Gimme What You Got (But Not Your Cock)

Magic Mike in three lines:

  1. Too much Soderbergh.
  2. Not enough cock.
  3. The female gaze says what?

A spoiler-y feminist take after the jump. Continue reading “Gimme What You Got (But Not Your Cock)”

Dirty Angel In A Trenchcoat


As women, we need permission to burn.

We need somebody to give us permission to ogle, to turn the unabashed gaze on male beauty and just go with it.

Most of the time, we need permission from ourselves. As the authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts point out, our brain chemistry demands that we give ourselves a mental go-ahead before the brain lust meets the body and those Wonder Twin powers activate into something wonderful.

But there’s also a lot of cultural and social crap that gets into our heads and gums up the works even more.

I wish this weren’t the case. I wish I didn’t feel a twinge of guilt when I look “too long” at the pretty. It’s a twinge born of feminism (you should not want what the heterosexist patriarchy tells you to, goddamn it.) and a childhood spent in church (thou shalt not want, well, anything. Ever. That’s not God.).

The church thing you’d think would be gone by now; hell, even as a kid, I resisted. The feminism? Well, again, I push back when my well-meaning colleagues attempt to regulate, to school me in the power of not-want, but those little twin voices, those towering thou shalt nots, are still there, still perched on my shoulder and tsking when I stare too hard at Padelecki or cross my eyes over the angel, yes.

But now I know they’re there, those voices, now I know enough to acknowledge and then ignore. Because I’m trying to give myself permission to take pleasure in the gaze.

That’s why, to me, the movie Magic Mike is so freaking genius. It’s a permission slip of a film, sculpted as an invitation, a way of saying: yes, you women so inclined (and gay men), come and pay your money for two hours of dominant discourse-sponsored gazing. No guilt, no shame, just two hours of looking that’s been sanctioned by the powers that be.

Because those boys on the screen?

They know you’re coming only for them, that their agressive lack of clothing is what’s gonna drive you to the theater. And that’s OK, hell, it’s more than ok: it’s awesome. Cough up the cash, ladies (and gents), and bask in sex with little fear of being mocked or even noted. Because you’ll be among friends.

So this is what I love, what I wish weren’t quite so culturally necessary: an excuse for communal lust, for a public performance of female desire in which we as the audience can feel safe in participating. It’s like a natural evolutionary step from the Fifty Shades phenomenon, the motion picture equivalent of reading a novel with a very sexy cover in public.

And yeah, it’s the commodification of female desire, and ok, it’s a little heteronormative in its approach (though the outreach to the gay press has been great), and in some ways it’s just as prescriptive in terms of what I (the female audience) should want as my feminist colleagues and the church, but.

If they’re marketing to us–the “us” that’s not white, heterosexual, and male–honey, let’s jump on it and give them reason to do it to us, for us all over again.

Gives New Meaning to the Serpent, At Least.

I found this Trojan ad in an issue of Ms. from 1978.

And I’m confused.

How is having control over your own reproductive system akin to disobeying God and casting humanity out of Eden, exactly?

Does this mean that Trojan itself is akin to Lucifer? That the promise of sex without reproduction is itself a temptation that, by all Judeo-Christian rights, should be avoided? That the “big decision” in Eve’s life = your choice of lubricated or ribbed?

Does this mean the apple is her vagina? If so, why is she so smug about being able to hold the damn thing in her hand?

How in the hell is this ad meant to appeal to women?!

Aaaaaaagggggghhhhhh.

Go Easy On Her, Tiger.

Another of my Goodwill romance finds. This one warrented a dollar just on the title alone–and then I saw the cover, which. Wow.

Backcover summary:

“The news clip from Thailand lasted only a moment. But what Meg Devlin saw was enough to convince her that her father–missing in action for nineteen years–was alive. Meg’s best hope…lay with Conor Tremayne, the reporter who had shot the film. But could she trust Tremayne–a man who would sell his soul for a story?”

Rupert Murdock IS Connor Tremayne IN a Fox News production OF…Ghost Tiger!

Random sample sentence:

“She [Meg] curled into the warm body at her side, giving in to the memory of Conor’s hands and lips at the irrigation pond.”

Because nothing says romance like an irrigation pond. I hope it’s not the one where the fish lives.

What I love about this cover:

  1. The look on Conor’s face! Wow. Maybe they’re standing next to the irrigation pond. Or an open sewer. Also, his left arm seems to missing. And he’s a dead-ringer for that dude from The Nanny.
  2. The gold leaf border and the cheesed-off tiger in the background. I think both are meant to be visual cues to the “exotic,” to the Southeast Asian location of the story. It’s interesting to compare these choices to the background imagery in “Suffer a Sea Change,” which is much more literal in its interpretation. I don’t know that I’d have made the “exotic” connection here if I hadn’t read the back cover. Indeed, when I first picked it up, the cover read to me as an exemplar of 80s bad taste. But the book was actually published…in 1994!
  3. Meg’s physical positioning. Her arm on Conor’s shoulder makes it apparent that she’s *gasp* leaning on him for strength in this difficult time–though I’m not sure how him groping her ass is gonna help with that, exactly. She looks almost two-dimentional here, which is not, I hope, indicative of her character development within the text.
  4. The tagline. You had me at the Phil Collins reference. Though draping it over Conor’s crotch is an…innovative choice.

Saturday Night Beauty

I picked this romance novel up at Goodwill today simply because of the cover. Its beauty struck me among the sea of Danielle Steele novels in which it was encased.

Backcover summary:

“For Jessica Banbridge, it begins with a heartbreaking tragedy and a new friend…No sooner have her eyes adapted to the shimmering island sun, [sic] than two men block the light from view–forceful, charming Kyle Tarkington and volatile, mysterious Winston St. James.”

So, an NFL quarterback and an heir to a cigarette fortune? Sure.

Random sample sentence
:

“The dress was worth it; the fear was worth it; everything was worth the look on his face.”

Huh. I kind of like that one, despite the weird use of semi-colons.

What I love about this cover:

  1. It features the only the heroine. Period. It doesn’t rely on an image of a Beef McLarge Huge hero to pull you, dear reader, in;
  2. The heroine is lovely [and proportional!] without being over-the-top “sexy.” Her dress is simple, appropriate to the setting, and actually kind of pretty, especially with the accompanying purple wrap;
  3. In fact, she kind of looks like Olivia Wilde. Win.; and
  4. The image manages to highlight the title without hitting you over the head with it. “Suffer a Sea Change” is kind of an ethereal idea, a little more abstract than “His Majesty’s Harlot,” or whatever. The combination of the grey skies, the coming dusk [or dawn–it’s hard to tell], the beach/boat scene, and our heroine next to a blue-toned sea both sets the scene for the story’s action (a tropical paradise; specifically, Bermuda) and is suggestive of a more literal interpretation of the title. I assume, not having yet read the text, that Jessica herself will not undergo a “sea change,” but, her love life will follow this metaphor nicely before docking happily in a happily ever after.

Now, will its text live up to its packaging? We shall see.

He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged


I’ve spent a lot of quality time with Becky Rosen lately. And this is a piece that’s come out of our communion.

I’ve been working with Becky since last November, when I watched episode 7.8, “It’s Time For A Wedding!” for the first time.

My first reaction to what I saw as the episode’s, uh, problems? Was to write my first S/D story, “Hot Blooded.”

My second? Was to start work on this piece, which has moved  from a presentation [of which this is version 2.0] to a lengthier academic essay.

The reaction that I’ve received to this work at the two conferences at which I’ve presented it has been generally positive, but it’s also stirred up some hornets’ nests for some folks, which is kind of awesome. 

This presentation relies pretty heavily on images [which is part of why I’m so fond of it, I think]; if you wish, you can download the associated slide show here

While Supernatural doesn’t belong to me, this work does. And, as Becky might say, everything may be a fic of everything else, but don’t try to slash this slasher, to represent this work as your own.

He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged:
Deleting Female Desire in “Season 7: It’s Time For A Wedding!”

Soon after its premiere in 2005, the television show Supernatural—the story of Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who’ve committed their lives to protecting people from supernatural creatures—spawned an online fandom dedicated to “slashing” Sam and Dean; that is, to writing stories in which the brothers are portrayed as lovers. Indeed, over the course of seven seasons, the existence of these narratives—affectionately dubbed “Wincest” by the show’s fans—has become a defining feature of Supernatural‘s primarily female fandom.

By introducing a meta-textual version of the show—a series of books also called Supernatural—into the primary narrative, the program’s producers have allowed Sam and Dean [and, by extension, the producers themselves] to comment upon the productive and consumptive practices of Wincest fans. However, the subsequent introduction of the character of Becky Rosen—dedicated Wincest writer and devoted fan of the Supernatural book series—has allowed the producers to take this commentary one step further: to illustrate the monstrous potential of the female fan, particularly one who actively engages in the construction, consumption, and distribution of Wincest narrative.

In this paper, I will argue that a central image in Becky’s most recent appearance in season seven, episode eight exemplifies the danger that the show’s producers see her [and the female fans for whom she stands, in their minds] posing to the show’s carefully maintained masculine order: the image (slide 1) of a semi-clothed Sam bound to a bed, his body and the text which it represents at the mercy of his female captor. The transgressive nature of this image lies in its reversal of what Laura Mulvey calls “the symbolic order” of gender in the visual, one in which “the silent image of woman [is] still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.” That is, the threat that Becky poses to Sam, to Supernatural, lies in her status as a woman and as a fan writer, as a figure who can upend the central narrative by affixing the masculine to her “rightful” place as the signifier of meaning while claiming the role of producer for herself. Continue reading “He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged”

Love! Frat Boys! and Visualizing [Female] Desire

One of my projects of late has taken me into the world of romance novel covers. I went into the work thinking I’d talk about the covers of het romances—and then I stumbled across Anne Tenino’s Frat Boy and Toppy. And that discovery led to the presentation below.

You can see a slide show of the images that I reference here and learn more about the book from the publisher here–which you should because this novel? Is awesome.

Covering Up to Strip Down:
Remixing Anne Tenino’s Frat Boy and Toppy

I began this project with a general interest in the covers of romance novels (slide 1), in these too-familiar renderings [rendings] (slide 2) of female garments by well-muscled, occasionally well-meaning masculine overlords.

And then I came across this (slide 3): Anne Tenino’s terribly titled but oh so very excellent novel Frat Boy and Toppy—a male/male erotic romance.

Now on the one hand, this cover is stereotypical, a close cousin of the now-familiar images plastered on heterosexual romance novels—featuring two naked male torsos for the price of one. But on the other, the cover is just bizarre. Its assemblage-like quality comes off as an artist’s fever dream: over-thought, over-designed, and, worst of all [to my mind] a poor representation of the content [and the pleasures] the text presents. My goal, then, has been to redesign Toppy’s cover so that it might more effectively reflect both the book’s content and the current cultural conversation surrounding women and the consumption of popular [erotic] romance, a discussion sparked by the runaway success of this novel, (slide 4) Fifty Shades of Grey.

Perhaps the busy nature of Toppy’s cover (slide 5) is due, in part, to the many different kinds of stories that the novel manages to tell within the generic constraints of an erotic romance; that is, a romance in which sexual encounters are used as the building blocks of a mutually satisfying and emotionally supportive love match and one which concludes with the characters living “happily ever after.” Toppy manages to do this while performing several other kinds of stories within the same text. First, the novel is a coming-out story in which Brad [the titular frat boy] recognizes that he’s gay, that he’s attracted to other men: specifically, to Sebastian, the TA for Brad’s “Classical Greece” history course.

Early in the book, Brad comes out to his family, who are relaxed and groovy about the whole thing, as, it seems, is Brad himself. Indeed, he is pretty angst free about the whole thing: he accepts who he is—and who he is wants Sebastian. That said, Brad is reluctant to come out to his frat, many of whom aren’t homophobic, per say, but are pretty happily ensconced in their belief that Brad’s straight [given that he’s been dating—but not sleeping with—women] and show little interest in discussing the potential fluidities of male sexual desire.

But this is also a romance, a story about two people falling in love and using hot sex as a means by which to discover that their attraction goes beyond the physical. After getting Sebastian’s attention by turning in a paper he purchased online as his own [like you do], Brad confesses his desire. The two men immediately sleep together [in that Yankee Candle- infested living room on the front cover] and it’s all happily uphill from there. Continue reading “Love! Frat Boys! and Visualizing [Female] Desire”