An Essay on Prammage*, or How Not to Take Your Own Advice About Adverse Criticism

*Prammage: noun, colloquial.  The act of throwing one’s toys out of the pram;  going off in a flounce or a sulk; a passive-aggressive act of self-harm or self-sabotage in response to not getting one’s own way; see also ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’.

I was going to write you a lovely blog post about playing with language today, but events have taken an interesting turn, and I wanted to share them with you.

On Monday 17th November I posted a Lewis fanfic called ‘Not So Innocent’ that I’d had hanging around on my hard disk for a while.  It was written as a quickfic, and I found it again, and thought it was funny, so I decided to post it as a quickie and didn’t think much about it.  Being a Lewis fic, it didn’t get masses of attention, because the fandom is relatively small, but the person I posted it for as a gift liked it, and that seemed all that mattered.

This morning, Wednesday 19th November, I woke up to vicious criticism on both FF.net and AO3 for the story.  The reviewer basically accused me of condoning and inciting sexual harrassment and rape.

Hmm.

This didn’t go down too well with me, since I have been victim of both sexual harrassment and abuse.

I am also not in a good place at the moment, and my response to this unexpected attack was to delete the story on both AO3 and FF.net.  I have never written a dub-con or non-con story and I wouldn’t.  It disgusts me.  I have written quite aggressively dark stories that include child abuse and public humiliation sex, but which explore the psychological wounds that underly and result from them.  For anyone to accuse me of condoning sexually abusive behaviour was just too much.

I can’t be arsed.  I’ve got too much other shit going on in my life to bother with making myself a target for such oversensitive extreme-feminist bull.

As far as I was concerned, the reader had simply not identified the subtext which runs through the story, which is that all participants know exactly what is going on, and are party to it, an irony from which the humour is supposed to arise.

Obviously I didn’t make that subtext clear enough, I realised, as I stomped off to the bathroom to shower.  (I do most of my thinking and story planning in the shower.)  And then I really got to thinking:

Was my own experience of sexual harrassment at work being a ‘normal’ part of a woman’s career colouring my work?

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have been on the receiving end of some serious acts of sexual harrassment in my younger days (before I lost my looks, haha!).  It was regarded with a shrug as something that went on.  Indeed, at some level, ‘Not So Innocent’ must draw on the experiences I had as a young academic at a number of conferences.

At one, I allowed myself to be seduced by an older man who was also the leader of a rival project.  He was charming and intelligent, and I was lonely and desperate for comfort.  It later transpired that he was only interested in me because he thought he could extract from me details of what our project was doing.

And this is where the question of consent comes in.  We had fully consensual sex that night, but it turned out that we were consenting to two different things.  I thought I was consenting to beginning an intimate relationship with long term prospects.  He thought I was consenting to being exploited for information.  The question of consent between two people having sex turns out to be a lot more complicated than just ‘do you want to, or not’.

My own experience of conference ‘pursuits’ is not something I have examined much before, except to realise that its pretty exploitative, but I can see that in writing ‘No So Innocent’, I’ve displayed some attitudes that I had internalised without thinking.  Instead of thinking: ‘this is what happens’, maybe I should have realised: ‘this isn’t something that should happen.’

I began to reflect on ‘Not So Innocent’ in a different way, by considering what both James and Lewis are consenting to, and what Innocent is implying.  Would she really go through with her threat?  I think not. I think she’d sit James down on the end of her bed and give him a good talking-to about how much he loves Lewis, and how much Lewis clearly loves him.  I think I knew that when I was writing it.  I think James knows it too.

And even if they did have sex because he chickened out with Lewis, I think it would be lovely, passionate, and above all, uncoerced.

There was intended to be a sexual frisson between James and Jean.  I wanted him to be torn to a certain extent, attracted by the prospect of Innocent’s considerable charms.  I happen to think she’s a very sexy woman, and I think James sees that, just as she finds him attractive.  I realised I underwrote the irony because while I was writing, I wasn’t sure how the thing was going to end – and I secretly wanted James and Innocent to end up in bed together.  That is the danger of publishing an unpolished quickfic.

As for the scene where James gets into bed with Robbie, I honestly don’t think there is a consent issue there.  Robbie is clearly consenting, and if he wasn’t, he’s quite capable, both in terms of physical strength, and authority, of ejecting James.  In my opinion, it is clear that they are also both consenting to the same thing, and they both know it:  the start of a loving relationship, and the end of their unrequited yearning for each other.

And yes, it would be different if it were a man getting into a woman’s bed uninvited, or a man threatening a woman with seduction, but that isn’t what is happening.  These are two people who are in love, finally being pushed through their inhibitions by a fond friend.  The fact that they happen to be co-workers, with the ensuing power-politics, becomes irrelevant in the face of love.

I wish I hadn’t deleted the story, because I have deleted the comments of the readers as a result.  I wish I had left it so that people can make up their own minds.  Because, if nothing else, this story might make people rethink attitudes at work that they have previously taken for granted as normal, as I have.

I also think its a work I have clearly under-written in terms of subtext, and all the participants’ complicity, but I’m not going to rewrite it, or change it in any way.  I want it to stand as a testament to the fact that I will no longer throw my toys out of the pram because someone doesn’t like my work.

I have never censored myself because of a review, and I won’t start now.

So I’ve decided to republish ‘Not So Innocent’ on AO3, so that you can make up your own mind.  I’d love to have a discussion with you on the subjects raised, either in the comments here, or on AO3.

I’ll look forward to hearing from you,

love EF

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6 thoughts on “An Essay on Prammage*, or How Not to Take Your Own Advice About Adverse Criticism

  1. fanficwriterlh

    Hi,

    I followed the link you put in the reposted story on Ao3 to this blog. Thanks for providing that. So I post as a member of Lewis fandom. I read your story yesterday and the comments this morning. I didn’t know it was posted on FFN and I didn’t see the comments there.

    I read this blog post and see that you wrote:
    ” I woke up to vicious criticism on both FF.net and AO3 for the story. The reviewer basically accused me of condoning and inciting sexual harrassment and rape.”

    I don’t know whether it was the same reviewer on 2 different sites (which is perfectly possible, I’m sure). Or if it just seemed like it might be. Or if it was even that the same review was posted on both sites?

    But the review that I read on Ao3 did not in any way seem to me to accuse you of “inciting” sexual harassment and rape. That seems a really strong statement to make. I find certain criticism on stuff I’ve written hits very much on sore spots. And I’m sure that criticism on a topic that is hugely sensitive and personal to a lot of us, would be particularly hard to take.

    But I wondered if you would want to reconsider your use of the word “inciting” there in this response.

    If they were two different reviews and you feel the one on FFN (which I can’t comment on) actually accused you of inciting sexual harassment and/or rape then perhaps it would be possible to adjust your wording there so that it is clear that you are speaking of two different reviews/reviewers? As whoever spoke up about how your story read to them on Ao3 – I don’t feel it is accurate to say that they accused you of inciting sexual harassment and rape.

    I do want to comment on my view on your story – when it was first posted, in light of your honesty in this blog, and on the story now that it’s reposted. Especially since I have enjoyed so much of your writing before. I came here to do so as I did see your “tell me what you think” tag on Ao3.

    But I found it difficult to get past that sentence here about being accused of “inciting” sexual harassment and rape and I would like to know if you’d reconsider whether or not that is an accurate word to use before I engage in more dialogue about your fic – if you would like to do so.

    Reply
    1. fanficwriterlh

      It occurs to me that that last sentence could read as if I feel the accusation is being levelled at me – I don’t. We are a small and I think, in general, a generous and supportive community, Lewis on Ao3. I’m sure you’ve experienced that when posting your previous fics. But I was relieved to see this morning that someone had asked you to reconsider how your fic read to some of us – even if you found the way they did so difficult – and it sits very uncomfortably with me that this blog says you were accused of “inciting” sexual harassment and rape by that review. I do not personally like engaging in such public dialogue and would have preferred to message you but I could find no way to do so.

      Reply
    2. evenlode1967 Post author

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I was angry and hurt yesterday when I wrote this post, which is perhaps why some of the language I used is so strong. As you say, ‘sore points’. But I do feel that ‘inciting’ is the word I wanted to use, because I feel that incitement was exactly what was implied by the tone of the reviewer. To me it came over as a deliberate attack which came from the reviewer’s own ‘stuff’. I also feel she had a point, as I hope I have made clear in this post. I agree with her, but I don’t want to take the story down again because I feel that it’s writing, posting and reception shows exactly what reviewing is about. Thats the whole point. You make up your own mind. Some people liked it. Some people didn’t. I respect and defend their right to do either. What I refuse to accept is personal attack. If I attacked back, then I’m sorry, but its hard to approach such vitriol with equanimity. And to be honest, I love the Lewis fandom, and I don’t want its members to think of me in the way the reviewer portrayed me. Once again, I am very grateful for your comments. Thank you for your support.

      Reply
  2. Wendymr

    I read the fic, and have re-read it again now – and I’m afraid that I have the same problems with it as your reviewer, whose comment I saw last night, does. Just telling the reader that there is intended to be ‘subtext’ going on doesn’t mean that what is on the screen isn’t what it appears to be. In these days of some truly horrible stories of sexual harassment and rape by famous people in positions of power, I really think that if you intend everyone in the story to be in on it, then perhaps it would be better to be explicit? Because otherwise, to me, Innocent is sexually harassing James. James is at least giving the appearance of intending sexual assault.

    And I do not think that saying so is “oversensitive extreme-feminist bull.”

    Just read the stories of women sexually assaulted by the Canadian Jian Ghomeshi. The women now coming forward to say that they were raped by Bill Cosby. And the stories of women – and men – the world over who have been too ashamed or scared to come forward with their stories before now.

    I don’t like saying this, because I normally love your writing – your fic where James arrives home to be met at the airport by Robbie is downloaded for repeat reading on my ereader. But I cannot read this story of yours ever again – it just leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

    Reply
    1. evenlode1967 Post author

      Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comment. And I totally agree with you. The story is underwritten and can be read that way. I think it was the tone of the review that upset me so much. The reviewer was clearly bringing their own past experiences to their comments, and I, for better or worse, was bringing mine. As a survivor of both sexual harrassment at work and child sexual abuse, I am very sensitive on this issue, and I have dealt with it before in some of my Sherlock stories. I’m glad that so many people are speaking out about their childhood experiences now as a result here in the UK of the Saville Inquiry. Every day brings more horror stories. I absolutely don’t want to even appear to condone that behaviour. This is a subject VERY close to my heart, as you can imagine.

      Part of me thinks it would be better to delete the story permanently, because I don’t want anyone in the lovely Lewis fandom to think of me in that light. Part of me thinks it is better to leave it there to illustrate the value of the reviewing process, but of course, I have negated that by deleting all the comments in my upset. And part of me is so bloody-minded that I refuse to be censored, which is why I am inclined not to ammend my blog post. If I was going to, however, I would only do so on the advice of a writer whom I respect and revere, like yourself.

      I intend to think carefully about what has been said here. I know its going to affect whether I post more work again for a while. Its hard to feel so attacked, but I’ll get over it. I always do. I hope that this won’t put you off my writing, as it won’t put me off yours. But now I need to go away and lick my wounds and cope with a major crisis that has arisen in my RL. It never rains but it pours, eh? Thank you for your comments once again.

      Reply

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