Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
My partner and I are rearing three wonderful girls. We’re doing our best to help them to develop enquiring, critical, engaged minds, and a sense of justice, and a desire to be good people, who care for themselves and for others. But much as I would like to, I don’t think I can raise them to be feminists.
The reason is straightforward. If we are able to help our children to become independent thinkers, then feminism is a choice they must come to on their own. My guess and my hope is that each of them will develop her own commitment to feminism, but it must be their own commitment, not mine.
There are perils in rearing independent thinkers. They have a wretched habit of going their own way. To my horror and great delight, when Ms Thirteen was a tiny girl of four, she sat at the lunch table and announced that she had changed her mind about what she was going to spend her carefully accumulated pocket money on. She had decided that she wasn’t going to get a goldfish, and instead, she was going to get something that I wouldn’t like (she said this with a sideways and then very direct look at me). That child is going to get herself a Barbie, I thought to myself. And she did. Her father had to assist her, taking her down town, and lending her the extra four dollars she needed to buy some clothes (she worked it off in chores), and he did so with my support. She had made an independent decision about what to spend her money on, and we didn’t want to countermand her sense of autonomy.
Over time, the decisions will no doubt become much more difficult, especially when the girls start to develop their own sets of compromises with the world. All I can do is be on hand to talk the issues through with them, if they want to, to point them towards books and articles and blogs and artworks that may help them to work out their ideas, and to reassure them that no one is right all the time, no feminist leads the perfect feminist life, no one person has all the insights and answers needed, or even understands all the questions that can be asked. They may not want to call themselves feminist. And it would be wrong of me to require them to do so.
They are of course, learning feminism. How could they not, living with me, and with their father, and hearing the political and ethical and theoretical discussions we engage in nearly every day. Sometimes extended, sometimes just a brief comment, but there as the constant background of our lives. They’re also absorbing a fair degree of classical history, and science, and literature, ‘though not so much about sports. They already know a fair amount about feminism. But calling themselves feminists is a different matter.
I will just have to wait and see.
For anyone who might be inclined to wonder why I am not raising my sons with a knowledge of feminism… I have only daughters. Although I rejoice greatly in my daughters, this statement is to be read as expressing neither regret nor delight: it is a mere statement of fact. I would have rejoiced in sons too, had we happened to have sons.
Me, and a friend sit on a couch:
Him: I can’t make you do anything without your consent.
Me (grinning): I think we both know that’s not true.
Him (raising an eyebrow): And I think we both know that’s consensual.
One of the things we talk about a lot, being feminists, is consent. What it means, how to get and give it, how important it is. It is discussed at length here, and elsewhere. I often go back to this post of Julie”s as a way of explaining what consent means.
But one thing I don’t think we talk about enough, is that consent doesn’t just apply to sex. It applies to anything you might ‘do’ to another person.
A conversation Emma and I have had a lot of times, is about how difficult it can be to share things here. Because if we want to talk about our experiences, and our lives, and our various kinks, we’re often talking about someone else. And it’s not up to us to tell the world what they want to do behind closed doors. That’s not our right. And so we try to tell our stories, without making reference to someone else, knowing they’re reading, and we invite them to come and fill the gaps in, if they want.
Um, as it were.
We’re lucky enough that a handful of people do feel comfortable coming and sharing their stories here. Otherwise, those discussions would just devolve into me and Emma talking about handcuffs. Which would be a different kind of website. (Also, if you want to see that, you just need to come to the pub with us.)
I was watching something on the internet recently, in which someone was talking to Nathan Fillion, and mentioned he was on his wife’s ‘celebrity list’. And it struck me how creepy that is. Sure, you can have fantasies about someone…but do you have to actively involve them in your fantasy – without their consent? Because isn’t that what telling people about it does – when they’ve never met you, never talked to you? Isn’t saying ‘I have sexual thoughts about you, and I don’t care if you return them, or how you feel about that’, kind of douchey, aside from anything else?
On a recent episode of Glee (full disclosure, I haven’t seen it, I don’t really watch the show) one of the characters was forcibly outed:
One of the various sub-plots involves cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester running for Congress. In a campaign smear ad against Sue, an opponent outs Santana by questioning the coach’s morals for promoting a lesbian to team captain. The source of the information: a student who overheard Finn’s comment in the hallway. When Santana is informed, she runs out of the room crying, stating that she hadn’t told her parents yet, who will surely see the ad.
After Allen says the outing was “wrong“. I’d go further than that. I’d say it’s fucking disgusting. And yes, I am aware that I am speaking from a platform of immense privilege here (not actually having to face coming out), and about, you know, a fictional show. Perhaps someone with more experience of this can talk about it.
But the thing is? Someone else’s sexuality, be it who they want to sleep with, how they want to do it, or how many times they have – that’s their secret. It’s not anyone else’s to tell.
And something akin to this has happened to me, more than once. I used to think it was the price I paid for being a slut. That that meant people could feel free to share my stories, to tell the world who I’ve fucked. And you know what? No one is free to do that. It’s gossipy, and it’s childish, and it is profoundly, deeply, disrespectful. Turning someone into a notch on your bedpost is reducing them to a sexual object. And taking away their right to tell those stories on their own terms, in their own way, is emotional violence.
I do think that we’d all be better off if we were more open. I wish that coming out as not hetero or cis or vanilla or any combination thereof wasn’t fraught with pressures. But that’s simply not the world we live in. And it _really_ isn’t the world we live in, in a country as small as New Zealand.
Getting enthusiastic consent isn’t just about asking someone before you kiss them. It doesn’t just extend to the bedroom. It isn’t just listening to what someone says about how they like to be touched, and whether they do. It also doesn’t end when the relationship or encounter ends. You don’t have to be touching someone to do something to them they didn’t consent to. And if you don’t know how they might react to something you might do? Well, that’s where that really handy “asking” thing comes in. Because some people are private, and some people are public, and it’s not your right to make that decision for them.
Twitter has been down for me for nearly an hour. This is problematic for me, because it means I go and look at other things on the internet. And because I am stupid and unable to control myself, that ends up with me looking at Garth George’s latest piece of editorial excellence.
First of all, to George’s imaginary “pro-life” friend. The New Zealand Green Party is not the Victorian Green Party. You understand we don’t actually live in Australia, right? I mean, feel free to go live there, we’d all be happier, I think. You can make friends with Tony Abbott, and leave New Zealand women the fuck alone.
Second, that “sinister hidden agenda”? Pretty comprehensively spelled out on the Greens’ website. The Greens have had well signposted private members bills on all kinds of things reprehensible to you, Garth. Have you not been paying attention?
And you know, they increased their portion of the vote markedly in this election. Has it occurred to you that a bunch of people agree with them? And that New Zealand First, your supposed foil for the Greens might too? Possibly not Richard “Ban the Burqa” Prosser, but certainly the delightful Ben Craven who appeared on behalf of NZF at Ladies In The House, was pro-choice.
And lastly, what they have in Victoria:
It provides that any woman can demand an abortion for any reason. The Greens in Australia also support same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption, and an education system which teaches that homosexuality is normal.
sounds like FUCKING PARADISE. You don’t like the “murderously liberal humanism”? I can not stand your fucking creepy interest in the contents of my vagina and womb. I can not stand the way you think you have the right to control what I do with my body. The way you think your right to a legal union is more important than my friends’. You say
Improvements to the economy, health, education, infrastructure and communication are all very well. But it is decisions on these humanitarian issues which will ultimately dictate the shape of our future society.
And you know what? I will fight until I am as old and out of touch as you are, so that those things you hate – you know, equity, tolerance, acceptance, BASIC FUCKING HUMAN RIGHTS – are part of that future society.
Shameless Google baiting aside, let’s talk about sluts. Again. Yes, again. I have written about this so many times.Yes, I am annoyed that I am still having to. Yes, there will be some ALL CAPS SENTENCES in this post. Will that make the fuckknuckles of the world listen? (Probably not.)
Here’s what it comes down to. Like all re-claimable words, it’s not a word you should use lightly. And with slut, here’s an easy rule of thumb: Unless someone has told you it’s OK to call them that, how about you just don’t?
So, when I see a comedian I follow tweet something like this, I get mad.
A club sluts vagina has a complex heating system that blows warm air on the legs allowing miniskirts to be worn in subzero temps
(I was going to screenshot it, but the comedian in question has deleted the tweets. I would also complain about the incorrect apostrophe, but I can no longer tell if that’s his fault, or the person who retweeted it)
He has since apologised, but not before people to go and expend their rage on “actual causes”.
I have news for you, Mr Hardwick. Getting angry at people referring to women as sluts is an actual cause. You might even have heard of it. IT’S CALLED FEMINISM. It’s been an “actual cause” for a few centuries now.
Because defining a woman by what she wears, what club she frequents, and what she does to get her rocks off isn’t any of your fucking business. And calling her a slut, a judgey, abusive, hate-filled word, because of any of those things is FLAT OUT DOUCHEY SEXISM. And when you have a platform with 1.5 million followers, people are going to get fucked off when you use it to belittle women. Even if you were “making a joke.” Because there’s no way you could have made that joke without the word sluts, is there? There’s no way that your paternalistic little “gosh they must be cold” concern-trolling could possibly have been put in a different context.
Yes, he apologised. Shame his many followers thought he shouldn’t have. That the problem was just that “sluts don’t like being called sluts”, or that people need to lighten up.
Darlings, I can tell you one thing. I get pretty mellow after a couple of old-fashioneds. But the one thing I will never “lighten up” about is slut-shaming. We all own our bodies. What we do with them is up to us, it’s none of your fucking business, and if that scares you, you have bigger problems than your prurient interest in the length of my skirt.
Thanks to my Twitter feed yesterday, I ran across this very angry and defensive piece on the Literary Review Bad Sex Award, which is a highlight of my year, along with the Bulwer-Lytton. So let me explain why I disagree with Roger Morris so very thoroughly.
To begin with, perhaps there should be an award for good sex scenes. That’s irrelevant, though, to whether there should be an “award” for fucking appalling sex scenes. The existence of the Oscars in no way precludes the existence of the Razzies, and they obviously do very different things. The existence of awards for good film-making did not stop anyone making Howard the Duck.
What the Bad Sex Award does is point out a curious phenomenon where otherwise perfectly competent writers suddenly have their abilities desert them when writing a sex scene. Morris points out one (fnar) passage from the winner and criticises the judges’ judgement on it, but oddly he ignores the other extract in the Guardian piece:
In the shower, Ed stood with his hands at the back of his head, like someone just arrested, while she abused him with a bar of soap. After a while he shut his eyes, and Diane, wielding her fingernails now and staring at his face, helped him out with two practiced hands, one squeezing the family jewels, the other vigorous with the soap-and-warm-water treatment. It didn’t take long for the beautiful and perfect Ed King to ejaculate for the fifth time in twelve hours, while looking like Roman public-bath statuary. Then they rinsed, dried, dressed, and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch.
I’m sorry. That’s a fucking terrible piece of writing. That’s a cringe-inducing smear of awfulness.
Why does this happen? Because of the way we treat sex as different, and separate from, everything else. We don’t write Meal Scenes, or Driving Scenes, but we don’t write a piece that happens to have sex in it, we write a Sex Scene.
We see this quite a bit at Bardic Web. People sit down to write a sex scene and start sweating with stress. Their writing style completely changes. Their characters cease to be characters.
I’ve run workshops on writing sex scenes, and the first thing you have to do is justify why you have sex scenes at all. The answer to this is actually pretty simple, but it depends on integrating sex as a part of life, not compartmentalising it as something either magically special or dirty and wrong – either attitude makes people awkward and uncomfortable with writing it.
If your story features a sexual/romantic relationship, then the actual sex is a really important part of both your plot and character development. The way someone has sex is an expression of their experiences and their personality. Are they awkward, sensual, hedonistic, mechanical, hide-bound, experimental? As Russell T. Davies had Ianto say of Jack on Torchwood, “bordering on the avant garde”? Even if you never write it out, as an author you should know.
And sex is an vital, central part of a relationship. What happens the first time a couple have sex? In real-world terms, not soft-focus, no dialogue, romantic strings. Who’s the aggressor? Who makes the ‘first move’, who takes control? Is it slightly awkward? Was it planned, was either party surprised, was it more or less pleasurable or emotional than anyone was expecting?
In order to express those things, you need a reasonable amount of detail. And yes, vocabulary can be a problem. Some writers tend to be either far too abstract and flowery ( we asked for a ban on “manhood”, and any metaphors involving plants or weather systems), or too clinical. You don’t want to be using words that make the reader do a double-take, and you don’t want to be using the same words over and over.
Yeah, it’s not easy. But writing’s not easy. As Michael Mann said, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” That’s no excuse for churning out bollocks only in your sex scenes.
So yes, for as long as we’re this uncomfortable with sex, the Literary Review Bad Sex Award shouldn’t be going anywhere.
*I’ve had several conversations on-line about this award in the last couple of days, and everyone refers to it as the “Guardian Bad Sex Award”. Despite the strong association with The Guardian, the award actually “belongs” to the Literary Review. But, call it that and most people don’t know WTF you’re talking about.