Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Taboo Emotion

by Kathleen Bradean

There seems to be two types of erotica (actually many more than that, but let's pretend the world is simplistic). There's the sort that's about sex. Then there's the kind of story that's about something else but that something else is revealed through sex.

I have nothing against stories that are just about sex. There's something rare about that honesty. But I'm thinking lately a lot about the other kind because that's what I tend to write. Often times, especially when the sex is BDSM, the story is about an inner journey, which when you think about it is empowering and positive for the reader.Sometimes the story is about revenge, which can be fun to read. it's two self-indulgent fantasies wrapped into one.
 
Less often, I see stories about alienation, guilt, or depression. In the hands of a skilled writer, those emotions can lead to shattering works. I'd like to see more of them.

The one emotion I can't recall ever seeing is anger. More specifically, female anger. In her novella Beautiful Losers, Remittance Girl touches on it, but it's coupled with shame. I fully understand why. That's the way women are socialized to experience it. We get angry then immediately try to deny it and turn it against ourselves. I don't see female rage expressed in non-erotic works either, unless it's an extremely negative portrayal of a woman being unreasonably bitchy just for the hell of it  Or because she's mentally unstable  due to hormones. It's always an insulting portrayal.

Why is that? Can't we ever just be angry because the situation is enough to make any reasonable person mad? And can women ever express anger without it being a negative portrayal? What is this huge taboo against female anger?

I don't know. I wish I had answers. Have you ever written a story where a female character had every right to be angry and she expressed it in a healthy, mature manner that didn't make the reader think she was in the wrong for feeling that emotion?  

17 comments:

  1. Kathleen, as short as this is I think you have brought up an incredibly important topic. I have written an angry female character, but through a man's eyes. Specifically because I wanted to explore what men see when they see an angry woman and the curious reaction they have to it.
    It's here: http://remittancegirl.com/staging/eroticshortstories/what-you-want/

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    1. I look forward to reading it.

      The way you handled your character's anger in Beautiful Losers was truthful, and because of that, that story will always be with me.

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  2. Weird, I see female anger in media constantly, but in very prescribed ways.

    1) "You raped me / You killed my children, I will have revenge!!!!!" Super common in fantasy/superhero/nerd media but far from rare in other genres.

    2) Even in mainstream romance and erotica, a ton of the plot starts off with Guy is a jerk/rake/misunderstood, Girl is mad at him, sparks fly, "I love it when you're feisty," etc.

    Both of these are obviously messed up, but it isn't deliberate, she isn't being portrayed as a crazy hormonal bitch, within the work her anger is taken as justified.

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    1. Maybe it's because I don't read romance that I don't see it. Romance is largely written by women, which might be why you view it as giving a more balanced portrayal.

      However, I read quite a bit of scifi. While I'm very aware of the girl in the refrigerator trope, I haven't seen much of it in the backstories of female characters. (although, honestly, I haven't cracked open the new Wonder Woman yet.)

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    2. What do you mean by "girl in the refrigerator"?

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    3. Lisabet, this will explain the trope better than I can. This trope is not limited to comic books, but comic book fans came up with the best term for it. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StuffedIntoTheFridge

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    4. Thanks, Kathleen.

      Definitely enough references here to keep me from getting anything accomplished!

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  3. As often is the case with your posts, this one makes me want to go and deliberately write a woman propelled by anger.

    However, "pure" anger is difficult to sustain, without mixing it with other emotions. In one sense, anger is a physical/physiological reaction, a quick flare rather than a slow burn that can sustain a plot.

    Of course there are quite a few stories where women are angry with themselves. I suspect this isn't what you're thinking about.

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  4. Interesting post. I agree- women are not often portrayed as justifiably angry and I suspect that your take- how we've been socialized- is precisely why. In fact, in most discussions that I have had wit other married women, it is clear that most men see female anger as irrational and not at all connected to or the result of, any actual acts. In other words, female anger is always "out of the blue" and "over the top." But challenge accepted. I am going to try to write an angry woman in a non-stereotypical way. We have to start somewhere.

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  5. I've written one - it's not erotica, but a scene where a survivor with rape has an imagined, but empowered confronation with her bound-to-a-chair rapist. And right on point of your article, I've never been able to find the right place to publish this (though I perform it regularly). It's an interesting point, and a push for me on a piece of "revenge erotica' I'm actually struggling to write. Why? The female MC is angry from being in an emotionally abusive relationship, but with electrifyingly good sex. I want back-story to give the sexual revenge scene weight.Her revegfe is pretty dark, but I also want it to seem justifiable in the eye of the reader. With the taboo out there on feminine rage in the cultural zeitgeist, I'm watching how conflicted I feel writing it - and yes, it has personal content for me too. Maybe this would be a great theme for an anthology call - hello, publishers of erotica? koredesires.wordpress.com It keeps making me post as anonymous - I always have trouble leaving comments on this blog)

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    1. My guilty pleasure is a good revenge fantasy. Done right, it's cathartic.

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  6. A timely and inspiring post because I'm writing a female character who is angry about her family situation and has to figure out what to do--in 1910, so the options are limited. I realize that it's easier for me to quiet the doubt voices (who needs another dumb, boring novel in this saturated market) is to feel I'm trying something a little different but true to life. That's why I started writing erotica, to put a little of my own truth into it. Female anger is very real!

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    1. I imagine back then that the additional constraints we don't have to deal with were even more rage-inducing.

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  7. The play, "Death and the Maiden" by Chilean author Ariel Dorfman focuses on a woman who has survived rape/torture after the military coup in Chile in 1973, and her anger seems very justified. However, if she is wrong about the man in her house (she feels convinced that he is her former torturer), then her revenge plan would seem totally irrational. The mystery about who he really is keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. This is an example of sustained female anger that might possibly be justified. Of course, if a viewer assumes that her post-traumatic stress causes her to see her torturer wherever she goes, then she can be written off as a stereotyped madwoman. The ambiguity is frustrating, but the suspense keeps the viewer watching.

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  8. I'm currently reading Fortune by Aurelia Evans, an amazing book sold by erotic romance publisher Totally Bound but really difficult to categorize. It has elements of BDSM, paranormal and horror as well as extremely creative and kinky sex. Anyway, in the scene I read last night, the female MC gets very angry indeed, physically attacking some guys (who really deserve what they get), drawing blood, kicking them in the balls...and feels not in the least guilty about it. Very intense and cleansing. In fact this is a pivot of the tale, since previously she has been sunk in remorse for a revenge wish that had horrible consequences.

    Highly recommended!

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