I shouldn’t be writing this blog post right now. I have a story on a tight deadline that’s kicking my ass and if I don’t get it DONE then I might well conclude that I have no business being a writer. I’ve been going through some deeply upsetting things in my personal life which has left me with the emotional stability of a three-year-old coming down from a sugar rush. And I know this post will piss a lot of people off. Also, there is no way I can say these things without sounding like a disgruntled old woman yelling at the neighborhood kids to say off her lawn.
Well, there you have it. I confess: I am a grumpy old woman yelling at the kids. Stay off my lawn!
You might ask what prompted this need to vent. Well, it’s simple, really. A few days ago I came across two things in close sequence that made me scratch my head and go WTF? The combination of the two things kind of solidified some thoughts I’ve been having for a while now. Namely that I’m concerned that some women might inadvertently be prompting the very rape culture they claim to abhor. That the freedom we experience now to indulge in our kinky fantasies celebrates the very opposite of a healthy romantic relationship.
Mind you, the rape-trope has always been popular in romance fiction for reasons I don’t fully understand. Maybe some readers readers enjoy it because they like the idea having all control (and responsibility) for their actions taken from them. For someone else to call all the shots. Okay, it’s a fantasy. I get that. The notion that you could fall in love with this person and enter into a healthy, loving relationship with your rapist is ludicrous, but persistent. Yes, I’m looking at you, Luke and Laura from General Hospital. No. That never worked for me, sorry. Face it, these fantasies were developed in an industry that, at the time, demanded purity from their heroines. God forbid your lead female character *wanted* sex, that made her a slut! Certainly we’ve moved beyond that, right? Women are allowed to want sex, think about it, talk about it. Nothing wrong there.
And I’m not condemning BDSM stories out of hand by any means! In the right hands, the depiction of a dominant-submissive relationship is not only incredibly hot, but completely understandable as well. The dynamics of the D-S relationship help me better understand what makes the characters tick as people outside of their sexuality. I get the intensity that the fine edge of pain can bring to a sexual situation. I love seeing a different side of a character–how who they are in the bedroom can be entirely different from the face they show the rest of the world. It’s fascinating storytelling.
I believe that the reason 50 Shades of Grey smashed sales records had much to do with the fact that for the majority of readers, this was an entirely new-to-them genre. For readers tired of the usual pirate-capturing-the-heroine story, or the handsome boss/faithful secretary, or even the vampire-slayer and her undead boyfriend, 50 Shades was something new. Romance readers are some of the most voracious consumers of fiction, and for some jaded readers it had to be like finding another wing of their library that they didn’t know existed. Suddenly BDSM became wildly popular, reflected in the explosion of popularity of kink-memes in fandom as well. For those of you that are unfamiliar with kink-memes, these are story fests where people write fanfic about their favorite characters in a kinky sexual situation. The stories are frequently what is referred to as ‘PWP’, which stands for “plot, what plot?” as the only purpose for the story is the depiction of the kinky act.
I have nothing against any of that. I think it’s great that we as women can express ourselves and explore our sexual fantasies and desires. But the other day, I ran across a promo for a book that caught my attention. I don’t remember the title, but it apparently was doing *very* well on Amazon, better than anything I’d ever written, that’s for sure (so feel free to assign me the obligatory ‘sour grapes’ attitude now). In the blurb, however, someone was described as being in the position of finding subs for his Dom, and that he was ‘going to find out that this little sub came up swinging’. I read that and blinked. Okay, I know NOTHING about the bondage culture. What I know about the BDSM lifestyle comes entirely from stories that I’ve read. But correct me if I’m wrong, here. Doesn’t finding ‘subs for his Dom’ and a sub that ‘comes up swinging’ sound a bit like the woman in question doesn’t have a choice in the matter? Or am I totally missing something here?
I’m willing to concede that I am. After all, I don’t read in the genre very much, and there are certainly subtleties to the lifestyle I might be completely clueless about. But it made me raise an eyebrow, that’s for sure. The fact that this story was selling like hotcakes also made me wonder if anyone reading those stories questioned the relationship between the main characters at all, or if they ate it up with a spoon and reached for the next one just like it. And if the latter were true, what did our fantasies say about our ability to choose healthy relationships for ourselves?
The second thing I ran across was less ambiguous as far as I’m concerned. I stumbled onto a conversation on Facebook that kind of shocked me. Again, don’t get me wrong, here. I think we’ve come a long way from the kinds of stories written in the 70s in which the only way a ‘good’ girl could have sex in a romance novel was if she was captured by pirates and raped–or got married. I frankly enjoy seeing pictures of attractive people in sexy situations. We’re a visual beast, after all, otherwise we wouldn’t have so many pictures of cats doing funny things on our timelines. I’ve posted sexy pictures, and have entered into conversations where my contribution is largely to wipe drool off my chin and ask if anyone else thought it was hot in here? I’ve fantasized about favorite characters in sexual situations that explore different dynamics of their relationship.
But in all of those scenarios, my two characters were in a consensual situation.
The conversation I ran across was about two adversarial characters in which one is at the mercy of the other. Again, I’ll be the first to admit I read Draco/Harry stories or any other such pairing that might make you scratch your head and wonder how anyone can picture the two characters together at all. A good writer can make me *believe* in an unlikely pairing–even between enemies. I’m also not above hurting my characters. I’m not against dark stories filled with angst, either. Granted, these days I like to know that there will eventually be a happy ending, but sometimes there is great solace in suffering along with your favorite character. I’m fond of the Hurt/Comfort trope myself, but you know what? Usually the hurting and the comforting take place by two different agencies.
So I was completely taken aback by the conversation about the bad guy hurting the good guy–the inherent hotness of this non-consensual attack on someone’s person and his powerlessness to stop it–as well as the statement that ‘you know you were thinking this, too’.
Um. No. I wasn’t thinking that. And I’m not sure why someone would find this titillating and sexually gratifying, either.
There’s a scene in the 2006 version of Casino Royale in which Bond has been captured by the baddies and is being tortured. Okay, talk about a series of movies that has a long history of objectifying women (and I’ll be the first to say I had some problems with scenes in Skyfall as a result). However, Casino Royale played with traditional Bond film treatment of women by making Bond himself the objectification in the film. Yes, most women I know remember well the scene in the beginning of the movie in which Daniel Craig rises out of the sea. I know I do! I noticed as well how mighty fine Chris Helmsworth was in that completely unnecessary half-naked scene in Thor: The Dark World.
In the torture scene in Casino Royale, Bond is stripped naked and tied to a chair in what appears to be the hot, damp hold of ship, the only illumination coming from a couple of lanterns. Bond’s chair has had the bottom cut out of it, and it isn’t long before we find out why. From the shadows The Big Baddie asks him questions, swinging a weighted piece of rope. When Bond doesn’t give him the desired answers, the Big Bad smashes him in the balls with this homemade kosh. Bond is scared. He is in agony. He screams with each strike. When he is asked for the password, he takes a moment before he can come up with the Bond quip that will invite another hit to his balls. It is a brutal scene. It is meant to be.
The Bond we see recovering from this attack is a changed man. He’s questioning why he is doing what he is doing and whether it is all worth it. He resigns his commission in order to live some semblance of a normal life with Vesper. He doesn’t get that chance.
Casino Royale is one of my favorite Bond movies. And this from a girl who typically demands that happily ever after! Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond made him a human being to me, something more than just the suave spy or the government’s assassin. For the first time, I got the appeal of the franchise.
But here’s the thing. Even though we have the interaction between Bond and The Big Baddie, and we can see the respect that LeChiffre has for Bond’s integrity and strength of will, at no point would I want to see the two ‘together’. At no point can I imagine the two of them getting together for more of the same. There is a huge difference in my mind between what took place in that torture scene and what happens between consenting adults. That’s entering into a situation with someone you trust out of your own choice, and I think that’s worlds away from the kind of gleeful suggestion that it would be hot and entertaining to see Loki brutalize a helpless Thor, or Sherlock at the sexually abusive hands of Moriarty.
I’m all for women being comfortable enough with their sexuality to discuss their hot-button kinks. I’m aware that some hot-button kinks are other people’s ‘hell, no, would never go there!’ But I wonder sometimes whether we are now celebrating that which we would despise if the characters in question were female. If maybe after all these years of forced silence, we now don’t know where to stop?
Or maybe this is just one more thing that I am hopelessly old-fashioned about and I should just duck my head and go back to working on that damned story…