Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Look Both Ways

Bisexuals and asexuals have a lot in common. So I was psyched to read Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics. A more accurate subtitle might have been Bisexual Women and Feminism, since that's what the book is about. Its author, Jennifer Baumgardner, takes much inspiration from her days as an intern at Ms. magazine, and interviews many prominent feminists to discover bisexuality's place in the feminist movement. Look Both Ways gives about one sentence to bisexual men, which isn't too cool. Baumgardner knows that bisexuality hasn't been very well documented. She also did a ton of research for this book. So I'm not sure why she didn't include any men's experiences, since her reach is otherwise pretty broad.

Look Both Ways spends a little too much time trying to convince us that bisexuality is legitimate. If we didn't already think so, what are the chances that we would read this book? Anyway, I could definitely appreciate Baumgardner's love of pop culture, which is found throughout the book. There's an entire chapter on bisexual musician Ani DiFranco, which was, sadly, mostly lost on me as I wasn't very familiar with Ani to begin with. Baumgardner talks about how important it is for us to have positive bisexual role models in the media. She says that "the positive force of pop culture is misunderstood" (111) and that when Ellen DeGeneres came out, it made coming out easier for her as well. The funny thing is, we do have asexuals who are fairly well-known, such as Paula Poundstone and Edward Gorey. But unlike Ellen, whose sexuality was front and center for awhile, the asexuality of these other celebs has been gleaned from statements that they may have made once, as sidenotes, and that's it. We probably do have an Ellen-level asexual celebrity right now, we just don't know who it is.

We everyday folk can afford to be bolder than famous people can. Ellen may have encouraged everyday lesbians and bisexual women to come out. But it's us, the everyday asexuals, who are going to have to encourage our celebrities.


Coleslaw said...

So, you know what is painfully hilarious?

I just wrote a blog post on this book last night. I haven't even finished it yet! And yet, I had to write about it.

I just can't get past the feminism of it. I couldn't relate. I'm glad you catch the not-so-cool way that Baumgardner pushes women's bisexuality a hell of a lot more than men's, too. I thought it might just be me. Oh well.

Anyway, weird coincidence... Good post!

Ily said...

Hey, you've got a blog? Where? I'm really curious to read what you wrote about the book.
I think one reason the book might be hard to relate to is that much of it is very autobiographical. I always love me some feminism, though.

Fellmama said...

I just can't get past the feminism of it. I couldn't relate.

Care to elaborate?

Coleslaw said...

Ily, my "blog" is a sorely updated excuse of a blog that I started an abandoned in July and then posted in last night because I was feeling very conflicted about Look Both Ways. I'll send you a link, but it's by no means anything noteworthy.

And, Lanafactrix, I don't really know if this will make a lot of sense, but, here goes:

I felt like the book was much less about bisexual politics and more about the politics of feminism, and why women owe it to themselves to "look both ways" and explore bisexuality. There was a lot of pressure, I felt, for women to explore sex, love, and relationships with other women because being with a woman gives women more power in the relationship--an equal partnership, versus being domineered over by a man. Merely the way the chapter on men was titled ("Men: Can't Live With Them...") made me really feel... I don't know. Personally uncomfortable, be it with myself, the text, the author... I don't know. I couldn't relate with it.

I felt, reading some chapters, that I was being criticized because I have dated men, I do form "intimate" relationships more often with men than with women, and I don't think there is anything wrong with dating men. Baumgardner is by no means saying that men are bad, that you shouldn't date men, or anything like that, but I consistently felt like she painted men out to be less ideal partners for bisexual women than other women are. Her entire chapter "Gay Expectations" really just solidified that for me.

The quotes I want to pull are too long to type, and maybe I'm just reading into a tone that's not there for everyone, but. If I could sum up all my feelings about the tone of the book in one small sentence, it'd be "If you're any kind of self-respecting woman who wants to be strong, respected, powerful, and loved in your relationships, then you need to date women to learn that, because a woman will teach you those things better than any man."

Ily said...

It's funny because I'm pretty much a blank slate, having never really dated men OR women. Maybe that's why I didn't feel criticized by the book. Or maybe it's because if I was sexual, I'd probably be bi(pan!)sexual. It seems like Baumgardner did feel like dating men was the best thing for her at different times in her life, and she did have a child with a man. But I agree that the book was defensive. It's ridiculous, but a lot of people still think bisexual women are just promiscuous and dating both genders to have more sex (and why would that be so wrong, anyway?). So I think Baumgardner was trying to get us to see how dating both genders is a positive thing for women. I can't blame her for doing this, but, like I said, the legitmacy of bisexuality is preaching to the choir for most queer people.

Ily said...

And most enlightened people in general, I should add.

Lanafactrix said...

Ah, gotcha. It sounds like Baumgardner's stuck in the second wave.