Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Not that bad" and Sex-positivism as a means to empowerment

I read this article yesterday about women in the gaming community and the daily harassment they experience. Before you click on the link, prepare yourself for very graphic language/threats. Seeing the things that some guys said to these women made me disgusted and fearful.

I'm no one. I wrote some books. I have some FB/Twitter followers, but mostly I'm not worth anything in terms of online harassment. I'm not in a male-dominated field and I don't write for the Internet so I have not been a victim of that level of hate.

Which is not to say I haven't experienced it. I don't know a woman in the world who hasn't experienced something that has left her feeling hated for her gender. But my experience of it has been "not that bad."

I'm interested in women's experience of "not that bad." It's a bigger article. It's a bigger anthology. I believe somewhere it's being planned out right now. For my own part, "not that bad" means that everything I experience that isn't rape feels like a gift. Like if I'm just ogled, pushed up against, catcalled at, etc. this really is nothing in the grand scheme.

I reread Margaret Atwood's "Rape Fantasies" short story last night. I will always remember this story as one of the first I wrote a paper on in my Fundamentals of Literary Analysis class. I remember my teacher not giving me a grade, but instead writing a note at the bottom of my paper that said "See Me" and when I went to see him, he said that he'd never read such a beautifully written paper that misunderstood the text completely.

I know why I misunderstood the text. Of course I know why. I focused on Estelle's humor. I called it a dark comedy. I comped it to things like Heathers. I don't think I was completely wrong, but the bigger point, the point that Estelle was in fact talking to a man at a bar, trying to engage with him, trying to suss him out so that he understood her fears and that she was terrified of being raped, terrified of leaving the bar with him, I didn't talk about that part.

I don't talk about that part. Or I do, but I talk about it academically. I talk about it in terms of books. But I don't let that part slide beneath my skin. I cannot. It leaves me way too exposed. So instead, I talk about sex. A lot. I chose my day job for a reason. I wear sex-positivism like a cape. It buys me something, being able to talk about sex without flinching. And I do like sex. But I also understand the defense behind it. I understand that for me, I need to have that or I will have nothing. I will curl into a ball and not be able to come out. So sex-positivism has become a source of power for me. My willingness to engage in conversation, to ask for what I want, to write an essay about 'first times' for The V-Word, all of this is power.

And that in the end, is what I think Margaret Atwood's Estelle was grappling with. In describing these scenarios, she was attempting to control a situation, hoping to empower herself so that these things would not happen to her. Which is really silly. This is not on us to prevent. We can't make ourselves "un-rape-able", but I 100% understand the instinct to try.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

On the Bittersweetness of Bookstore Visits

I went to the bookstore last night. My kids had some time before their big camp-out so we went to the huge mall Barnes & Nobles. I almost never go to the mall with my kids by myself, but I thought the bookstore would be okay. A safe place.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in a big bookstore like that. I shop local and my indie isn’t that huge. If I want to make the longer drive, I go to Anderson’s which is a pretty big and absolutely wonderful indie bookstore.

But last night I went to the Barnes & Noble and as I walked through the aisles, I grew increasingly sad. Not because the selection wasn’t massive (it really is a HUGE selection of YA novels), but because for all the excitement I felt seeing friends’ books on the shelves, I couldn’t help but notice the books that weren’t there.

Yes, my book wasn’t there, which I always prepare myself for so I don’t experience disappointment, but neither were: CarrieDahliaAndrewTedNovaMollyKathleenKatieJoleneSharonBrandyCourtneyStephKateJustinaShannonAmyAllisonTrishEricaetc’s. Do you see? You start making friends with writers. You start reaching out and connecting and then when you go to the bookstore, you become a little sad.

I love my writing life. I love my friends. I love so much of what publishing has brought me, but I miss the magic of going to a bookstore and just discovering books. And not fretting over what is and isn’t being shelved. This worry is an unexpected fallout of publishing. Sort of like when you get on a church committee and realize it’s not all spiritual and wonderful, now you see the politics behind things and there’s just no going back.

So instead, I didn’t buy any books for myself and walked behind my children as they experienced the bookstore. And that was a little wonderful too. Seeing them get excited about the latest Big Nate or the second book in Erin Bowman’s Taken series or that there’s a guide to Plants vs. Zombies (believe me, I rolled my eyes at the last one too and had to be very Zen about reading is reading is reading).

I love the magic of new readers. I may never have my pre-publishing bookstore gaze again, but at least I get to witness that in my kids still. And that's okay. It's enough.