She's in the Greaseman's suburban basement radio studio, he of the lecherous sound effects and the oft-offensive politics, and he's pulled...
WASHINGTON — She’s in the Greaseman’s suburban basement radio studio, he of the lecherous sound effects and the oft-offensive politics, and he’s pulled out a picture of Periel Aschenbrand’s book cover, which features her in the altogether — well, there is a fig leaf — holding an apple, all very Eve-like, and the title, “The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own,” stretching across her bare breasts. The Greaseman looks at the cover and growls, “I liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike it.”
“Perhaps we’re becoming more politically aligned,” Aschenbrand murmurs, a curtain of highlighted hair falling over her face.
Or perhaps not.
“I’m getting the feeling, little girlie,” says the local shock jock, aka Doug Tracht, “that this is an anti-Bush book.”
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Well, sort of, in that President Bush figures in Aschenbrand’s seriocomic memoir as a side figure as she recounts protesting at the Republican National Convention last year, wearing undies and a tank top that read, well, the same thing about not trusting the president. Since then, she’s launched “Body as Billboard,” a line of agitprop T-shirts intended to raise awareness of some of her pet political projects: her “Drug Dealer” tee, the proceeds of which go to buy AIDS medications for children in African countries; “Knockout,” to fight domestic violence; and “What Would You Give for a Great Pair of [four letter word for breasts],” for breast-cancer research.
“We’ve got to take back our [expletive] values,” says Aschenbrand, 29. “People ask me if I’m a writer or a fashion designer. I’ve been writing for years. It just so happens that when I put my words across my chest, people are much more interested.”
Aschenbrand’s activism began a couple of years ago, when she was teaching modern philosophy at summer academic camps at Bennington and Amherst. She was appalled to see her students, bright girls, wearing T-shirts that read “Mrs. Timberlake,” “Juicy” and “Abercrombie & Fitch.”
The author reads from “The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own,” 7 p.m. Tuesday, at University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., Seattle; free (206-634-3400 or www.ubookstore.com).
“As Americans, we’re exposed to 1,000 advertisements a day,” she says, “and we don’t even notice it. Why are you walking around with Abercrombie & Fitch across your [expletive expletive]? Are they paying you?”
One day, Aschenbrand meandered into a Los Angeles boutique wearing her Bush shirt. The boutique owner ordered a batch, and other trendy shops followed suit. (She also sells the shirts for $35 on www.bodyasbillboard.com.)
You could call it T-shirt activism. You could call it in-your-face feminism.
She calls it postgender politics. Which means that she (a) sleeps with both boys and girls but doesn’t dig the labels, or (b) is an acolyte and former student of the late French “philosophical superhero and hard-core lesbian” Monique Wittig, who taught her the power of words to shock and empower.
Wittig also taught her, she says, to look at gender identification as a construct of the heterosexist regime. She will discuss issues like this at length with earnestness — and in the next breath, say, extol the virtues of a good lap dance.
“It’s sex-positive feminism,” said feminist author Carol Queen, director of the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco. “Pro-sex feminism doesn’t see what’s wrong with having sexuality and sexual attractiveness be part of the message.”
Still, as sex writer-feminist Susie Bright sees it: “There’s also this sadness that we focus on the accessories of revolution when there is not revolution. This isn’t critical of [Aschenbrand]. It isn’t her fault that there aren’t thousands of women in the street.”
But there are women in the streets wearing Aschenbrand’s T-shirts. How many has she sold?
She shrugs. “Thousands?”
For that reason, she’s bringing in some business partners. She’d rather focus on designing her slogans and writing more books.
“I feel a responsibility to the people who were before me,” Aschenbrand says, “like the Guerrilla Girls, like bell hooks, like Gloria Steinem, to make sure their work was worth something. They put their lives on the line. I take that responsibility totally seriously.”
Pause. “It may be the only thing I take seriously.”