Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Friday, July 26, 2013

Old Poison in New Bottles

By Jean Roberta



I was lucky enough to be young when the “Sexual Revolution” of the late 1960s and early 1970s was happening, and it coincided with the birth of “Second Wave” feminism, so called because it looked like a revival of “First Wave” feminism, which gathered strength from about 1850 to the First World War, when adult women gained the right to vote in Britain, the U.S. and Canada.

The guys I dated in high school and afterward all wanted me to know that sex was a wonderful thing, and that I had no logical reason to say no, since we were living in a time of sexual freedom and Women’s Lib. I even heard rumors about exotic experiments in “group marriage” or communal living in cultural meccas such as San Francisco. I really hoped that the old sexual double standard was dying out all over the world.

As an erotic writer, I would love to write realistic stories about relationships based on pleasure for everyone involved, as well as general good will. I only have to turn on my TV to realize that a culture that would support such generosity is still nowhere in sight.

To write about women who are sexually exuberant, creative, as horny as animals in heat, yet also intelligent, practical and powerful, I need to write fantasy. I can’t see any alternative. A world in which women are not horribly stigmatized for enjoying sex outside the bonds of monogamous marriage (or for openly enjoying sex at all) is not the world we live in. Even now.

Consider the latest news in the media. I understand that the birth of an heir to the British throne is newsworthy, but realistically, neither the little princeling nor anyone else in his family is in a position to govern an empire. Not anymore. The arrival of little Prince George was really not a political issue, yet a horde of reporters has been endlessly commenting on the miracle of an ordinary birth, the new mother's wardrobe, the princeling’s pedigree, and the reactions of everyone on the scene. Why has this event pushed every war off the front page of every English-language newspaper? Could it be a hysterical celebration of traditional marriage and childbearing? Could it be that Princess Kate is being held up as a model for all women in contrast to the waywardness of her deceased mother-in-law, Princess Diana?

Well, maybe I’m being a grinch about all this. The princeling looks cute (as far as I can tell) and his parents look happy. I wish them all well.

However, there’s more. Anthony Weiner, currently running for Mayor of New York City, was caught “sexting” yet again. He has apologized to his wife and the voting public for making inappropriate comments to someone in cyberspace, and for displaying his, um, weiner. He has apologized and asked for public support.


Eliot Spitzer, former Governor of New York state, another married man who was caught in an indiscretion, is now running for Comptroller of New York. He also hopes the public can forgive him, and he has supporters.




While we’re focusing on New York, let’s consider Melissa Petro, who is not currently featured in the news. She is a gorgeous young woman who sold sex via Craigslist for 11 months while she was a graduate student. In due course, she earned her degree and a job as an elementary school teacher in the Bronx. By all accounts, she was loved by her students and respected by her colleagues. In September 2010, she protested the closing of the “adult services” section of Craigslist by writing about her experience under her real name.

See her piece, “Thoughts from a Former Craigslist Sex Worker” here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melissa-petro/post_803_b_707975.html

The administration of her school discovered this admirably clear, brief, straightforward article and fired Melissa. The Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg himself, said that she should be removed from the classroom. Since then, she has not been able to find another teaching job. It looks as if her teaching career has ended because she is known as a Fallen Woman. So much for human rights in the workplace.

Maybe Canada is a more humane country for young women to live in. After all, Canadian women got equal status with men (on paper) in 1982, when the Charter of Equality Rights was signed. In 1983, our laws against rape (as it used to be called) were thoroughly overhauled, it was renamed sexual assault, and no longer has anything to do with the victim’s reputation, in theory. In 2005, we got same-sex marriage, which implies that all spouses (including the heterosexual majority) have equal status under the law.
Surely any girl who is growing up in Canada now is even better-off than I was. But no.

In September 2012, 15-year-old Amanda Todd, who lived near Vancouver, British Columbia (on the west coast) posted a heartbreaking 9-minute video about how she had been hounded since she sent an image of her naked breasts via webcam to a man she met in cyberspace. This event eventually caused her to change schools twice in a fruitless effort to escape being persecuted as a “bad girl.” After two unsuccessful suicide attempts which were met with ridicule, she succeeded in October 2012.



This was not an isolated case. A 17-year-old on the opposite coast (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) hanged herself in April 2013. Rehtaeh Parsons had been persecuted for two years, since four boys had sex with her at a drunken teenage bash, someone photographed the scene with a cellphone, and these pictures went viral. Rehtaeh’s mother has defined the event as gang-rape and has criticized local police for not taking action sooner. A national reporter on court cases, Christie Blatchford, has claimed there was not enough evidence in this case to prosecute anyone for sexual assault.


Rehtaeh’s stepfather responded to Christie Blatchford by pointing out that Rehtaeh’s state of intoxication (as shown in the cellphone images) indicated that she could not have given meaningful consent.

Any resemblance to another recent case involving a drunken teenage bash in Steubenville, New York, is painfully obvious.

I am not interested in arguing whether Rehtaeh Parsons was sexually assaulted or not, or whether Amanda Todd, as a “child,” responded to a dare by exposing herself to a stranger because she didn’t know any better. Re Melissa Petro, she was a grown woman who clearly arranged to meet men for the purpose of exchanging sexual services for money.

None of these events seems to me to be an adequate reason for the orgy of harassment, ostracism and life-threatening abuse that followed. As far as I can see, none of this is about “bullying in school” or the ages of the victims or the use of modern technology (evil computers). This is about the persistent, irrational hatred of young women who are perceived to be sexual beings.

This is Biblical, like the stoning of the woman taken in adultery—except that, in that case, Christ was her advocate.

When reading and hearing about these cases, I find it hard to stay calm and focus on writing fiction. Whatever happens to male politicians who cheat on their wives, in person or in cyberspace, they are not subjected to the lynch-mob persecution of any woman who is even suspected of being less than “pure.”

So far, the media loves Princess Kate, with her breezy, “modern” fashion sense and her apparent immersion in an ancient feminine role. As long as she never steps out of line, she might not be attacked.

We all need to imagine and create a better culture. We need it now, before another case hits the headlines.

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9 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post. I worry a couple paragraphs may be missing in the middle section (it seems like there's more to Melissa Petro's story than I currently see above).

    Responding to what is here, this is unbelievably important. One of the things that weirded me out about coverage of the royal baby was how invasive it got. It was full of coy references to Princess Kate's vagina that would have felt violating to me, and I can't help thinking about the various ways the media feels free to violate even this privileged woman's bodily autonomy. How much less, then, can anyone else defend her own?

    As far as the stoning analogy, I was recently having a conversation with a friend about how all "sinful women" in the Bible are assumed to be adulterers or prostitutes. I can't recall cases of women crying on Jesus because they stole money from a relative (or if that's why they were crying on him, that's not the way it's generally read). Even Jezebel, who had people killed, is more associated with sex these days than with what I would consider to be her real crimes. Sin is another way that men are often allowed a wider world than women.

    I think this explains to some degree why men like Spitzer can get lenience in the public eye--because whatever they've done sexually is put in proportion and weighed against other types of possible misconduct. For women, I think often any type of misconduct leads to sexual accusations.

    A thought experiment:

    "A young woman was found doing something inappropriate on the third floor of an office building."

    "A young man was found doing something inappropriate on the third floor of an office building."

    In my mind, anyway, the "inappropriate" thing I imagine isn't the same. I think as long as women are being held to a moral code that seems to revolve around sex and not enjoying it too much or the wrong way, then characters who really claim it and enjoy it for their own reasons remain fantasies.

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  2. Dear Jean,

    I think that state of the world that you describe makes it all the more important that we present an alternative in our fiction - an alternative that is believable and compelling.

    My review book for August at Erotica Revealed is a fabulous romp entitled "House of Roosters". It's not great literature by any means, but it's a surprisingly realistic exploration of what happens when a bunch of mostly ordinary women decide to take their sexual pleasure into their own hands. It left me with a smile on my face and a little bit of hope.

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  3. I think Kate Middleton will be attacked in the media no matter what she does, because the ultimate goal is to teach women that there's nothing they can do-- traditional role to the hilt, perfect modern woman, beauty, brain, etc.-- to escape a vicious assault on their character. Oh, there is one thing. Stop being visible. Disappear, and you might be safe. That's the lesson we're being taught.

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  5. Annabeth, Lisabet and Kathleen,
    I agree with you all. Good point about the invasion of Princess Kate's privacy. I've had the impression that if a journalist could have sneaked into the delivery room and sent close-up shots of the birth around the world, that would have happened. I'm also waiting with dread to see how the media will express disillusionment with her. (There's always the double-bind of upper-class motherhood: if the mother does all the parenting herself, she's obsessed. If she leaves most of it to nannies and tutors, she's cold.)
    A missing paragraph in my original piece is about some recent legislation in Canada that presumably makes life better for us here: The Charter of Equality Rights (1982) that guarantees equal rights for women and men on paper, the complete overhaul of old rape laws in 1983 (it's now called sexual assault and theoretically can't be based on the victim's reputation) and same-sex marriage in 2005, which implies that all spouses (including the heterosexual majority) have equal rights. Yet teenage girls in Canada are still being bullied to death, so liberalizing laws doesn't seem to have the wonderful effect some of us used to hope.

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  6. Dear all,
    There are missing paragraphs and links from the middle of this post. The version I originally posted has messed-up links. I'll try to fix the problem.

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  7. Sigh. I've restored the missing paragraphs, but not the missing links.

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  8. Hi, everyone - I've put the links back. Worth following.

    And while we're talking links, you will probably enjoy this post by author Gabrielle Holly, about breasts and how they've been demonized.

    http://gabrielleholly.blogspot.com/2013/07/boobies-tits-gazongas-our-weird.html

    Well worth reading.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for fixing the links, Lisabet! You would be a great fence-mender. :)

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