Picture this: You walk into a room where a discussion has been held for an hour or so. In it are a handful of white, middle- and older-aged men, all sitting around a table. They are bemoaning a woman's choice to do with her body what she sees fit. The conversation is centered around "concern"—that her choices will damage her own image, that her choices will bring harm to herself, that her choices (bless her heart) are her own choices, naturally, but the poor thing will have to deal with her losing her business or her public face.
Surprise! It's not Presidential Election Redux. This isn't about a bunch of old, white dudes making policy on a woman's right to choose. It's so much closer than that.
An edit for clarity: I chose poorly when I started this post this way. My intent was to draw a severe parallel between the Republican-led Congressional committee on women's rights and the events of this blog, but erred severely by not making that clear from the get-go. The thread in question was not only attended by white men and I apologize for that very much. The Congressional committee was all-white, all-male—the commentors on this thread were simply all-male at the time of my visiting it.
The Set Up: What Started It This Time?
Kato is a Steampunk celebrity. She's a beautiful, business-savvy woman who has built a brand off of her appearance to sell affordable Steampunk clothing and accoutrements. Her face is everywhere. A general steampunk image search pops her up pretty quick. She's one of the most recognizable faces of the community, and her business acumen is razor sharp.
Just recently, in a move guaranteed to raise eyebrows, wallets and skirts, Kato opened up Steamgirl—a website devoted to eroticism, neo-Victorian style. "Good for her," I thought, frantically trying to get through a mountain of administrative work. I'm passingly acquainted with Kato through the same media everyone else is—and the mancandy calls her his "steampunk girlfriend", which is the source of much tongue-in-cheek ribbing in Casa Karina.
So, when Austin Sirkin—another steampunk face of some distinction—put out a call to see if anyone wanted to review the site for steampunk publications and general discussion, I don't think anyone expected what happened next.
Steamgirl: Hemlock In (Out Of?) Girl's Clothing
When I looked at the discussion thread, this is what I saw: a handful of men all considering what kind of "damage" Kato was doing to herself, the community, and her image.
It started off okay, with mancandy's lukewarm review:
Tasteful. How's that for a review?
His theory: he liked her mystique a great deal, and now that he's seen a few erotically nude photos, he's satisfied. (Yeah, I know, easy man.)
Another contributor adds his opinion on the business model—not the point of the review, but at least in line with his reasons why he won't review:
Anyone with a business plan that assumes people out there are willing to pay for porn is asking for disappointment.
Okay, fair enough. There's a thousand things to discuss regarding the viability of the model, the choice to go pay for view rather than fold it into an existing PR pattern, and so on. A good, healthy debate, as we're all minstrels trying to sing for our respective suppers. But then, he continues with this insidiously dangerous bit:
The other problem this presents is that as one of the most well-known faces of steampunk, she runs the risk of directly connecting the genre with porn and that could damage steampunk's mainstream perceptions.
I'm sorry, what?
Let's get the obvious part aside: if Justin Bieber's Hollywood music video, Craig Ferguson's irreverent Bone Patrol, and all the "the sky is falling" crap I've seen foretelling the doom of steampunk haven't hurt its "mainstream perceptions", then a pretty girl taking her clothes off isn't going to do worse. You know what hurts its "mainstream perceptions"? Close-minded and unwelcoming statements from its own community; like most communities, we are our own worst enemy. This is how communities stagnate and die, people.
But that's not the point. That's a whole other blog post that will be written one day, when I've had enough of borders and barriers and neat little boxes laid out for me by community members who "know what's best".
Sexuality = Harm
Here's my issue. That sentence, right there, encapsulates everything that is wrong with what followed. Here are a few of the gems from the comments immediately following it, and my immediate gut reactions to each:
Which is why i had to stop using her as the original model for [a character for a book]. I respect her right to express herelf artistically any way he desires, but could no longer have her attached to my product.
Because children will be visiting Steamgirl, putting in daddy's credit card information, and then will naturally retire for the evening with your book.
Do you refuse to let your kids watch Princess Diaries because Anne Hathaway portrayed a prostitute or got nearly naked in sex scenes for other movies? If not, why the inconsistencies? (Side note: I respect everyone's right to hire/not hire whoever they want to do whatever they want, and if a woman taking off her clothes offends your business model or sensibilities, fine. Just man up and say so, don't hide it behind "think of the children!".)
...It will affect her viability comercally as a clothing designer in some respects. She will no longer be seen as Kato the Designer first, but Kato pornstar first. Imho, it will hurt her more than she is prepared. Fashion is forever, porn has a limited lifecycle.
How is this at all a valid point? First, it's not porn. And even if it was, so what? In a world where Hollywood starlets can make a sex tape or do sex scenes in a movie—I'm sorry for being obtuse here, but if the intended effect is to enjoy and, heaven forbid, arouse, then what's the difference?—and still get seen as professionals, sell movie tickets, DVDs, clothing lines and other products, how is it anybody's right at all to judge what a normal woman does in the same vein? Is it because it's not Hollywood budget? Is it because you also consider actresses and actors as somehow "unclean" if they get naked?
Unless you're going to tell me that you don't in any way financially support these things, your point is hypocritical at best and a double-standard at the worst—thank you for promoting the mentality that "real women" don't show their sexuality if they hope to get anywhere.
I agree. It diminishes her brand. I was shocked to hear in November about her being dropped as [aforementioned character]. Then I learned that the boudoir magcloud publication came out in September: Ladies of Steam Punk. I know Clankington has done some racy stuff. It, and this, crosses the line from cutesy-naughty into just crass...
I suppose I see what a fantastic designer she is and wonder why you would take your clothes off if you can succeed with them on. I may be too old fashioned for 1882, but isn't getting nekkid generally the stuff of last ditch?
I... I don't even...
So, let me get this straight: a woman takes off her clothes in beautifully rendered erotic photos that aren't your typical "spread 'em wide" porn shots, and it's "crass". Is that too much detail? Because what I'm reading is, "A woman taking off her clothes is crass". More, I'm seeing, "A woman who is sexually and physically confident is desperate."
"Why take off your clothes if you can succeed with them on"? Are you serious? Why get married if you can have kids without it? Why dye your hair if you can live your life without it? Why dress up in steampunk if you can write steampunk without it? Why do anything for any reason if you don't have to?What a lazy, uncreative, totally lacking in imagination way to live. What a narrow, close-minded, hurtful message to spread.
Ladies, why bother getting a job when you can easily find a man willing to support you? Why bother putting all that effort into getting comfortable in your own skin? After all, you're only ever allowed to show that side of you to your husband—if you ever get there, with this kind of message—and oh, by the way, make sure you don't dress provocatively either. Ever. Yes, I know provocation is in the eye of the beholder, but obviously, if you're going to put yourself in front of a camera, you're just asking for trouble.
Okay, so that was a long-winded and rapidly spiraling gut reaction—but isn't that the point? Intolerance here makes intolerance so much easier there. Fortunately, Austin handled that one nicely:
First of all, if you could get paid to do something you enjoy, are you telling me that you wouldn't take the money?
Second, might I also remind you that the Victorian era saw the birth of photographic pornography, many images of which showed little regard for "the tease", as you put it. I happen to have a collection of Victorian pornographic images, and some of them put the "graphic" in "pornographic".
Word. Anyone who clings so hard to the "ideals" of the era without allowing room for the ideals they don't agree with is hypocritical.
But the same fellow continued his point.
I am aware of this point as well. Which is why I am speaking to steampunk in its reimagining, not the true Victorian. I've seen burlesque held at events, but true strip is exceedingly rare in the punkdom.
So! We'll toss out all the things we don't like as it suits us, when it suits us. Now we're getting clearer. "Re-imagining" the Victorian Era apparently includes abandoning the sexual expression movement, but doesn't include throwing out all those sticky topics like "repression of women". Way to set those lines.
Hey, fun fact: I've seen La Petit Mort stripped down to a G-string so small, she could have been naked for all the difference it would have made. I've seen burlesque dancers stop at more, and strip down to nothing. Shall I mention Dita Von Teese? You know, the most famous burlesque star there is right now? Or Suicide Girls, who is pretty much the most mainstream, definitive "punkdom" stripped-bare site there is?
Are we pulling out that old stripper dance of "no cooch, no problem"? Because if we are, holy shit, let's talk about how there is nothing wrong with female genitalia that a complete overhaul of patriarchal views won't fix.
This is where I stepped in, but before I do, some backstory: I am a romance author. I am also a steampunk. I take great pride in both, but in the scheme of things, I am an author first and everything else second. Well, okay, I am a human being first (with unicorn blood and virginal mysticism—what) and then an author, etc. If you've read me, then you know that some—not all—of my books, especially the paranormal romances, are exceedingly graphic. I write sex in all it's messy, ragged, ridiculous, needy glory and tart it up some to make sex in alleys and against rock walls look fun. I, in essence, Photoshop the shit out of my written scenes. And then I ask you to pay money for them.
So when I see a naked woman verbally assaulted—don't even try and lessen that impact; just because you claim to be concerned doesn't make the self-righteousness of it easier to swallow—and judged for doing the exact same thing as I am in different format, I get serious. This is what I said:
I write porn. It's branded and marketed as romance, because it involves "feelings". My brand is not suffering. Kato's brand—which revolves around her appearance and the enjoyment of something she, well, enjoys—will not suffer. If Kato's choice to strip down and share her lovely image with the paying world makes her a blemish on the community, it ought to do the same thing for me.
If anyone wants to call me out for doing in words what she does in photos, I'd love to sit down with you face to face over coffee.
This thread is chock full of men casting judgment—good or bad—on a woman's choice, and making thinly or not-at-all veiled aspersions on what it means for "their" community. Don't like it? Don't visit. Don't tell people about it. Let it go the way of every other porn site you don't or pretend not to visit. Back. Off.
I will be the first to admit that I came out swinging. This, right here, is an epic trigger for me—the judgment by a bunch of men (and who knows, maybe some women on that thread may have balanced that impact) on what kind of "damage" a woman involved with sexuality might pose to herself or others.
The responses went back and forth for a while, including not-so-veiled reproach for pulling out the gender issue right away, such as this one:
Someone mentioned brand, I have a history in advertising, and I followed up. Now this is getting touchy, since I am being come at for the content of my genetic coding. No question, even, of orientation. So I'm bowing out. Karina, I look forward to a most interesting coffee with you one day.
Orientation has little to do with this conversation. The question is not "Do you find Kato attractive?", it's "Why are a bunch of men—whose Facebook profiles all say Male—judging a woman for something that has nothing to do with them?"
Another response from a fellow:
Im not casting aspersions on Kato at all. I have spoken with her,found her gracious and generous. I elected not to use her a model for Tink because her business plan was not compatible with my image of my character.
That being said, one cannot deny that as i will say again, working in the porn industry especially if one is a woman, damages ones commercial viability. You take a look at Traci Lords, Jenna Jamesons careers. They will forever be branded in that arena.
For myself, as an author and artist i ceebrate free will and personal choice. Ms. Lambert is more than free to do as she pleases, she is doing nothing legal. My concern was that she may now have limited her commerical viability in the mainstream market. I hope not, I think she has the ability to be the next Edith Head.
Likewise, we also are free to express our views. As for me I think Kato is a nice person and wish her nothing but well.
Translated: "I'm not judging her, I think she's lovely, I just think that it was stupid to take her clothes off because the only thing sad, washed up porn stars ever did to become sad and washed up was get naked". (Fun fact: Pretty sure Jenna Jameson will take your 30 million dollar condolences all the way to the bank. Second fun fact: if we're judging an entire genre of people based on a portion of its members' bad behaviors, I weep for our own community.)
I couldn't let that last "freedom of expression" bit go, which included the first reveal of my theory about twelve year olds, porn and book covers:
Everyone is free to say what they want. That is true of all things, nice and not. I have a history in advertising, marketing, web design, and general modern living—and for every sad porn star tale, there's a James Deen and a Stoya who loves what they do, how they do it, are making bank, and are still on the edge of mainstream. Much like STEAMPUNKS are on the edge of mainstream, us poor closeted geeks with our sad, dusty clothing and out of date views.
Gender is a factor in who and what you are, and like it or not, it DOES make certain conversations a dicey proposition at best. If it makes you feel better to get your "concern" for Kato's choices off your chest, let me take the moment to tell you that I'm "concerned" by these narrow, close-minded views.
She won't suffer. Unless you're all planning to let your twelve year olds view paid porn, and then give them a cover of a book with Kato on the cover, it won't hurt anything. What will hurt is the prudish judgment and criticism being levied on her by her own community.
Look: a bunch of white people in a room cannot talk about non-Caucasian issues. A bunch of men in a room cannot talk about a woman's right to maintain her own body. A bunch of women in a room cannot talk about issues specific to men.
Wait, no, let me pan back: yes, all of those groups can talk about it, but any attempt to judge and make policy on it creates an outcry—as evidenced by the mass fury surrounding the Congressional committee to discuss women's bodies and birth control—that is not kind. Nor should it be.
And when that tone and energy of that discussion is negative? When it's geared more towards condescending concern, "concern trolling" about how it's not okay for a woman to show her body to whoever she damn well chooses to, that's when I hit the roof.
The reality of this world is that it's all too easy to sit within the confines of your privilege—whatever that privilege is, whatever the borders you were raised in or have taken on—and cast judgment without ever once knowing or caring what kind of damage that judgment is doing to somebody else's life.
Author PJ Schnyder put it nicely with this, a well-written explanation of how eroticism and graphic content has affected her marketability in the mainstream world :
I am a romance author. My brand doesn't suffer for the explicit nature of my content. Do my readers pay for the product I provide? Yes. Has my brand suffered? My analytics indicate my brand is growing steadily. Do people pirate my work? Yes, and I was told by others that this was an indication of sorts that I had "arrived" as an established author. Hardly a detraction from my authoring career.
I was also told by fellow authors that my rather saucy media kit images would damage my brand. The claim was that I was attempting to gain attention on the basis of my looks as opposed to the quality of my writing. My response? I find joy in both writing and dressing up, especially in steampunk. I will continue to do both.
I admire Kato for her incredible costuming and design skills. Her images are lovely and inspiring for those who'd like to get creative with steampunk costumes. Will I support her? Without hesitation, because she is a brave woman moving forward with a daring business plan and there's nothing wrong with showing just how sexy steampunk can be. After all, she's offering a product desirable by the majority of her fan-base. She knows her target audience. I wish her the best success.
When an artist I admire greatly mentioned that the whole reason she didn't do porn was because of the judgment being levied by her own community, my heart broke a little.
The answer one of the "discussers" gave her then broke my head:
You have struck a balance within the facets of yourself that you present as public. Crossing this line would, speaking only for myself, greatly tip that balance in a direction not befitting [your name]. Deprivation is part of what makes us all grow. And when the world wants to deliver to us (or demand from us) everything, sometimes we have to make the decision to refrain. Sometimes it can sour us on an experience.
I take umbrage at the tone that an amazing musician who rocks fashion choices that are her own and not even remotely mainstream, a woman who has forged a path for herself as being her own woman, her own artist, her own, will be made less because she apparently is interested in porn on some level (suggested by the inference that this was the only reason she didn't).
This fellow apparently believes, as evidenced by "And when the world wants to deliver to us (or demand from us) everything," that every woman who takes her clothes off does so because she's an enslaved immigrant prostitute.
Dear sir: Women are neither angels nor whores, unless they explicitly choose to be and tell you so directly. Casting a woman as one or the other and expecting her to behave that way is a dick-move unworthy of pleasant company.
But that's not even the worst of the lot. The one that made my blood burn and my hands shake, is this brilliant bit from a commentator:
She invited judgement.
He goes to say that it's inevitable that people will be judged, so everybody should just roll with it—a dangerous, remarkably passive viewpoint that I suspect contributes to bullying from all corners—but it doesn't matter what else he framed around it. It doesn't matter that he's supportive of Kato's choices, because I can't get past his initial point. It wraps around this entire discussion, my whole point, and presents it with a bow on top.
She invited judgment.
Whiskey. Tango. Fuckery.
... "She invited judgment"? Are you kidding me? Because she took her clothes off—wait, wait, let's back this up. Shall I replace this? "Because she was wearing a short skirt", or "because she had a few drinks in a co-ed bar"... "she invited judgment." Do you know how much of a bullshit statement that is in any situation?
Yes, I am aware that in this day and age, everybody feels the right to judge each other. Yes, I am also aware that everyone feels like they can say whatever they want—no rules internet conversations mean everyone can fall back on whatever bigoted ways they have with absolutely no risk of being tempted to, I don't know, make an effort to change something.
"Invited judgment." I can't believe I just saw this in a community I thought prided itself on its skill, it's self-motivated business acumen, and it's open-door policy of "if you've got it, bring it, rock it and be welcome".
Hey. Jackasses. It's 2013. Rather than taking the incredibly privileged opportunity to take that "invite" some of you appear programmed to see and wax poetic on it for a while, how about you actually be a decent person and DON'T JUDGE. How about you take responsibility for your own actions instead of mirroring an excuse being thrown around by rape-apologists and douchecanoes from all sides of the fence, more serious and less, blaming the victim of bullying and worse for the actions taken by the people around her.
How the hell is anything supposed to change in this world—how are we supposed to raise strong, confident, brave kids—when we're backhandedly suggesting that they are responsible for other people's actions and behaviors?
A woman wears a low tank-top, I don't take that as an invitation to comment on her breasts unless she puts them in my hands. A man makes the choice to come out to the world, I don't take that as invitation to shake my head and sigh, "Poor kid, his life will be so hard now," unless he tells me how hard his life is. A woman takes her clothes off in a photo shoot, I don't take as an invite to tear her down for it. Period. There is no "unless" there.
Yes, others will, and others do, but you know what? I am not them, and I do not associate with them.
Once upon a time, we as a species held views that are now considered abusive, inhumane, and douchey. It took a collective effort to get off our privileged horses and make a difference.
If your efforts stop at "she's asking for it", I am done with you.
Amid the flurry of complaints from the aforementioned sexist commentators, I am being reminded that there were moderate voices in that thread who—even if they disagreed with Kato's business model or wouldn't have chosen naked photography—counseled tolerance, peace and the awesomeness of choice. They were encouraging and even admonishing of the louder voices preaching the opposite.
Even one of the voices from above quickly came to realize the error of how he was presenting and made an effort to indicate that he had made an error in beginning his tone with those words.
To them, I tip my hat. Thank you.
Dear readers: not everyone in the steampunk—or any—community is terrible. See the note about judging one group by a few. But the loudest ones? Please look at what they're saying, how they're saying it, and the purported reasons why. That includes me, too.
I submit the following with very little comment, except to say that I am content with my choice.
Perhaps you missed what I was saying, I'm fairly sure you did.
I don't give a flying fuck what you write on your blog, be it negative towards GD, or others that are here.
If someone disagrees with you, then they disagree with you, they're not using the same excuses as people who excuse rape.
Say it again, and you're gone.
And you're damn right I'm saying that as a moderator. Noone here even remotely compared someone disagreeing with what Kato is doing to also saying that women are asking for rape.
If they have a problem with what Kato is doing, absolutely no one here said 'well fuck Kato' what has been said is that Kato does what she wants to do and while they may not agree with it, it's up to Kato.
Which is a pretty far cry from someone saying that they're agreeing with excusing rape.
I did not say that these people were excusing rape. I said that it was the same excuse being used to cover a "gaffe" that can be just as damaging. When you have to live with the same excuses your whole life, Logan, or told almost word for word the same after a traumatic experience, THEN you get to tell me what is and is not acceptable as an analogy.
Fun fact: WHAT you SAY matters. The end.
Austin levels a moderate voice:
Karina was saying that it's the same style of argument, not that anyone here condoned rape.
Suggesting that she be kicked out of the group for making that point is flatly ridiculous.
Re-read what I said again Austin.
I'm considering dropping her yes, if she drops the line about comparing the two, I won't, if not, I will.
Finally, in which our intrepid heroine gets enough of double-standards to last her a lifetime:
And this is where you draw the line? No acknowledgement of behaviors other than mine, no demand that people behave appropriately? It's totally fine to compare some people to bodily functions, but not okay to draw a comparison to an excuse that uses the exact same victim-blaming mentality as assault excuses?
Okay. Double-standard acknowledged. Allow me to save you the hassle.
- internet groups are the devil;
- there are those, no matter how righteous your cause or personally damaged you feel, who wills top at nothing to be right, turn the fight around, or avoid blame.
Neither of these is worth the heartache, people. All of my points stand.
I am perfectly happy to be a steampunk in person, face to face, where—surprise—people tend to be way more thoughtful of the words they use.
The Final Word: Kato Weighs In
On Friday, February 22nd, Kato posted on her Steampunk Couture Facebook page this:
Important announcement coming up! Since the launch of my new steampunk erotic photography site six days ago, Steampunk Couture has taken a BOOM in sales to the point where I've actually sold out my ENTIRE 2013 collection and I have several days of back orders to catch up on. I will not be taking orders until the end of next week as my seamstresses and I have a lot of catching up to do. I really appreciate everyone's amazing support and your patience while I hurry to restock all my fabrics and designs. The Vex skirts will be availble when I begin taking orders again and the beautiful Ulorin Vex will be modeling some new designs soon, so keep your goggles raised for that. Thank you for supporting hand-made indie designers! You folks are marvelous!
No, Kato. Thank you.