Not an Odalisque

Posts Tagged ‘women

The Forgotten Pornographers

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I spent most of the weekend making porn. On Sunday, I waved a friend off as she went to another city to make porn. On Monday, I read this article. I sighed, and wondered why we’re still having the same conversation.

To summarise: Lying feminists pretend that porn is feminist. It isn’t. Porn is not about freedom, but economics, and therefore stems from abuse, involves coercion and incites criminality. There is too little feminist porn, and in any case it hardly seems to be porn at all. If feminist porn succeeds, it will be absorbed into the mainstream and made toothless. We should ban pornography outright, or at least ask questions about where it comes from. The pornography-meat metaphor isn’t getting tough and stringy.

If you’ve read Gold’s article, with all its prolonged blow jobs and anal penetration, my weekend of semi-clothed photographs, like the one below, and spanking story writing will seem tame. It was hardly ethnically-specific disembodied penis performs opaque metaphor.* Tame things don’t count in the debate about contemporary pornography, because the conversation is always about hardcore film, which allows for specific feminist narrative. Female performers are cast as victims, making them unreliable witnesses until they’ve stopped performing and started talking about how much the experience damaged them, or played on their childhood trauma. The narrowing to one type of pornography, and one narrative of it, effectively silences women.

Photo by C J Wallace, of http://tethered.co.uk

Photo by C J Wallace, of http://tethered.co.uk

Inside me, there’s a second wave feminist jumping up and down and waving a literature textbook. How were women kept out of the canon for so long? It wasn’t because they didn’t write, but because their writing didn’t count. The form was wrong, they wrote diaries when men wrote sonnets and plays. The content was wrong, they wrote about domestic affairs when men wrote about monarchs and wars. The perspective was wrong, they painted individual psychological portraits when men wrote with lofty omnipotence about huge casts of characters. Later, feminists dug out women’s writing, and re-drew the boundaries of literature to fit it in. We made the collective discovery that were women writers beyond Sappho, Julian of Norwich and Jane Austen. It had been hidden, not because it wasn’t there, but because nobody talked about it. Women’s work just wasn’t considered, for the most part, to be the proper stuff.

What’s this got to do with pornography? Well, some women are setting up hardcore porn sites, which may or may not look like the ones that are already there. Some women are posing for photos in their vintage lingerie, and whether they sell them or not, they’re still making porn, just as Anne Lister was writing in her diary when lesbian women weren’t represented in literary fiction. Lots of women are writing erotic stories, and say what you like about the quality of many of them, but after the Fifty Shades phenomenon, we can no longer claim that they don’t sell. Sometimes women express their sexuality, sometimes they do what they think the reader wants, or go along with the photographer’s idea. Sometimes they’re in it for themselves and sometimes they’re in it for the money. If I ere in it for the money, I’d have to admit that I’m doing it wrong.

I don’t share all of Gold’s fears about the effects of pornography, although I too am made uncomfortable by porn filmed with low production values, little respect for women, a large dose of racism and a set of linguistic and visual signs that would make Derrida weep. Feminist projects can fail to be feminist, and the label can be used by unscrupulous women with a crazy urge to make enough money to pay the rent. However, the reason that the few women doing feminist porn projects are the focus of all this adulation and criticism is that we’re still focussing on the porn that men produce and consume. While we look at them, and at feminist attempts to do what they do, we obscure work by women in other forms.

I’m not about to go into hardcore film. Spanking films, maybe. Nicely lit photographs of me wearing stockings and looking ecstatic about the fact that I have toes, definitely. Stories and novels, just you try to stop me! The latter things count, so I’m refusing to feel I’m not qualified to comment on the experience of making pornography.

Does making pornography feel feminist? Not really. It isn’t like an assertiveness training course or a take back the night march. In gender equality terms, it’s kind of neutral. I like it that way; not everything in life has to be a battleground. There’s a chance that the worry that I look podgy in this photo stems from a sexist cultural imperative for the female body to conform to unattainable beauty standards.** In that case, the most feminist thing to do is embrace the failure of my stomach to be flat, and post it anyway. I have a feeling I know what Tanya Gold would say to that.

photo by C J Wallace, of http://tethered.co.uk

photo by C J Wallace, of http://tethered.co.uk

*Who comes up with tags like ‘creampie’ and ‘black cock bangs x’ anyway?

**I also wish we’d remembered to take the cane off the wall before we took this picture, but I can’t think of an interesting feminist disappointment about that.

Written by Not an Odalisque

March 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Intruders

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I’m writing this in the lover’s house, because I don’t want to go home.

Earlier, sitting on my bed, in my dressing gown, talking to the lover on the phone, I heard a noise. It was a lot like the sound of my front door opening. It couldn’t be, though, because the front door was locked, and the only other person with a key, the person, in fact, who surely locked the door as he left my house last night, was calling me from work on his lunch break. I chatted a bit more, then I heard another sound. I went out to see if the cat was eating my gladioli, and there was a middle aged lady standing at the bottom of the stairs.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m looking for Hard As Nails,*” she said.

“It’s next door,” I told her.

“This isn’t the manicurist?” she said.

“This is my home.” I thought she might leave then. The moment when she opened my door and stood on my post would have been a good moment. The minute when she pushed open the next door and looked up my stairs to the cat’s scratching post would have been good too. I can see how it may have seemed rude to leave just as a woman in her dressing gown asked her why she was here, but now seemed like the perfect moment to apologise and get the fuck out of my flat. Instead, she asked for more directions.

“This is the first time I’ve been.” She said. Well, yes.

After she left, I frantically locked the door. Then I called the lover back, and shouted, a lot. I don’t think he’ll repeat the mistake for a while.

Middle aged lady in hallway, looking for a manicure. No big deal, right? Well, no. I would consider it a favour if she’d stolen the yellow pages from the doormat, and she did, albeit slowly, go away without a fight. So why am I freaked out?

Partially, it’s because I’m scared of what goes on around my home. A couple of weeks ago I heard screaming and begging in the middle of the night. I opened the kitchen window and shouted,

“Are you ok down there? Do you want me to call the police?”

“Yeah,” a voice answered from the dark.

“Well, keep it down then,” I said. He was either ok, or wanted me to call the police. The cops arrived within about 30 seconds, in six police cars with flashing lights, which was nice.

Since then I’ve had an irrational fear that whoever was threatening someone in the alleyway behind my house that night is going to come round and smash up my car for thwarting him, which is a bit silly since it might just have been a couple arguing about the gas bill. That my door was unlocked all night brings out terrifying imaginings. Still, I suspect that isn’t really the root of my fear. It’s probably this:

I was once in bed with my girlfriend on a lazish sort of morning, when I was living in private halls. The door was locked, this time. I was in the middle of my room, walking to the bathroom, wearing nothing at all, when I heard a key in the door. There was a strange man standing in the doorway. He walked into my room. I said. “Get out!”

He didn’t stop. He told me he was here to test the electrics in my room. He kept walking towards me. I started yelling, “Leave now!” over and over. He kept telling he he wouldn’t go. Eventually, I must have mustered enough of a commanding tone, because he said he’d give me a minute. I put on my dressing gown, and stormed out to find he’d retreated to the kitchen. I demanded to know what he thought he was doing. He explained that since students slept late, he had a key and just went into the rooms and got on with his work. I said there was no way he was coming into my room now. He said I had to let him in, I’d been given notice by the sign on reception (“Electrical checks will be carried out in this building on …”). I said he had no right to walk into my room without permission. He sighed and exchanged a “silly women!” look with the teenage trainee he’d brought along. My girlfriend and I went to complain at reception. By the time we got back, they were in my room again.

I’ve developed a bit of a thing about people in my space since then. That might be why I yelled at the man from United Utilities yesterday when he turned off the water to my flat without telling me he was going to. It might be why I wasn’t friendly and helpful to the silly woman in my hallway. It might be why my landlady saying she’d let the surveyor in if I wasn’t there drove me to blind rage.

And you know why? It’s salami slices. The men are going to exchange that ‘hysterical woman!’ look sooner or later, so why not make that sooner? The man who pressures you into letting him walk you home is going to pressure you into letting him in for coffee, and the man who pressures you into a dance is going to pressure you into a close move; before you know it, there’s a penis poking you in the hip. The next place my girlfriend lived featured a landlady who used to hang around in the hallways of the shared house, and eventually turned up with two big men to force their way into her bedroom and take away her bed. Each individual step is only mildly objectionable, but it’s the journey that matters.

I’m stopping them sooner, the harassers and the landlords. And I’m getting an intruder alarm.

*Comedy shop names substituted to protect my address.

Written by Not an Odalisque

August 9, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Stone Butch Blues, Today

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I have been reading ‘Stone Butch Blues’. When I first saw the title—browsing the library catalogue for books on butch/femme identity and trans issues—I thought it was a musician’s autobiography; I had to go all the way back to the library when I realised my mistake. For those of you as ignorant as me, it’s the story of a butch lesbian in 1960s America, and it’s full of oppression, systemized violence and rape. Her lovers are prostitutes and the gay bars are danger zones. It’s a story about being on the fringes of society, and, for some characters, losing grip on society’s tassels entirely.

I have a sense that this experience should speak to me, as part of lesbian history. The freedom I have now, to kiss a girl in the street, was won by people like her returning to the gay bar, night after night, in the knowledge that if the police come—and one day they will—she’ll be beaten and raped. In a sense she did it for me, yet her fierce identity, her need to refer to all lesbians as ‘butches’ or ‘femme’s (nouns, not adjectives), her intensity, alienates me.

Reading Emma Donoghue’s ‘Passions Between Women’, on the other hand, which explores lesbian identity in eighteenth century Britain, I have a sense of fun, a sense that, in those circumstances, I would form a ‘romantic friendship’ and pen pastorals to my love. I would marry a woman dressed as a man, or do many of the numerous, ingenious things women who loved women did to make room for their passion in a restrictive society. The penalties for such behaviour were not heavy. Female husbands, for example, were generally tried for fraud (as the ‘male’ partner, they owned the wife’s property). In 1694 one was sentenced:

She was ordered to Bridewell to be well whipt and kept to hard labour till further order of the court.

Donoghue notes that,

The punishment, too, sounds mild, in the context of the period, when pickpocketing and rape were hanging matters….there is no record of executions in Britain or America. When British female husbands received any punishment, it was typically a matter of six months in jail and a symbolic exposure.

Adjusting for the harshness of the era (with a lack of subtlety that probably has Foucault spinning in his grave), British lesbians of 300 years ago were afforded more self-expression than American lesbians 50 years ago, and if they wore a suit they did it to create a private space for their love, rather than to slot into an inflexible butch identity. That freedom may be why I feel more affinity to eighteenth century lesbians than I do to the Stone Butch crowd.

I didn’t grow up in a world where lesbians were seriously oppressed. My mother’s cousin used to come to visit, wearing black trousers and doc martens, she leant me tomes on feminist theory, and lived with her best friend. My school had an openly lesbian head teacher, in addition to the obligatory P.E. coven. The head teacher was terrifying, respectable, and given to reading out long passages by Julian of Norwich on Monday mornings. She was in no way transgressive.

Did I find it difficult admitting I like women? Sometimes. Have I played the pronoun game? Absolutely. I’m not worried about retribution, though, I’m just overcome by the weight of misunderstanding.

In my forays into mainstream society, the assumptions about me are so great and so many that I don’t know where to begin changing them. I’m a woman, so I must be obsessed about my weight, elated when complimented on my looks, scared of strange men, reassured by the protective presence of male acquaintances. I must demand monogamy, probably against the instincts of my male lover, I must prefer sweet white wine to real ale, I must want a desk job, and refuse to consider one that involves lifting files (thanks, recruitment agent, for that).

Not everyone makes these assumptions, but enough people do, often enough, that fighting it feels futile. When someone says, “you look good, you must have lost weight,” I could say, “I looked good beforehand, and in any case I have no interest in weight as a measure of beauty, given the socio-economic factors determining both,” or I could be polite and change the subject. When I say I have a date and everyone assumes it’s with a man, or when I say my partner has a date and everyone assumes it’s with a woman, frankly, there are bigger things I’ve let slide.

Which is all to say, the world hasn’t recognised my sexual identity and given me a card and some balloons, and I’m ok with that. In this particular kettle of fish, my sexuality is a sardine to the giant tuna of other aspects of my life. What of ‘Stone Butch Blues’? Well, I’m glad they did it. Maybe it’s because they fought so hard that I’m able to put my energies into frying bigger fish. Maybe I’m missing something important, about how things were different in America, about what it means to be lesbian and working class, and maybe I’ll learn those things if I keep reading. I’m curious, though, about how everyone else feels about our history. Do you feel some affinity for their pain, or are we so far beyond it, that the historical lesbians we identify with have to be the ones with pluck, breeches, poetry and cutlasses?

Written by Not an Odalisque

July 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Adventures in Heteronormative Culture: The Ceroc Dance ‘Weekender’

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This weekend I’m going for my first “dance weekender” which is distinguished from an ordinary weekend by £130 and the addition of the letters “er”. It’s not classy and it’s not cool; it’s at Pontins. I’m dreading three nights on the lumpy mattress of in my “budget chalet,” but not as much as I’m dreading the suppressing my feminist rage for three days. If I never blog again, it’s possible I’ll have exploded in ‘The Chill Out Zone’, look for pieces of my body there.

Ceroc has never scored high on the subtle-understanding-of-gender metre. They provide training and examinations in dance teaching, but their teachers don’t think anything of calling women ‘girls’ and making jokes about how the stranger I’m dancing with wants to grope me. The average punter doesn’t seem to mind, though; in fact, indignities caused by fellow dancers are much greater than with the teachers. I’ve never been felt up by a teacher. I’ve never been pressured to do close moves I’ve said I don’t want to do by a teacher. I’ve never been complimented on imagined weight loss and then had my imagined positive reaction parodied by a teacher. That’s all been fellow dancers. Sometimes I look around the room and think that I’m the only one there to dance, everyone else seems to be involved in a vast, insulting and semi-consensual meat market. At least no one has followed me home from the dance hall in an attempt to start a sexual relationship, as happened to one woman I know. So I don’t suppose that many of their other customers care about the awful way Ceroc handles gender identity issues, and I don’t suppose they’ll change any time soon. Most people won’t even see a problem.

Ceroc weekends operate “gender balanced booking” and use it to attract people to their events. I can see why. It’s frustrating to be at an event where there are twice as many women as men, because you’ll only be able to dance half the time, or less than half, as some women have partners to monopolise. I’ve left early after hours of boredom because of a bad gender imbalance.

There are two ways to deal with the problem. One is to separate gender from dancing role, so that the make up of the crowd doesn’t define the evening. The other is to exclude some women or include more men to balance the numbers. It as the reverse of the problem so many fetish and swingers’ clubs have.

As a feminist, I tend towards the first option. In dances like Lindy Hop, which attract a younger, more liberal crowd, I see plenty of women leading. It happens occasionally in jive, and is usually a symptom of a man shortage. To convince more women to lead and men to follow, we would have to reform the culture of jive. At your first lesson you’d have to be told you can choose to lead or follow, we’d have to change the language of ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’ to ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’ and take all of the gendered assumptions (whether that’s jokes about groping to comments on men having better spatial awareness) out of the lessons. The whole sexualised atmosphere of partner dancing would have to be dialled back. That would suit me well, as I’m uncomfortable with the assumption that the men I dance with are having a sexual interaction with me—one’s over eighty—and I suspect it contributes to them not respecting my boundaries.

I have to recognise, though, that I’m not like most jivers. There’s a reason it feels like a meat market: a lot of people are there to find sexual partners. I’ve seen the vultures swoop in at the beginning of the freestyle, after the lesson, in their tight dresses and high heels, to flirt with the men. Hundreds of men seem to have awkwardly tried to ask me out, or ascertain if I’m single. I’ve learned to recognise the recently-divorced look, and the look of the nice guy whose friends have told to get out and meet people. They want to dance with people of the opposite sex because most of them are straight. How many hobbies bring you into contact, physical contact, with so many people of the opposite sex over the course of an evening? And if you can’t think of scintillating conversation you can just concentrate on the moves. Do the men who are enjoying this really want the women clamouring to dance with them just to pair off together? Do the women want to forego the chance of meeting someone who’ll sleep with them, so they can dance with their friends instead? It seems unlikely.

That’s the cuddly side of heteronormative culture, straight people who don’t mind gays, but don’t want them getting in the way. There’s a nastier side to it, though. I’ve attended one (non-Ceroc) jive club where an individual was forced to leave because (s)he didn’t conform to the expected gender roles. (S)he wore a dress, and had masculine characteristics. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know whether (s)he was a male-to-female trans woman, a cross-dresser, or any other gender variation. I do know that (s)he wasn’t allowed to take part in the lessons because some men complained they weren’t comfortable dancing with another man. They felt that the finger-tip touch necessary for jive was too sexual. They were happy to do it with any woman in the room, and happy to see women do it together (lesbianism doesn’t count, right?) but not with men. So the people who ran the club saved its male members from such an awful fate.

At what point does recognising the desires of the (straight) majority cross from pragmatism to homophobia and transpobia? I don’t know. I’d be happier, though, if I thought the question had crossed the minds of the people running Ceroc. They explain their gender balancing here:

We made the decision to introduce gender balancing into the weekender market as we believe very strongly that both boys and girls should have the same freestyle opportunities.

Absent a major overhaul of jive culture, this is understandable. What’s less understandable is the wording. I’m not a girl. I haven’t been a girl for nine years, and I’m one of the younger members. This is the sort of language they use throughout the website and literature. There’s also a conflation of “male,” “man” and any other word signifying the individual may have a penis. Take this email they sent me, a woman who has already booked:

All the accommodation for this event has sold out. However, if you are a MALE and have a friend who has already booked an apartment and can accommodate you, then for £99 (per person) you can still come and enjoy this event.

They repeat at the end that the offer is only available to “MALES”.

To try to stop people cheating the system by pretending to be MALE when they are not in possession of a penis, stewards will be checking that everyone is wearing the correct colour-coded wristband (I haven’t got it yet, but who thinks it’s going to be pink?). How they’re going to check? Will men have to strip at the entrance to the dance hall to display an all-important penis? For women, will just unbuttoning a blouse be ok?

I’m lucky, I wear dresses and make up and feel relatively comfortable with my birth gender (as long as people don’t make stupid comments about multitasking), so I don’t think that I’ll be misgendered even though I don’t shave my legs. That gains me admission to a club I don’t really want to be part of, because what happens to the butches, trans people, the queers and the intersexed? Why should they have to justify themselves at a dance event? And who are these stewards to tell me that they know more about my gender identity than I do?

If it really is about dancing, and not about getting straight people laid, than committing to leading for the weekend should have as much weight as having been born with a willy. If it is about getting laid, I’ll stay in Manchester and do it a more cheaply and enjoyably with people who know better than to call me ‘girl’ or use ‘female’ as a noun.

Here’s my plan: next time I’ll go in drag. Who’ll chip in for a couple of natty three-piece suits and a pair of snazzy black and white wingtips? I’ll provide the hat. Not only will I dance better than half of those willy-owners who claim to lead, I’ll look a hundred times more suave. Send cravats!

Written by Not an Odalisque

October 12, 2011 at 7:25 pm

How Not to Deal With Harassers II

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Last New Year, as I stood in a crowd watching the fireworks and feeling a stranger’s hand squeeze my bum, I made a resolution. I was going to stand up to gropers, harassers, wannabe-rapists and people who refused to read my subtle signals. I wasn’t going to put up with it any more, because putting up with it only encourages them. If I was to become a shrill harpy of a feminist in the process, so be it. I didn’t have a specific plan, just a vague anger towards the people who think my body isn’t exclusively my own.

I should have made a plan. As it turns out, not suppressing my first reaction usually leaves me feeling guilty as well as grubby and violated. A couple of months ago, when a man passing on the street leant close to my ear and said, “nice tits,” I didn’t reasonably respond with, “I object to your sexually harassing me,” but choked out, “fuck off!” at an inappropriate volume. When a man touched me last week, I said if he did it again I’d kick him in the balls. While he didn’t seem too phased, I’m ashamed of myself for threatening violence. If violence is ever the solution to anything, surely it should be the last resort.

None of my readers have admonished me. If anything, those who responded implicitly supported my reaction. The notion that violence is acceptable in these circumstances seems to be widespread, look at the comments on this post, for example. I can see why. There’s a fire in it. The same fire I felt when I first read this:

Lots of women (men didn’t dare comment on the subject) stood up to publically declare: “How revolting, we absolutely must not consider that violence is an answer to rape.” Why not? You never see news items about girls—alone or in gangs—biting the dicks of men who attack them, or trailing their attackers to kill them or beat them lifeless. This only happens, for the moment, in films directed by men. […] You see how men, if they were women, would react to rape. A bloodbath of merciless violence. Their message is clear: why don’t you defend yourselves more fiercely? […]

But women still feel the need to say that violence is not the answer. And yet, if men were to fear having their dicks slashed to pieces with a carpet knife should they try to force a woman, they would soon become much better at controlling their “masculine” urges, and understanding that “no” means “no”. I wish I’d been able to escape the values instilled in my gender that night [when I was raped], and slit each of their throats, one by one.

Virginie Despentes, King Kong Theory, trans. Stephanie Benson (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2009), pp.36-37.

There’s something very seductive in that. I could write all of my pain on the bodies of men who invaded mine, those who raped me, groped me, squeezed me, prodded me with their erect penises or otherwise made me feel violated and afraid.* In so doing I would send a message to all of the others. Maybe if I’d punched that man on Portland Street, he wouldn’t rub his dick against any more women.

On the other hand, maybe he’d have punched me back, harder, and left me bleeding on the ground. I didn’t reform one rapist even after breaking two of his toes. When I hit a colleague, reacting to a girl shouting, “get this man away from me,” my boss told me I’d done the right thing, then went off to advise the man against carrying out his threat of breaking my arm in retaliation. I’d done a great job at de-escalation as you can see!
I think there are two reasons why, on some level, accept a violent reaction in these situations. One is that it proves you meant “no.” I would be very hesitant to turn up at a police station to tell them about rape or sexual abuse without a scratch on me. I don’t think I would be believed. I’d be even more reluctant to fight back hard, though, because I’d rather be raped and alive than unraped and dead or seriously injured. I guess I’m weird that way.

The other reason is that women are seen as weak. Lashing out at men, they can look like the poor, victimised underdogs going after the baddie and grinding him into the dust. It’s an empowering image. The might of the powerful being used against the weak is not. The flaw in this view (apart from its obvious inaccuracies) is that the violent reaction is only acceptable because we’ll lose. Its premise is our weakness, our vulnerability. I’m allowed to hit him, because it won’t really hurt, he’s tough. If we all started punching men who touched us uninvited tomorrow, I suspect the result would be the same horrible power dynamics and black eyes all round. If it wasn’t, soon campaigners would be calling for an end to the reign of terror, and suggesting solutions for the oppressed underdogs: the men.

I got it wrong last week. Threatening to kick a man in the balls felt like standing up to him, but I was positioning myself to lose. I’ve replayed it in my mind many times since, and I still don’t have the answer. It’s nearly a year since I first resolved to do it, and I still don’t know how to confront the gropers. Do you? Will you tell me how?

*Apart from the ones who made me feel violated and afraid in a good way: Sade, Nietzsche and a few others. You know who you are. You all deserve cuddles and cake.

Written by Not an Odalisque

December 1, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Aiming at Amis

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Once a fortnight I resist throwing things at Martin Amis. Usually books, but it depends what else is to hand. I haven’t had the guts to knit during sessions with him, but if I did, I’d launch my needles like javelins. Amis isn’t evil—he hasn’t killed people or spoken at the theatre—he just has a habit of making smug pronouncements that force me to sit on my hands for fear of doing something violent.

Today he announced the end of class and gender discrimination. The only oppressive system left, apparently, focuses on age, so we should concern ourselves with the old. Martin Amis is white, male, and not getting any younger. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see why his concern lies where it does.

We made some points about education, I pointed out that class affects identity, and pulled some faces. What I didn’t do was rant and gesticulate, talk about the disproportionate number of women living in poverty, weep over the woman jailed because her abuser pressured her into retracting her rape claim, or demand to know why he hadn’t set a single novel by a female author. It wouldn’t have felt appropriate. He’s eminent, after all. Most of the eminent people are old, white men.

I’ve never taken the toffee-hammer approach to feminism. Generally, I think we’re like to get further if we don’t give everyone a reason to write us off as hysterical madwomen. So I wait my turn and voice my disagreements, if invited, politely. Even if I haven’t bothered to shave my legs, I’ve put on a skirt, hold-ups and some new Chanel foundation that I really couldn’t afford. I’m a nice, middle-class girl, after all.

Sometimes I imagine a life in which I wasn’t polite. I replay the moment when Martin Amis said that women should stop sleeping with gloomy novelists, because it only encourages them, and visualise myself saying what every woman in the room must have been thinking: that he didn’t have a chance with us, and sex with women isn’t some sort of rewards system for writers, in fact, some of them are women. I’d go back and tell all the guys who talk about their aggressive driving that they are dicks, and strip off in front of men who harass me on the street. Every time a man made a sexist comment while pretending to seek understanding of women or feminism I would slap his face and walk away.

I know that this isn’t how you build understanding or change minds. I realise that people are more likely to forget what you told them than how you made them feel. I have ideals and mediation training and Martin Amis’s autobiography. None of that changes this: I want to throw things at Martin Amis. If I’m arrested for assault, will the feminists bail me out?

Written by Not an Odalisque

November 24, 2010 at 12:01 am

If You Read This, You’ll Discover I’m A Monster

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I think that if you met me you would believe that I’m a nice girl. Middle class. Rather shy. Prone to thinking that everyone has read Byron and agrees on the importance of soup spoons. On the first day of my course nice women mothered me and bought me bakewell tart. That’s the girl they bought it for.

Now and again other parts slip out. I forget that in a discussion about pole dancing you shouldn’t admit that you’ve actually seen any, and especially shouldn’t admit that you were in a lesbian bar in Soho at the time. I forget that reading ‘120 Days of Sodom’ on the train will get me funny looks. Mostly, I forget that there are a number of topics you’re meant to come at sideways, and shock people with frankness where they expected allusion.

In everyday life, it isn’t too difficult to keep parts of myself separate. I remember to be nice to my granny when she asks why I haven’t got a nice boy, and don’t need to additionally remind myself not to tell her I don’t want a nice boy, but a big, nasty man who’ll do unspeakable things to me. I don’t need to talk about Kristeva’s theory of abjection when I call Estates to report a blocked toilet. I remember who I’m speaking to, and everything flows from there.

That isn’t the case with writing. When you write something down, anyone can read it, but you’ll never write that sex scene with your granny sitting on your shoulder. In fact, you’ll never write anything if you’re trying to please everyone, and everyone, you see, is your potential audience. Will Milly from the chip shop appreciate that parody of the Commedia dell’arte? I doubt it. Your old tutor, though, author of numerous books on the subject, will probably laugh at your childish attempts. It’s best to put them all out of your mind.

So I conjure an ideal reader. You, dearest, are a reader of Byron, an owner of soup spoons (possibly also a supplier, have you any spare?) and a lover of bakewell tart. You aren’t scandalised by pole dancing or kink, and you’ve read at least the first half of ‘The Powers of Horror’, you’ve met Columbine and Harlequin. You’re perfect, and you’ll reinvent yourself tomorrow when I begin another piece.

If you’re reading this and you don’t fit that description, I consider that to be your problem. There are people whose opinions matter to me very deeply, but all of them have got better things to do than read my ramblings. The rest of you will just have to take me as I am.

If only it were always that way. I’m taking a Creative Writing course. Now and again I have to sit in a room with your readers. Talk to them, lunch with them, see them drink soup from polystyrene cups. How are they going to react if my stories aren’t nice?

I’m not nice. I’m rather monstrous. If I’m to render an honest account of my experience (and it’s the only experience I have to offer) then that monstrosity is going to come out one way or another. I can’t see a way around that. I’ve found myself to be really very bad at writing poems about flowers.

You might say (although you won’t, if you’re my ideal reader) that I should try harder on the flower poems. My thinking is this: Women spend an awful lot of their time pretending not to be the monsters they are (no doubt men do, too); we pluck and shave, bite our tongues and paint our faces, and keep quiet about desire or periods or hating having to do the washing up. It hasn’t done us very much good. It’s one of the reasons we’re still stuck not only with the image of women as beautiful, good and pure, but also with having to do the dishes. To fall in with society’s expectations is to deny what we are, and, in some sense, to tell a lie. The right to write about our whole selves has been fought for in the courts and won. That means that I get the chance to read ‘Baise-Moi’ and think “fuck, yeah!”

The best story I’ve written recently includes a rape. It includes the word “purpling”. It is filled with sticky sexual anecdotes which may not be true to the letter, but are true to the spirit, of things that happened to me. I want to hand it in, but I’m gripped by this anxiety: what will people think of me?

Did Nabokov worry that people would think he was a paedophile? Shakespeare a poisoner? Dostoevsky a thief? Tolstoy an adulterer? I don’t know. It seems quite likely that, soon, all the people on my course will think I’m a weirdo. Perhaps then, in search of acceptance, I’ll begin to value you, my darling, perfect, reader.

Written by Not an Odalisque

September 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm