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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

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.

laura Saturday, 26 December, 2015

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.

Review/Summary (2 - Katherine Morrissey): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 23 December, 2015

Katherine E. Morrissey's

essay outlines key moments in the history of erotic romance in America, beginning with the "hot historicals" produced (primarily) in America in the 1970s and moving to the production of "erotic" media in America and the United Kingdom in the 1990s. Next, I examine the melding of the terms erotic and romance by American publishers over the course of the late '90s and early 2000s, as well as the debate this provoked among online communities of romance readers at the time. [...] I conclude this essay by asking where erotic romance is headed next and identifying a set of questions we need to ask as this process unfolds. (42-3)

Morrissey does argue, though, that:

Rather than seeing the 1970s Avon publications as an origin point for erotic romance, this period should be recognized as a moment where the erotic again becomes visible. Like the sheik romances so popular in America and the West in the 1920s, the erotic romances of the '70s are indicative of a period of reconfiguration across broader Western culture and a moment where the representation of sexual desire in romance was renegotiated. (44-5)

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Morrissey, Katherine E. "Steamy, Spicy, Sensual: Tracing the Cycles of Erotic Romance". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 42-58.

Review/Summary (1 - Simon Hardy): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 14 December, 2015

Simon Hardy's essay in this volume compares the "male tradition of pornographic writing" which made "use of a female narrative voice" to "erotic fiction and memoirs [...] that are genuinely written by women" in order to discover whether "female authors are producing new forms of erotica or simply assimilating patterns of erotic discourse established by the centuries-old tradition of male writers, often masquerading as female autobiographers" (25).

Naturally, he has had to be selective about the number of texts he could discuss in his essay and he acknowleges "right from the outset that the selection of other examples might well lead to different conclusions" (25). This is, I think, a very important acknowledgement. I can't speak about "erotic fiction and memoirs" because that's not an area of literature about which I have much knowledge, but certainly the field of romance fiction is extremely large and very varied and it's quite possible for conclusions which are correct about a certain subset of romances to be inapplicable to many others: one should therefore be very wary before extrapolating from a small number of texts, particularly if one cannot be certain that they are representative of the diversity of the field.

Hardy begins with a very brief overview of male-authored erotic fiction, focussing on John Clelland's Fanny Hill. He observes that:

Cleland's writing represented men and women as equally lascivious. Later, when "respectable" Victorian authorities established the notion of the passionless female, dissident pornographers opposed it by invoking the earlier tradition of female incontinence, but now with a new element: that this underlying female wantonness had to be brought forth as the submissive response to male sexual initiative. (27)

The much more recent Black Lace erotic imprint, although it had a "tag line of 'erotic fiction by women and for women'" (29), would appear to have followed in this Victorian tradition:

Black Lace fictions are stories of female sexual discovery, of women becoming active, pleasure seeking subjects. However, the goal of pleasure is usually attained only when the woman's social self finally yields to the natural lust residing in her body, as it responds to the agency of male sexual conquest. Female liberation is attained only in the act of submission. (31)

Hardy argues that Fifty Shades of Grey is "a hybridization of romance and pornography" (34). [This is an insight explored by Jodi McAlister in her 2013 paper "Breaking the Hard Limits: Romance, Pornography, and Genre in the Fifty Shades trilogy" (which can be found online, for free, here).] Like the (majority of?) Black Lace books, it would seem to follow in the Victorian pornographic tradition:

While Christian's sexuality is elaborately accounted for, Ana's response to and identification with the submissive role is taken for granted; described in endless detail yet never explained, as if it were latent in her nature, or simply because she really is a blank slate to be inscribed by her lover. [...] it is above all in this fundamental essentialist silence that James' text most crucially bears the hallmark of the male tradition of pornographic writing referred to above. (39)

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Hardy, Simon. "From Black Lace to Shades of Grey: The Interpellation of the 'Female Subject' into Erotic Discourse". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 25-41.