Sunday, 21 December 2014

8 Things I’ve Learned from Reading a Romance Book

Being absolutely bored to death and in need of something to read, I downloaded to my Kindle this book for free, “Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble” by H. P. Mallory. Before you start judging my taste in books, I must dare to say that it’s a relatively good read. Actually, I've read all of the 5 books of the Jolie Wilkins series.
Whaaat? I like it...
It has well considered plot, it’s fantasy world with witches, fairies, warlocks and vampires, so it’s not only about sappy love and nothing else. There is war between species, there is drama, there is suspense and it’s really engaging. And, as it usually goes in this kind of books, there is a love trio, with main character - Jolie Wilkins the witch in the middle, warlock Rand and vampire Sinjin fighting for her attention, love and affection.
Oh, and there are erotic scenes that made my heart beat faster. And I had really restless nights after reading some fragments…

But anyway, I wouldn’t be myself if I just switched off my feminist brain and take the book as it is. Nope, it didn’t happen. I had to analyse each male – female dynamics and draw conclusions. I couldn’t help but wonder how can this kind of books impact on our perceptions of love, romance and sex. And most importantly, what is the message that some of those books are sending to the women who are reading them?
Anyway, this are the things I noticed in this books that are worth mentioning.

1. If the woman says no, it means no.

This is the first thing that I’ve noticed and I were like “Whoop whoop! Halleluiah!”. Although it seems that every male character with name wants to have sex with Jolie, she has her eyes on Rand and he is the only one who gains the privilege of being her lover. And even though each male character with name says it multiple times how bad they want her, if she says no, it means no. It doesn’t stop them from talking her into it, but basically that’s it. No means no.
What is even better, the erotic situations with Rand doesn’t always end up with sex. Heck, I had to wait until Book 2 for them to finally get it going. There are various reasons why they didn’t do it earlier (author’s sadism being the main reason), but some of them were cut short by Jolie’s “no”. Even if there is this graphic description of Rand’s erection and his desire and basically he is so horny that if he could, he would have sex with her 10000 times without a break, when she says “we can’t”, he stops and takes cold shower. And that’s it.
Easy? Easy.

2. Rape is appalling and inexcusable. And victim needs to be supported.

Although the sexual tension is almost on every page of the book, it is clearly highlighted that rape is inexcusable. Even when the victim dresses up provocatively.
It is clearly described how Jolie changes her clothing style from really safe and unrevealing clothes, to “sexy” ones and “highlighting her twins”, but she is never policed for it.
When she gets kidnapped, violated and almost raped by one “son of a b**** vampire”, even though she is dressed in clothes showing all of her sexy curves, she isn’t blamed for anything by anybody. And what’s best, she doesn’t blame herself.
And when others do find out what happened to her and what the “son of a b**** vampire” did to her, nobody is against her. Not even her ex-boyfriend with whom she isn’t at best of terms. Everybody is outraged, sickened by the situation and she meets with support and understanding. And when she says that she never mentioned the whole situation, because she wanted to forget about it, there is only one thing to say: “I understand”.

3. Everybody has different sexual needs and sexual drives.

Another awesome thing in the book is that sexual desire and needs don’t depend on gender. We have Jolie who can go without sex for some time and can patiently wait for Rand to finally jump into her bed (I told you, there is drama and various conundrums), even though there are some guys, who would be more than happy to take his place, right here, right now. But she is waiting (sometimes not as patiently) for the one she really desires.
Then we had her best friend, Christa, who has insatiable sexual drive. Before the action even starts to develop, we are getting familiar with the list of guys that Christa dated and had sex with. And there isn’t even a hint of judgement of her actions. Finally, she finds a boyfriend, whom she marries at the end of the series. And btw, he sometimes complains about her sexual needs and that she wants sex TOO MUCH. So we have a guy, who wants sex less often than his girlfriend. It happens.
Then we have a guy, who basically f**** everything that has vagina. Then we have a vampire Sinjin, whose sexual drive is compared to Christa’s. And finally we have Rand, who mentions his desire to have sex with Jolie from almost Chapter 1, but he is able to wait patiently for a proper moment where both of them will be into it.
So ladies and gentlemen, never be ashamed of your sexual desire, or lack of thereof, because everything that feels natural to you is NORMAL.

4. Sex scenario between employer and employee is unthinkable.

That was an interesting point. At one moment (lots of things happen before that, but anyway…) Jolie starts working for Rand. So Rand is her employer. So he is in the position of power. And even though they want each other baaadly (there are random passionate kisses and looks and jealousy and graphic erotic descriptions etc.) Rand decides not to take the step further, because it would be inappropriate as he is her boss and he doesn’t want to put her in problematic position.
Bravo, Rand.

5. Woman’s orgasm first.

That’s the thing I looooved. Like I said, there were various erotic scenarios that ended with nothing, but each action always started with Rand pleasuring Jolie. Always. Unless it was described that she was ready for it like right now and downright announced it.
Also, the first sexual situation that actually was carried through, was an oral sex performed on her. There is again a graphic description how her taste and wetness etc. made him feel, but he decided that he want to pleasure her and that this evening was all about her. And when they FINALLY did have a proper sex (multiple times), it also started with him pleasuring her. Only when she said something among the lines like “I want you NOW”, only then he get straight to the business.
Like I said, that’s the point I really loved. The truth that the main source of orgasm for women is clitoral stimulation and there is only a handful of women who have vaginal orgasms. So ladies, there is a lesson for you to learn from that: if the guy loves you and cares about your pleasure, he will make sure that you are first wet and horny enough for him to enter. If you are not and he doesn’t care, just kick him in the nuts, because he is not worth it.

6. Men in power can easily work on equal terms with women in power.

At one point in the book Jolie becomes the Queen of the Underworld, so she is like the highest of highest and she has her Council where all magical species are represented and all representatives are the most powerful of all. Even though the ratio is 5 to 3, it is always highlighted that each of the women could easily make barbeque of everybody on the Council (and most of others, for that matter). And guys don’t have a problem with that. They can easily work alongside women, take their opinion into consideration, don’t mansplain anything and suck it up when they got outvoted. There is only one sexist comment where one person suggests that women are weaker sex, but he’s put in his place by everybody in the room.

7. Marriage shouldn’t be forced on woman.

When Jolie becomes the Queen, she is pushed to do many things she not necessarily wants to: move out of her small apartment, get classes in various political and queeny things, meet with people, give speeches, consult her council and properly represent her people.
When it becomes apparent that it would be a good political decision if she marries a representative of other magical being (vampires, fairies, demons, werewolves), the decision is only hers. And when she indelicately tells everybody to shove off, there is no hard feelings.
And when she finally gets together with Rand and gets pregnant, everybody is happy for her. Because she is seen as a person with ability and right to choose, not a bargaining card for political benefits.

However, there was one thing that stood out and I didn’t like it. And I believe that this kind of narrative becomes way too often represented in books that brought up the subject of sex and romantic relationship:

8. Sexual harassment, stalking, psychological violence and jealousy are sexy.

Like I just said, this narrative is problematic and it scares me how sexual harassment and violence is easily mistaken with eroticism and passion.
For example in Twilight saga, books potentially for teenagers, stalking is described as something sexy, as a sign of love and care. Nobody mentions how creepy it is and how many victims live in fear because of it and how their experience is belittled by almost everybody, including criminal justice system representatives.
Not to mention Bella’s first time, when she basically is all bruised up. But that’s okay, because he is a vampire and he can’t control his strength. But he regrets everything afterwards and he is sorry.
Or 50 Shades of Grey books that are on one hand glorified for their attempt to bring alternative sexual scenarios into the discussion, but on the other hand are frequently criticised for mistaking domestic violence and sexual abuse with love and BDSM lifestyle.
Here is similar situation. Although rape is clearly described as something appalling, sexual harassment, stalking and jealousy manipulations are not.
So basically, Rand is indecisive the entire book, he loves Jolie, but he won’t act on his feelings, he doesn’t show her for long time how much he cares for her, but is always angry at her that she doesn’t know that. He is terribly jealous each time another guy comes into the picture and she seems interested, even though few pages ago he made it clear that he doesn’t know what he wants with her or that he won’t allow for anything to progress.
There are few situations where Rand is fighting with somebody for her. Actually, I think it got to punching on three or four occasions. And each time it’s described as something “wow”. Because she never would have thought that the guy could fight for her and now there is this two extremely sexy guys throwing punches. Wow. And what is more, few of those acts of violence are when Rand tries to “defend” Jolie, regardless of her opinion on that matter. But still “wow”.
Also, through entire book there is this hint of psychological violence and manipulations. For example, things are going into the sex direction, then something happens, Jolie gets angry at Rand and decides she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him (or guys for that matter), so he goes to tell her how much he cares for her, but still does nothing, she have a thing with somebody else (a kiss, a date, etc.), Rand gets jealous, stops speaking to her, make a guilt trip saying that she doesn’t care about his feelings, so she turns her attention towards him, but he ignores her. So she is left with guilt, mixed feelings, usually crying until he decides to “forgive” her. So basically she is in this perpetual situation when she doesn’t know what will future brings with Rand, because he is freakin’ indecisive. But each time when he pushes her away and she is like “fine, I have to move on”, he automatically does something to stay around and make her feel guilty for thinking about her own happiness.
And finally:

Sexual harassment and violence is sexy when it’s done by a guys who are handsome and woman is attracted to them.

We have whole spectrum of horny guys who wants to f*** Jolie and even though some of them accepts her “no” for sex, it doesn’t prevent them from grabbing, rubbing, flashing, invading personal space, forcefully kissing and freely commenting on her clothes and boobs. As if somehow the sexual harassment was a normal thing that guys can’t control and all the girl can do is to accept that and feel flattered that she receives so much attention.
There are also few descriptions of sexual violence, especially in relationship Jolie – Sinjin. So from their first encounter it’s clear that Sinjin is attracted to her and she is clearly attracted to him. As we all know, she is in love with Rand, so she is patiently waiting to jump his bone, but there are obvious description that she is sexually attracted to Sinjin as well. And somehow it excuses all of his actions against her. He pins her into wall or tree, rubs himself against her, few times forcefully kisses her, holds her down against her will while stinging her with his erection through his pants, etc.
For me, it’s clearly sexual violence. Sexual attraction does not excuse such violations and actions against woman’s will. But here it’s mistaken with passion, desire and lust. And at the same time, it doesn’t seem to bother the girl, somehow it’s made to appear flattering.

Those are dangerous messages. Sexual harassment is clear violation of woman’s integrity and it doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator is sexy and sexually attractive or not. Men just can’t violate women whenever they please, only because they have a desire to do so. Strong sexual desire, passion and lust doesn’t require sexual violence to take place. And even when girl “like it rough”, it doesn’t mean that she wants to be sexually harassed and abused.

Just to sum up, those books and similar to them clearly have some feminist messages that are broadcasted to the world. Female characters are complicated, full of ambitions, desires, various stories and experiences. Male characters can be respectful, complicated, sensitive and are not afraid of women in power.
However, there is still a looooooooong way until we learn to talk about sex as a natural phenomenon and stop mistaking sexual violence for signs of affection and love.

What about you? Do you like to read romantic/erotic books and novels? What are your observations? Did you noticed something in particular?
We’d love to hear your opinion!

 Written by Vespertilio

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Meek girls, brave boys and school books.

In this (hopefully..) short post I would like to present to you what I discovered in India, while helping my little neighbor with his homework. 

Before I tell you how shocked I was with his books, let's talk about one word that is sending shock waves around the globe. GENDER. (I hope you know how shocking the concept of gender is in some parts of this world)

In case you are one of those people who believe that studies about gender are dangerous to traditional family structure and really the society as we know it, let me tell you few fun facts. 
  • Gender studies don't claim that men and women are biologically the same. No, we all know women have vaginas, men have penises. 
  • Gender studies don't encourage kids to become gay or transgender. No, they promote acceptance and equality of all sexual orientations or genders. 
  • Gender studies don't encourage erasing traditions or cultures, unless misogyny and patriarchy is the main theme in any given culture. 
The end of fun facts, hope you're not blown away by those revelations. Oh, and no, moaning about gender bias doesn't mean that leftists are plotting to replace patriarchy with matriarchy. We're just trying to be friends here, ok? 

Let's get back to India now. So, my 8 year old friend came to me few times to seek help with his homework (kids in India have a loooooottt of homework!). While helping him with his English I noticed something strange about his books (he had 7 of them just for one semester... thank god I didn't grow up there). 

His books were full of stories about amazing men. I mean it, great role models like Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay - first people to climb Mount Everest. Other examples weren't any less amazing, my young neighbor would read about great sportsmen, politicians, historical (male) figures or soldiers. This way authors of his books were teaching him about perseverance, power of motivation, hard work and strength of character.  What strikes me the most was huge disproportion in stories about men and women. In fact, initially I had an impression that women are virtually absent from his textbooks. 

My boyfriend thought at first I'm over reacting, since I'm thinking about feminism and gender all the time... So I sat down with him, looked through every single page of each and every text book to count how many times women appear in those 7 books. 

Before I share with you what I found, let me tell you how I explained to my boyfriend why do I think it's important for children to have more balanced proportion of women and men in stories that they read. 

If human understanding of gender was universal, males and females (because obviously, according to most traditions other genders don't exist) in all cultures, throughout the history would behave in exact same way. That's simply not the case. That may lead you to think that biological sex is not necessarily a determinant of human behavior or traits of character. Gender roles are built into us not by nature, but by society that works very hard since the day we're born to socialize us into certain norms, including behaviors traditionally appropriate for our sex. 


School, teachers and textbooks are powerful agents to enforce social norms. Children at school are told what is expected of them as boys/girls and any deviation from this norm is noticed and might be even punished. Boys behaving loudly is just "boys are always so hyperactive" while girls behaving loudly is lack of good manners. Girls are those quiet, meticulous students who work hard to have good grades. Boys are disruptive, lazy, unable to focus creatures who get good marks not because they spend their evenings studying, but because they're simply clever. 

School books that I had a doubtful pleasure of reading show sexes in two opposing ways, if they show two sexes at all. Boys are those full human beings, with interests, ambitions, determination and curiosity for the world. Where as girls are shown as domestic, quiet, calm, meek, subservient. It worries me that girls and boys in my neighbors class will grow up with such stereotypical views about women. This kind of books are teaching children about notions of masculinity and femininity as two opposite poles. 

If you look at social problems faced by Indian society today you will see that many of them (like rape or domestic violence) are somehow connected to stereotypical understanding of gender roles. Boys are brought up by mothers who are grateful to have a son. Boys are given a lot of freedom and are made to believe they are the boss who orders and expects. Girls on the other hand grow up hearing that god cursed their family by giving them a girl. They are brought up to be "good girls",  quiet, shy, ready to serve, cook well, make great tea and in general be a good material for a wife. Obviously there are great examples of girls being brought up to be strong, empowered beings too, but those are more of exceptions from the rule and happen usually among higher (and richer) classes (we don't believe in casts anymore, right? :P ). 

In all 7 books, full of different stories I found, to be exact, TWO stories where women had the stage for themselves. I also took some very bad quality pictures of every single depiction of woman. 

The first story about a women that I stumbled upon was this one. The lady in pink sari is a protagonist in a story about bravery. YUPII!!
No, not that fast. If I recall it correctly, the village of this beautiful woman was in danger, armed robbers were prowling around and nobody felt safe, so men from this village, including this lady's husband went out to look for those hooligans. Unfortunately, while he was out, the robbers came to plunder his house. Not to worry, his brave wife was just waiting with her magic samosa recipe! She cooked for those villains and her delicious food made them forget about their evil plans.

 Amazing, isn't it? Boys get to be the soldiers, sportsmen, politicians, and girls get to be... great cooks!!! Yes girls, you better learn to roll those round chapatis, because that's one of the most valuable virtues a girl can posses. 

The second story (with another awful quality photo, please forgive me) with a female heroine was about Albert Einstein's mother. She was shown as the perfect mother, ready to sacrifice everything for her son. According to this story, she struggled to give young Albert everything he needed, including education, despite all her problems. 

Yes girls, boys can take example from first men on Mount Everest, and you can identify with one women who did a great job bringing up her son. Good luck with that. 

Those were all stories with female protagonists out of 7 text books. Am I really overreacting? I believe that response that I've got on my social media after posting it clearly shows the kind of attitudes buys grow up with when we don't address gender issues from the very beginning of education. 

People who grow up reading only male oriented stories have no idea what patriarchy really is and what is does to their lives and lives of women around them. They have no idea about the difference between being equal and identical. They think that woman can be great only if she is like a man. That's pure, unadulterated patriarchy. 

Except for two stories about women I also found few depictions of women and I took a photo of every single one of them to show you. Don't worry, there won't be many. 

Triumph!!A woman got a whole huuuuge picture just for herself!!! I thought, she must be someone famous! She's the only lady depicted in a 30 page book, but no... She's just cooking. That's it, really. 

When I saw the second picture, with the girl in a mini skirt, I thought to myself  "oh my goodness! I must have been wrong about all those books! Look how liberal!" Again, nope. I wasn't wrong. It was an illustration to an exercise where kids were supposed to fill in the gaps. The correct sentence goes something like this "Your skirt is so short! I can buy bigger one for you." I'm not kidding. In all 7 books kids were shown dignified ladies in saris, and then BAAM white girl in a mini skirt who can't afford kapra (material) for longer skirt. FU*KING SH*T. 

The last one. My favorite one. It depicts life in India, as I know it, in perfect way. 

Just look at it and ponder. 

Do you see the men sitting in the shadow of a tree, on the wall? Busy with.. well, life. 

Do you see the lady dressed in sari, carrying some heavy stuff? She's working my friends, physically, probably all day long. And it's hot outside, and her husband clearly doesn't give the slightest gram of a fu*k. 

Do you see the happy little boy in the boat? He's so adventurous, in the middle of a river, alone in the boat, discovering the world and enjoying himself. Perhaps he's about to jump into the water, it sure would be fun on that hot summer day. 

At last, do you see two girls, shyly watching this boy from the safe shore? They won't jump into the river, they are not allowed to. 

If it didn't make you sad then I don't know what will. Those are really ALL the pictures of women that my young friend will see in his English books for this semester. SAD. 

(Just one more comment on the last picture. The lady carrying this metal bowl reminds me so much of those countless women who are employed in the construction sites across India. They are much more attractive employee for low skill labor because their paid less than men, but do the same work.)

Books like those described by me here are actively reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes about men (brave, strong, active, heroic) and women (always ready to sacrifice for family, subservient, meek, timid, weak, submissive). It teaches children from early age that women are worth less then men and are less interesting than men.

We live in a different world! Girls today are becoming educated, successful professionals. Bringing up children in this old fashioned way of boys vs. girls makes life harder for both sides. They will grow up and face a boss at work who might be a woman, will they be able to cooperate with female boss without questioning her authority? That's just one out of many examples. The idea that girls are hard to understand comes from the fact that boys and girls are taught to play in two separate, opposing teams from the beginning. 

It's a pink vs. blue battle and we are all loosing it. It's time to stop. Time to stop teaching children that boys don't cry and girls are weak. 

The saddest part of all is that India has so many amazing female role models. Why aren't they anywhere to be seen in textbooks???? Out of sight... out of mind. 

If you live in India and have school going child, please look through the books of your child and maybe give us a shout about what you found. We would love to see more comments on school books and gender equality in Indian schools or any schools for that matter.. 

Written by Inanna