The Latina Woman

By Kitty

The British public was perhaps first introduced to the concept of the Latina woman in 2005 in the form of Gabrielle Solis in Desperate Housewives. Tanned, dark eyed and stunningly beautiful alongside her white co-wives, the part played by Eva Longoria was a back story of a Texas-born, self-hating Mexican who went from rags to riches. Her storyline kicked off with a sizzling affair with her gardener before she was tormented by the return of her abusive step-father. The looks and narrative of named Latina characters in fiction has remained surprisingly consistent – from Gloria in Modern Family to Agent Zapata in Blindspot – a brunette beauty who has successfully assimilated into white American society, but whose tragic, dysfunctional or humble Latin origins come back to screw her over every now and again.

To many, being Latino or Latina refers to belonging to a culture which can be inclusive of all skin colours; from Dominican blacks, Argentinian whites, Indigenous Bolivians, Japanese Peruvians, or indeed any combination under the sun. But to those outside of the community (I’m talking about The Great British Public), Latino has been dramatically shaped by the face that Western media and popular culture chooses to show. The USA has many more Latina women than the UK and so we accept the picture they often paint of the sultry sex symbol or, increasingly, the vulnerable yet still attractive working-class immigrant. If this has passed you by, try watching Narcos on Netflix or listen to Foreign by the rapper Trey Songz.

When Justin Beiber featured on Despacito and it blew up in the UK charts, almost half a year after the song peaked in Latin America I didn’t anticipate this would be the start of a Latin music explosion. Little Mix quickly followed with their version of Reggaeton Lento; Enrique Iglesias recorded English verses of SĂșbeme La Radio and swapped out Latino rappers for the more recognisable Sean Paul; whilst Beyonce lent her voice to J Balvin’s catchy Mi Gente.

On the one hand, as a British woman with Latina heritage, I was delighted to hear the reggaeton genre every day on the radio on my drive to work. On the other, I felt like I was at least partly beginning to understand how some black people feel about white music artists adopting (and profiting) from historically black music genres. Music producers clearly feel the need to bring a Western artist into the song or record it in English in order to make it appealing to the majority.

This week saw the launch of Dímelo on the airwaves – Rak-Su’s debut song as winners of the X Factor 2017. The chorus includes the lyrics “You got the boom like your name’s J-Lo, you got them hips like Shakira, smile like Camila, got me feeling Latino”. Would everyone would be singing along if it was a white R&B artist singing “Got me feeling black”?

Whilst there are undoubtedly drawbacks to the Latina stereotype that permeates Western culture, it is at this point that I must acknowledge the white privilege that comes with it, provided you look the way you are “meant to”. Tanned and dark haired enough to be exotic and exciting but still Anglo-looking enough to fit conventional Western standards of beauty, it’s no wonder why we’re witnessing the rise of the Latina woman. What we must not forget is that this popularity does not come from a position of power and it will only satisfy the male gaze temporarily. Soon another ethnic minority will take the spotlight and be open to the same fetishisation; and it will be up to all of us to put aside our biases and stand together as feminists to face into it.

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About the Author

Kitty is a marketing professional working in the corporate world. Despite being an open feminist, she prefers to keep her thoughts on gender anonymous. One of her life ambitions is to make women feel just as awesome as men.

Image Credit

Debi Hasky

Emotional Ed, or My Experience of Sexual Education

By Lucy Caradog

My school waited until Year 9 to give us any form of sexual education, apparently in order to coincide with the year that the national biology syllabus taught us about reproduction, so as to give us fourteen-year-olds a comprehensive understanding of sex and relationships. I’m not saying that this wasn’t a good idea in theory, but it meant that some of us had to wait years until the rumours around sex that we heard about from some kid’s older brother in Year 3 were finally disspelled. That’s a whole six years of thinking that [insert funny sex myth here]. And even though most of us had cleared up the major misconceptions, we were still a bunch of teens who giggled at any innuendo and thought that sex was something to be ashamed of. We were in dire need of information, which we thought we would be receiving when two individuals, a man and a woman in their early- to mid-thirties (whose source were unknown to us) were brought into class.

Even though they made a number of what I would now call ‘mistakes’, bear in mind that this was a Catholic school, and a strict one at that, which may be why we didn’t notice that anything was amiss . We didn’t for a second wonder why there was no mention of birth contrl or STIs, or why any sexual act or feeling between two individuals who did not identify as a man and a woman was treated as impossible. We giggled madly when the man wrote the word MASTURBATION on the whiteboard in capital letters, and even more so when he attempted to rub it out only to find that he had accidently used indelible ink. I still to this day can not fathom why, when separating the boys and girls to tell us about “the changes our bodies would soon be going through” (FYI: I was at this point a C-cup and my cycle was so regular I could predict in advance when to get dispensed from swimming lessons), they decided that the man should be the one speaking to us girls, leaving the woman to teach the boys about erections and body hair.

The low point, however, came when they had reassembled us to discuss relationships. This was the longest section of our afternoon, and featured a hypothetical couple, both teens just like us, named Romeo and Juliet. That’s right. The Shakespearean tragedy was reappropriated to serve as an example of an average teenage relationship. Oh but wait, it gets worse.

Romeo and Juliet met at a party and started dating. It was going well until Juliet went on holiday for a week or so, a preplanned ski trip with some friends and family. There’s snow, there’s skiing, it’s basically the fun-filled holiday every middle-class fourteen-year-old dreams of, but all Juliet can think about is Romeo. She was lovesick, and therefore unable to enjoy herself in any capacity. She gave her boyfriend a call, thinking he was probably as hung up on her as she was on him. Little did Juliet know, Romeo was spending her holiday hanging out with his mates, watching the football, doing whatever ‘dudes’ do when their significant others are away. Juliet was the last thing on his mind, and when she phoned and told him that she missed him, she was surprised to find that he did not exactly reciprocate. This was when our instructors told us that Juliet was making a typical mistake: what she didn’t understand was that men’s brains “work differently” to women’s brains and that men operate on more of a “out of sight, out of mind” basis. It was thus unreasonable of Juliet to get upset. They explained that we girls would just have to accept that when it our time came to be in relationships, it was unlikely that our level of infatuation would be returned.

To say that I am angry at having experienced such appalling sex education is not quite right. Looking back on it as an adult who understands love and sex and everything inbetween, it is even slightly amusing. It was not amusing when I was sixteen and spent time pining after a boy I had already given up on because I had been told not to expect him to like me as much as I liked him. It was not amusing as I watch my friends play hard to get because, even though they were not subjected to the Story of Romeo and Juliet, they have some deeply ingrained idea as to how to capture a boy’s attention, and a subconscious idea that this is a difficult task, something they should work for. I remember being fourteen, fifteen, older maybe, and chatting with my girlfriends about our crushes on boys. We complained in a matter-of-fact way like 1950s housewives about the work we had to put in to keep our lads captivated.  That this was a woman’s work.  We did not expect to be on a level footing, we did not believe in an even give-and-take.

I have heard my fair share of sex ed horror stories. The ‘pouring-ink-into-a-water-glass, this-is-your-soiled-virginity’ story, for example. I don’t mean to discredit these stories; I appreciate that my experience is a different thing altogether. Maybe it is because I went to a particularly uptight Catholic school, or I had an uncommonly misogynistic instructor. All I know is that it took me a long time to get over this information and to trust men to love and respect me the way I deserve.

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About the Author

Lucy Caradog is a student in English and American Literature who’s interest in gender, sexuality and feminism stems from literature on the subject. She writes essays and short stories on these topics and others that can be found in various university publications and in a Writing folder on her laptop. She hopes to one day work in publishing whilst continuing to write on the side. Lucy also enjoys illustrating, and her artwork can be found on instagram @orangetoplucy

With Feminist Porn, We Can All Come

By Malene Bratlie

I have never really watched porn, the main reason being because I have found it difficult to find porn that isn’t derogatory to women in some shape or form. But is it possible to find porn that isn’t degrading to women, that does not feed young porn-watchers a skewed picture of sex?

The answer is yes and the alternative is feminist porn. Porn that gives female sexuality a significantly bigger role than that which the mainstream porn industry is currently providing; porn that seeks to give a more realistic and diverse picture of how women look, come and explore sexually. With female directors, actors, and producers, feminist porn can be just as dirty but, as porn director Erika Lust suggests, ‘with clean values.’

Consider how many times you’ve had heterosexual sex, and when the guy comes, the act of fucking is more or less over. He is done therefore both of you are done. Or how many guys there are who find it incredibly difficult to find your clitoris? In the light of mainstream porn and the misunderstandings about female anatomy it generates, it may not be so strange that male pleasure is often given a higher priority in heterosexual sex. I’m not saying that heterosexual sex is just a series of disappointments if you’re a woman, but I think that the mainstream porn industry is highly responsible for how female pleasure is often misunderstood, or just simply not seen to be as important as male pleasure. Feminist porn has the advantage of changing that, by exhibiting female pleasure and portraying it as an equally important part of sex.

Feminist porn can empower women’s sexuality, showing how we take control of our own bodies, on our own terms, and how we develop sexual preferences. However, sexual empowerment of females as a consequence of feminist porn should not be the only part of the discussion. The porn industry should consider gender equality issues at a similar level as all other institutions and companies — issues such as worker’s protection, taking into account whether the manufacturing and distribution are largely controlled by men, whether porn is an equal opportunities employer and so forth.  

I don’t think porn is inherently exploitative. Yes, mainstream porn can be exactly that, but porn as a way of exploring your sexuality is not exploitative. It is thus the way porn is produced through a male gaze that has profound impacts for gender and sexual identities, and that porn needs to change. In order to educate young people who watch porn about what equal sex means, the omnipresence of male dominance in heterosexual sex especially, needs to be eradicated. The stereotypical, discriminating notions of women that mainstream porn reproduces, has an impact on how women are depicted in popular culture, and it has an impact on young boys’ understanding of how to treat a lady in bed. But porn in itself, as a tool for sexual exploration, does not necessarily have to be a kind of media that fuels the misogynist culture we live in. It can be a tool that not only empowers women at a collective level, but also a way of teaching young people what equal sex means, and that female pleasure is just as important.

Neither Man Nor Woman: Coming to Terms With my Transsexualism

By Georg(ia) Penfold

I have moments in my life when everything kaleidoscopes together, whereby my entire sense of the world is shattered and rebuilt with both new and old pieces, and in so doing, it reveals aspects of myself that were previously unknown, neglected or repressed until then. Today was one of those days, for the first time in my life I had come to understand and accept my own transsexualism.

I had been reading Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl the night before and found myself physically unable to put it down. I’d reach the end of the chapter and begin closing it, but then catch a glimpse of the first few lines on the next page and feel compelled to go on. I read through it ravishingly until I reached the fourth chapter, “A frank discussion about hormones and gender differences”, in which I found a near identical account of the emotions and rationale I had been knowingly going through since I was sixteen. 

Up to this point I had been ignorant about the distinction between transsexual: feeling that the sex of your body does not match your subconscious sex — and transgender: feeling that your gender does not match the one you were assigned at birth. I had conflated these issues, thinking of them as equivalences, and in so doing, I was ignoring the finer psychological issues at play. For although I had experienced many moments in my life where I wished I had been born female, where every ounce of my being would internally scream at itself that the way it was wasn’t how it was meant to be, resulting in both physical and verbal self-harm, I had always reduced these feelings to wanting to be able to have the experiences that women typically have but with little importance as to actually being female or appearing so. This formed my world view which I had been living with up to now; I had discarded gender and removed the idea of sexed differences (other than those most physically apparent) and thought that I could create a new way of being that broke free from gender norms with which I could experience those things which I had so longed to feel. I became androgynous in my style, clashing masculine and feminine aspects together in a way that highlighted that which I wanted to express most about myself, finding comfort in being able to express myself in a way that I had not been able to before. But it still never felt quite right, I still never felt comfortable in my own skin.

I tried hard to rationalise my feelings, to make sense of transsexualism in a way that showed it as misguided and inherently oppressed by a binary gendered society. I saw trans people as failing to realise the potential they had to create wholly new ways of being; I saw the use of hormones and surgery as no more than superficial cosmetic practices, no different to a face-lift. I realise now how my insecurities about my own feelings had led me to this trans-phobic way of thinking: by denying who I was, I had to give reasons for why those who deep down I identified with most, were wrong and lesser than me. I now realise how much more complex trans identities really are, for although I still don’t identify as either a woman or a man, I now realise that I do feel the  need to be female-bodied, that my physical and mental form do not align with one another and that this is ultimately the cause of so much self-inflicted harm in my life.

Again, the complexity of the situation goes even deeper, for when I say ‘female-bodied’, I do not mean that I solely desire to have breasts, a vagina and an overall more feminine form, instead what I mean by this is that I feel a need to be Estrogen dominant, not for physical form but for psychological harmony. In essence I believe that the potential effects of female hormones (increased emotional response, reduced sex drive, etc.) would be beneficial to me, as they would allow me to experience my life with reduced dissonance. The question of how far my transition will go, will rest upon my feelings once I have taken these first few steps, once I have been given the chance to psychologically be the person I know myself to be, removing the persona I have been building my entire life to pass.
Although my being trans means that I desire to be female-bodied — and in a way then identify as female — this is not how I want people to relate to me. My reasoning for this is that if they relate to me on their level, as opposed to appealing to my own, then I know that they would perceive me as a person based upon my appearance, behaviour and an understanding of my own personal feelings. I do not seek to choose pronouns that I will correct people on. Rather, I’m far more interested in seeing which pronouns people would feel comfortable using. Furthermore, this allows for both my actual identity and my perceived identity to flow, as I begin to relate to myself differently as well. For I cannot truly say where I am heading, all I know is that I need to take this path even with the uncertainty of where it goes, so although I currently identify as trans-female, non-binary, indifferent to pronouns and comfortable with the name “George” (Georg(ia) being little more than pen-name), I cannot say how I will feel down the line.