Monday, June 29, 2009

gimme a head with hair...

inspired, loosely, by ruminations on the Farrah-do, and the meaning of hair on women's heads, and the thread over at Nine Deuce's -

lots of noise about semen on the face, the assumed inherent misogyny thereof, so forth. and hilarity ensues, as usual. (my participation in the thread is towards the end.)

But I got to thinking about other stuff that is considered to be humiiiating by some people in some contexts, but not by others in other contexts. and I thought about women who cut their hair or shave their heads.

I thought about girls in the 1920s who "bobbed" their hair, and felt all liberated.

then I thought about an old picture I saw once showing a French woman whose head had been shaved because she was considered a Nazi collaborator.

then I thought about Sinead O'Connor and her rocking baldness.

then I thought about shaving my own head, or having a friend help me shave my head, because summer is hot and my hair is totally out-of-compliance anyway and it's not doing me any favors.

what's this all got to do with bukkake? semen on the face?

well, see, let me clumsily try to explain myself.

we got women who are on-purpose cutting their hair short, or off, in order to say "fuck you" to someone - fathers, boyfriends, The Patriarchy, whatever. We got women whose hair has been forcibly cut off as punishment. And we got women who just don't want hair anymore. the net visual effect is pretty much the same - women who are bald, or as close to bald as makes no real social difference. But Sinead O'Connor is not the same, in relation to her bald head, as the alleged Nazi collaborator, is not the same as a short-haired flapper, is not the same as me. (and, you know, there are a bajillion other reasons and situations for women to be bald, obviously, now that I think about it.)

Insofar as a bald head is a symbol of something, the meaning of that symbol changes with time, and situation, and with the people involved.

yeah yeah yeah semen on the face I'm getting there.

does a bald (or practically bald) head always mean shame and degradation and humiliation? obviously not. sometimes it can mean the EXACT OPPOSITE. sometimes it can mean pretty much nothing.

I think it's the same for semen on the face. haHA! see, I got there.

in some contexts, I think it's seen as evidence that nonconsensual sex has occurred. See, right there! on her FACE! Evidence! and in those cases where nonconsensual sex has occurred, well obviously there's a problem, for crying out loud! yes, yes, it's the misogyny, stupid - I get that.

but when such activity is, so to speak, woman-led, I can see where semen on the face, despite its similarity to evidence of nonconsensual sex, is uncoupled from shame and humiliation and degradation. and I think the shame and humiliation and degradation can be replaced with, well, just about anything - pride, amusement, satisfaction, indifference, whatever.

I mean, if resisting or reframing or rejecting social messages is impossible, then Sinead O'Connor could not have shaved her head as a protest against the tyranny of beauty, and made her rockin' baldness a thing of pride and striking beauty itself; and flappers of the '20s could not have hacked off their "crowning glory" with reckless aplomb; and I myself could not rid myself of the horrendously unattractive and unmanageable wild animal that lives on my head, without all being considered "the same as" a punished, humiliated, degraded traitor.

which is obviously bullshit.

This is actually a really good anaology....and also, there are women who are bald due to chemo....which you know, is not really anything I think anyone would ask for or want to undergo?

The cutting off of womens hair as punishment was not exclusive to WWII either, I do (can't swear, but do think I recall correctly) it was also done in Japan as a punsihment for women.
oooh look! a comment! just like the olden days!

I wonder what the meaning of chemo baldness is, I've never had any related experience in that. is its social meaning congruent with its personal meaning? has its meaning(s) changed over time, in relation to how the meaning of cancer has changed?

also japan+women=strange territory for me, I should mention. a lot going on over there that I don't understand, sexually, politically, socially, etc.
As a male voice here, I have to jump in.

Hair... it's overrated. That being said, I don't have much. High maintenance, takes too long in the morning, and I'd have the Michael Bolton effect if I grew it out. Not long before I go Jordan.

Bald women, eh, not into that, but wouldn't be appalled by it. I don't particularly think it's a rebellion thing in general. No more than getting a tattoo. Or
several. Just gotta remember to
wear a hat on a sunny day, or a
lot of 45 sunscreen.

Semen on the face? OK... I'm not going there other than to say it's not degrading per se. Sex in general is one thing that can be degrading, just based on the emotion and on how so many people use it to manipulate and mess with you. It's like playing blackjack and plopping $1000 down and standing on 20 - don't be upset when the dealer finishes f---ing
you by hitting blackjack and says
game over.

A lot of things can be degrading.
Heck a night out to dinner for pizza can be degrading (though you'd have to ask my ex-wife about the one episode in particular). Heck, anything is degrading if you want it to be. Or erotic. All what the folks involved make of it. All it takes is one person to be an expletive and off to the degradation races you go.

Just my lonely $0.20 again.
Hi, AP. I like this analogy as well. It is reminding, though...when I wrote about degradation (also because of the ND thread), Murre took a look at my post. She hasn't read ND. And her response was "So this is someone who doesn't understand subjectivity at all?"

Which isn't quite fair. I think ND does understand and talk about subjectivity, but only when it fits within the frame of her argument.

Anyway, thanks for the hair analogy.
AP: I know a bit about the whole japan/women thing, if ya want a 101, drop me an email
Ok, I had no idea that a) cutting women's hair short was some kind of punishment or degradation, or b) that bukkake was some code for non-cons sex (though that doesn't surprise me). I'll chime in with agreement to the (obvious) point that a symbol's meaning isn't carried in the symbol itself, but in the minds of the people interpreting it. So, baldness, short hair or semen on the face are all subject to the interpretation of the participants (or observers, whatever you want to call them). Doubly so in a sexual context.

As someone who part takes of some esoteric sexual fantasies, I can attest that the attraction to a specific symbol is only tangentially related to the symbol's common denotative meaning. In terms of sexual fantasy, in fact, the motivating force of the symbol may require that the interpretation be internally contradictory. I think that it is, partly, the psychological stress of the internal contradiction that gives the fantasy its sexual power. I can't explain why that is necessary, but I might guess that it helps to shut down the rational mind; delaying logical cognition, and allowing other faculties to hold sway.

My only support for this hypothesis is that I have noticed that the thrill of such contradictory fantasies evaporates in a very short period of time (well before orgasm). I interpret this to mean that the thrill only lasts until the logical mind can resolve or dismiss the contradiction, after which the scene is no longer interesting.

(and, no, I'm not going to give a concrete example. I'm shy)

Sexuality is like religion: if you think it makes sense, you are doing it wrong.
"Sexuality is like religion: if you think it makes sense, you are doing it wrong."

Jeff, don't know you, but amen brother.
Ok, I've been over to Nine Deuce's blog, and read a bunch of the comments, and, well, I'm a bit flabbergasted. All this talk about inherent misogyny in an action strikes me as mental masturbation (yeah, yeah, moving on...).

I never understood the whole bukkake thing: not only does it not excite me, I never understood what it was all supposed to mean, or signify. Hell, maybe that's why it doesn't excite me: I need to understand the significance of sexual symbol for it to affect me. However, I always thought that the reason we had money shots and bukkake in porn was because you had to show that the men in the porn actually had and orgasm, and the only was to show that was to show ejaculation.

I always thought that money shots were a narrative device, a short hand for the desired effect of your product on the consumer of that product. It never occurred to me that it was narrative short hand for the degradation of women, or for non-consensual sex, or whatever. I mean, that seems pretty asinine, when you can just show non-consensual sex, or degradation of women, rather than an oblique symbol of it. What, I need to get a degree in Pornographic Criticism in order to enjoy a blue movie?

Now, I'm a pretty literal minded fellow; I never much cottoned to symbolism in literature; never believed that the author put any of that in there intentionally, that it just snuck in when he was distracted by the task at hand. Maybe I'm wrong about symbolism in literature, but I don't believe that the folks making pornos are concerned with symbolism! I think that, 99% of the time, they're just making a movie about people having sex, to sell to other people who want to watch a movie about people having sex! Maybe their ideas about sex are a little skewed; maybe they've got a little (or a lot) of internalized violence, but I think that they are more concerned with denotative meaning that with connotative meaning, and you can take what you see in a porno pretty damn literally, and not be far off from the original intent!

Ok, there, I'm through. Pile on as you like; I'm open.

Yep, I kinda see the whole ejaculation ON as a proof of orgasm thing. I mean, in porn, everything is filmed up close and all because, well, people want to know there is actual fucking going on...otherwise they would be watching fake fucking in hollywood movies.
What, I need to get a degree in Pornographic Criticism in order to enjoy a blue movie?

well, see, that's the thing. if you had a degree in Pornographic Criticism, you wouldn't enjoy blue movies, I think is more the take-home message.
if you had a degree in Pornographic Criticism, you wouldn't enjoy blue movies

"Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise crazy
Just be glad it's him not you
If you had Tom Cruises troubles
You might be Tom Cruise crazy too
You'd flash your big white shiny smile
You'd buy expensive shoes
But you'd be the only man on Earth
Who couldn't enjoy Tom Cruise" -- Jonathan Coulton, Tom Cruise Crazy

Personally, I think a bit of critical thinking actually aids in the enjoyment of most popular culture; now I just need to find a school that offers courses in Pornography Criticism (and, with Antioch gone, I think the prospects are dim).

I just think that trying to find (or manufacture) hidden meanings in something so fundamentally commercial as general market pornography is a fools errand. Most porn has production values that would shame a junior high school A/V club; why would we expect that the producers of such films would put any effort into symbolism when they can't even hold the camera steady or keep the boom mike out of the shot?

It's one thing when you see feminist analysis of the pornography industry that illuminates the carrot and stick game that most of the publishing houses play; up-selling more "hardcore" products in their "softcore" offerings, and then not delivering on the sales pitch. There is an obvious profit motive at work there (get people to buy more of your crap, then feed only a small portion of their "needs" so that you can repeat the cycle indefinitely). That's a cogent analysis that gets at the heart of the industry (a bunch of profit sucking sleaze-bags). When we start decoding specific actions for their underlying cultural meanings, however, I think we've stepped over the line from cogent analysis into navel gazing.
and a fine navel it is, sir, a fine navel indeed...

hey, Jeff - do you think a person can get "addicted" to pornography?
do you think a person can get "addicted" to pornography?

well, I don't know; I thought there was a difference between a physical addiction and a psychological addiction. In a physical addiction there can be shown to be some physical property of the body that changes in the presence of the addictive element, and when that property of the body reaches some threshold, then the addictee (?) experiences the strong desire for the addictive element. I find it hard to imagine that there is a physical property of the body that the mere presence of pornography can affect.

Now, if pornography is a tool used in masturbation, then I suppose you could easily be addicted to the hormones released during orgasm, but is that the same as being addicted directly to pornography? It seems to me that you would be addicted to masturbation, and the pornography is incidental.

Isn't pornography addiction a recognized psychological disorder? I'm willing to defer to the opinion of experts, considering my wealth of ignorance. If a doctor will diagnose you with the condition, then I guess the condition is real.

Oh, and you haven't seen my navel, lately; it's not as fine as once it was, unless we're talking about my intellectual navel (which, I guess I was), in which case it's twice as fine as once it was (my intellect, at least, is only improving with age).
Apropos of navels: I enjoy navel gazing as much as anybody else (especially if it's someone else's navel), but my complaint here is that we have a commercial product whose stated purpose is to be sold for money to people who want to look at it while masturbating, and then folks are asking "What does it mean?" as if it has to have some meaning other than it's stated, denotative meaning! What the hell are they thinking? It says what it means right on the cover!

Either the folks asking this asinine question can't face the literal meaning of the thing (people having sex in front of a camera so that other people will pay money for the recording in order to get aroused watching it) or they've spent too long in academic hot-houses, and their brains have become mush! Not everything needs a semiotic analysis. Not everything is freighted with symbolism and hidden meanings. Sometimes a sex act is just a sex act.
Oh, no, no, no, no.

Please let us not take off the table our ability to ask questions. To examine. To explore. That road leads to death.

Semiotic analysis is no more predicated on an objects "need" to be analyzed than metric analysis is based on an object's "need" to have a length and width.

Just because someone is lying (or mistaken) in public about how long the board is does not mean we should throw out measuring tapes as a concept.
Just because someone is lying (or mistaken) in public about how long the board is does not mean we should throw out measuring tapes as a concept.

I don't think I said that we should throw out analysis just because it is sometimes misused. However, just because you have a measuring tape doesn't mean that everything should be measured with it.

Besides, I don't think that the analysis was particularly akin to taking measurements with a ruler. That kind of measurement is strictly factual. The analysis being done in the linked article, however was pure opinion, no facts were harmed in producing that essay!

Of course, everyone does have a right to their opinions, no matter how insubstantial or benighted those opinions may be. And, in the age of the intertubes, everyone also seems to have a right to publish their insubstatial, benighted opinions for the illumination of the rest of humanity.

I can't stop anyone from constructing pointless analyses, and I wouldn't even want to try if I could. It is my right, however, to roll my eyes, point and snicker.
(Posting well after the fact...)

Jeff said-
Personally, I think a bit of critical thinking actually aids in the enjoyment of most popular culture; now I just need to find a school that offers courses in Pornography Criticism (and, with Antioch gone, I think the prospects are dim).

What can I say? You kinda had to be there back in the day.

"Masters and Mentors in Communications" (Which ended up being referred to as 'Masturbators and Mentors in Cummunications.') was never so fascinating as the the quarter Antiochian "Richard Pacheco" came back to campus and shared both some his body of work and some behind the scenes stories of working on The Summer of '72 with us.

Naturally, the "anti-porn!" faction of the Womyn's Center went nuts, protesting, collecting signatures on a petition, and bringing in speakers and slide shows, tactics the likes of which were so common back in the late 80's "sex wars."

On the other hand what today would be derisively termed the "sex-positive" Feminist faction that did bother attending, (often at great cost to their social standing in the campus Womyn's community, I might add) learned a great deal.

Much of what we took away from the class had perhaps more to do with the realities of working in the adult industry of the time, aspects of distribution under constant threat from law enforcement, and the ever increasingly private and home viewing based transformation of aspects of the industry, (what with Betamax, VHS, and LaserDiscs,) etc.

But Criticism?

Summer of '72 was among the most plot heavy (and big budget) adult films of its day, occasionally referred to as 'the Gone with the Wind of porn.' So yeah, there was at least a bit of film criticism for the having, should one so desire.
Naturally, the "anti-porn!" faction of the Womyn's Center went nuts, protesting, collecting signatures on a petition, and bringing in speakers and slide shows, tactics the likes of which were so common back in the late 80's "sex wars."

On the other hand what today would be derisively termed the "sex-positive" Feminist faction that did bother attending, (often at great cost to their social standing in the campus Womyn's community, I might add) learned a great deal.

the more things change, the more they stay the same...
I waer my hair quite short, tho I'd like to be bald, because in the South Georgia heat it's practical. I don't go bald out of deference to my husbands desires, as he'd prefer it to be waist length and curly. That is impractical in this South Georgia heat. The short hair I wear is a compromise. I don't do it to piss him off. Indeed, I think it would be fun to have long curly hair from November to May.

As for the semen in the face thing, well, I'm sure he'd do it if I wanted him to because he pretty much does anything I want him to do in the sexual department. I hear its good for the complexion,but you'd have to do it every day for that to be effective. I don't like anything (sexually speaking) every day. Whether or not he squirts on my face isn't really anyone elses business anyway so how it could be humiliating is a puzzle, since there is no one else around to see my 'humiliation'.
I think chemo-baldness to the general society carries a stigma of uncomfortableness. It's a very visual reminder that people get sick, often for no reason that they could control, and it takes a huge toll on the body to try and cure it, maybe unsuccessfully. A *lot* of people feel uncomfortable confronted with chemo patients. Pity or sorrow are other 'acceptable' options.

For the person themselves, it (like everything) it probably depends. It's involuntary, so it can be scary. For people who rocked their hair, it can be hugely destabilizing to their mental image of themselves. My mom talked about being told that one day she'd wake up and just leave half her hair on the pillow, but there was still the "holy shit" moment when that actually happened.

In her case, she bought a couple of wigs to toy with different styles, but I only ever saw her wear them once or twice. Eventually she just went with a bandana.
Getting bald is also a part of a religious process in India, where they donate their hair to (my interpretation) show their modesty and to sacrifice to the god(s) for joy, happines etc.

It's a clever analogy between bukkake and bald women, though it doesnt' capture the way bukkake always is done by someone else and thus has meanings that come from just being objectified, degraded by someone else. The choice behind it, obviously, is the real deal, and that goes well with the analogy.
My husband is balding. I am too. He understands that it is much harder for me. A woman who has lost her hair, is hideous to most, a pity to some and a monster to many. Men who lost much hair are considered (scientifically proven)to have more testosterone and are more virile and manly.
Women on the other side is not feminine enough. It is not chemo (people on chemotherapy for cancer have the pity and support of everybody near them. They get a turban or wig and everybody understands that they are so brave to fight the death sentence that is cancer)The men who get old and bald... eh, it happens to men. Just fate. Women who lose the (generally) front hairline and central part just are seen as ugly.
Christian history tells women that there hair is their crowning glory. To become a nun (bride of christ) a woman must sacrifice her hair, it is a vanity that will cause temptation in men. Yes female sexuality and history... very well linked. To punish a woman considered vain/promiscuous/or uppity, shaving her head, removing ears or nose, or both were considered completely justified.

My Great-grandmother was sexualy attacked by he cousin. She was native american. The tribe decided that he was distracted/entranced by her hair. It wasn't his fault...he was obviously tempted beyond reason. The "Elders" decided to mark her with cut ears and nose... to show she must be a whore. One of the reasons given was that she had blue eyes.

I have those, and her mother's because genetic predestination is not a death sentence... even though it once was. We know better now, right?
We don't kill illegitimate children. Some rape victims chose to... That is the right of the one who was there (I will never favor interrogation to verify rape/incest because someone questions the veracity of the mother). my mother in law would explode at this remark... IDC because anyone not in the situation can be left out of the discussion.
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