The following quote is the sole reader comment on an article in Good E Reader entitled “Cleis Press, Penthouse Collaborate on New Line of Erotica Books” published on April 11, 2014:
“Looks like our hyper-sexualized culture is growing again. I'll bet most of the authors in this genre are fat and ugly, fantasy based [sic] women with a serious case of penis envy. Rather than writing about anything scientific or useful in business, they'll write to create boners and fake desire in readers. Trite content for the most part - even if it does make a few bucks here and there. I'm sad for all Americans who value this kind of crap in books.”
I copied the comment and filed it under “mean troll comment,” thinking perhaps I would use it as a discussion point for my ERWA column one day. From the information available, the commenter is (was?--he looked pretty old) a skinny, geriatric gentleman with a white mustache. Nonetheless, I was very impressed that he managed to include every negative stereotype lobbed at female erotica writers in an admirably concise paragraph.
Cleis Press as we knew it then is gone and perhaps the series of “quality erotica” for “’discerning’ readers” is history as well. However, the custom of shaming and insulting women who dare to claim a public voice still flourishes, today more than ever. Thus, it seems the perfect time to dust the cobwebs off the “mean troll comment” and give it a closer examination.
First let’s talk about the fact that all of us female erotica writers are “fat”—and the geriatric gentleman with the white mustache knows this to be true without seeing or meeting any one of us.
My historical research continues to lead me down fascinating byways, and this past month I happened upon a book called Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture by Amy Erdman Farrell. Farrell presents a compelling argument that our culture’s disgust for “fat” preceded the flapper-era craze for androgynous female bodies, which is generally seen as the start of dieting and weight obsession as women responded to externally-imposed pressure to look good in clothes meant for lanky frames. However, while in the pre-industrial period only a wealthy minority had the resources to put on flesh, with the rise of consumer capitalism at end of the 19th century, consumption of all kinds became problematic. Mass culture and industrialization meant that a greater segment of the population was able to buy ready-made “fashion,” processed food and entertainment. Merchants encouraged consumers to indulge their desires to make profits. But in turn, the unleashing of these new markets and longings threatened the established power structure.
Labor unions, the end of slavery, and feminism meant that people who were traditionally excluded from positions of power were speaking up to demand fair treatment. It is in this context that fatness came to symbolize a person who was out of control—a lazy, gluttonous, greedy, immoral, uncontrolled, ugly, primitive subhuman (Fat Shame, p. 27). In the media, fatness was identified with threatening (mostly Catholic and Jewish) immigrants, former slaves and women. Any white Protestant American-born man who was “fat” had shown a revolting lack of self-control and had thus fallen from the pinnacle of humanity. This view was fully in place long before the health risks of obesity became a focus of medical science (a view some fat activists question as skewed by cultural bias and the tyranny of arbitrary insurance charts). But of course, being “fat” still carries a physical and moral stigma in our culture today.
Thus, even in the twenty-first century, a woman who dares to write about sexuality, especially in a positive way that might turn a reader on, is indeed “fat” no matter what the scale says. May I say that I am proud to be so. I’m proud to be ugly, too, which is also an extremely common criticism of women who step out of their God-given people-pleasing role and have an opinion of their own. Because indeed, what the geriatric gentleman with the white mustache is really saying is that we erotica writers dare to take on an ancient taboo—speaking honestly about female sexual desire. That automatically add fifty pounds to any frame.
I feel as if I could write a seminar paper unpacking all the assumptions of my oh-so-economical mean troll comment—such as the fact that everything identified with the female in our culture is called “trite”--but I know you all have holiday preparations to attend to, so I’ll touch on just one more point: the terrible insult of calling us female erotica writers “fantasy based” [sic].
I’ve long taken issue with the denigration of fantasy and masturbation as an integral part of human sexual expression. Hurling insults at losers who masturbate and have to think about sex rather than have it starts with schoolboy bullies and continues unabated as a way to shame us and keep us all quiet about our actual sexual interactions with the world. Let’s examine the fantasy behind this taunt—because it is very much a fantasy of its own.
This view assumes that somewhere there exists a group of “winners” who never have to masturbate or fantasize because the moment they have a sexual urge, they are so slim and beautiful and high-status that a willing and equally attractive partner of the opposite sex (I’m sure the geriatric gentleman with the white mustache would insist that acceptable sex always be of the heterosexual variety) materializes to provide a satisfying sexual outlet that involves no mental activity whatsoever. The rest of the time, these supermen are thinking about scientific or business things, you know, important stuff like how Wall Street can screw over credulous investors and how climate change is a hoax. The boners of these ideal beings are always real, because, remember, there are “fake” boners, so be sure to invite the geriatric gentleman with the white mustache to evaluate your arousal next time to be sure that it’s the right kind or otherwise you’ll be a sad loser--and he'll be sure to tell you so. Not to mention that you're fat and ugly and trite.
And remember, if you're fat or ugly, you have no right to speak.
I’m sure the geriatric gentleman with the white mustache thought he was being very perceptive and original in his critique of erotica writers, but of course, we at ERWA have heard it all before. However, we actually value and proudly enjoy "this crap," otherwise known as the exploration of the full experience of human eroticism.
To be honest, I kind of pity this guy. Rejecting all the pleasures of fantasy, flesh and self-discovery--he clearly doesn’t know what he’s missing.
Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor