Monday, February 23, 2015

The Language That Kills

Rosie Batty and Natasha Stott-Despoya were on Q&A tonight discussing Domestic Violence. They were outnumbered, ironically, by the male panelists.
Anyone reading the crime reports in newspapers around Australia today would find sordid tales of people throwing themselves at other people’s fists and sober drivers inconveniently getting in the way of drunk or speeding drivers. We all read about people who work hard to buy houses to fill with possessions only to selflessly let other people destroy or steal them.

There is the inevitable roundup of people staying in relationships only to be injured or killed by their partners and, of course, those terrible reports of children who seduce adults.

Apologies, my mistake! I seem to be getting the relative culpability of perpetrators and victims mixed up. I am especially confused because we seem to have two ways of reporting crime and violence.

When we report crime, we have crimes in which the criminal is named, and crimes in which the victim is named. When we discuss violence, sometimes the language we use indicates the person who acts violently is responsible, sometimes the victim of violence is responsible.

In order to prevent the spread of violence, society has to discuss the criminality of alcohol-fuelled violence, drink driving, speeding, arson, burglary, domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. The language we use to describe the first crimes define a criminal act by the perpetrator, to be examined and tried by the law.

The last three crimes of violence, however, are named and discussed as if a result of disembodied violence that manifests only in the victim; the domestic victim, the sexual victim, the child victim. This is a disingenuous use of language because these crimes of violence are enacted entirely by living, breathing humans. This pervasive language shields the perpetrators from the full gaze of society and the law, and it turns an intolerable gaze on the victims.

If in everyday language we can talk of drunk drivers, burglars and arsonists without restriction, but not abusers without excuses, is there any wonder there is an epidemic of criminal violence in domestic and intimate relationships? As a society we must change the words we use to reflect crimes of violence back on the perpetrator.

Take, for example, a much quoted statistic: ‘1 in 4 women worldwide experience some form of domestic violence or sexual assault.’ This makes the violence visible only in connection to the victim, not to the abuser. The statistic we should be reporting is the numbers of perpetrators, turning the focus of guilt on those who act violently. Thus we would be quoting a statistic that would read closer to ‘1 in 4 people worldwide abuse their (female) partner or children.’

In Australia and around the world women, children and men with full and loving lives are forced to live with violent and criminal abusers. We know this because of the women, children and men who are injured and die at the hands of abusers, 14 women killed by their intimate partners in Australia in the first eight weeks 2015 alone. But it is not the victims who are obliged to make the abuser visible to society by injury or death, it is up to us to do something to change our language and thus our understanding of who is guilty of violence.

As family, friends, workmates and neighbours to people who abuse their partners and children, it is our job to consciously register instances of public and private violence, speak about violence in language that focuses on the abuser and refuse to be silent when violence is trivialised in social discussion. Criminal violence enacted on intimates by people we know is our responsibility to name and stop, and our first step is to examine our language and who it places in the position of culpability. After all, every other violent crime is blamed entirely on the perpetrator, why not domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse?
Real People and Sex
Separation of sexual provider and customer by perceived morality is problematic because the negative morality is projected onto the provider by the population that supplies the customers. This results in my two least favourite prevalent social concepts; that sex workers aren’t real people from the real world with partners/families/friends who love them and that the people who pay for sex with sex workers aren’t real people from the real world with partners/families/friends that love them.
The C Word
Why is it the ultimate insult for anyone, male or female? Because it speaks about the least desirable, the most unwanted, the ultimate source of fear: the vagina. It’s not enough to liken someone to a woman as a whole; the reference must be to what is biologically perhaps the most identifying aspect of being a woman, her very essence summed up in a body part. To a large proportion of men, the vagina is at best a mystery, at worst, a source of disgust. To have linked the most vulgar word in the English language to the most essential part of femininity is no mean feat.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sickly Sweet: Wildly Successful Female Narratives

Whether it’s called chick-lit or mommy porn, narratives written for women are treated with grave disrespect by the publishing industry and the wider public, especially erotica. Erotica written exclusively for women is rare, and when it exists it’s pink-i-fied, covered in vanilla and perceived to be much harder to create than it actually is; a Red Velvet Cake if you will.

Erotica written for men is Victoria Sponge of course; totally vanilla, lots of cream, the tiniest smear of delicious red jam. Heterosexual male erotica is so mainstream prizes could be given out at Rural Fetes for the best out of an array made from a completely standard recipe.

In a world of written and visual erotica that does not care to cater for our desires nor our gaze, women are adept at sustaining a sexual imagination by living off erotic crumbs that fall from the table of male-centric literature. In fact, everyone whose sexual practice is not that of a heterosexual male is trying to live off erotic crumbs.

Reductive and derogatory genre labels aside, narratives written by women for women are stereotyped from the start of a reader’s education to the moment a reader lays eyes on a book written by a woman. Literature’s problem with women starts because the classics of literature, as taught in the school and university curriculum, are oriented almost exclusively around male authors, characters and narratives.

Hosting a Perth Writers Festival panel today, Aviva Tuffield, one of the founders of The Stella Prize, explained that the prize was set up because female authors were underrepresented on the school literature curriculum across Australia. Two of the three Stella Prize long listed authors on the panel, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Alica Pung, spoke eloquently of writing diverse female characters they wanted their child, and indeed all children, to read and recognise.

The Stella Prize also seeks to correct the under-representation of female authors in the literary magazines, given that books by women were being reviewed less and given shorter reviews. On another panel at the Festival, Georgina Penney discussed the industry conventions of marketing any book written by a woman that contain a love story as a romance, not matter what the literary style of the book.

In a world of readers brought up on male literature and ghettoised female authors, there are still female narratives that break all the rules to become bestsellers. The problem with wildly successful narratives that reinforce old stereotypes while breaking others, however, is that one exceptional example of a diverse genre is then seen as the exemplar of that genre.

When a book by a woman for women becomes a best seller, it is assumed that the women buying it want exact replicas of the successful formula that broke the glass ceiling. Two such juggernauts of female-centred literature are represented in Australia this week. Even a quick glance at the output of Elizabeth Gilbert and EL James teaches us a lot about the curse of the successful female narrative.

Elizabeth Gilbert sold 10 million copies of her memoir Eat Pray Love that saw her find love with a man after a life-changing journey through food, travel and spirituality. EL James sold 70 million copies of a book of Fifty Shades of Grey in which a woman finds love with a man after letting him tell her what to eat and how to accept his love, all while frequently addressing her inner goddess.

Both successful formulas followed the age old narrative allowed to women; settling down with a man after an acceptable length of time experiencing the world. What is not considered is that women are so starved of respect for their stories that they will endure any amount of bad writing or stereotypical narratives to be able to read a book in which they are represented on the page.

In contrast to the giant of chick-lit that is Eat Pray Love, what Fifty Shades of Grey did when it left out the vanilla icing and went straight for the erotica, was serve up a moist, velvety cake just for the straight ladies. The ladies basically ate slices and slices of the cake, had a bit of a lie down, then got back up to eat more.

Women made Eat Pray Love and Fifty Shades of Grey bestsellers for the same reason Frozen rules children’s movie right now, women are so starved for our own stories that we gorge on the few that are allowed to us. It doesn’t mean we are not achingly interested in diversity in the literature and erotica written for us.

The truth of the matter is that we crave innovation in our stories, and if you look at the market hungry for any stories for women by women, it makes sense to cater for that market with more good stories. We just don’t want any of the old prejudices to stand in the way of us baking our cake and eating it too.
When is kinky sex not kinky sex? When it's Fifty Shades of Grey ...
What is literally legislated as "alternative" sexual practise encompasses homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, pansexual and asexual practises. These include means for those with limits to their physical sexual capacity through illness, injury or trauma to enjoy erotic play and sexual release. For those who have limits to their intellectual or emotional sexual capacity, expanded techniques allow for their particular erotic needs outside the strictly physical. As people age, their erotic and sexual requirements change, no one escapes the ravages of time. Open discussion of all techniques mean personal sexual practise can change whether it is out of choice or necessity.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

When is kinky sex not kinky sex? When it's Fifty Shades of Grey ...

Published online:

WAToday
The Sydney Morning Herald
The Age
Brisbane Times
The Canberra Times
I'm on the train and the person across from me is reading That Book; the religiously repressed treatise on misogyny packaged as a risqué rebellious romance with ropes.

In that moment I manage to subjugate the urge to evangelise safe, sane, consensual orgasm techniques to them, a stranger on the train. But if you wanted to play the lead role of Stranger On The Train, maybe we could see where this takes us?

Much has been written by practitioners, participants and detractors about the sexual practice called BDSM, as explored in Fifty Shades of Grey. I have been an avid reader of such discussions. After all, train-riding missionaries who urge strangers to "branch out from missionary" need to keep up with the literature.

I have found it interesting that most critiques of the portrayal of BDSM in the book have preserved the idea that BDSM is "alternative" or "kink" sexual practise. In fact, when practised without social stigma and mythos, the sexual techniques included in BDSM and kink encompass a full range of physical and mental sexual practice that can meet even the most specific of orgasmic needs.

The culture in which Fifty Shades of Grey was written grew out of religious roots that value virginity, misogyny, monogamy and compulsory heterosexuality. Our currently repressed culture has progressed to active exclusion of the erotic pleasure and desire of the majority of society from public discussion.

Thank goodness for the meteoric sales of Fifty Shades of Grey, a book that effectively thrust our limited sexual practice right into the public spotlight.

Extricate yourself, just for a moment, from the Hollywood/Pornography Sex Homily of kissing-as-foreplay, penetration-with-a-penis-shape, male-orgasm-whoops-finish that is the secular version of what celibate Christian dudes over the millennia have thundered down upon us from the pulpits.

I urge you to ignore the legislation of how we orgasm and with whom by committees of politicians and lawyers from a homogenous gender and social class, most of them now dead for decades.

I particularly encourage you to ignore the stylised and passionless bodies and techniques in visual culture that are created by the camera-wielding acolytes of those legislative and religious men. Be free of both Hilarious Hollywood Sex and Banal Pornographic Banging!

You know, as well as I, that real-world sexual practice, whether yours alone, yours with one person, or yours with many people, is always more interesting than anything dreamt of in their philosophy of rules and fears.

Once you are free, you will see that what is literally legislated as "alternative" sexual practise encompasses homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, pansexual and asexual practises. These include means for those with limits to their physical sexual capacity through illness, injury or trauma to enjoy erotic play and sexual release.

For those who have limits to their intellectual or emotional sexual capacity, expanded techniques allow for their particular erotic needs outside the strictly physical. As people age, their erotic and sexual requirements change, no one escapes the ravages of time. Open discussion of all techniques mean personal sexual practise can change whether it is out of choice or necessity.

So essentially, darling Stranger On The Train, possibly holding Fifty Shades of Grey and definitely intrigued, sexual technique not centred around the penis is not "alternative". Sexual practise not concerned with penetration is not "kink". Sexual desire not centred on touching a physical primary sexual organ is not "BDSM".

Fifty Shades of Grey
manages to both uphold and tear down the sexual status quo, as all good sexual fantasies do. It would behove you to Google your favourite technique from the book and learn it from a few professionals, more than one guru is always best!

I guarantee you'll be talking to Strangers On The Train about your own personal road to orgasm before long. And I'd love to be there, if that is OK with you?
Claire Bowen is a Perth-based blogger and dramatist who studies the impact of popular culture on the historical record.
Real People and Sex
Separation of sexual provider and customer by perceived morality is problematic because the negative morality is projected onto the provider by the population that supplies the customers. This results in my two least favourite prevalent social concepts; that sex workers aren’t real people from the real world with partners/families/friends who love them and that the people who pay for sex with sex workers aren’t real people from the real world with partners/families/friends that love them.
The C Word
Why is it the ultimate insult for anyone, male or female? Because it speaks about the least desirable, the most unwanted, the ultimate source of fear: the vagina. It’s not enough to liken someone to a woman as a whole; the reference must be to what is biologically perhaps the most identifying aspect of being a woman, her very essence summed up in a body part. To a large proportion of men, the vagina is at best a mystery, at worst, a source of disgust. To have linked the most vulgar word in the English language to the most essential part of femininity is no mean feat.
The Language That Kills
If in everyday language we can talk of drunk drivers, burglars and arsonists without restriction, but not abusers without excuses, is there any wonder there is an epidemic of criminal violence in domestic and intimate relationships? As a society we must change the words we use to reflect crimes of violence back on the perpetrator.