On the (Rest of the) Net.

Women-hosted podcasts are the next big thing. Glad I’m on the bandwagon then, as I just hosted my first podcast for Outback Championship Wrestling, interviewing TNA star and Amazing Race contestant, Robbie E. I’ll post it here when it’s available. [Bitch Magazine]

And I also recapped last weekend’s Outback Championship Wrestling show featuring Robbie E.

I wrote about Cristina Yang’s radical unlikeability and feminism. [Bitch Flicks]

Also, the unlikeability of Hannah Horvath and Girls. [Kill Your Darlings]

An interview with Caitlin Stasey about her website, Herself. [Jezebel]

My third roundup of links for feminaust is now live.

In defence of Blair Waldorf. [Bitch Flicks]

And Kim Kardashian. [The Hairpin]

Ross Gellar is a men’s rights activist. [The Frisky]

Katy Perry’s religiosity. [Buzzfeed]

What it means for men’s masculinity to not “hit below the belt”. [Sociological Images]

“She’s just so… Black!” The politics of Blackness. [Salon]

ICYMI: 50 Shades of Grey is 50 shades of boring, and am I a Bad Feminist?

If these links weren’t enough weekend reading for you, check out the 82nd Down Under Feminists Carnival. [A Life Unexamined]

Movies: 50 Shades of Boring.

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I caught 50 Shades of Grey over the weekend and I think I’ve finally realised what’s wrong with it: it’s boring.

Christian is a cold, blank slate who wants to manage Anastasia’s eating, exercise and birth control and this is certainly problematic, as is the unrealistic and vanilla (despite its alleged S&M edginess) sex, though the film seeks to rectify this somewhat. This is nothing new: the patriarchy has been controlling women since the beginning of time and Christian is just the latest in a long line of fictional men from Big to Ruby Sparks to The Colour Purple to 50 Shades’ inspiration, The Twilight Saga, to do so.

Just some of the ways E.L. James’ hero upholds the patriarchy:

He won’t let Ana touch him because men act, women receive.

He doesn’t want Ana to call him by his name because that would signify equality in their relationship.

While Christian expresses bafflement and what could be described as disgust for Ana’s virginal state, it is a proxy for her innocence and pliability: a more experienced woman perhaps wouldn’t initially be so taken with the money, damage and a personality equivalent to a box of hair that make up Christian Grey.

As mentioned above, he won’t let her exert control over her own body: many women prefer other methods to taking hormonal birth control.

And too bad if you feel like a day off from the gym to eat junk food and veg in front of the TV; not on Christian’s watch.

It’s sad that female consumers are so starved for women-catered romance and erotica that they’re willing to buy the books in droves and flock to the cinema at the slightest hint of something that’s apparently made for them. (Granted, the film is many shades better than its source material, but it can only stray so far.)

Many women also experience such control in their own lives, with parents, partners and doctors dictating which birth control they should or shouldn’t be on; money, time and mouths to feed affecting which foods they should prepare and eat; social pressures influencing how often they’re to exercise; cultural and social mores mandating how to express their emotions, desire and sexuality; and the men they’re supposed to love and trust exerting physical and verbal abuse onto them. That the hordes of viewers throwing their money at this franchise haven’t yet picked up on how thoroughly non-revolutionary it is is baffling.

Ana hits the nail on the head when she asks Christian why he wants to hurt and change her. Don’t be fooled by his pleas that “she’s changing him”: with the amount of male-on-female violence in relationships in reality, nothing about Christian, his red room of pain and him wanting Ana to submit to him is fantastical, revolutionary, sexy or exciting.

So, in addition to 50 Shades being badly written and grossly misrepresenting BDSM, it’s just plain boring: audiences want to escape when they consume pop culture, not be met with yet another iteration of everything they’ve seen, read and heard before about sex and relationships.

Related: 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James Review.

Image via Variety.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Ursula

The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula is the feminist fairy octomother you never knew you wanted. [Bitch Flicks]

I dissect why we insist on calling women “girls”. [TheVine]

Newlyweds, and later The Hills and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, was a pioneer of the “celebrity best friend” trope. [Grantland]

In the wake of my “Wrestling with Obsession” piece for Writers Bloc, they interviewed me for their newsletter. Sign up here.

How the capitalism of Fifty Shades of Grey reinforces the ties that bind women to abusive relationships. [Buzzfeed]

Clementine Ford thinks the word “slut” is too far gone to be worth reclaiming. [Daily Life]

“The Radical Queerness of Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber.” [The Atlantic]

So a character on Girls had an abortion and was super relaxed about it. [Jezebel]

Cripface Oscar bait reigned supreme at this years’ Academy Awards. [Disability Intersections]

And here‘s everything else that was wrong with the Oscars. [Bitch Flicks]

Lesbian representation in women’s magazines. [The Conversation]

Meet the Feminist Fucker: a guy who sees feminists as the ultimate conquest. [Spook Magazine]

ICYMI: When you realise all your passions are no longer cutting it.

Image via Disney.com.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

elisabeth moss mani cam

An interesting perspective on #askhermore and the capitalism of the red carpet. [MamaMia]

50 Shades of Grey‘s tampon scene could have been an opportunity to demystify period sex but instead it was cut from the film. At least it’s not going to be an exact recreation of the book’s version, which has major boundary issues. That goes for the whole book, really. [Daily Dot]

How should you feel about your abortion? [Gawker]

Both Jezebel and Cosmo are talking vaginismus and vulvodynia, or painful sex.

Why do famous women pose in swimsuits on the cover of magazines? [Daily Life]

Race in the political world of Scandal. [Bitch Flicks]

When gay men engage in sexism and misogyny. [The Advocate]

How homeless women deal with having their periods when they can’t afford sanitary products. [Vice]

Lindy West confronts the troll who apologised to her for impersonating her dead dad. [This American Life]

Image via Seattle PI.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

The feminising sexuality of 50 Shades of Grey. [ThinkProgress]

Pinkwashing: are breast cancer awareness campaigns and their associated pink products causing breast cancer? [Jezebel]

The feminist perils of Halloween costumes. [Thought Catalog]

Is there a new Steubenville? [Jezebel]

The underreporting of the gang rape of a student by a high-profile young man in China highlights the racial, class and sex issues surrounding another recent gang-rape in India. [Daily Life]

The penis as a weapon (NSWF). [Sociological Images]

Chris Brown’s rape perpetuates the myth that men are unrapeable. [Olivia Cole]

Book Review: Vagina—A New Biography by Naomi Wolf.

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The title of Naomi Wolf’s latest, Vagina: A New Biography, promised great things, to my mind. I envisioned the book taking aim at the stigma, use and abuse of the female sex organ throughout history, both physically and ideologically, and why we still think of it as ugly, dirty, alien and taboo.

Vagina certainly analyses this for the bulk of the middle part of the book, talking about the actual chastity belt (p. 143) and the “similarly constructed device” called a “scold’s bridle”, “made of iron and leather, locked around a talkative or argumentative woman’s head” to “gag her mouth” (p. 144). Here, we see that the vagina has been a metaphor for the female voice, insinuating that headstrong and opinionated women are also “loose” women. Wolf goes on to mention William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and the heroine “Lavinia’s mouth and vagina are both assaulted in repeated acts of silencing and control” (p. 144). When it comes to sexual assault, it seems not much has changed, then.

Wolf also touches on hysteria, which literally derives its meaning from the Greek word for uterus, hystera, but for the most part, Vagina is an excruciatingly heternormative and cisgendered look at what it means to be a woman. Wolf may claim that erotic literature such as 50 Shades of Grey portrays women as having “no existence separate from her vagina” (p. 178), but Vagina essentially makes the same statement: if you’re not having vaginal orgasms (presumably via the penetrative properties of a real, live penis!) and your “Goddess Array” (the things a woman needs to experience her best lovemaking: foreplay, respect, help around the house, understanding. On a side note, the nod to the “Inner Goddess” really is just like 50 Shades!) stimulated, you’re just not a real woman.

For example,

“… [I]t comes as no surprise, then, to discover that many women find that vibrators alone or masturbation alone do not do exactly what lovemaking does for them emotionally” (p. 74)

and

 “This ideology [women don’t need men] does nothing to help women of any sexuality understand why, often, the vibrator and a pint of Häagen-Dazs are pleasurable but that other longings for connections can remain strong” (p. 75).

Ladies without access to a peen, you’re out of luck: vibrators, ice cream and a rom-com won’t cut it. ’Cause isn’t that what all miserable single women resort to in between boyfriends?

Going back to loud mouth=loose vagina, it would seem the reverse is also true, as an uptight vagina also begets an outspoken woman:

“Straight men would do well to ask themselves: ‘Do I want to be married to a Goddess—or a bitch?’ Unfortunately, there is not, physiologically, much middle ground available for women. Either they are extremely well treated sexually, or, if solo, treat themselves well sexually—or else they are at risk of becoming physically uncomfortable and emotionally irritable” (p. 301).

We just can’t win.

Wolf also talks about the sympathetic and automatic nervous system and how stress contributes to unsatisfactory sex lives:

“Marital counsellors tell women and men to talk through their problems; fertility doctors send men into rooms to masturbate and then they inject the semen themselves into the vaginas of women who are suffering from irregular periods or with low fertility levels. Again, if you understand the profound nature of the animality of women, you see that these practices are incomplete. Marital counsellors should start by telling men to hug women; to stroke if the women are open to that; to take women, if they are willing, ballroom dancing. Fertility specialists should make sure, before anything else, that women are getting well and regularly cuddled and brought to orgasm by their men” (p. 314).

Coming from someone who insinuated that the women who accused Julian Assange of rape were “honey trapping” him, this sounds awfully like a “legitimate rape” apology…

Because we’re such paranoid creatures obsessed with talking our feelings out, “[t]his, I believe, is why so many marital fights take place just when both members of the couple have entered the house after a day’s work—her brain is agitated and desperate to talk things through, which is how it calms down and feels better, while his is desperate to have some downtime doing nothing, or in front of the TV, which is how his brain calms down and feels better” (p. 319). I don’t know about the rest of you ladies, but my brain tends to work the opposite of how Wolf says it should: after a particularly mentally grueling day, I need to veg out in front of the TV and speak to no one. Kind of like Carrie feels when Aiden moves in with her in that episode of Sex & the City.

But maybe us modern, Western women are just living with too many distractions in our lives that prevent us from connecting with our partners, our “Goddess Arrays” and whatever else Wolf thinks we’re lacking. Maybe we’d be better off in the Third World?

“In virtually every culture outside the West, many women spend some time, usually on a daily basis, only with other women (and children)… While women in these societies face immense hurdles and inequities, they often seem to be much less irritated with the men they live with than women tend to be in the West. (I am not addressing here physical abuse.) The burden is not on the husband to somehow, heroically, alone, fill that deep neural need for talk, which his brain chemistry makes difficult to impossible” (p. 320).

Speaking of the Third World, women often give birth at home there (through lack of access to medical practitioners, not necessarily by choice), and hardly anything goes wrong *cue sarcasm*!

“A low-stress environment of soft lighting, soothing music, caring attendants, and the loving presence of family, all actually helped the female body birth a baby, and then feed a newborn, successfully, in clinically measurable ways. Many studies also confirm that stressful hospital birthing environments, in which women in labour are hooked up to intravenous devices, or to fetal monitors that consistently shows false-positive ‘fetal distress’, causes so much ‘bad stress’ in the mother that the stress itself biologically—not just psychologically—arrests labour contractions and inhibits lactation” (p. 34).

Not all Wolf’s points are ignorant ones: she does talk about porn use and modern relationships, scientific studies about the Pill and how it affects the way women physically respond to their significant others and, as I said above, the parts where Wolf discusses the vagina throughout history are quite informative.

However, I kind of wish she had’ve continued the vagina’s “biography” throughout the rest of the book, instead of harping on about her own experience with her retarded pelvic nerve, the luxury operation she underwent to correct it, and that a vagina that’s getting a lot of penetrative action resulting in vaginal orgasms makes for a more creatively fulfilled owner.

Related: 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James Review.

Image via The Age.

12 Trends of 2012.

Girls (Who Run the World).

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So misogyny may be running wild in the real world, but on TV, girls are calling the shots. We’ve had a bevvy of shows with “girl/s” both in the title and the storylines this year, with 2 Broke Girls and New Girl carrying their success over from 2011. While a lot of the subject matter is problematic, both shows have women carrying the comedy. Which brings us to just plain Girls, which is the brainchild of actor, writer and director Lena Dunham. Girls is not without its problems, either, but its portrayal of young urban women is almost faultless. Rounding out the representation of leading ladies in 2012 we have Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, Homeland, Revenge, The Mindy Project, Are You There, Chelsea?, Smash, GCB (farewell!), Scandal, Nurse JackieVeep, Emily Owens, M.D., Whitney, The Good Wife and Hart of Dixie.

“Call Me Maybe”.

Until “Gangnam Style” came along, the YouTube Zeitgeist was dominated by one runaway success: Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”. Justin Bieber’s protégé came out of nowhere with the catchiest song of the year, which was subsequently covered by the guys from Harvard’s baseball team, Barack Obama and the Cookie Monster! Talk about diversity!

2012: Apocalypse Now.

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2012 was the year of the apocalypse, with the 21st of December long determined by the Mayans (or Mayan conspiracy theorists) as the day the world ends. You know, until the 7th of December tried to steal its thunder as the apparent recalculated date. Apart from the natural disasters, warfare and massacres, the 21st passed without a nuclear bombing, ice age or attitudinal shift, putting rest to the apocalypse panic. Until the next rapture, anyway…

Shit ___ Say.

It started with a sexist albeit funny YouTube video of a guy in a wig quoting “Shit Girls [Apparently] Say”, which snowballed into “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls”, “Shit New Yorkers Say”, “Shit Christians Say to Jews” and “Shit Nobody Says”. Cue offence.

Snow White.

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Snow White was everywhere this year: Mirror Mirror, Snow White & the Hunstman, Once Upon a Time… Note: overexposure isn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, I hated Mirror Mirror and Once Upon a Time, and Snow White & the Huntsman was such a snooze-fest I can barely remember what happened (not including Kristen Stewart’s affair with director Rupert Sanders).

50 Shades of Grey.

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On the one hand, E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey has singlehandedly revived the flailing publishing industry, so that’s a good thing. But on the other, it has falsely lulled its legions of (mostly female) fans into a state of apparent sexual empowerment: it’s a book about sex targeted towards women, so that means we’re empowered and we don’t need feminism anymore, right?

Oh, how wrong you Anastasia and Christian fans are…

“Gangnam Style”.

The Macarena of the 21st century, Psy’s horse dance took the world by storm, being performed in conjunction with Mel B on The X Factor, with Hugh Jackman in his Wolverine gloves, on Glee and at many a wedding, 21st birthday and Christmas party.

Misogyny.

Misogyny has long been the focus of feminists, but the word and its meaning really reached fever pitch this year.

After Julia Gillard’s scathing Question Time takedown of Tony Abbott and his sexist ways, people everywhere were quick to voice their opinion on her courage and/or hypocrisy. At one end of the spectrum, it could be said that Gillard finally had enough of the insidious sexist bullshit so many women in the workforce face on a daily basis and decided to say something about it, while at the other, many argued that the Labor party were crying sexism in a bid to smooth over the Peter Slipper slip up.

Julia Baird wrote last month in Sunday Life:

“Her electric speech on misogyny in parliament went beyond the sordid political context to firmly press a button on the chest of any woman who has been patronised, sidelined, dismissed or abused. It crackled across oceans, and, astonishingly, her standing went up in the polls, defying political wisdom that no woman would benefit from publicly slamming sexism.”

Whatever the motivation behind the speech, it went viral, with Twitter blowing up, The New Yorker writing that U.S. politicians could take a page out of Gillard’s book when it comes to their legislative hatred of all things female , laypeople bringing “misogyny” into their everyday lexicon, and Macquarie Dictionary using the momentum to broaden the word’s definition.

Kony.

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The viral doco that had millions of people rushing to plaster their neighbourhood in “Kony 2012” posters on 20th of April to little effect (the campaign’s goal was to catch Joseph Kony by years end) illustrated our obsession with social media, armchair activism and supporting the “cool” charities, not the thousands of worthy charities out there who could actually use donations to help their cause, not to produce YouTube videos and work the press circuit.

I’m Not a Feminist, But…

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While Tony Abbott is clamouring to call himself a feminist to gain electoral favour despite the abovementioned misogyny saga, it seems famous women can’t declare their anti-feminism fast enough.

First we had new mother and Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer jumping at the chance to shun feminism despite the fact that without it she wouldn’t be where she is today. My favourite anti-feminist campaigner Taylor Swift said she doesn’t think of herself as a feminist because she “was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.” Um, Tay? That’s what feminism is, love.

Then there’s Katy Perry, who won’t let the whipped cream-spurting bra fool you: “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” Right then.

Garnering less attention, but just as relevantly, was Carla Bruni-Sarkozy asserting that feminism is a thing only past generations need concern themselves with, while in an interview with MamaMia last week, Deborah Hutton also denounced her feminism.

Cronulla.

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The cronies from Sutherland Shire were all over our boxes, primarily on Channel Ten, this year. There was the widely panned Being Lara Bingle, the even worse Shire, and the quintessential Aussie drama set in the ’70s, Puberty Blues.

While these shows assisted in shedding a different light on the suburb now synonymous with race riots, it’s not necessarily a positive one, with The Shire being cancelled and Being Lara Bingle hanging in the balance.

White Girls in Native American Headdresses.

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This one really reared its racist head towards the end of the year, right around the festivities of Halloween and Thanksgiving.We had No Doubt “Looking Hot Racist” and Karlie Kloss donning a headdress for the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, in addition to the cultural appropriation of VS’s “Go East” lingerie line, Gala Darling’s headdress furore and Chris Brown dressed as a Middle Eastern terrorist for Halloween.

You’d think we were heading into 1953, not 2013.

Related: Posts Tagged “New Girl”.

2 Broke Girls Aren’t So Broke That They’d Turn to Sex Work.

Posts Tagged “Girls”.

Posts Tagged “Smash”.

Feminism, Barbeque & Good Christian Bitches.

Mirror Mirror Review.

Was Kristen Stewart’s Public Apology Really Necessary?

50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James Review.

Hating Kony is Cool.

Taylor Swift: The Perfect Victim.

Whipped Cream Feminism: The Underlying Message in Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” Video.

The Dire Shire.

Shaming Lara Bingle.

Is Gwen Stefani Racist?

The Puberty Blues Give Way to Feminism.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Why We Need to Keep Talking About the White Girls on Girls.

[io9] Why is Everybody Obsessed with Snow White Right Now?

[The Age] What Women Want.

[The New Yorker] Ladylike: Julia Gillard’s Misogyny Speech.

[Jezebel] Does it Matter if Marissa Mayer Doesn’t Think She’s a Feminist?

[Jezebel] Katy Perry, Billboard’s Woman of the Year, is “Not a Feminist”.

[MamaMia] Meet the Women at Our Dinner Table: Deborah Hutton.

[Daily Life] Carla Bruni’s Vogue Interview has Rough Landing.

[Racialicious] Nothing Says Native American Heritage Month Like White Girls in Headdresses.

[Racialicious] Victoria’s Secret Does it Again: When Racism Meets Fashion.

[Jezebel] Karlie Kloss as a Half-Naked “Indian” & Other Absurdities from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

[xoJane] Fear & Loathing in the Comments Section… And Some Clarity.

[HuffPo] Chris Brown Halloween Costume: Singer Tweets Picture of Himself Dressed Up as Terrorist for Rihanna’s Party.

Images via Collider, Fox News Latino, io9, November Grey, ABC, Now Public, Ten.

Book Review: 50 Shades of Grey by EL James.

The title of this post is something I never thought I’d write. Ever since the 50 Shades phenomenon hit the mainstream, however many subsequent BDSM and erotica-filled pop cultural months ago that was, I vowed to never let EL James’ literary abomination come between me and an actual good read. However, after hearing the anti-feminist and abusive relationship aspects of the trilogy in blog post after book review after writers festival talk, I finally succumbed to the pull of Christian Grey and swallowed my pride. (It must be noted that I am coming at 50 Shades from a critical and research perspective. It must also be noted that having finished with the first instalment, I will not be returning to the Red Room of Pain.)

Firstly, let me start by saying that I had very low expectations for 50 Shades, and while I won’t go as far to say it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be, I will say that the writing is not as bad as I thought it would be (using its inspiration, Twilight, as a benchmark). However, I still found the book deeply problematic.

There’s Christian’s obsession with making Anastasia eat, which is included in the contract she must sign upon entering into a sexual, submissive relationship with him. (Conveniently, at the end of the first book she has yet to sign it.) Also included is the wearing of clothes provided by Christian, the requirement of eight (begrudgingly downgraded to seven at Anastasia’s request) hours sleep a night, refraining from physical endangerment with regard for safety (New Moon!) and the way Anastasia must conduct herself in the company of Christian, and others.

It must be noted that I’m not opposed to submissive sexual relationships. They’re not for me personally, but I don’t find a problem with them in general. I’m under the impression that most of these relationships focus on dominance and submission in the bedroom, whilst out of it the participants go about their daily life in relative equality (correct me if I’m wrong). Certainly, there are a myriad of sexual relationships out there, and some of them do take the form of Christian and Anastasia’s. But they are not the subject matter of the highest selling book in the world; one that’s sold in supermarkets next to the celery, no less.

What I find most troubling about the worldwide embrace of James’ “clit lit” is that it’s completely archaic and conservative, for all the sex-positivity it claims (or champions of it claim) to spout. For example, it holds up the notion that bad boys can be tamed. Despite Christian’s repeated pleas early on in the book that “You should steer clear of me… I’m not the man for you… I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of guy… I don’t make love, I fuck,” the catch-cries of commitment phobes everywhere looking for quick, easy sex without attachment, Anastasia still thinks that if she just did more of this or less of that, he would love her:

… He needs to walk before he can run… You are making him mad—think about all that’s [sic] he’s said, all he’s conceded… I need to be able to show him affection—then perhaps he can reciprocate. [Original emphasis]”

Somewhere in the midst of the trilogy (apparently it’s not at the climax, as writer Susan Johnson revealed at the Melbourne Writers Festival a couple of weeks ago), Christian marries Anastasia (note how I—and many others who’ve written and spoken about the book—referred to the union not as “they get married” but as “he married her”, insinuating that marriage is something that happens to Anastasia, like pretty well everything else in the book. For someone who’s the central protagonist and first person narrator of this sordid love affair, she actually has no autonomy over her own story), demonstrating to millions of impressionable young (and no so young) women and any men out there reading it that you can change a bad boy!

But Christian’s not just your average bad boy. He’s a filthy rich, disarmingly handsome (James, living vicariously through Anastasia, never fails to mention this as if it’s his only redeeming quality—who am I kidding? It kinda is—and all red blooded humans of the XX chromosome persuasion fall weak at the knees in his glorious presence), “control freak with stalker tendencies”: yep, sounding more and more like Edward Cullen with every adjective. In essence, he is an abusive partner. As mentioned above, he tries to control Anastasia’s eating, sleeping, sex- and friend-having, and pretty well everything else in her life. After a fight, he barges, uninvited, into her apartment she shares with a friend, who tells him to get out and that he’s not welcome there. He persists and spends the night with Anastasia, something he has previously said he will “never do”. He finds out which flight she’s on to Atlanta, where she’s going to visit her mother and escape him, and changes her seat to first class. Later, he turns up at the hotel Anastasia and her mother are dining at. He expresses jealousy and anger when Anastasia hangs out with her male friend Jose who, incidentally, tried to sexually assault her. He buys her a new phone, laptop, car and clothes. He likes her plied with alcohol because she’s more open with her emotions in an inebriated state. She is not allowed to masturbate (not that she does that anyway. It’s icky in 50 Shades’ world), because he “want[s] all your pleasure”.  Anastasia cannot touch or look Christian in the eyes when they’re having sex. If she does, he will discipline her. That last one isn’t inherently damaging, but the fact that Anastasia herself refers to the physical debasement that occurs in Christian’s playroom/Red Room of Pain as a “beating” and him “hitting” her shows that she’s definitely not into it, and that’s what makes the sex problematic.

Anastasia is scared of Christian. She often tells him, “I’m sorry… Please don’t be angry/Please don’t hit me,” the hallmark of a battered spouse. At the end of book one, when he pushes her physical limits too far and she makes the decision to leave him, she tells him it’s her fault: “I asked for it.” “I’m a complete failure. I had hoped to drag my Fifty Shades into the light, but it’s proved a task beyond my meagre abilities,” she laments. From an abuser’s point of view, he’s got her right where he wants her. Anastasia lacks self-confidence to begin with, and often expresses disbelief that someone like him could want someone like her. She defends him to his detractors (namely the abovementioned roommate), shouting subconsciously, “I KNOW WHAT HE’S REALLY LIKE—YOU DONT!” After a fight, he makes puppy dog eyes at her or some such thing and she melts: “How can I resist him when he’s like this [emphasis mine]?” Her “innocence” and “naivety” which Christian loves so much blind her to the fact that this is a classic abusive relationship: as someone who grew up amongst one, I can vouch for it.

When it comes to Anastasia as the protagonist, her incessant whining about her “inner goddess” versus her “subconscious” is infuriating. While it makes for consistency in terms of character traits, it certainly doesn’t make her any more likeable. Her conservative personality (Anastasia’s literary heroines are all submissives—Tess Durbeyfield and Jane Austen’s female characters—not to mention her reaction to Christian having paid for sex in the past. So being shackled and whipped semi-unwillingly is fine, but prostitution isn’t? Perhaps it hints at Anastasia’s deep-seated  discomfort at having Christian buy her things as part of their contract), however, makes it less likely that she would so willingly enter into a contractual agreement to be Christian’s sex slave, essentially. Oh, but then there’s that “innocence” again…

And the sex. Don’t even get me started on the sex. Author John Flaus mentioned at the Bendigo Writers Festival last month that he thought the sex scenes were really “clinical” and written from an “outsider’s” perspective. Like a lot of sex scenes I’ve read and seen before, though never in real life, the virgin experiences orgasm her first time. She also comes quickly and without fail during each instance of vaginally penetrative sex, a highly unlikely occurrence, and when her clitoris is whipped with a riding crop. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t connote the most warm and fuzzy feelings down there. (Oh, and “down there” and “sex” instead of vagina, vulva and clitoris, the latter of which is only mentioned once or twice, are repetitive, conservative euphemisms that are littered throughout.) Further to the dominance Christian seeks to exert over Anastasia, he repeatedly demands her to “sit still” when he performs sex acts on her. I, for one, don’t know many men who prefer a woman to be unresponsive to his touch, but then this book isn’t exactly based on reality. Despite James being the (seemingly biological) mother of two children, it’s as though 50 Shades was written by someone who’s never had sex before.

One last thing I want to add before I attempt to erase the experience of 50 Shades of Grey from my memory is that I can kind of understand where James is coming from when she writes about the tumultuous, sometimes physically and emotionally painful relationship between Christian and Anastasia. I have fantasised about being emotionally hurt by a lover and having him come back and make it all better again. I have also felt the need to be overpowered by a man, in the seemingly simple, harmless way of pulling me to him in an embrace when I don’t want to be. In that sense I think she taps into a biological need (and I hate to buy into the notion that men and women are evolutionally different and that’s why one hunts and gathers while the other tends to the “heart and home”. Ugh.) to be physically (not necessarily sexually) loved. Like, as a child, when you fall down or mum yells at you and you just want her to hug you and make it all better again. I think it’s also important to note that just because a fantasy occurs in the mind, doesn’t mean it has, needs or wants to be acted out in reality: rape fantasy, for example. That is the one tiny, take-away titbit that warrants merit in 50 Shades, I think. The rest can be filed under the severely abusive, gender- and hetero-normative guidelines that so much of popular culture is today. 50 Shades of Grey as sexual liberation for women? My ass.      

Related: Bendigo Writers Festival.

Melbourne Writers Festival: Notes on Women in Culture.

Melbourne Writers Festival: Censorship, The Body & Porn.

Elsewhere: [Good Reads] Katrina Lumsden’s Review of 50 Shades of Grey.

Image via November Grey.

Event: Melbourne Writers Festival—Notes on Women in Culture.

The panel was chaired by the director of feminist publishing house, Spinifex Press, Susan Hawthorne, and the speakers were Tamil writer CS Lakshmi, and feminist fiction and non-fiction writers Emily Maguire and Sophie Cunningham.

I saw Cunningham speak at last year’s festival, and some of her comments on third and/or fourth wave feminism really rubbed me the wrong way. This year she spoke again about the discrepancies between the pay rates of men and women and where that money goes. While only $0.40 for every dollar earned of men’s income goes to the family, $0.90 of women’s money goes to the family. Therefore, “women need to work or our culture falls apart.”

Cunningham also spoke about her pet project, women in literature. As the chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council and of the Stella Prize, she knows her stuff. Apparently when the representation of women in literature hits 30%, people think it’s about half. (I believe she mentioned it’s at about that percentage currently, in terms of how many books by women are reviewed and how many books are reviewed by women in major publications.) This reminds me of the 33%–66% division of labour rule in male–female households: that women will do up to 66% of housework before they start to think they’re doing too much, while men will do 33% before they start to think they’re doing too much.

I think both of the following quotes came from a piece Lakshmi read to the audience. They’re poignant no matter who wrote them and where they appeared:

“Women pretend to conform whilst they’re breaking the rules.”

“Sit still otherwise you’ll rock the boat.”

That last quote reminds me of 50 Shades of Grey, in which Christian makes Anastasia “sit still” and not move when he’s performing sexual acts on her. I don’t know many men who prefer a woman to be physically non-responsive to their touch, but there are a lot of things about the book I don’t understand.

Speaking of 50 Shades (at this point in time, when it’s the highest selling book ever, who isn’t?!), in another panel I attended on Saturday about writing about sex (featuring Susan Johnson, Chris Flynn and another appearance by Maguire) it was brought up. Nothing of note was added to the discussion really (sex and gender roles are conservative, defined; the sex is clinical, etc.), but Johnson did, it’s worth noting, spoil the ending for me! Not that I was planning on reading the next two installments (one’s enough!), but there were a few audible groans from the audience when she revealed that *spoiler alert* Christian married Anastasia in the end.

Johnson has a piece on the trend of the trilogy in this weekend’s Q Weekend magazine, for which she is the senior features writer. She mentioned how she finds the book like a sexed up version of Beauty & the Beast, which made my heart yearn for a simpler time, when feminism and Stockholm syndrome and abusive relationships were not at the forefront of my mind when examining my favourite Disney movie. Sigh… I’ll never be able to enjoy it like I once did thinking about the Beast forcing Belle to eat and suspending her from the ceiling of his Red Room of Pain if she doesn’t do as she’s told!

But back to the panel at hand.

The notion of positive female representation in science fiction and fantasy came up, an issue about which I’m quite passionate, but which I’d like to know more about, too. Maguire says it’s easier to write a “strong female character” in sci-fi because you “don’t have to have the rules of this world” posed onto the character. I think it was Cunningham who then mentioned that that’s why a lot of sci-fi is set in post-apocalyptic worlds where the restraints of our current notions of society and culture are abolished so writers can explore different aspects of the characters that they might not have should they exist in this world.

Author John Banville was brought up, who has said he’s “never understood women… Don’t want to… I’m in love with all of them, always have been fascinated by them… They always do the unexpected—at least I don’t expect what they do. They say: ‘We’re ordinary, we’re just like you.’ I say: ‘You’re not. You’re magical creatures.’”

While that’s a lovely gesture on the surface, do we really want to be seen as otherworldly? At the end of the day, everyone’s just a person. And, at the end of the panel, Lakshmi told a story with the theme that gender has “no specific qualities”. So how can one be “ordinary” and one be “magical”? Reverse sexism on Banville’s part, perhaps?!

Related: Melbourne Writers Festival 2011: A Long, Long Way to Go—Why We Still Need Feminism.

Bendigo Writers Festival.

Sexism in Fantasy.

Image via TheVine.

Event: Melbourne Writers Festival — Censorship, The Body & Porn.

With a panel consisting of David Marr, Slutwalk Melbourne mastermind Karen Pickering and author of Money Shot, Jeff Sparrow, Saturday’s Censorship, The Body & Porn session was going to be full of surprises.

I think at this stage, when it comes to porn, we’ve heard (and probably seen) it all. Marr mentioned pedophilia, and that the banning of images like Bill Henson’s is nonsensical when pedophiles have access to all the “church ceilings” in the world!

Sparrow said that we place too much importance on children respecting authority—“Do what your uncle tells you. Do what the babysitter tells you.”—when in reality, authority figures known to the child are more likely to be the ones abusing them.

Marr also asserted that porn puts all of our “human horribleness” on display:

“If you want to know what human beings are like, don’t forget the distasteful categories of porn: that’s what human beings are… It is there to paint a portrait of humanity.”

I don’t necessarily agree with that, but speaking of displays of sexuality, Sparrow had a lot to say about that as he spent a good deal of time researching the sex industry for his latest book.

Interestingly, he mentioned going to Sexpo and Planetshakers, an Aussie youth church group associated with the Pentecostal Christian church, and how they both essentially offer up sex as a commodity, and who can offer the best price for it.

Of course, in this narrow-minded society, if you’re sexually unattractive your value goes down and you’re ridiculed on websites like Is Anyone Up, a revenge-porn Tumblr, essentially. If you deign to be sexually attractive (not necessarily active) in public then you “deserve everything that’s coming to you”, but if you’re sexually unattractive, the same rules apply. And you’d better enjoy it, too, ’cause we all know you won’t be getting it elsewhere.

50 Shades of Grey was certainly in the crossfire, too, with bondage and anything that even “pinks the skin” in the porn industry receiving an unclassified and essentially illegal status, whilst the “mommy porn” novel sweeping the world is literally sold in the supermarket, but deals with the same subject matter.

Sparrow said there are two sides to the success of something like 50 Shades of Grey and, I guess, the not-necessarily-positive “pornification” and sexualisation of modern culture. On the one hand, 50 Shades is “extremely transgressive” and would have been banned 30 years ago, however it also upholds “deeply conservative” views on sex, gender and society.

I’m about halfway through the book and I can certainly attest to that. More to come on this issue.