Watch the video at this link.
I won’t post it here. So watch it over there. It’s mostly SFW.
Ok, now, sit there for a few minutes and let your brain try to grapple with what you just saw and heard.
First, let’s get past the “blowjob machine” thing. Yes, those are things. They exist. Oral sex simulators have been around for a while, in formats ranging from the simple masturbation sleeve to high-powered, motorized, vibrating, interactive robotic jerk-off devices. They’re quite popular, and I think they’re grand because people with penises deserve as much variety in their sex toys as people without penises. Hooray for orgasms! Three cheers for sex toys! Huzzah!
Let’s also get past the idea that may have popped up in some people’s minds about whether taking, sharing, or viewing photos of genitals is acceptable, because that is an entirely other conversation.
Okay, are we all on the same slightly amused, but mildly disgusted and somewhat confused page? Good. Let’s dig into that, shall we?
The most glaringly problematic issue throughout the video is, to me, that the entire thing is based upon the premise that photographs of vaginas will be arousing. Brian Sloane is banking on the public’s desire to look at photos of disembodied vaginas.
Two major problems with that, bro:
- You can’t really see vaginas in photographs, unless you’re doing some ultrasound or MRI shit, because the vagina is inside the body. Sure, it’s technically possible to take photos of a vagina, but most of the populace isn’t properly equipped. And also, if you got photos of vaginas, you’d be disappointed because most of them would be blurry at best, pitch black at worst. I believe that you are not, in fact, seeking vagina pictures. What you are actually looking for are vulvas. Vulvas, not vaginas, are the externally visible parts of the genital anatomy for female-bodiedindividuals.
I know I’m fighting an uphill battle with this, since “vagina” seems to have come to replace “vulva” in the popular vocabulary, but it drives me bonkers. What is so difficult about the word “vulva”? What makes “vagina”–which is longer and more difficult to say–so much more attractive-sounding than “vulva” that we have voluntarily given up anatomical accuracy in its favor? I don’t get it. I think “vulva” is a lovely word. #VIVALAVULVA
- Also, assuming that you did in fact mean vulvas and are trying to collect photos of them… News flash: vulvas are not exactly the biggest turn-on for most people. Study after study has shown that, as far as visual cues that excite the masses, vulvas are kind of low on the list. People who get off on sexy visuals are usually looking at chests, butts, and even feet far more than vulvas. For whatever reason, even though lots of us enjoy experiencing vulvas in an tactile, in-person, up-close-and-personal way, when it comes to visuals… The pussy doesn’t really get most people going. Of course there surely are people out there for whom vulvas are huge turn-on, and more power to them, but I’m trying to help you out, Brain Sloane. People are, generally speaking, going to probably be less interested in viewing these “vagina” photos than you think they are. So, just… like… expect that.
All right. Moving on. To the layers upon layers upon lunch-meat-folded layers (more on that later) of casual sexism laced throughout this video and this entire idea. Here’s the thing, lest Ye Olde Mens Rights Activists care to jump upon me like the proverbial flies upon feminist shit for “overreacting” to this seemingly harmless bit of fun. I totally know what you mean.
Seriously. The kind of rampant, blatant sexism that’s on display in this video is so embedded in our culture’s everyday functioning that the first time I watched the video, I was like, “Huh. I feel kind of icky, but I’m not sure why. He seems like a nice guy.” And he does seem like a nice guy. I don’t think that Brian Sloane has any ill will towards people with vaginas. He seems to think he’s doing a cute, fun, harmless deed. And most people who see this video will agree–it’s fun, it’s cute, and and it’s not taking itself too seriously.
But now that I’ve gone back and rewatched it, the sexism is right fucking there on display. It’s just that most of us–myself included–are so accustomed to this type of everyday, banal, run-of-the-mill sexism that we don’t notice it’s there unless we’re looking for it.
So. Shit. I’m going to point all of it out.
Let’s go chronologically, shall we?
0:04: Gross thing number one: Immediately after introducing himself, Brian Sloane introduces his idea for a vaginal “beauty pageant.” Dude, seriously? That phrase? That specific phrase, which raises a red flag to anybody who has even the tiniest smidgen of respect for women (and girls) as people instead of objects for male consumption? The one that describes an event that has been called out, again and again, for decades, as sexist and demeaning to women? The one that reinforces every misogynist stereotype about how women’s appearances are their most important assets? That one? And you then want women to voluntarily submit pictures of their intimate parts to you? You could have called this any number of things, but you chose “beauty pageant“?
We are off to a bad start.
0:09: He carefully explains that he will explain how “women” can send in pictures of their junk–thus disregarding quite a number of people who are possessed of beautiful vulvas who are not women. Obvs problematic. Because obvs, he did not think–at all, whatsoever–about the fact that lots of gorgeous vulvas might belong to people who aren’t women, because obvs… He is not very aware of people in the world who are not him. And he is also, obvs, not too terribly concerned with specificity in language, as evidenced by the vagina/vulva mix-up.
0:15: The goal here, he states, is to find “the world’s most beautiful vagina.” There are many places throughout this video at which I could point this out, but I’ll get it out of the way right now: people don’t usually enjoy being reduced to their sex organs, and people with vaginas, in particular, very often have conflicted relationships with them. Female bodies have been treated as objects for the sexual gratification of others since time immemorial in our culture, and female genitals have been denigrated as dirty, smelly, unattractive, and shameful. Recently there has been a push in the direction body positivity and the acceptance of vulvas as beautiful. And so, while I welcome attempts at empowering those with vaginas to love their bodies, there is a big difference between encouraging us to take pride in our vulvas… and imposing the beauty standards of other people onto them in a competition. This makes me feel a little bit less like the parts people will be voting on are valued, and more like they’re being seen as throwaway objects.
Now, Brian Sloane, I understand that you are doing this to, in fact, make an actual sex object–an unthinking, unfeeling device that people can literally purchase and use for their sexual gratification. And I do understand that me taking your objectification so much to heart is a bit on the alarmist side, but honestly. You are trying to convince people to voluntarily send you photos of their vulvas. Try to use language and concepts that sound inviting instead of demeaning. It would get you a lot further.
0:38: His thoughts for naming the new device he’ll create with the “most beautiful vagina” in the world? Robo-Twat. Twat-Bot. Again, friend… If you are trying to ingratiate yourself with the owners of the vulvas you seek, perhaps not using terminology that’s generally considered a slur to refer to those vulvas is a better idea. Consider your audience. Or, I suppose, if you don’t think of that audience as thinking feeling human beings, don’t.
0:44: The blithe assumption that the people who will be using said Robo-Twat, most likely having penises, are all men. Well. Par for the course, by now. By which I mean less than a minute into the video.
0:55 – 1:10: Enter the lunch meat. Really. I think he’s using some kind of thick-sliced deli ham (?) to illustrate different kinds of vulvas with increasingly complex patterns of folds… to represent labia… and…
For fuck’s sake.
This. This right here. Is why most people with vulvas are going to balk when they see this video. I can’t believe I even have to explain this. But clearly I do, because this brand of sexism is so normal that it feels innocuous, unconscious, ho-hum to the point of being invisible. It’s standard-issue devaluation of people with female reproductive parts that feels normal, even though it is, in fact, really, really, really gross. Much like lunch meat. Or should I say, the mysterious chemicals one often finds in over-processed lunch meat. Actually, although it turns my stomach to admit it, lunch meats are kind of a brilliant analogy for mass-produced sexism in culture, right? Baloney, for instance, is marketed as perfectly okay for human consumption. It’s an all-American lifestyle choice that’s touted as a decades-old tradition… But it’s a tradition that’s full of bizarre chemicals whose names you can’t pronounce. It causes all kinds of health problems, tastes really strange, and has the consistency of something you should never put in your mouth. In other words, lunch meat–much like sexism–is a tradition that is bad for everyone, but which is considered totally acceptable because it’s so normal.
When I started this tirade, I was only pissed off at the use of lunch meat to emulate the appearance of a vulva because, come on. We’ve all heard “roast beef curtains” used as derogatory term for labia, and anyone who has labia has gotten self-conscious because of the implication that our bodies are literally sandwich meat for consumption, and really unappealing sandwich meat at that. Equating our junk to food has been a casual way for lots of people to put down the female anatomy for years, cause even more shame around the appearance of our genitals than we had before (which is to say, a fuck-ton), and make the entire idea of vulvas less appealing.
But now that I think about the parallels between processed meat and systemic, internalized sexism… The lunch-meat gag may have actually been more spot-on than anticipated, in a much more intelligent way than intended.
Anyway. The point is, when you add up all of the ingredients so far (the lack of regard for correct anatomical terminology, the objectification of female bodies as implied by the use of the phrase “beauty pageant”, the blatant disregard for people who don’t fall neatly into body-based gender categories, the assumption that the value of these vulvas lies primarily in their outward appearance, the use of a body-shaming slur, and the use of lunch meat to refer to an already heavily shamed part of human anatomy implying that people’s body parts are equivalent to low-grade meat products) you basically have a big, sloppy sandwich of casual sexism. A burger of badness. A hoagie of horrible.
1:10: Just want to reiterate that people can’t “just take a photo of [their] vagina” because vaginas are internal, so unless you have some mad lighting and mirror-holding skills, you’ll find this much more complicated than Brian Sloane makes it sound, y’all.
1:35: Pubic hair shaming, everyone! Okay, okay, he’s not really shaming it. He’s careful to say that he’s a fan of “all types,” but that they “can’t 3D scan hair.” And that’s a fair point. But maybe consider explaining why you can’t 3D scan hair even though you wish you could because you understand that hair naturally grows in that part of the body so that people don’t feel that gut-wrenching shame that’s been smashed into their heads about being “dirty” down there for their entire lives? Meh?
1:40: While assuring us that “all submissions to our contest are totally anonymous,” which is in fact a good thing for many people who might (somehow, after all this) want to submit a photo, there is an accompanying photo of a woman with a bag over her head. Again, I can see how this seemed cute and funny in the planning stages, but when it’s combined with the aforementioned Hoagie of Horrible and all of the demeaning, unthinking, blase sexism therein, this was possibly the worst possible choice of photos. We’ve all heard paper-bag sexist jokes, driving home the idea that women who aren’t considered conventionally attractive should be kept out of sight and made invisible. They tend to make the women among us feel uncomfortable. So, you know, try maybe thinking about our feelings if you want us to take photos of our nether regions for your gratification?
2:00: I’m gonna break this down for you. Three cash prizes for the top three “most beautiful vaginas” sounds nice, right? I mean, heck, I think my bits and pieces are gorgeous and I could definitely use $5,000 in prize money if I take first place. But, I mean, seriously? $5,000? (And a trip to Los Angeles–be still my heart! [She said, not ever wanting to be in Los Angeles for any reason.]) How about royalties on all your sales of the body part I own? How about some fucking dignity?
Lest anyone want to mistake me for a sex-negative, or sex-toy-negative, individual, I want to say once again that I do understand that Autoblow is a sex-toy company whose business is replicating parts of the human anatomy, turning those parts into literal sex objects, and making money on them. And I want to say that I respect that utterly: the world is a better place with sex toys in it, as far as I’m concerned. But here’s a thought: take a page out of FleshLight’s extremely-successful book and honor the people whose anatomies you are replicating. Instead of doing it on the cheap and anonymously underpaying vulva models after you’ve enjoyed looking at, picking apart, and ultimately devaluing hundreds of applicants before profiting off of their most intimate of anatomical pieces… try hiring people who make their living by proudly showing off those parts, fairly compensating them for their time and services, and showing them some respect. It’s worked beautifully for the FleshLight girls and the FleshLight company itself. Everybody wins!
After the 2:00 mark, there are a few other things I could comment on, but, honestly, I’ve got feminism fatigue.
So basically, this is a huge bunch of bullshit, y’all. A veritable Manwich of Misogynist Manure, if you will. And I want to re-educate the people responsible for so completely missing the mark on what could have been an opportunity to celebrate the beauty and uniqueness of vulvas all over the world, but which instead was reduced to a series of worsening winks and nudges to everyday sexism, reinforcing every tired stereotype about people with vaginas being valueless sex objects.
Way to go, 2015.
Brian Sloane, it’s not that what you’re doing is inherently evil. It’s not that you are inherently evil. But you could have tried a lot harder here, thought a bit more about the language and imagery you used, and done everyone a solid. But you didn’t. You did the easy thing, which, sadly, in America, is usually the sexist thing.
So hey, everybody! Here’s an idea! Let’s educate the people overseeing the Vaginal Beauty Contest! Point out the sexist issues we find and gently nudge them in the right direction!
Get on Twitter and use the #autoblowvaginalbeautycontest tag to remind them that the vagina is not the vulva. Jiz Lee has kindly provided the #vivalavulva tag specifically for this undertaking.
— Jiz Lee (@jizlee) June 23, 2015
Submit photos of pitch darkness in to the competition to illustrate that you cannot photograph a vagina without special equipment!
And remind everyone that #allvulvasarebeautiful at every opportunity, because they are. No vulva is more beautiful than any other vulva, and that’s beautiful all on its own.