When the #metoo movement got under way I was cheering along the sidelines with just about everyone else who was appalled, but perhaps not surprised, at the volume of complaints by women who had had to endure sexual harassment ranging from crude remarks to physical abuse. The up-swell of indignation from women who had been mostly silent or muffled was profoundly uplifting. But even as I applauded I anticipated the inevitable backlash.
All great notions eventually become co-opted, usually by the self-righteous, simple Simons who take it upon themselves to take up other folks’ crosses, unbidden, and impose judgment on who is and is not true to the movement. Like the peasants weilding pitchforks who give way to committees sentencing offenders to the guillotine.
I recall watching a panel of women giddily anticipating the accusations to come against men going back decades, with one even suggesting that women who did not come forward with their own j’accuse were betraying the sisterhood. It was eerily similar to the McCarthy-era call to name names. How soon, I wondered, would the blow-back commence?
What does this have to do with writing, not just erotica, but any genre? There already exists a serious form of censorship that confronts all writers. Publishers now employ political correctness checkers who scour manuscripts and galleys for anything that might offend. I wonder, though, if they are wasting their money, because time after time, it has become evident that you can’t avoid offending someone who wants to be offended. Take the recent social media scourging of a Caucasian girl who wore a prom gown based on a Chinese garment. The initial instigator, without revealing whether he was Asian or not, said she had no right to wear it. You might as well proscribe white people from eating Chinese food.
I recall getting into a spirited argument with two editors at a newspaper I worked for over the use of St. Paddy’s day. The edict had come down that we were to avoid it at all costs, and this in a city where a good portion of the population considered themselves as Irish as Pat Murphy’s pig.
I was astounded. Yet I was told the term Paddy was offensive to the Irish. Notwithstanding my opinion that you can’t offend the Irish, I offered to take my editors on a stroll through a nearby neighborhood and count all the businesses with Paddy in their names: Paddy’s Pub, Paddy’s Hardware, Paddy’s Florist.
But I might as well have been taking to the three monkeys.
As a writer I’ve encountered PC censorship. Once I submitted a short story for an anthology that was initially accepted with enthusiasm. Then the editing process began.
The story centered on a pair of first responders who had a romantic history between them but were on the verge of breaking up. During the course of their shift they would find themselves in a life or death effort to rescue a pair of kids from a tenement inferno and come this/close to losing their lives.
Later, in the privacy of the back of their ambulance, with their bloodstream saturated with adrenalin, their lust and need for each other erupted in a physical encounter that would include fist pummeling (the woman on the man), shredded clothing, buttons flying, panties ripping, cursing and piston-pumping sex.
The editor said I would have to rewrite the scene because it was a rape.
The editor said it was a non-negotiable point. It was a rape because the woman had not explicitly given her consent to the encounter.
Wait a minute, I said. These two are crazy about each other, even if they are going thr0ugh a rough patch. They are steeped in adrenaline and hormones. Do you really think they are going to take a time out to she can say it’s okay if they fuck like demons?
I eventually satisfied the editor by adding a line where she screamed I want this. But it seemed to me silly, unrealistic and unnecessary.
Later in the process the editor said another reader damned it as a white savior narrative, because the characters were white and the fire occurred in an immigrant neighborhood. At that point it occurred to me that the story was being edited by a committee and each member had a PC checklist. I began to wonder what the hell they liked about the story in the first place.
I would not be surprised if consent becomes a bigger issue for writers of erotica. Even surpassing the days when calls for submissions almost all insisted on sex-positive stories. For those of us who like to write with a sensible dose of realism, and all others who have any experience with just living, sex isn’t always positive, and neither is love.
For real folks, and believable characters, sex – and love – is indeed a battlefield.