I think I’m going to stop calling myself a feminist.
I’ve changed my blog bio to ‘equalist’, which is a pedant’s way of saying I believe in something that could be called feminism, but which I think it (not always unfairly) associated with, and shouted about by, people who could often be referred to as narrow-minded – and I don’t want to be one of those people.
I want to read both sides of the argument. I’m aware that I will sometimes contradict myself. I’m aware that I will sometimes sit on the fence. But I want to keep learning.
There are parts of feminist ideology I cannot agree with. While I can’t agree with Quiet Riot Girl’s total rejection of rape culture, I know that in my 23 years I’ve never been sexually harrassed or made to feel uncomfortable by a man. Or a woman, for that matter. And so I can’t claim that I’m a feminist because ‘men do terrible things’.
And while I know that a lot of people will say that I’m ‘lucky’ to not have experienced victimisation on account of my physical makeup, and I think that’s shit and shouldn’t be the case, and that no person should be sexually harrassed… I also believe that to perpetuate a myth in which men are the harrassers and women the harrassees is short-sighted and not helpful as it paint all of us who fit as either victims or perpetrators. I’d like to think we’re more complex, and compassionate, than that.
And while I believe that a lot of culture leads us to expect less from women, I also believe that it pressures men into unattainable ideas of what a man ‘should’ be and ‘can’ do (i.e. sexual stallion who beds 60 women a month, and can’t compliment a friend on his/her choice of shoes).
I can also see that page 3 models and the thought that sex workers can’t be raped is a blatant objectification of women, I’ve never been able to see how that’s worse than the Cosmo naked centrefold. In fact, rather than outlaw these things, I’d prefer that we accepted them and also acknowledged that they are not gender-specific, and our prejudices about the people photographed should be challenged. Objectification and sexualisation are not gender-specific, but they should be tackled.
I don’t like that a male anorexic is paraded as an oddity, and female professors and politicians are judged on their dress sense. I would rather we judged people on their choices and values (and yes, those are influenced by society) than what genitals they have or would like to have.
In fact, there are a lot of things I like and a lot of things I don’t. But I don’t think I favour any one of them consciously because they are ‘male’ or ‘female’ things. And I think that’s what radical feminism and misogyny and pink and blue children’s rooms and automatically putting glitter on girl’s shoes and not making skirts that fit boys does – whether it means to or not. My view is that a modern person should be able to do what the fuck they like, equally. And that’s what I would argue for.
But I’m going to keep reading. I want to be challenged and I want to keep learning, and I don’t know all the answers so I welcome the challenge!
Recently I’ve been travelling on the London Underground more than usual (read: twice in the past week), and while standing in a baking hot metal tube full of people reading paperbacks (and on one occasion a guy with a guitar singing John Martyn’s May You Never – *squee*), I’ve been reading the advertisements above my head.
In every carriage I travelled in, there was a poster advertising new SKYN condoms. They’re not made of latex, apparently, and it’s good news for people who don’t like the feel of latex – good news for everyone, then, I guess.
And it’s great to see condoms being advertised alongside dating websites and vitamin pills and The Independent and all the other stuff that’s commonplace and you can’t help but look at on the tube – really great. But I’ve still taken a small (but I think significant) issue with SKYN’s advertising campaign.
Here are a selection of SKYN adverts:
Do you notice a theme? Nice lady, in underwear, lying on a bed/other soft furnishing, smirking gently into the camera and captioned with one tagline or another extolling the virtues of wearing SKYN condoms vs. not wearing condoms vs. wearing other, insensitive latex brands.
On the surface, this is looking good. Women hate condoms, but they’re necessary. Men hate condoms, but they’re necessary. SKYN will fix this. Excellent. My problem is: why isn’t there a nice-looking dude lying in his boxers on soft furnishings telling me how much he enjoys wearing SKYN condoms?
You can’t tell me that doesn’t play into the stereotype that men hate condoms but have to do so for the benefit of women. Women are always: wear this, don’t wear that, whereas for men it’s a case of ‘well I suppose this’ll keep her quiet’. Wouldn’t a man preaching the brilliance of this new condom material and how brilliant it feels be much more effective a) in advertising to men, and b) in combatting the idea that men ought to practice safe sex just because women ask them to? If advertising is meant to appeal to us on a personal level, why can’t a man want to follow in the footsteps of the nice guy he sees in adverts?
This is a minor gripe, that potentially opens a can of worms.
By only using women to advertise their products, SKYN are committing two offences, to my mind. One: placing the responsibility for condom purchase solely in the hands of women. Two: perpetuating the stereotype that condoms exist for the benefit of women.
To address offence One: what I do like about the adverts is that the women are not asking, or nagging, they’re expressing their preference for ‘closer’ sex and therefore the use of SKYNs. They are flirtatious, and the message is clear and friendly: women like sex with SKYNs as much as you, token man, will. But it isn’t just their opinion that changes the behaviour of those who buy condoms: men and women buy condoms (at least, I bloody hope so), and so men and women should be included in the adverts. Sure, the woman in the advert is supposed to be talking directly to the man on the tube, and convincing him that SKYNs will be the answer to his (and her dilemma), but by not acknowledging the male opinion, SKYNs are ignoring the responsibility of both genders to use condoms.
Every time I view the stats on this blog, I am surprised. Surprised that so many people seem to give a toss about CG-guinea pigs and whether they’re feminist.
These are the Top Ten Most Visited Posts on postgradpanopticon, and the number of times they’ve been visited:
I googled that guinea pig thing. Or at least, the search terms that led people to it. It’s on page 7 of Google. Why do 564 people care enough about the names of the guinea pigs in G-Force to go to page 7 of Google and find my odd, Christmas-spirit-inspired (and I’m not talking incorporeal happiness here, I’m talking liquor) post on Disney’s feminist guinea-pigs?
When it overtook Twilight, I knew there was a problem.
Ought I to be tailoring my posts to this silent majority? I could write only about Twilight, body image and guinea pigs from now on. What do you say?
Saying “no” is a really important skill in life. Hearing “no” is just as important, if not more so. There are a number of situations in which it’s appropriate to hear and accept a refusal to your proposal, and a multitude of ways in which a rejection of this perfectly valid response are unfair and totally incorrect.
If your boss gives you work you can’t manage, you need to be able to politely decline, and they need to be able to understand that. If your housemate insists you do all the washing up, you need to be able to say no, and they need to be able to hear that and compromise. If your husband or wife asks for sex, you should be able to say no, and they need to hear, understand and respect your wishes.
In light of the recent ridiculous remarks on rape and rape culture in the media lately, from Julian Assange to George Galloway’s “no need to ask permission before every insertion” (excuse me while I throw up in my mouth), to tools on Twitter who just don’t know better but really, really should, I just want to express my astonishment that this is still a question.
Does no mean no? Why, yes, it does. Sometimes “no” has the context of ‘well, I’d really like to, but we shouldn’t', but going ahead regardless is refusing to acknowledge “no”, and therefore being at best an idiot and at worst a criminal. Sometimes “no” has the context of ‘no, not on your life, get away’, and if you go ahead knowing this then you are an idiot and/or a criminal.
It surprises me that people seem to justify imposing themself on another by claiming that it’s in some way unromantic to actually ask/check that the other party’s ok with what’s going on. Because, sure, what’s more romantic than being violated, forced into something against your will, andhaving your right to free will ignored because you might give the answer they didn’t want to hear?
I can’t think of another explanation, so this must boil down to a fear of rejection. We’re all scared of rejection. We’re all scared of getting the wrong end of the stick, misunderstanding, or making a fool out of ourselves. Have we really reached the stage where we’d rather be criminals than just plain wrong?
And when I say wrong, I don’t mean going ahead with sex and saying ‘oops’. I mean misreading the situation: thinking someone was interested when they weren’t, being too worried to bother reading the visual/aural cues that a person makes when they’re uncomfortable, being unwilling to stop a second and say ‘is this ok?’
I’ve mentioned before on this blog, that the ‘fear’ around sexual harrassment (by which I mean the fear that you might be seen as a harrasser), has something to do with the (un)willingness to take no as an answer. For some reason, we seem to feel that we ought to be perfect when it comes to relationships, but it’s ok to be wrong about these things! You can make a move, it can be rejected, and then you can get on with your life! If I accept that the person I want to have sex with might not want to have sex with me, then I’m ready to hear ‘no’; I’ll be embarrassed but I’ll get over it – and so will they. Isn’t momentary embarrassment better than going ahead without asking and doing what you want at the expense of someone else – condemning them, and possibly yourself, to a lifelong remembrance of something terrible.
Similarly, it’s perfectly acceptable for someone you’ve had sex with before to not want to do it again – maybe not now, maybe not ever. Assuming eternal consent is stupid. If you were asked if you liked cheese on toast for dinner once, and received it every day for the next month without anyone asking your opinion, wouldn’t you be annoyed? And I’m using this sort of example because I think that the people who need this explaining to them will probably understand better if I use shorter words.
“No” always means “no” at the time it is said. “No” can be retracted at a later date to “yes”, just as “yes” can at a later date be changed to “no”. Be prepared to hear no, and be prepared to cope with rejection. That way, although you might be a bit embarrassed, you’ll be showing empathy and not end up a criminal.
Of course, I’m assuming here that people trying to justify ‘not quite a rape’ rapes, aren’t selfish, heartless bastards who are going to go ahead with whatever they want because their opinion is the only one that counts and their needs are the only ones that need to be met. I could be wrong. But let’s hope I’m not.
I’m just genuinely amazed that this is even debated. People – men and women – change their minds! Men and women change their minds! Refusing to acknowledge this is plain ridiculous, and if you really can’t understand this very simple concept you should probably steer away from sexual contact with other people and educate yourself.
I’m going to tell you something weird now. As if my Phonebox collection wasn’t weird enough.
I’ve always wondered why we don’t make friend in odd places. More precisely, odd, places where we spend very little time, but can feel like an age. In queues for the shops, a music festival, a bus. At traffic lights. In traffic jams. In bookshops.
Whenever I’m in traffic lights, as mentioned, I like to be the one with loud music and the windows down. I lay no claim to a decent taste in music, but just once I’d like someone to wind down their window and go ‘Hey, you’re listening to Genesis! I love The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway!” Then, we could both drive off, one of us turning right at the lights, the other straight on with a sense that we’re not alone in the world, even though we’d never see each other again. Is that too much to ask?
Once, on a drive down to my boyfriend’s parents’ house in Folkestone, I got stuck on the M25. This is not surprising. The guys sitting in the lane beside me started waving. To my embarrassment, at first I turned away, and used the first opportunity to shuffle my car forwards slightly. I scolded myself, as I knew this was a perfect chance to make a weird friend in a weird place. But I did feel a little safer six inches ahead of them.
Turns out we were all stuck there for about 40 minutes. In that time, the traffic before them inched forward a little, and suddenly they were beside me again. They waved. I laughed at them, and at myself, and waved back. For the next 39 and a half minutes we nudged past one another, alternately waving and laughing and pointing at other drivers around us. They were three quite tall, confident-looking guys all crammed into a small red car – something like a Micra. Something you’d be surprised they all fit into. I had no idea where they were going, they probably couldn’t care less where I was going. But it was amusing enough for us to make a short-lived connection while we sat in the baking sun, waiting for every other bugger to get out of the way.
When we finally sped up enough that one of us could pull away, they were in the inside lane and so overtook me easily. Then, the traffic stopped again. One of the guys stuck his head and torso out of the sunroof to wave and blow kisses. I had enough time to crack up laughing and mouth “Get back in your bloody car!” before the traffic picked up again, and they were off for good.
It’s little moments like that that make the tedium of traffic jams and the dreaded M25 manageable. I’ve never understood why we all ignore one another in our cars, when we all know we’re there. So thank you, idiot men, for ticking off a box on my bucket list.
To weird friends in unfamiliar places.
How does it feel to hold someone’s heart in your hands? How do you tell a young patient that he’s dying? What do you do when, on a quiet ward in the middle of the night, a patient you’ve grown close to invites you into his bed? This vivid portrayal of the day-to-day life of young female surgeon, and the medical and moral dilemmas she faces, is based on the memoir by Gabriel Weston. One of few women in an alpha male world, she finds herself continually questioning where a doctor should draw the line between being detached and being human. And it’s the conflict between these opposing forces – the personal and professional – that lies at the heart of this powerful play, which has been adapted for radio by Tina Pepler.
A BBC/Cymru Wales production, directed by Kate McAll.
I listened to this play on Monday, fully expecting to be alternately shocked, appalled, saddened and intrigued by the life of a young surgeon from first day as a Junior House Officer to the more experienced surgeon Dr. Weston. I was warned before listening that I might find the vivid descriptions disturbing, the subject matter upsetting, and I was slightly on edge by the time I pressed play.
What I got, for 58 minutes, was the overused trope of tired, philosophical doctor, talking to me in a droning monologue of the apparently life-affirming experiences she has had while at no time raising the tone of her voice to anything that might suggest she has or had any feelings about anything. Yes, some of the experiences were painfully sad, some horribly out of control, others poignant and surreal – but they were dictated to the audience as though they were being read off the page, not acted at all. I wanted to feels something from the protagonist, other than that a life in medicine had worn her down to the point of disillusion, but I was left feeling that the emotion was too little: I was as distant as one of her patients, and never quite satisfied.
Direct Red jumps from timeframe to timeframe with very little change in tone or setting, and also without any discernible explanation. As a train of consciousness, the narrative works well, and as this is a story in which “nothing happens”, it doesn’t really matter that the telling isn’t linear. I got the feeling that these short bursts of memory were just a selection of what Dr. Weston could have told us about her life in medicine, but was struck again by the lack of compassion or personal detail. It is mentioned frequently that being a doctor plays havoc with your sex and social lives, yet we are not given any details of her current situation – other than an almost illegal dalliance with a patient that I found myself clinging to in the hope that it would wake Dr. Weston from her spell of colourless monotony.
I was disappointed. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that for a narrative that promised so much, it delivered very little. What it did deliver was nothing that I felt any creative writing student could have produced – there was no indication that a doctor’s insight was in any way meaningful to the story: the situations were typical, the descriptions obvious and the overall tone well-expected. Although the blurb claims that the “conflict between personal and professional” is at the heart of the play, I felt from the very beginning that professional had won the battle off-stage before Dr. Weston and I had even been introduced. There was a lack of development, or reminiscence, in the protagonist’s escalation from medical student to doctor, and I would have been interested to know how such a distant and cautious professional woman appeared from, presumably, a vibrant and motivated young student.
A year ago Caspar was locked up and declared criminally insane. Finally he breaks his silence to reveal a deadly tale of love and politics. But is he telling the truth? A psychological thriller by Adrian Penketh.
Directed by Toby Swift
***** Adrian Penketh has written a number of plays for Radio 4, including THE WATERBUCKS, which was shortlisted for the Imison Award, and an adaptation of Balzac’s THE WILD ASSES SKIN which was runner-up for the Prix Italia in 2011.
Caspar: Paul Rhys
Helene: Fenella Woolgar
Felix: David Schofield
Baptiste: Christopher Fairbank
Elodie Testoud: Matilda Ziegler
TV Director: Sam Alexander
This is, rarely, a play that may take more than one listen to fully appreciate. As simple as the summary above sounds, this play is layered and complex in its narrative style, yet gives very little away. This works well in some respects: although Casper is for the most part our narrator, his telling is often so unrealistic that we question the reality of his other statements and claims of innocence. Yet the fact that the play repeats its beginning once the story has been told leads me to believe that the directors knew that what they had done was unclear and felt that it was necessary to remind the audience what they had heard so that they could finally join up the dots.
Other plays, such as the three-part drama (not reviewed here) earlier in the year Pandemic, managed to achieve this non-linear, layered narrative over the course of three days and three separate hours, each with different characters in different timeframes. So my primary criticism of A Special Kind of Dark is that it could not keep clear the story it was telling.
To unpick it is relatively simple: Felix, a candidate for First Minister, and his quiet poet wife Helene live in an apartment block near Caspar. He strikes up an affair with Helene after she comes to him to escape from her husband’s beatings. In between alarmingly cheerful dinner dates during which Caspar feels panicky and often quite ill, he is bombarded with odd and seemingly random questions from Inspector Baptiste. After deciding that he and Helene should run away together, he is invited round to dinner once more only to find that she will not acknowledge him as a lover. Feeling very faint and sick, he is taken home by Helene at Felix’s behest, only to wake the next morning to find Inspector Baptiste standing over him and the bloody remains of Helene in his bed. Off-stage, he is arrested, charged and – according to the blurb – declared criminally instance. Elodie Testoud becomes his psychologist, interviewing him in the intervening year about his actions, yet when he finally tells the story from his point of view – that it must have been Felix who murdered his wife and framed Caspar – she is visited by Baptiste to be questioned, and also informed that Caspar has committed suicide. Testoud takes as many of the recordings of her interviews with Caspar away with her, but is killed on a level crossing before she can take the matter any further.
The story is told, however, by beginning with Testoud. She is determined that Baptiste will not get his hands on the recordings, as she does not trust him, so she takes them with her. We join her in her car trapped on a level crossing between two vehicles which refuse to move. She is killed by the train. The narrative them jumps to Felix’s address as First Minister, promising to make level crossings safer for all. Then, back to Testoud, this time talking to Baptiste about Caspar’s death, and finally we hear Caspar’s voice as he relates the story of Helene’s murder to Testoud. It is after an atmospheric rendition of the story that we are returned to the ‘present’: hearing Felix’s address again, this time with a new subtext as we hear him/his voice telling Caspar that he ought to take his life and join Helene. Finally, Testoud’s death is replayed.
My feeling is that if we need to hear Felix’s address twice, then something is missing early on. Testoud tells us that she “would have to hear the story a number of times before drawing any conclusions”, indicating that the audience too must listen carefully, if not again, to the piece. On a second listen the plot is clearer, but exposition is slow, although the seeds of Felix and Casper’s connection are planted early on, it is often unclear who is being referred to and when the conversations are taking place. Tales within tales need to be carefully paced and perhaps this drama needed more thought to ensure that the scene is properly set. The dramatic beginning, as loud and brash as it is, perhaps spoils the pace in this way.
The question this drama asks is simple: was Felix so desperate to become First Minister that he murdered his wife and framed an unstable man so as to improve public perception of him, thereby necessitating the murder of Testoud – making it look like an accident, of course – with Baptiste by his side as a corrupt police officer? Or did Caspar invent the affair with Helene, the abusive marriage, and the voice of Felix in his head telling him to drown himself, and in fact murder Helene after luring her back to his apartment? Is Caspar insane, or manipulated?
Casper is an unreliable narrator, and it is through his narrative that most questions are asked. We are told that he is a fan of film noir, and then he begins his tale of meeting Helene with the line: “Being along made me happy. It was like a free seat on a plane. Then someone sat in it.” When it just so happens that Helene becomes a noir-like damsel in distress, Casper feels that he is able to play the role of hero, albeit unsuccessfully. Is this too good to be true? The dialogue is cinematic, confessional: “I wake up in the morning and I savour that first minute in which I’ve forgotten how much I’m going to hate every minute after that”, if it seems unrealistic perhaps that’s because it is supposed to be. The more Helene and Casper speak, the more the audience wonders whether they are an invention of Casper’s imagination. Phrases echo throughout: ISFJ, “the quality of mercy is not strained”, “You win” “I always do”, as does the quiet jazz in the background when Helene speaks.
Baptiste’s questions, too, are so bizarre that they could be imagined, but could also be misconstrued security vetting. The strange dinners with Felix and Helene are more confusing. Is Casper being poisoned, or is he merely nervous? Does Helene remember the meetings Casper remembers? Is Helene in on the plan? Is he merely being tested and manipulated into being Felix’s scapegoat? Felix’s lecture on the haiku is strangely reminiscent of Bateman’s essays on Genesis in American Psycho. But we don’t know if this is merely Casper’s perception, or whether we can trust him. By the end we are unsure whether Felix is with Casper in his cell – and whether he has the means to – or whether we are hearing the voice inside Casper’s head.
Noise is used well in the drama, the clamouring confusion in Casper’s head brilliantly shown in the final dinner scene, where music, dancing, Felix’s shouting, the sound of the pipes causing a cacophony that almost hurts. Felix’s voice lilts, throughout, seeming to dip in one ear and out the other – this causes a dizziness that surely intends to mimic Casper’s confusion. “He was not well”, we are told. “I need you,” Felix tells Casper, but we don’t know at this point what we are hearing.
I’ve written too much on this play, so I think what I mean is that it’s worth a listen. Surreal, loud and fascinating, I’d love to know what everyone else thinks!
The drama is set in 2018. Assisted suicide has been legalised in the UK.
Ben Fearnside is an abstract expressionist painter. He has had some success with London galleries but his work has now fallen out of fashion. Without an audience his life-work is unwitnessed and ‘uncreated’. He decides to make one final piece of art: he will capture a dying breath in a jar and exhibit it.
Ben invites freelance radio producer Anita Sullivan to profile him and document the process of capturing The Last Breath. But as the date for breath capture approaches, the identity of the donor remains a mystery.
‘The Last Breath’ is a high-concept piece of drama about a high-concept piece of art. It plays with narrative form by blending documentary and drama, using real people and real names with a fictional story. The play asks some big questions: what is art, what should be sacrificed in the name of art… and what is the price of a soul?
The Last Breath was created by Ben Fearnside with Anita Sullivan
Nicky is played by Nicola Walker The interviewees are; Derek and Mo Fearnside, Ben Fletcher, Professor Emma Jones, Anthony Chopper White, Linda Keenan and Dr Mark Gretason. The Static State artists are; Kenny Watson, Alex Allan, Joseph Watts and Robert Perry.
Music was written and performed by Nick Tettersell.
Producer: Karen Rose A Sweet Talk production for BBC Radio 4.
In the tradition of Wyndham, this is a science fiction that does not dwell on the ‘science’, but rather the human impact of the technology which is so carefully obscured. Fearnside’s breath-capturing device is never really explained, in spite of Anita’s interview with a medical physicist, although familiar references to jars and vacuum seals are mentioned in spite of the fact that hopefully the technology would be slightly more sophisticated than a jam jar!
By melding the genres of performance art, documentary and drama, this play manages to ask the obvious questions without ever coming out and saying ‘why?’, or resorting to argument, but rather in the measured tones of Anita’s interviews – which would almost be dull if it were not for the constant wonder of when It will happen and What Anita will do when she realises.
As a criticism, I would say therefore that Ben’s decision to become the last breath donor is obvious – perhaps obvious to anyone who’s heard about performance art or indeed read a piece of fiction. It is then to the credit of the writers that Anita does not break down at the news, or shout at Ben, but instead talk to him in her characteristically stilted manner, as though this conversation were just another interview. Her passive interviews allow us again to ask the questions, and come to our own conclusions about whether or not Ben is courageous or idiotic to go through with his artwork.
Similarly – again – to Wyndham, the technique of having the main action off-stage and instead reported is Anita’s friend Nicky’s voicemails is well-employed. This is something I’ve always enjoyed about Wyndham: action occurs but we do not ever see the meat of it, instead we are given newspaper reports or over-dinner conversations – and Last Breath does this remarkably well. This leaves the listener to ask herself questions and imaging scenes rather than relying on Anita to ask or act them out for her, and red herrings such as Nicky’s phonecalls are constantly included to cloud the issue – as it would be in life. Also, the final scene with Ben at the seaside is sparse and artfully done – there is another red herring in the form of Anita’s obvious affection for the artist and we might find ourselves wondering if they are indeed falling for each other and how another story would have handled this development. Rather than go down the Disney route of ‘love conquering all’ however, perhaps it is more moving that Anita rather lets (assists?) Ben in going through with his suicide rather than fighting him. Or so we assume from Nicky’s message.
Overall, I would say this is a cleverly, if demurely, produced play that benefits from its reluctance to be direct. I can see that this would not be for everyone as it does rather skirt around the issues of either art or suicide, but instead it produces a compelling and neutral exploration of death as art.
On the recommendation of the lovely Thursa, and against the recommendation of my friend* at Bibliofreak.net, I decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey in between my own exciting sexual exploits.
I’m surprised, but I kind of like this book. I think it’s in need of an edit, and a thesaurus, and less of a Mary Sue attitude in the first four or five chapters, and if I read the sentence ‘My breath hitches’ again I might hurt someone, but I think I like it. Anastasia Steele was, and is still from time to time, incredibly annoying; and Christian Grey is not fully formed as a character (unless that’s intentional on James’ part to retain his mystery and hopefully make me fall in love with him too), is moody, embarrassing and often says things that make me want to be sick, but – and this is where I think my surprise comes from – it’s better than Twilight.
I think this is a valid reference point, as Fifty Shades started life as a Twilight fanfic. Names changed, sparkly-fangs removed, and the plot beefed up a little, and this is a much better read in comparison. It’s short-sighted of me, I know, to expect that a writer of Twilight fanfic would know how to use a keyboard, but James’ plot is not all bad. It has the potential to be. But I was surprised to find that Steele did question what Grey asked of her (most of the time – but we all have our moments), she did have doubts and she did defy him. There was thought that went into her decisions, and while sometimes the thought was ‘take me now, I’ll worry about the consequences later’, somehow that’s more true to life than Bella Swan’s blatant disregard for the cardboard cut-out characters around her and her single-minded wrecklessness. Steele is more human in this way, and more real. She has ambitions, she has opinions on relationships that she is not willing to give up without question, and even though I knew the decision she was going to make to become Grey’s sub, I appreciated the effort put into getting her there rather than a simple “Reader, I’m doing it”.
My one big complaint (which may yet get addressed by the end – I’m not finished yet) is that I’m not sure something has to be wrong with Grey for him to want to Dominate. It is frequently suggested that his preferences must stem from some kind of sexual abuse. When he claimed “never” to have had vanilla sex before, I scoffed, until Jacobs second-guessed me and came up with a plot point which is yet to be resolved: as a 15 year old, Grey was seduced by and then sub to his adopted mother’s friend. Interesting. And formative. And I can understand that to Steele, being physically punished for bad behaviour by someone you’re falling in love with isn’t great – but it seems to me that the insistence that she is going to be the one to heal his wounds which will in turn make him forget his preference for Domination and make love to her is patently ridiculous. It suggests that everyone in the real world taking part in an s/D relationship is in some way damaged, which feels rather judgemental and probably incorrect.
But I’m aware that I can’t finish this thought yet, as I haven’t finished the book. Perhaps I’m just very liberal in my outlook, but I don’t find the sex that bad. I find the following about and demands on lifestyle weird, but that’s another issue – one that might stem from his lack of control as a child. To turn that into a ‘your sexual preferences are weird, there must be something wrong with you’ judgement doesn’t cut it with me.
One thing I kept reading about Fifty Shades before I started was that it was “liberating” and “mommy porn”. I have come to a conclusion on this, based solely on my tendency to read into and overthink anything and everything.
Fifty Shades can be liberating in one or two ways.
One, there’s a lot of sex in it.
Two, Steele and Grey have a written contract. The whole sub/Dom arrangement in the novel (not in life!) is quite a clever conceit for Talking To The Person You’re Having Sex With. And that’s probably liberating for people who have spent a long time pretending to like something they didn’t because they felt it was expected of them. Or not suggesting something they wanted to do because they were scared it would be shouted down. Or shouting people down for something ‘weird’ before you’ve thought through what you really think of it. All relationships are negotiations, Steele and Grey’s just has a written contract to refer to. We are at all times making these judgements and compromises, but without the documentation to back us up.
Perhaps, then, it would be beneficial for some of us to have contracts! ‘I like…’, ‘I don’t like…’, ‘… I’m open to persuasion’. This might be easier! We are always being told, in self-help and Ask… columns, that we need to communicate our preferences and opinions more. Rather than talking to the readers of Cosmo about our sex lives, why not discuss them with the people we’re having sex with – a novel idea! And Steele and Grey do just that: they write a contract, they ask opinions – very frankly and directly – and they deal with the consequences.
This is liberating because Steele and Grey are more upfront and honest than I guess a lot of us, but the fact that their negotiation is so obvious makes it easier. Really, there’s nothing in it the rest of us don’t, or shouldn’t, do. Perhaps then, this is liberating as it’s telling people that it’s ok to ask for what you want, and it’s ok not to get it: life is a compromise and finding something that works for all parties involved is essential. Trying something and deciding not to try it again is how this works! So I actually quite like the thought that housewives across America, or wherever, are finally telling their husbands what they want and talking about things that they’ve missed out on.
ETA: Since typing all this up yesterday, I have finished the book. In the light of the great big cliffhanger I’m now left with, I feel I might need to reconsider this viewpoint.
Either, the cliffhanger was tacked on to make me buy the rest of the trilogy. If the rest of the trilogy turns out to be healing via “normal” sex, I’m not sure I’ll like it.
Or, Steele did go along with something she felt she ought to because it would let Grey do something he didn’t want her to do (i.e. touch him) and the whole thing broke down because the compromise shattered. In which case, I was right. Ha.
More thoughts when I have them. Please challenge me!
*Disclaimer: Matthew at Bibliofreak.net is of course also lovely, and beautiful. And has opinions on books.
After being violently raped by someone she thought was a friend, Maddy is urged by the police to go public and prosecute her attacker, with very mixed results.
LISTEN HERE, until Sunday 20th May.
I listened to this sometime predictable, often harrowing, account over the course of last week – despite the fact that I was often in serious danger of crying at my desk. From the recognisable and lighthearted beginning that quickly turns sinister and shocking, through the breakdown of friendships, relationships and family ties, to the final 15 minutes in the courtroom and the verdict (Not Guilty), I was hooked and compelled to continue listening.
Part of the reason I felt as though I couldn’t stop listening was the detail included in this play, and its desire to “kill the darlings” throughout. The rape takes place within the first five minutes of the first episode, in somewhat horrific detail, and in the fourth instalment Maddy describes to her boyfriend in a monotone that tells of her boredom of recounting the sordid tale exactly what happened to her. We are not given metaphors or cut-scenes, everything is told on-stage and directly to us, whether or not we feel ready to hear it. The detail and avoidance of shying away from the detail is sickening, but I appreciated the honesty with which this was told. There are a number of lines and scenes that brought home the brutality of the whole event, and just how atypical everyone’s reaction is when faced with such a sudden and life-changing event.
It is this compulsion to turn to the worst possible scenario that makes the story a little unbelievable, however. Maddy’s horrific attack not being enough; her friends turn against her as they believe that she is lying about the extent of the violence/consensual nature of the sex, her boyfriend dumps her once he hears the details of the rape, her father questions her willingness to sleep with her attacker and then turns to alcohol, her rapist fabricates a story about their imagined ‘sex life’ and journalists turn on her, suggesting too that she is a liar and deserves everything she gets. The number of Things Gone Wrong with this story are, I think, a little too high to be believable, but I’m willing to forgive that as I feel that this play stood as a metaphor for the theme of rape culture rather than a story of one girl’s impossible situation. Every possible viewpoint on Maddy’s rape, and a number of similar experiences, are represented in some way and to work all of this into 15-minute chunks is certainly a feat – and in this case one which has been completed successfully.
In spite of some clumsy and obvious dialogue, there were some truly poignant scenes in this drama, and while the characters are sometimes quite clearly vehicles for rape culture viewpoints it is hard not to find an opinion that challenges. I think it’s definitely worth a listen, even if you think you know what your opinions are, as there’ll be sure to be something that sticks in the mind. Finally, kudos to R4 Woman’s Hour for not turning away from something so divisive, and instead using their 15-Minute Drama vehicle for something so radically different.