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A "Recreational" not a "Companionate" Sexual Ethic: (11 - Victoria Ong): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 28 December, 2015

One aspect of Ong's essay which I found particularly interesting, because of its implications for the popular romance novel (and especially the erotic romance sub-genre) is that she mentions

Christine Overall's analysis of identity and sexual relating in "Monogamy, Nonmonogamy and Identity" (1988). Overall argues that "[t]he convention of sexual relating, outside of paid work, is that in that context the woman expresses herself, becomes and is most truly and genuinely herself" (p. 8). As such, a sexual relationship becomes a form of chosen vulnerability. This convention of connecting identity with sexual relating is subverted in the conventions of sex work. Overall writes that sex workers structure sexual relating differently and "define themselves by reference to the paid labour they perform rather than by reference to the men with whom they interact and usually choose not to be vulnerable, self-expressive, or genuinely open" (p.9). (Ong 211, emphasis added)

One definition of "erotic romance" is:

stories written about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction. The sex is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development, and couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline. Happily Ever After is a REQUIREMENT to be an erotic romance. (Day)

Sex can presumably only be "an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development" if, at some point (perhaps not in initial encounters but certainly in later ones) the heroine "expresses herself, becomes and is most truly and genuinely herself" while engaged in sex with the other protagonist(s). Indeed, if the narrative is constructed primarily via sex scenes, then the sex must, perhaps, be deemed much more meaningful in, and important to, a relationship than in romances which show the development of the relationship via other interactions.

Perhaps this is one reason why Amanda, a reviewer at the romance blog Smart Bitches Trashy Books, has stated that "my experience is, I have yet to be mirrored, or, or even my viewpoints on sex as a woman in the twenty-first century have yet to be mirrored in a romance that I’ve read". Amanda has:

compartmentalized sex and intimacy –

Amanda:  Yes.

Sarah:  – into a very convenient option where if you would like to have sex, that’s a thing that happens, and then it’s over and you can go do your other things.  It’s not something that has to be built on a relationship.

Amanda:  It’s like a chore that, you know, like, I tick off my to-do list.

Sarah:  But it’s a nice chore.

Amanda:  It’s a, it can be a very nice chore. (Wendell)

Amanda will also

nickname the people that you have Tinder conversations with.

Amanda:  I do.  I do nickname them.

Sarah:  So it’s almost like making them characters.

It seems as though Amanda is creating a narrative of her sex life which contains nicknamed male characters and differs noticeably in its plot from that of a romance novel. Perhaps it more closely resembles texts like Belle de Jour (Dr Brooke Magnanti)'s The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl which, in foregrounding

modern womanhood [...] humorously and light-heartedly as the texts chronicle protagonists' cosmopolitan lifestyles and their efforts to navigate work life and their personal relationships [make the] enjoyment and pleasure of sex a major theme [...]. These texts align with contemporary chick lit. (Ong 204)

Their emergence, and the life-styles they describe, have perhaps been

facilitated by the emergence of new paradigms of family and community [...] that [...] has resulted in isolable individuals with profoundly transformed models of sexuality, new configurations of intimate life and new erotic dispositions: "[b]oth the traditional 'procreative' and the modern 'companionate' models of sexuality are increasingly being supplanted by what sociologist Edward Laumann and his colleagues have referred to as a 'recreational' sexual ethic" [...].

This recreational sexual ethic is premised upon the depth of physical sensation and emotionally bounded erotic exchange [...]. The authenticity of recreational sex is bounded in the sense that the emotions of erotic exchanges are delimited to their discrete episodes and sex is free of lingering emotional attachments. (Ong 209)

I have the impression that contemporary popular romance (generally) expresses a commitment to the 'companionate' model of sexuality and the view that sex has, or should ideally have, a strong emotional component which, unlike "bounded authenticity", continues to exist long after the sexual encounter is over.

That said, neither Amanda nor Belle de Jour are completely unemotionally involved during sexal interactions. Amanda clarifies that:

sometimes the guys that I find to be really attractive and really pretty are dumb as a box of rocks, and I can’t.  Like, if there’s a spelling mistake in your profile or you can’t string together a sentence with proper grammar and punctuation, I’m not –

Sarah:  You’re not interested.

Amanda:  Yeah, ‘cause I’m not, I’m not emotionally stimulated to carry on a conversation with you.

Sarah:  Right, so it’s not just, hey, you’re pretty, let’s bang.  There are other things at work in creating the connection that you’re looking for.

Amanda:  Yes.  Even though if it’s not, like, a love connection, there’s definitely, there has to be some kind of conversational connection first.

Ong's analysis of Belle's sexual interactions with clients similarly reveals a need for some kind of emotional connection. In one of the two

client interactions where they are uninterested in bounded authenticity and seek only sexual gratification [...the fact that] he [the client] remains unshakeable and disinterested in her efforts to create intimacy or eroticism in the session evidently unnerves Belle. [...] In these two entries, Belle's narrative voice is serious and flat, in stark contrast to her usual light-heartedness. Since humor denotes her ability to process her emotions and indicates her self-composure, the grave tone of these entries suggests that she is unable to fully own these experiences in her reframing of them. She is impacted deeply because her provision of bounded authenticity enables her to find her work meaningful, and their disinterest in bounded authenticity means she is unable to find work meaningful in these bookings. In addition, their disinterest in intimacy and blunt usage of her for their sexual needs removes the distinction of her brand of "meaningful" sex work to that of the merely physical service of street-based workers. (221-22)

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Day, Sylvia. "What is Erotic Romance?"

Ong, Victoria. "Selling Authentic Sex: Working Through Identity in Belle de Jour's The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 204-24.

Wendell, Sarah. "172. Tinder, Sex, Romance, and Relationships: A Frank Discussion of Sexuality with Amanda". 18 December 2015.

Subverting the Romance in the Philippines

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 27 December, 2015

The article discussed in my last post, about fans of yaoi and Boys' Love fiction, argues that these texts had changed their Filipino readers' attitudes. In particular,

Fans' exposure to representations of male homoeroticism, androgyny and coupling were all instrumental in teasing out from fans their dissatisfactions with the dualistic and essentialist constructions of gender and sexuality, as well as intimate relationships in their societies. However, more than that, Yaoi and BL's non-normative representations of masculinity and intimacy also help fans develop a more humanistic and egalitarian vision of men, women and love relationships, rejecting rigid gender norms and oppressive power relationships. (Santos Fermin 200)

Tricia Abigail Santos Fermin suggests that they may therefore be considered sites of cultural/political resistance. The same could be said of the romantic fiction discussed in Mina Roces' Women's Movements and the Filipina 1986-2008.

There isn't enough about romance novels in it for me to feel I can really add it to the Romance Wiki bibliography but it seemed a shame not to note down and share what she has to say about some romances published by "the radical women's health organization Likhaan [which] presented me with a unique source of six romance-style paperback books in the Tagalog language that they had commissioned to introduce the taboo concept of abortion as a reproductive right" (31):

Between 2004 and 2006, Likhaan published six pocketbooks. They were written by two authors; one of the authors, Lualhati Bautista, was an award-winning writer and novelist. The pocketbooks written by Carmen Cabiling were distinguishable from Bautista's because they were grouped under a series called The Scarlett Diaries where the main characters of each book were close friends of one local nonmetropolitan community named Gian. These pocketbooks were packaged in the genre of romance novels much like the Mills and Boon or Barbara Cartland books. But it was the issue of "abortion" rather than "romance" that received "star billing" in these novels. Although romance novels followed the quintessential formula that commenced with "boy meets girl" and ended with "boy gets girl," the pocketbooks by Bautista began with "girl gets pregnant" and was preoccupied with "girl and abortion." In addition, although the visual appearance of the publications were in the trope of the cheap romantic paperback novel, the content of these particular books captured poignantly the women's struggle with the decision to have an abortion - there represented as a decision that involved not just the woman herself, but also her kinship group, the father of the child, and her friends - and the difficulties in finding an abortionist, including complications that might have arisen due to the clandestine nature of it. [...] Carmen Cabiling's The Scarlett Diaries series privileged the "romance plot" over the "abortion plot" (Erika, Serena, and Angelika) [...]

Likhaan commissioned the writing of the pocketbooks based on the stories of thirty women interviewed by the organization for its research advocacy arm. The decision to use this genre was the extreme popularity of romance pocketbooks in the 1990s; they replaced the comics of previous years. The books were written in conversational, colloquial Tagalog, with an emphasis on dialogue rather than on literary description. All were short novels, of around 125 pages long, and were published in newsprint. A print-run of six thousand copies or one thousand per pocketbook was published. Many of the pocketbooks were handed out free of charge to audiences or participants in Likhaan's forums, training sessions, community educational activities, and mobilization events and to patients benefitting from their medical outreach services. [...] In addition, the books were sold at a minimum of 5 pesos each (a few cents), a huge price drop when one compares it with the P40.00 (or US$1.00) price tag on commercial pocketbooks. In addition, Likhaan has sold five hundred copies through consignment with a University of the Philippines writer-artist who sold it to college students and personal friends. By October 2007, only three hundred copies remained. All books brandished the Likhaan name and logo and were sold by Likhaan. The conspicuous absence of any explicit descriptions of sex in the novels themselves was probably intentional, because Likhaan was not shy about discussing sexuality. Because the purpose of the books was to inform, sex scenes that had the effect of titillating readers would only blunt the powerful message introduced by the narratives. Despite the cheap packaging and risqué series title (The Scarlett Diaries), these books handled the issue of abortion in a sophisticated and poignant way, delivering their attacks on the Catholic Church and the state through the intense dialogue of the characters. In this sense, the proverbial "do not judge a book by its cover" was appropriate. These pocketbooks subverted not just the sociocultural and legal mores of their time, but also the romance trope in which they were packaged. Perhaps that is why these books were seen as a potential subversive tool. But the aim was to introduce the delicate issue of abortion to mainstream society, epitomized by the target readers. One could also detect a certain irony in the use of the romance novel as a way of refashioning readers, since readers of romance fiction were not usually perceived to be susceptible to feminist ideas.

The stories that were told through the medium of these pocketbooks blurred the lines between fiction, romance, and autobiography. All books carried the following acknowledgement: "Although all the people and events in this story comes from the imagination, we wish to thank all the women who opened their doors and hearts to us who in minor or major ways have been the inspiration of this literary work or book." (189-190)

Roces concludes by stating that

Likhaan's innovative use of pocketbooks [...] create[d] a counter-hegemonic discourse by subverting the romance genre. Even these radical ideas were packaged in the narrative of romance. Perhaps cultural preparation required hints rather than blunt demands. [...] In the meantime, women readers of romantic fiction have been introduced to the serious topic of abortion, although it was accompanied by a happy ending. (196-197)

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Roces, Mina. Women's Movements and the Filipina 1986-2008. Honolulu: U of Hawai'i P, 2012.

Santos Fermin, Tricia Abigail. "Male Homoerotic Fiction and Women's Sexual Subjectivities: Yaoi and BL Fans in Indonesia and the Philippines". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 187-203.

Review/Summary (10 - Tricia Abigail Santos Fermin): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 27 December, 2015

I'm probably not doing a very good job of trying to capture the essence of many of these essays, given how little I know about the texts they discuss. At a minimum, I hope I'm giving enough quotes to let people know if an essay is on a topic which interests them.

The subject of Santos Fermin's essay is made clear in its title: "Male Homoerotic Fiction and Women's Sexual Subjectivities: Yaoi and BL Fans in Indonesia and the Philippines" but

In particular, I will show how Yaoi and Boys' Love have spread underground in the religously conservative societies of the Philippines and Indonesia, and contributed to the formation of fans' attitudes toward their own bodily passions, as well as a reworking of their moral sensitivities concerning non-heteronormative sexualities. Using data gathered from informant interviews of self-identified Yaoi and BL fans in Manila and Jakarta, this chapter ultimately aims to raise the following points. Yaoi and BL are primarily consumed for entertainment and titillation, serving as a non-threatening medium through which readers are able to explore and positively confront their own sexual desires. Informant accounts also show us that fan engagement with Yaoi and BL does not necessarily lead to a full rejection (or critique) of their society's hetero-sexism and an acceptance of homosexuality as a valid mode of sexual and gender identity. Instead, fans attempt to negotiate their personal stances on homosexuality, which are more often than not still heavily influenced by their religious beliefs and affiliations, in order to accommodate the strong but morally-conflicted interest that they develop in these genres. The discussion will show that while Indonesian and Filipino fans all eventually develop at least an open or permissive attitude toward non-heteronormative sexualities, issues around homosexuality and LGBT rights are merely a secondary concern. (189)

Santos Fermin concludes that:

The explorations of male homoeroticism, androgyny and coupling have helped fans realize and express their dissatisfactions with oppressive constructions of gender, sexuality and intimacy [...] and [...] also led at least some of these fans to [...] imagine a more egalitarian model of intimate relationships. (203)

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Santos Fermin, Tricia Abigail. "Male Homoerotic Fiction and Women's Sexual Subjectivities: Yaoi and BL Fans in Indonesia and the Philippines". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 187-203.

Review/Summary (9 - Anne Kustritz): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 26 December, 2015

Although less well known than romance novels or feminist porn, slash fan fiction [...] has frequently become embroiled in similar debates over the social meaning of romantic fiction and women's sexual imagination. The pendulum has swung back and forth and back again in the academic consensus on slash's political value over the 40 years since its inception in its current form. Thus, mirroring analysis of romance novels, erotica, and pornography, slash has been at times called anti-female and stridently feminist, radically liberatory and conservative, both queer and heteronormative. This incoherence partly results from a homogenizing impulse to make a single political judgment of the entire practice. In addition, such dueling political pronouncements indicate an inability to navigate cultural objects that simultaneously resist some forms of political domination while ideologically shoring up and reinforcing others, including not only sex/gender hierarchies, but also race, class and geopolitics. Thus, what the field currently needs is an analytical lens of smaller and more specific scope to cope with the ideological complexities across slash genres and even within individual narratives. (169)

Kustritz then proceeds to give an example of this by demonstrating how, while some slash fictions about Captain Jack Sparrow and Commodore James Norrington from Pirates of the Caribbean:

approach the pairing as a madcap affair between a laced-up goody-goody and a free-spirit, others use the relationship to engage directly with the films' suppressed political stakes and to explore the political and philosophical positions that the characters represent. (176)

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Kustritz, Anne. "The Politics of Slash on the High Seas: Colonial Romance and Revolutionary Solidarity in Pirates Fan Fiction". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 169-186.

Review/Summary (8 - Jude Elund): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 26 December, 2015

Focusing on the representation of lesbianism in mainstream erotic fiction, the essay principally investigates the idea of experimenting with one's sexual orientation as an aspect of the cultural shift toward embracing sex practices that depart from the norm. In mainstream erotic fiction, I will suggest, female-female sexuality is primarily represented in the context of, indeed, as an element of, heterosexual, white, middle-class fantasy. [...] One particular novel, Till Human Voices Wake Us by Patti Davis, serves as a key text for analysis. A self-published novel about an upper-class American woman who falls in love with her sister-in-law after the death of her child, Till Human Voices Wake Us appears to have little claim to either "literary" or "erotic" merit and would probably be completely unknown except for the fact that Davis happens to be the daughter of Ronald Reagan. However, an analysis of this novel and its discursive context will provide some insight into the uncertain position of same-sex desire in relation to mainstream women's erotic fiction. (150)

Elund argues that in Davis's novel affluence is key to permitting the protagonists

to live a life outside of the normative. This is neo-liberal ideology at work and is a key driver to how we, as a society, understand and engage with difference: if the market allows it then it must be at least somewhat legitimate and/or permissible. [...] Sexual and gender diversity are marketable; they illustrate an apparent social consciousness while striving for an edginess that conservative hetero-culture cannot embody. Naomi Klein argues that these representations have become a strong selling point for marketers, whereby marketing has "seized upon multiculturalism and gender-bending in the same ways that it has seized upon youth culture in general - not just as a market niche but as a source of new carnivalesque imagery" [...]. This means, for example, that homosexuality and sexual fluidity become more visible and socially accepted, but only a certain sanitized version of homosexuality and/or sexual fluidity that is suitable for the mainstream market. (158)

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Elund, Jude. "Permissible Transgressions: Feminized Same-Sex Practice as Middle-Class Fantasy". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 150-66.

Review/Summary (7 - Carole Veldman-Genz): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 26 December, 2015

Carole Veldman-Genz's "focus is on a particular strand of erotic romance fiction for women published by market leader Ellora's Cave under the copyrighted term romantica" (134), namely their

male-male (m/m) and male-male-female ménage (m/m/f) romantica, not only because they are popular subcategories, but also because they point markedly to the contradictions and conflicts in current thought on sexuality, gender, corporeality, pleasure and agency. So far, little attention has been paid to the ways in which the homoerotic male-male encounter in women's popular erotic fiction triggers female sensuality and elicits female pleasure. In its precise aim, this article investigates male homo- and bisexuality as fantasy tropes for women. (135)

Veldman-Genz argues that:

gay content in romantica often results in the depiction of "feminized" or romanticized gay sex. In m/m and m/m/f romantica, readers are invited to endorse the emotional and sexual intimacy between male characters, and male-male sex is often scripted in terms of both nurture and sexual adventure. [...] Framed by a female gaze, these are intimate and romantic erotic encounters in which gay men excite by virtue of their caring and nurturing abilities as much as their virility and hyper-masculinity.

This gender-blending of "masculine" and "feminine" traits is an indication of how the gay/bisexual male body has been offered up for heterosexual female reading in romantica and how gay sex has been romanticized and made "female-friendly" in these texts. (144-45)

I find this argument troubling because, despite the use of inverted commas, there does seem to be an implication here that men and women have different "traits" and that therefore real gay and bisexual men (i.e. men outwith the "romanticized" world of romantica) would not have sexual relationships which include "nurture" and "emotional [...] intimacy".

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Veldman-Genz, Carole. "Selling Gay Sex to Women: The Romance of M/M and M/M/F Romantica". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 133-149.

Review/Summary (6 - Tanya Serisier): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 24 December, 2015

a simple search of the "Factiva" news database of English-language news outlets [...] reveals that in the year following publication of the Fifty Shades trilogy [...] there were 11,297 articles which mentioned the books. As a point of comparison, the figure for the two years after publication of Dan Brown's (2003) literary blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code, shows just over half as many mentions, in 6,632 articles.

It is this cultural response, rather than the books themselves, that is the subject of this chapter [...] in it I attempt to think through some of the key tropes that I observed arising again and again. (117)

Serisier finds that almost all the reviewers were very critical of the books but

What the reviewers are interested in most of all is what the popularity of the books tells us about the many women who have not only read the books but recommended them to others, given the early lack of marketing efforts and reliance on word-of-mouth sales. To put it another way, the depiction of all that is wrong with the books easily slides into a quest to ascertain what precisely is wrong with their readers. (119)

Serisier analyses the reasons why the critics responded this way and in the final section of the essay Serisier summarises

what responses to Fifty Shades tell us about feminist readings of popular culture, arguing that we need feminist reading practices that are critical, but also engaged with and sympathetic to the complexities of gender and sexuality in contemporary culture. (129)

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Serisier, Tanya. "On Not Reading Fifty Shades: Feminism and the Fantasy of Romantic Immunity". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 117-132.

Review/Summary (5 - Naomi Booth): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 24 December, 2015

Naomi Booth explores

the idea of shaking, shattering states in relation to radical thought, and I will present a number of theories that describe shaken states vibrating with the potential to unsettle wider social relations, disturbing our connections to the controlling discourses of gender, capitalism and anthropocentrism. Alongside these theories, I consider another frequently depicted literary state of shaking: that experienced by the vibrationally overwhelmed romance heroine. The contemporary romance heroine is preceded by a long line of female characters who reverberate with the disturbance of their erotic entanglements: Samuel Richardson's Pamela, for instance, fits violently at one of Mr B.'s early sexual approaches [...]; the more stately "felicities of rapid motion" are enjoyed by Jane Austen's Emma while dancing [...]; Thomas Hardy's sensual Tess, who is "throbbingly alive," trembles repeatedly, her tremulous state tending her speech toward shattered syllables, "ecstasized to fragments" [...]; and the palpitating body of Bram Stoker's voluptuous Lucy Westenra shakes and quivers and twists "in wild contortions" as her fiancé drives a stake through her heart. (99)

While generalisations can be useful at times, in order to highlight broad trends/themes, I wonder if it's really helpful to Booth's argument to put someone having a stake driven through their heart in the same category as someone enjoying a dance.

As far as modern romance heroines are concerned, the only example given is Anastasia Steele from the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy which, Booth argues, in its descriptions of "jellied legs, [...] blushing, [...] various palpitations" draws on

clichéd tropes within romance fiction, which create a continuity between Fifty Shades and other popular romance novels. We might already, then, be on slightly shaky ground in attempting to read these novels as depicting shaking subjectivity in a radical or progressive sense: these jellifying tropes call backwards toward familiar descriptions of female sexual response in romance fiction, descriptions which often idolize female physical passivity, insufficiency and fragility. (105)

There isn't any analysis here of actual examples from romance novels, and therefore no comparisons between romance heroes and heroines. I can't help but wonder about alternative readings. For example, could it be that in some cases romance heroines' bodies are just reflecting their emotional openness? There are certainly examples of the same kind of language being used to describe heroes' emotional defences being shaken and then destroyed:

The thick, angry barrier around his heart shattered and blew away. […] He knew then that he had to believe her or lose her forever. That he was nothing without her. That he had finally found a safe place to belong.

“I love you,” he told her. […] “[…] I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Please do me the honor of marrying me.” (Mallery 248-49, qtd. in Vivanco and Kramer)

The limited range of primary texts is, however, justified by Booth on the grounds that:

While a full consideration of the contemporary romance genre is beyond the scope of this essay, it seems to me that Fifty Shades of Grey, with its prominent depictions of ecstatic, shattered states, is a particularly important text for romance studies. Fifty Shades, with its spectacular vibrations, might be read as a narrative charting the ways in which disruptive, active female energy is narratively released and then dealt with in romance fiction. We might, therefore, read Fifty Shades as a paradigmatic text. (106)

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Booth, Naomi. "Good Vibrations: Shaken Subjects and the Disintegrative Romance Heroine". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 99-116.

Vivanco, Laura and Kyra Kramer. "There Are Six Bodies in This Relationship: An Anthropological Approach to the Romance Genre." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 1.1 (2010).

Review/Summary (4 - Eva Chen): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 24 December, 2015

Eva Chen begins her essay on "Erotic Pleasure and Postsocialist Female Sexuality: Contemporary Female 'Body Writing' in China" with a brief historical overview:

Erotic writing and art have a long tradition in China. Though remnants have been found dating back to the first century, erotic wall murals found at the Dunhuang Budhist grottoes suggest a flourishing erotic art scene around the tenth century. The late Ming Dynasty in the seventeenth century saw a peak of erotic poetry and fiction, as well as erotica portrayed in "pillow books" and Taoist treatises on effective sexual techniques for maximizing life energies [...]. Much erotica of the period also focused on female foot-binding, a practice started among court dancers in the tenth century which later spread to gentry families, brothels and even peasant households, and functioned both to signify female virtue and domesticity and to appeal to male fetishistic pleasure [...]. Attitudes hardened from the time of the Qing Dynasty in the eighteenth century with the resurgence of Confucian moral conservatism, all but bringing to an end a thriving tradition of erotica [...].

The Western understanding of sexuality as an essential, intrinsic component of personal identity first entered China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries [...] the liberation of women as autonomous, heterosexual subjects [...] was not celebrated for its own sake but was, rather, invoked as the binary opposite of a Westernized, masculine self that needed to be cultivated to "upend" Confucian kinship categories [...]. The origin of this idea in the Western, humanist understanding of an essential human nature, of which sexuality is an inalienable part, partially explains the later socialist criticism of this idea as bourgeois. When the Maoist party swept into power in 1949, the socialist state began to promote a new concept of women [...] emphasizing collectivist public roles rather than sexual difference [...].

It is in this light that the postsocialist celebration of the body, sexuality and "natural femininity" since the market reforms in the 1980s needs to be understood: as a reaction to the perceived socialist distortion of the "natural," gendered human self. (79-80)

Chen's essay then focuses on"Weihui's Shanghai Baby (2000) and Muzimei's sex blogs, later published as Left-over Love Letters (2003), as these texts figure crucially in two major public controversies concerning this Chinese female 'body writing'" (82).

Chen concludes that

an overly optimistic emphasis on emancipation must still take into account the complicated roles played by the state and the neoliberal consumer culture in forging a distinctly postsocialist Chinese female sexual identity. Chinese female "body writers" do assert a form of sexual agency as rights [...] but at the same time they also play into a state-approved discourse of seeking to direct such "freed" sexual energies into consumerism. (94)

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Chen, Eva. "Erotic Pleasure and Postsocialist Female Sexuality: Contemporary Female 'Body Writing' in China". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 79-95.

Review/Summary (3 - Amalia Ziv): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 23 December, 2015

The essay by Amalia Ziv is a condensed version of a chapter in her Explicit Utopias: Rewriting the Sexual in Women's Pornography (State University of New York Press, 2015).

Ziv begins "Refiguring Penetration in Women's Erotic Fiction" by outlining the status quo regarding penetration:

Ever since ancient Greek civilization, Western culture has regarded subjecthood as premised on bodily autonomy, and bodily autonomy as incompatible with sexual penetrability. In the modern state [...] penetrability is no longer seen to conflict with political subjecthood, but the conception of sexual penetration as antithetical to sexual subjectivity endures. This conception finds expression most notoriously in mainstream heterosexual porn - in which penetration often figures as an act of domination or humiliation. (59)

Having examined feminist arguments for and against this view of penetration, Ziv comments that:

In a lesbian context [...] the structural impossibility of penetration with an "orgasmic object" predefines penetration as altruistically rather than selfishly motivated, which taken together with the lack of gender hierarchy between the partners eliminates most of the problematic significations of heterosexual penetration and opens the way for radical rearticulations. (67)

One might object that this is probably ignoring possible intersectional ways of creating hierarchy, and the assumption that no "orgasmic object" will be involved in the penetration implies that all involved are cisgender. Ziv's focus, however, is

the terrain of heterosexual sexuality.

My chosen corpus is one of the classic series of women's erotica, Herotica, first published by the independent Down There Press, and subsequently taken up by Plume, a division of Penguin books. [...] I will fous on the first three, published in 1988, 1992, and 1994, and edited by Susie Bright. (67)

In these,

If one strategy is to downplay the importance of penile penetration in heterosexual sex, stories that do represent it often contest its dominant meanings and suggest alternative ones. (69)

The essay looks in detail at only three stories. One of these

suggests a more nuanced understanding of the acts that takes into account a whole array of contextual factors, such as consent, consideration, the power differential between the partners, the power balance within the act itself (who initiates and directs the act, sexual posture, freedom of movement, thrusting, etc.), and the balance of pleasure. (70)

In another "the possession effected by the act is reinterpreted as mutual possession" (76) and in a third a female protagonist has a "phantasmatic identification with gay male sexuality" (76): "sexual receptivity in contemporary gay male culture" (74) has, according to Ziv, "since the '70s has managed [...] to undermine the symbolic equation of sexual receptivity with both femininity and non-subjecthood" (75).

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Ziv, Amalia. "Refiguring Penetration in Women's Erotic Fiction". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 59-78.