We may have accustomed ourselves to the bizarre hysterics of the Republican war on women in the States, but there's a more subtle campaign against women's desire. I guess it's a way of getting to the root of the problem. Apparently snapping some kind of chastity belt on the vagina just isn't enough. These busybodies would love to shackle women's minds as well.
It can be very subtle and often masquerades as "positive" coverage. The Independent Magazine had a story this past Sunday on a number of erotic romance writers, women of various ages and backgrounds. The male author approaches the writers as if they were some kind of lost species. The idea that he must ask, "Do women write porn?" flabbergasts. The shock angle is they are "shy introverted woman [sic] with a love of reading and writing." Like most writers of every genre, I suppose.
The editorial side plays up the sensationalism: "Kinky Books" the interior title screams. The first pull quote, "I write in secret, using words I would never, ever say," makes Kay Jaybee sound very different than her other words like, "Sadly, many people can't separate the art from the subject matter," rightly noting that people seldom assume crime writers to be murderers. Predictably perhaps, although the authors write mostly erotic romance, the cover blurb has it, "WOMEN WHO WRITE PORN." Porn triggers a more sensational reaction, of course.
Similarly the fuss around Fifty Shades of Grey. While the publisher seems to be their darndest to separate the book from its roots as Twilight fan fiction, the gendered attack has already begun. There's a name and shame type of meme that isolates lines from the book with silly stock photos to heap scorn on the book. While the same could be done many popular male authors, it isn't. Ever. Not even to Dan Brown. Instead we get Stephen King slagging off Stephanie Meyer to huge applause, although his own portrayal of women is seriously retrograde and highly suspect. When it comes to women's desire, women are apparently always doing it wrong.
A colleague asked me on Twitter what I thought about Jezebel's coverage of boyband, er porn star James Deen. Kate J. M. Baker mentions Molly Oswaks' dismissal of Deen as representing a boyband-like safe sexual star, but suggests that his appeal has much more depth. The truth is that women's desire is manifold and elusive. Look at the categories and heat levels of romance and erotic romance. You can get every possible combination of people, practices and sexual explicitness.
Women know what they want.
Our culture wants to turn that multiplicity of desires into a simple, commodified quantity that can be packaged, repeated and sold. They use shame, sneering and scorn to try to accomplish it, but it eludes them. That subterranean force remains powerful. We all have desires that don't fit the factory-stamped images we're given. Celebrate it.