First the confession. That I’ve gone a little gaga over a recent modest spike in Carrie’s Story‘s Kindle sales.
Have I been getting a little 50 Shades of Grey action for my own smart-girl-meets-moody-older-guy BDSM, w/a Molly Weatherfield, and going amazingly strong for a small-press book first published in 1995?
Maybe. But since checking out those numbers is a terrible timesuck, I’m herein also posting a resolution to cut the clicking.
And also to stop Googling “Carrie’s Story” “50 Shades” – even if the search did yield this exuberantly hilarious post that called 50 Shades the “choir-singing younger sibling to Carrie’s Story” and then went on to get a little raunchy.
The point being, as we all know, that it’s hard enough to do actual writing. Of novels. And that I’m one of romance and erotica’s slowest writers even without all that time-consuming clicking. Which makes me think that I ought to make a final resolution. To also stop gnashing my teeth about the stupid stuff I’m reading about women and kinky fiction.
Hell no. And herein beginneth the rant.
A feminist rant. Because it’s as a romance-writing feminist who’s spent a lot of quality time with my erotic fantasy life that I’m so mightily pissed off by the self-serving dumbness that’s being written about the vexed attractions of un-PC sex and sexuality. The tipping point in this case being Katie Roiphe’s Newsweek cover story a few weeks ago, which purported to let us in on a couple of big brave surprising secrets.
- That young successful working women might have erotic fantasy needs social equality can’t satisfy.
- That feminists are “perplexed,” and “outraged” by this situation.
- And that therefore feminism is some clueless, useless, irrelevant call back to some mythical “barricades.”
Pretty standard Roiphe, I discovered when I checked out some of her other work: like a girl Columbus, her thing evidently is to “discover” something that’s been there all along, and then to congratulate herself for her boldness while conveniently forgetting that anybody – least of all any of those irrelevant feminists – had ever had similar (if not braver, more honest, challenging, nuanced, and radical) thoughts on the subject.
In this piece it’s as though smart women – from feminist sex educator extraordinaire Susie Bright to romance superstars Jenny Crusie and Susan Elizabeth Phillips – haven’t been exploring this vast continent for decades. As though the brilliant staff of Good Vibrations – San Francisco’s pioneering feminist sex toy, sex education, sex everything store – haven’t changed the lives of countless women and men by helping them find their physical, bodily ways to the wilder (or for that matter the safer) shores of desire. As though there hasn’t been a generation of wide-ranging discussion and debate among and between feminists about the pleasures and dangers of our own desires.
As though the huge market in erotic romance hadn’t even existed before someone told Katie Roiphe about 50 Shades of Grey. Or that romance readers haven’t been making their own forays into non-PC fantasy at least since The Flame and the Flower hit the shelves in 1972 (first printing: 600,000).
The story of how women got our own erotic reading still has yet to be told in its entirety. But if I were to try I’d begin by positing two distinct yet subtly related sources, both pretty contemporaneous. The advent of the bodice-rippers and of the sex-positive feminist discussion I cut my writing teeth on. I’d note the amount of queer and leftwing influence on sex-positive feminism and pay close attention to fascinating instances of crossover in the case of the bodice-rippers, beginning with Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ indispensable essay about her own feminist experience of romance fiction, collected in Jayne Ann Krentz’s anthology Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women.
I, alas, am far too slow a writer and untrained a researcher to attempt this (not to speak of hoping someday to produce another novel by Pam Rosenthal or Molly Weatherfield). But while I dearly hope someone takes it on — romance scholar friends, perhaps? Susie Bright, please? — in the meanwhile I don’t want anybody thinking that the advent of 50 Shades and all sorts of other stuff had nothing to do with feminism. For better and worse, it has everything to do with it, and I’d love to see this discussion.
And if this all makes me sound like a hundred-year-old scold who thinks younger women have to worship at the shrine of our earlier struggles — well then, don’t think of this rant as coming from the Pam Rosenthal who once belonged to the same proud pioneering Second Wave Feminist organization that produced Our Bodies Ourselves, but from the Pam Rosenthal who gets stares of disbelief when readers find out that “YOU?! Wrote Carrie’s Story?” And who relishes the moment of confusion when they discover that I don’t have piercings or wear torn fishnet.
Take it from the Pam Rosenthal who, a couple of decades ago was more than a little “perplexed” (though never “appalled”) by my own wayward erotic imaginings, but who was lucky enough be living in San Francisco during the years when feminists, feminists, were talking sex and sense, sexuality and sensibility.
If you weren’t there – or even if you were – you might want to check out either or both of these books:
Sallie Tisdale’s Talk Dirty to Me, a gracefully written, personal take on the very scene that changed my life. Learning life skills like how to speak up when asking for what you want at the the porn video store or how to sell the right customer the right vibrator at Good Vibes, Tisdale learned how to find out what she needed to know about her own erotic self, during a more joyful era than this one.
Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader. Just published, this is a collection of meticulous, high-powered feminist essays by an anthropologist, theorist, and activist who changed the face of feminist academic studies and was one of the strongest influences on me when I was considering I might be able to write BDSM erotica.
Rant over. I feel so much better. Time to write some fiction.
But also do come say hi at the BDSM-apolooza at the Smutketeers blog next May 9 and 10, when Molly Weatherfield joins them for their BDSM-apalooza.