The book I recently finished writing deals with themes related to sexual consent.
Because of this, I needed a narrative device to make the romantic relationship so overtly consensual as to be hyper-consensual.
The end result is that I’ve been writing a relationship that has elements of BDSM at a time when 50 Shades is all the rage. Yuck.
First things first. I am not a member of the kink community. However, I took care to ensure I was accurately portraying that relationship dynamic. Probably MORE SO because it isn’t one I have ownership of.
Sexuality is deeply connected to identity, and just as I would take care to responsibly portray someone else’s culture or race, I felt I needed to treat these people with as much respect as possible.
Second things second. What I’m writing is not porn. (Though my mother might disagree with that statement). So it is by definition inherently more complex than spanking and tampon yanking. The stakes are higher.
Sexuality and identity get messy fast.
Third. I really did try to read 50 Shades and the writing was so awful, I couldn’t get through it. But the books are universally accepted as badly written, so that is not my point.
My criticism is not of the book. My criticism is of the devotees of the books who argue, “It’s just a book. Relax.”
Incidentally these devotees tend to be the same women who go through relationship after relationship, then look at me and say, “You’re so lucky. You have such a good husband.”
Oh, you mean the man I chose? He didn’t fall out of the sky. I picked him. What’s more, we work very hard to maintain open communication and respect for one another. Luck has fuck-all to do with it.
If you’re following along on this conversation, you’ve heard “It’s just a book. Relax.” a lot. If I were a sociologist, I would conduct an experiment to examine the relationship patterns of the population of people who enjoy this book.
But I’m not. I’m a writer. And as a writer, my central point is this:
To say, “It’s just a book” is to say, “It’s just a romanticized projection of our rape culture’s social norms that reflect what we wish to attain. Relax.”
I know it’s easy for me as a reader and a writer to place a premium on stories. Much the same way that in Hollywood, the movie about show biz always wins the Oscar. (I’m looking at you here, Shakespeare in Love).
But how can anyone say, “It’s just a book?”
It’s “just a book” about a horribly unhealthy relationship idealized as romantic.
To be absolutely clear – the kink is not the abusive aspect of the relationship portrayed in the story. The RELATIONSHIP is the abusive part. When we equate stalking with love – we have a problem.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “If only he would completely violate my privacy and pressure me into doing things I don’t want to do, then I would know he loves me” then you, my dear, are the reason every woman who is raped is tagged as “asking for it.”
This is precisely why I developed such respect for the BDSM community as I worked on my book.
They’re grown ups about their sexuality. They don’t tolerate wishy-washy assholes and their petty drama.
As Louis CK puts it, “I’m not gonna rape someone on the off chance that she’s into it.”
Seriously, ladies? I’m trying to raise daughters here. Could we please just grow a modicum of self respect?
Do I really have to post 700,000 links to articles about how narratives are important and influence our emotional development?
Do you need studies that prove our ability to empathize is learned from stories?
Will you shut the fuck up about it being “just a book” if you see anthropological reviews that detail how narrative is the embodiment of what we are, what we wish to be, and what we must be warned against becoming?
Or are you a grown up?
This is basic.
It’s never “Just a book.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go revise mine to amplify the consent aspect of the relationship. I know it will never sell 30 gazillion copies.
But I’d rather be broke than sell women shit-sandwiches and call it candy.