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Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

I would like to thank Alex DiBranco for writing this piece because it has caused my students, adolescent boys with AIDS, to talk more openly about their experiences blogging (in English) around sexual issues, and how when they do that--like clockwork--the haters and the hate e-mail go through the roof. All of it from Americans. Strangely, most of it from Texas. My students aren't writing columns. But when they blog about sexual issues, it somehow stirs the haters to respond with vile animosity.

My students adamantly maintain that the hate spewed at them has no effect. But the hate is designed to have an effect on them. And at some point they either engage in the spitting contest or they will retreat and stop blogging for a while or they get disgusted and stop for good. The hater's goal is to put an end to the dialogue.

Sex and sexuality are hot-button items everywhere. And there are culture war victims who are throughout a lifetime told in no uncertain terms that these are issues that must remain under the rock no one is allowed to crawl out from under to find a voice. Even a 12-year-old has a voice. It's a mistake to assume no one is listening.

The culture wars are still out there. From time to time, there's a cease-fire. But writing about sex reignites the haters who not only hate the idea of people not staying in their assigned places in the status quo, but there is no doubt in my mind that what they really hate is sex itself.

Tim Barrus

Cinematheque Films<br />Paris, FRANCE

Oct 8 2009 - 6:39am

Web Letter

I will worry about the mainstream press excluding reporting on sex after they cover, intelligently and fully, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, healthcare reform legislation, campaign finance reform (or lack thereof), the plight of urban areas, the impact of job loss... need I go on?

Jeanne Lang

Detroit, MI

Oct 8 2009 - 3:43am

Web Letter

"What is peculiar to modern societies is not that they consigned sex to a shadow existence, but that they dedicated themselves to speaking of it ad infinitum, while exploiting it as the secret." --Michel Foucault

Confessing sex is not revolutionary or subversive. The act of confession is--drum roll, please--part of the Plan. Capital P: think power. It's consumable entertainment.

Barrett Massey

Albany, NY

Oct 6 2009 - 8:48pm

Web Letter

Can we conclude only that neither the author nor the editors actually read this piece?

It tells us of a "feminist columnist" who took "Cosmopolitan to task for its heteronormative, male-pleasure-oriented approach"--which is evidently feminist Newspeak for the straight female readers' interest in pleasing their partners. Then it ridicules as ridiculous the suggestion of "the double standard that...would never allow a man to publish instructions on giving blowjobs...the author would be accused of misogyny and sexual harassment"--only to speak next of "mainstream patriarchal sexual messaging." Tell me, do the editors scan the copy for nothing more than dangling participles?

Perhaps what we should conclude is that people who won't acknowledge several decades of male-sexuality-is-male-sexism feminism in both academia and society at large won't recognize it in their own writing.

Barry Loberfeld

Commack , NY

Oct 2 2009 - 4:21pm

Web Letter

To those who don't think students should share information about sex, I say: "Get ahold of yourself! You'll feel better in the morning, and may not be so primed for a fight."

bill darbyshire

Galien, MI

Oct 1 2009 - 8:45pm

Web Letter

I was the editor-in-chief of the Pitt News, the University of Pittsburgh's daily student paper, when we started a sex column back in 2004. Our first sex columnist, an outgoing woman, was excellent and extremely well-received, becoming a campus celebrity and local topic of conversation.

While there was some pushback, her tact and a careful consideration of how to approach the column made the column extremely well-read and -respected. The writer even was able to avoid being pigeonholed, and used the semi-fame to acquire a coveted job in the local journalism industry, where she has since been employing her considerable reporting and writing skills.

The man we hired to replace her was also an excellent writer, though a little brasher. I recall being stunned when, several months in, it was clear his column was generating significantly more controversy. Though the column survived, we learned an important lesson: context is everything when it comes to writing about sex. Even on a college campus, people can receive similar messages differently when they come from, say, an attractive woman versus a young man.

As every good newspaper adviser is fond of saying, the right to print something does not always make it a good idea. The Student Press Law Center does an admirable job of protecting rights, but it can not keep a newspaper's credibility with its readers. While some campuses are liberal enough to tolerate graphic and even vulgar images and writing, most college papers that want to publish a sex column have to deal with a whole host of issues, from administration to wary advisers to the local populace and politics that may lead readers to be offended enough to stop reading.

Greg Heller-LaBelle

Bethlehem, PA

Oct 1 2009 - 8:00pm

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