardashians, plastic surgery, family politics, rehab, and dry shampoo. Dry shampoo is fabulous you guys.

I also love science, and its application to smart sex education, and I do feel that women are best served to educate and inform each other about our choices and best practices for a better & safer world for us all—men too. That (most of) those in power won’t undertake that sex-positive, lady-friendly mission with any kind of visibility, because empowering women to take ownership of their health and their sexuality is a bit threatening to the bizarrely puritanical right in our country. Case-in-point: Planned Parenthood and its recent funding struggles.

However, a best-practices model is Utopian, and not at all how we generally live our lives. Not our sex lives, not any part of our lives. Who is perfect? Who never makes a decision regretted later? 

Full disclosure: I’ve had (curable, lucky me) STIs due to unprotected ORAL sex.  Do you use a dental dam?  What are the numbers on dental dam usage in America between heterosexual partners who use condoms for vaginal intercourse? Am I an outlier?

I’ve never been pregnant even though I’ve had a greater-than-average number of partners—usually in relationships but not always. I’ve been tested—sometimes many times a year—to make sure I’m one of the lucky people who is sexually active without disproportionate “consequences,” I’ve used condoms, diaphragms, the sponge once, and the pull-out method once (once!) in a desperate moment (several clean tests after that!).  I have used and hate the hormonal birth control pill/patch/ring because they made my breasts ache and I cried all the time and didn’t want to be touched (yes, I tried several brands and dosages and delivery methods before giving up, and I’m jealous of you if you have no trouble with it).

I’m still devastated the pill won’t work for my body. What a marvelous invention.

Everything else available to is inconvenient or painful or frightening or permanent in a way I am not yet comfortable with. At a fluid-bonded and married/monogamous 32, I do not want children (neither does my partner so far) and can’t imagine a change of heart, but I also don’t want to close the door entirely because life is long and I used to hate sushi. Sushi is now my favorite food in the world. What if babies taste like sushi?

I’ve digressed. Reproductive health and media and XOJane! Onward!

We all fuck up. We make choices that aren’t “best” or even “good” sometimes, all the time. I’ve had accidents with broken condoms—Plan B has saved me twice from a life and a role that I did not want. I did not use it as “birth control” like the XOJane columnist implies she does, but I cannot judge her. I can’t. I have rejected most available options from my vantage point too.

Media—almost all media, for real—seems to press women into portraying ourselves in the best possible light, as virtuous models/teachers/educators/feminists/pick your ideal here. Anyone with a spotlight or a platform must have an unimpeachable story to tell, or if not, they must have Learned Big Lessons from the impeachable parts. (Impeachable Parts is a great band name, coincidentally.)

Cat Marnell breaks so many rules in her writing for XOJane. Why is this one column, the one about her sex life and practices, earning her the most vitriol? It’s a hypothetical question really, we all must know why.

So much of the media we’re exposed to is NOT a mirror for women. It most often shows us an ideal, someone’s idea of a Utiopian model, an unattainable set of qualities and values that are designed to shame us, make women feel lacking in some way. To make us shop or conform or regress to some antiquated model of femininity that maybe never existed or whatever the case may be. It’s no secret that it is so culturally ingrained women do it to each other (really so sad) with judgment and shaming and gossip and I’m exhausted now.

I’m not saying Cat Marnell was right in any way. I’m saying she showed us the woman she is, not the Woman We Should All Aspire To Be.

And I read it and found it refreshing.  Is that fucked up?  I don’t care.