*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.
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,