Landing : Athabascau University

Coming to (Search) Terms

Last night, I had the extreme privilege of sitting down for a tasty dinner and long chat about problems with my archive content with a handful of feminist experts and activists. 


A menstruation-fixated vampire isn't really all that troubling, but it was the rawest of OOB's content that I really felt comfortable uploading with this post. Pushing boundaries, making transgressive fantasies visible, and even making women a bit uncomfortable were all a big part of the OOB game plan.

In brief, the dinner party's ideas about the troubling content were:

  • On Our Backs should be read as a reactionary document. Yes, it inspire its own reactionary responses, but it was created as a reaction to the extreme anti-sex rhetoric of off our backsOn Our Backs was hyperbolic the way reationary discourse tends to be. 
  • The 1984 issue I referred to as an example was created very early in the "sex wars," when things were at their most heated, immediately after the Barnard conference. 
  • The content I find troubling would not have been at all troubling at the time. The folks I asked about it suggested I look at Nancy Friday's fiction. Everyone I asked said their feelings of discomfort were caused by politcs and aesthetics shaped by the more conservative climate -- and more strident consequences for viewing trangressive material -- of recent years, and not by the content itself. 
  • It was also suggested that I read material in OOB in layers, at once "pure" fantasy, "pure" memory, desire, testimony, etc. This begins to draw out the method for looking at porn that Palac describes in "How Dirty Pictures Changed My Life."
  • The keywords they suggested emphasized the reflexive features of the text: "developmental fantasies," "persistent fantasies," and "childhood fantasies" were all suggested as potential keywords, in addition to the obvious "destroyed," which is how the CLGA catalogues similar material. The idea was to focus on the relationship the text shows between the adult author and her younger "self," and the way the text shows that time has passed or uses time and aging to create distance between author and protagonist, in order to give her permission to express the fantasy. 
  • On citations: they advise making one footnote identifying everyone in the group, then citing the dinner party as a whole as "personal communication."


Other than that, I picked up a copy of "Give Piece of Ass a Chance," a short porn film written by Sasha van Bon Bon and directed by Bruce LaBruce. It stars the Scandelles' alter egos as a gang of radical anti-war feminists who kidnap a munitions heiress and "fuckwash" her into joining their gang, using the very guns her father manufactures. Sasha's work is one research project off, but her contributions to this project include weighing in at the dinner described above. I am SO EXCITED to watch this movie. 



  • Looks like you got some good, useful keywords, as well as solid (and face-to-face!) support from a strong local research network - that's priceless.

    If, as you say, there's virtually no scholarship on OOB in general, then that means there's a piece crying out to be written on the reactionary politics of OOB in its moment as a pointedly - even pugilistically - provocative riposte to the anti-sex feminism of Off Our Backs and the landmark Barnard conference. What would make such a piece so timely now is the considerably more conservative cultural climate today, which the events of 1984 could only gesture towards: a climate of hyper-sexualized youth (the "raunch culture" of "female chauvinist pigs" - sorry, I still do think that problematic has some purchase on pop culture, so long as they keep making shit like the Bratz dolls and Girls Gone Wild), but one regulated by strident heteronormativity and homophobia, not to mention far more repressive laws governing cultural production and representation.

    Mark A. McCutcheon August 8, 2012 - 4:07pm

  • "The sexualization of girls" (Gail Dines' version, which I think is close to Ariel Levy's, but more shrill) did come up in this discussion about OOB. I don't think anyone would object to you saying Bratz dolls are awful -- though we might have said for the heteronormative and essentializing performance of femininity rather than because they're "sexy" -- and The Scandelles did a Girls Gone Wild parody that involved dressing a woman in a Tigger costume ( which I don't really get but it wasn't a rejection of the concept by any means -- but the analysis was mostly about how fighting the "sexualization of girls" presumes girls (and other little queermos) don't already have sexualities. So we all thought that the imposition of adult fantasies -- including fantasies of "purity" -- on childrenwas a problem, but generally agreed that it was alright for kids to have sexual fantasies like the ones in OOB and for adult women, who were fighting the stigma that their fantasies had been imposed on them by pop culture or childhood abuse or whatever, to talk about how their fantasies developed as children. The question I still had, though, is whether OOB is really that straightforward a testimony on actual experience or memory, or whether the literariness of the texts indicates that they're still very much the creations of adults fantasizing, and in doing so, rewriting, childhood subjectivities.

    The rest of my ambivalence is around some of the "extreme" contexts referenced. Feminists really were vicious to each other, and "sex-positive" feminists faced, as evidenced at the Barnard conference, extreme forms of censorship for choosing to focus on possibilities for sexual pleasure instead of on how to limit sexual danger. But the feminists on the other side of the "wars" were also reacting to extremes, and the greater proportion of the women setting up shelters and rape crisis centres were not a well-funded, well-supported group with an easy road ahead of them. The radical feminist movement, via the shelter system, certainly kept me and other women and people I loved alive in the late 80s and early 90s. And they did it in a cultural climate where marital rape had only recently been legal in Canada, and the cops really did leave women alone in hotel rooms with no money, with or without their kids, so they could "cool down" and go back to the husbands who might have tried to kill them only hours earlier. What the man-hating, sex-hating radical feminists were doing was extreme, and what they were up against was extreme. (Women from a shelter in BC once helped my mother break in through a bedroom window to kidnap me and one of my brothers while our father blocked the front door, thinking she couldn't get in. She later returned to the home to avoid a custody battle that she would have lost, and did eventually lose in Ontario, but the act itself was dangerous, and vital, and truly radical in a system that didn't otherwise give a shit about women. Um, and also: my mother = not to be trifled with.)

    How that got diverted from actually addressing violence to screaming at other feminists about nipple clamps and pursuing a culture of violence against trans women and prostitutes is beyond me, but they weren't just hysterical nutjobs, and they weren't making violence against women up just to cockblock all the fun feminists. One of the dinner people told me the weird collection of issues -- trans rights, porn, and bdsm -- isn't arbitrary, like I thought it was, it's about policing deviance, but I don't follow the reasoning that takes radical feminism from addressing violence, which can definitely be done at the same time as exploring possibilities for pleasure, to policing deviance. 

    sarah beth August 8, 2012 - 9:28pm

  • "How that got diverted from actually addressing violence to screaming at other feminists about nipple clamps and pursuing a culture of violence against trans women and prostitutes is beyond me"

    Certainly - it sounds very much like a proverbial case of fiddling while Rome burns...

    Point about imposition of adult fantasies on children's subjectivities: well taken.

    Mark A. McCutcheon August 10, 2012 - 5:03pm

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