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Dear Readers,

Welcome back to the latest issue of Said It, after its long, long sojourn in the great cybervoid.

Said It is returning three years after its last issue to so many changes in the world. Many shocking events took place during this time, including the invasion of Iraq, and now, the weekly terrorist attacks against innocent Iraqis. Civil rights hero Rosa Parks died in October. Groundbreaking feminist Andrea Dworkin died in April. There were the global catastrophes – the Tsunami in Southeast Asia, the earthquake in Pakistan, and Hurricane Katrina.

Of course, we endured the "reelection" of George W. Bush, which was, I believe, the second stolen presidential election of this century. The candidate who was defeated twice somehow "won" the White House for two consecutive terms. I keep thinking: if only the tens of thousands of leftists who demonstrated against the Republican National Convention had instead focused their energy on the quieter task of making sure our country's voting machines were legitimate and accountable – we'd probably all be debating right now how President John Kerry is measuring up to his campaign promises. If only more liberals and leftists and progressives would think and act in terms of positive strategies and goals, rather than getting so mired in condemnation and opposition.

Despite these events, I am also finding much to be excited and optimistic about these days. Creativity and passionate feminism abounds. Women's rights in many places of the world appear to be inching forward. Liberia has elected its first woman president, a first for the continent of Africa. And in the U.S., we have a television show that at least envisions a woman as commander-in-chief – an important first step.

The explosion in feminist blogs is a good thing, as Martha Stewart might phrase it. Martha herself is out of jail and seems to be flourishing again. I'm serious – this makes me happy. I’m also excited about a slew of good books that have recently been published. Such books, I think, more than the visible political landscape, are what points to the future. Here are a few I recently read, and highly recommend:

Not For Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography, edited by Christine Stark and Rebecca Whisnant (Spinifex, 2005) is a collection of essays, articles, and interviews that are sometimes painful to read, but contain some of the most insightful and original analyses on the topic. Sheila Jeffreys makes a persuasive argument that prostitution should be considered by the United Nations as a harmful traditional/cultural practice. Jane Caputi writes a brilliant analysis of academic psychoanalytic theory and pornography, contrasting both to ancient, positive understandings of female sexuality. Activists and survivors recount their stories, which can be simultaneously painful, infuriating, and inspiring.

Also worth checking out is Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families by Pamela Paul (Times, 2005). The book looks at the ubiquity of pornography, and how it undermines people's relationships to one another as well as to their own bodies and sexuality.

Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (Free Press, 2005) is definitely worth reading. Levy is a rarity in that she writes for liberal mainstream publications, yet she truly thinks for herself when it comes to the issue of pornography and its offshoot culture. She combines investigative reporting with genuine analysis of the issue at hand, and puts it down in witty, accessible prose. I do want to quibble with the title, though, since the women who participate in raunch culture aren't analogous to male chauvinist pigs. Hopefully we'll soon see relatively mainstream books that focus on male chauvinist pigs, who are the ones behind the problem in the first place. Hopefully that's not hoping for too much.

I also highly recommend Martha Burk's Cult of Power (Scribner, 2005). Wow, what some women are put through when they publicly insist on equality. I find it nothing less than outrageous that Martha Burk's name was so widely tarnished because she challenged the female-excluding Augusta National Golf Club, yet unaffected are the reputations of its bigoted members, including a dozen Citigroup executives, a half-dozen American Express executives, and hundreds of other executives of high-powered corporations (listed in the appendix). The book includes an eye-popping chapter on how corporations that are committed to systematic sexism use "diversity" organizations and publications to hide and even perpetuate the discrimination. Another chapter describes how many companies target and punish women who claim discrimination, sometimes destroying their livelihoods, while the companies themselves continue to profit from sexism. Burk argues that corporations should have the burden of proving non-discrimination.

Phyllis Chesler has written an important book with an outlandish title, The Death of Feminism(Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Unfortunately, some short-sighted feminists have banished Chesler from their ranks (some going so far as to actively censor her) because she is aligning herself right now with conservatives. In fact, Chesler's book has a lot to offer. The book's primary focus is the plight of women living and dying under Islamic regimes, with a riveting chapter on her own experience of being held captive in Afghanistan as the young wife of an upper class man. Chesler raises many provocative questions. Why, for example, are so many western feminists easily engaged in condemning the wrongs, any wrongs, committed by the U.S., but tiptoe around speaking out against the known atrocities systematically committed against tens of millions of women in the name of Islam? She argues that “multiculturalism” has in many ways taken the form of cultural relativism, which is devastating to women’s human rights.

One more plug for another example of feminist creativity before I sign off – this time for the artwork of Christina Biaggi. I saw her amazing, giant collages depicting the Tsunami, the Katrina crisis, and the presidential election of 2004 when I visited the Ceres gallery in Chelsea. The artist happened to be there, and after I looked at her work, she humbly gave me a tour of the neighboring art exhibit. Biaggi has for years created beautiful works inspired by ancient Goddess cultures. In this way, I believe, she has contributed to that "dream" that is needed for "exorcism," as Mary Daly worded it. With this recent work she offers depictions of tragic material reality, exposing the dynamics behind the living nightmare that need to be "exorcised."

We need dreams for change, as well as grounding in material reality. The next issue of Said It will try to provide both. The focus will be on feminist eroticism, its possibilities and realities – and on the future of the feminist anti-pornography movement. It's unfortunate, I recently realized, that there are so many feminists who yearn for a society based on an egalitarian sexuality, yet we leave almost all public representations and explorations of sex to those who align themselves with the “rights” of pornographers. Anti-porn feminists give most of their attention to the same horrific and dehumanizing imagery that pornographers do, though based on objection to it, and seldom offer any vision for alternatives. Crucial as it is to expose, name, and define what we are fighting against, the negative should be balanced, I believe, with positive vision. Feminists such as Eve Ensler and Jane Caputi have been turning our attention in this direction. But more of us need to be letting loose our tongues, our creative vision and explorations, spinning out a future society that loves women and honors the body.

It's a matter of taking our rightful space on this earth – and filling it with our own depictions of female sexuality, erotic love, lusty, respectful sex, sensual fulfillment, and the honoring of the body in intimacy. It is, after all, love for women's bodies, and appreciation for the importance of sexuality, that motivate feminists who oppose the commodification of sex. It's time to put more focus on what we want, and have, and believe is possible, even while taking into account the complexities and difficulties faced in having to live in a misogynistic society.

If you'd like to contribute to this issue, sign up on the mailing list (send an email with a message to "sign me up") and, at some point in the near future, you will receive a call for contributions. Or just send something in.

best wishes,

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