Slut-Shaming the Protagonist?
Women! We’ve fought long and hard to liberate our sexuality from the shackles of shame. Yet, it now seems there’s a bit of an upsurge in the return to the literary chastity belt.
The bedroom door has been slammed shut. Again. ‘Clean’ romance is the amour du jour. Book sex is getting a bum rap and I’m crying in my beer. (Or I would be if I drank the bitter brew.)
It’s not like I’m a raging feminist or even a non-raging one. I don’t much like being pigeon-holed, but I do have a feminist bent. Still, my resistance here is not about feminism, per se. What is it about, then?
I. Have. A. Pulse.
So do you. A pulse indicates life force. And our life force is our libido.
Libido is not just about sex, but sex is a natural and necessary part of libido.
Carl Jung said, ‘The libido is identified as the totality of psychic energy, not limited to sexual desire … [It] denotes a desire or impulse which is unchecked by any kind of authority, moral or otherwise. Libido is appetite in its natural state.’1
In that sense, clean romance, which wants to suppress the natural appetite, could be akin to being on a diet. No dessert for you!
No Dessert or Closet Eating?
I had a look at several online discussions about clean romance. Some women equated explicit sex with porn. Some said that filthy language cheapened sex.2 Others said it should be private; that it should stay inside the bedroom and not be on display for everyone to see. This last take could be considered a compliment if an author’s depiction of a fictional scene appears so real that readers feel like their own sex life has been exposed.
From Ho Ho! To a Mere Ho?
When the people spoke through the Sexual Revolution, and the powers that be lifted censorship of woman’s passionate expression in literature, it served as a celebration of our sexuality. Woot woot!
Almost fifty years later, Fifty Shades of Grey was released and millions of women were seduced. It was hot property. By all accounts, it was the ‘fastest selling adult novel of all time’, taking only eleven weeks to pass the million mark. The people had spoken once more. And loudly.
A year on, when clean Regency love story Edenbrooke was released, its author, Julianne Donaldson, said, ‘I think the pendulum has swung as far as it can in the erotica direction. What was once exciting for readers is getting a little old, and a lot of readers are ready for something different.’
A Good Licking To Backlash
I understand the concept of backlash. Another telling word for it is ‘counterblast’. The way it works is simple. When one way has held sway for too long, things flip 180˚ and we get the opposite.
Kept in check—>unchecked.
Ideally, through this process of turning the tables, we eventually find the middle ground. But when the ‘something different’ is yet another 180˚ swing of the pendulum, then this is just flip-flopping. And flip-flopping is the nature of shame’s extremes with its all-or-nothing MO: things are either dirty or clean—a black or white approach with not even close to fifty shades of grey in between.
And it’s not like we’re going back to where we came from—to our natural psychic state. The danger is that we’re coming full circle; that we’re heading back to those days of socially-prescribed chasteness where we’re not coming at all.
With stories reflecting and shaping our reality, this move would leave our womanhood wanting. And so that shame doesn’t blanket it again, better to keep the book bedroom door and our minds open.
1Jung, Carl The Concept of Libido, Collected Works Vol. 5, par. 194. https://frithluton.com/articles/libido/
2Check out my earlier blog posts to see how the organic meaning of ‘obscenity’ has been corrupted, and to understand its sacred, health-giving properties. https://paulahouseman.com/healthgiving-obscenity/ and https://paulahouseman.com/new-womens-anthem/