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In Which I Rant, Feminist-Style

October 5, 2009

All day I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to publish this post. I don’t like being negative, and I don’t like ranting.

But sometimes, I think it’s necessary.

Last night, trying to decide on bedtime reading, I realised that it would be Short Story Monday soon and I hadn’t read anything! So I grabbed the horror anthology I’ve been reading, Poe’s Children. I haven’t loved all of the stories so far, but I’ve loved enough to make me want to keep reading it. So I read the next 5 (I tend to read books of short stories in their printed order).

The first was called “Leda.” Ok, I thought, “not my favourite Greek myth, but I enjoy retellings.” And then, I encountered this in the first paragraph:

I begin each day with a three-egg omelet. I hold each fragile orb and think of the swell of her vulva. Then I hit it against the bowl. It breaks.

I’m offended by that imagery. But I thought, “Maybe I’m being too sensitive.” And then there’s the description of the woman being raped by a swan. And it felt a bit sensationalistic, a bit voyeuristic, a bit exploitative. And then I read this passage, narrated by a rape hotline volunteer,

What? Well, no, it wasn’t a busy night at all. This isn’t New York, for God’s sake; we average, maybe, two, three rapes a year.

And I was confused. One in four women in America will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. So they must live in an awfully small town. I finished the story, but it left a sour taste in my mouth.

The next one was just some super-predictable, mediocre thing about a guy visiting a statue yard and ending up as one. But at least it didn’t have any odd violence/hostility towards women, so I began to calm down.

And then came “Plot Twist” by David Schow. I knew it wasn’t going to be my kind of story on the second page, with this dialogue:

“I’m out,” said Vira, tired of the game. “Tapped. Done. I give up.” She looked up at the reddening sunrise sky and shouted. “Hey! Hear me? I quit. F*ck you. If there’s aliens up there toying with us, then they can kiss my anal squint!”

But I saw it was pretty short, so I decided to continue. And, I’m totally giving away the ending here, but after these three friends (one woman and her boyfriend and his guy friend) have been wandering around lost in the desert, the guy friend feels the need to rape the woman. Yep, that’s the twist. And I’m going to type out the scene for you, so that you can understand my rage:

There were no fist-sized rocks or round stones, so Donny used his other boot to hit Vira in the back of the head, so he would not have to look at fresh blood while he raped her. Byt the second time, she was bloody anyway. She might have orgasmed once, through sheer autonomic reflex.

Actually, I’m going to stop there. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?! (I’ve been trying to type calmly and display sophisticated reasing, but I just can’t handle that at all.) Women do NOT orgasm reflexivally when they’re sleeping with someone they love. And they sure as hell don’t have orgasms, which are the height of arousal and pleasure, when they’ve been knocked over the head while they’re sleeping and raped. I think it’s shameful that any author would write something like that, and I think it’s even more shameful that Mr. Straub would include this in his anthology that, in his introduction, he says is full of “The beautiful, disturbing, fearless stories …make up a kind of reading list for anyone who wants to experience what I think is the most interesting development in our literature during the last two decades.”

After I calmed down enough to get onto the next story, which was written by a man from the perspective of a male narrator about his wife’s miscarriages. The writing didn’t bother me, but I was sad that the story was once again about a woman being violated.

And to round out the five, there was a story that was a silly attempt at metafiction, but of course it had to end with the male narrator strangling a woman and cutting off her head, and how this guy has a fantasy of having s*x with a decapitated woman.

So I was angry again. And then, I decided to look at the table of contents…I hadn’t done it before because I got the book on a whim. There are 24 stories. There are 4 written by women. That’s not even 20%. That’s pretty pathetic.

And I’ve had a similar issue with Joe Hill’s short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts. Many of the narrators had a distinct anti-women stance, and the stories had a mysoginistic tone to them. Is there something about horror that makes writers want to demean or destroy their female characters?! Should I be willing to accept that? And should I give up on Poe’s Children? I got a different R.I.P. anthology that is all ghost stories written by women (The Virago Book of Ghost Stories). Or am I over-reacting to this whole thing?

Please chime in with comments!!! It’s an issue I’ve noticed more and more this year, so I’d love to see other peoples thoughts on it (guys and girls of course!).

58 Comments leave one →
  1. fozmeadows permalink
    October 5, 2009 6:51 pm

    Those examples all sound pretty dire – I can understand getting riled up – but horror, I think, is a genre prone to female dismemberment. That doesn’t excuse misogyny, but part of the reason horror can often fixate on the brutalisation/torture/rape of women is because, in a very Freudian-slash-primal part of the brain, we innately react with more disgust to the notion of a woman being violated than a man. Similarly, any crime committed against a child is another level of vileness altogether. Our animal brains seem to come equipped with a hierarchy of horror, and that means horror stories will tend to have a greater percentage of female victims.

    But, as you say, that doesn’t excuse malicious ignorance or genuine misogyny on behalf of authors. That sort of ugliness only rubs salt in the wound. We cease to care about the story and start to be angry with the writer, because it appears that, rather than acting as an objective, third-person purveyor of twisted tales, they are actually enjoying the sadism of their characters – at very least, they seem to be condoning it. There’s a fine line to walk, certainly, but when the disturbing elements are emerging via the third person commentary rather than dialouge or internal character monologues, then I think the reader is within their rights to question the author’s own views, and not just take a disliking to the content of the story.

  2. October 5, 2009 6:51 pm

    Eva, I’m so very glad you decided to hit the publish button. I’m shaking so hard that I can hardly type, but I had to say thank you. Of course I’m not going to suggest censorship of such books. But I am going to beg people not to support them. I’m just so at a lost for words…it’s too close…I don’t know. But Eva, thank you.

  3. October 5, 2009 7:06 pm

    Having just concluded my reading of Lolita, I have much to consider here – especially noting fozmeadow’s comment about narrator perspective, third person, author ‘voice’, etc. I do feel disgust at quotes you’ve shared here. and I’m curious about the women authors who made up the 20% of the collection and wonder about their thoughts of being represented with those ‘other’ stories.

  4. October 5, 2009 7:14 pm

    As a man, and one who spends a great deal of time surrounded by men who read this and other similar books, I can only say I’m embarrased and unsurprised. I honestly think a great deal of it has to do with sheer ignorance – which is the opposite of an excuse.

    Horror is, in my limited experience, a particularly troubling genre, because while on the one hand there’s few enough horror stories pretending that the psychopath/possessed person/whatever is a good person, horror is intrinsically wrapped up in human pain, and so much like erotica can easily spill over into pornography (the line I draw is, erotica talks about sex, while pornography exploits sex), it is too easy for horror to spill over into the violence (and sometimes sex) equivalent of pornography. Our culture simply doesn’t think about violence as being as much of a problem in conversation as sex – after all, I saw a clip in primetime the other day where a man is stabbed in the jugular with a pair of scissors. IS this more or less vulgar than, say, bare breasts?

    Rape is the same way – rape can be written about (I would say rape SHOULD be written about), and I would even, carefully, say that it SHOULD be written about at times by men – because rape is a problem men have, as much as a problem women have – more so, possibly, because it is men who have to change more in order for rape to stop (which is not to belittle the problem rape is for women – I hope that comes out right?). But, much like a sex scene, the problem is that it must be written tastefully. I agree, this sort of thing can’t be legislated or censored effectively, and shouldn’t be, because the line is grey and to easy to use as a weapon against the very people it’s meant to protect. But, I also believe that misogyny, glorification of violence, and chauvinism are things that should be taught, things that we should learn. In School. Because, there are too mayn people who just don’t ‘get’ why those passages are offensive.

    Anyway, sorry to banner-wave in your comments. This is just an issue that bothers me, that I wish more men talked about… (or talked about appropriately – frankly I hear too MUCH talk about it, as it is, I suppose)

  5. October 5, 2009 7:15 pm

    Thank you for posting this…you read farther than I would. I think, as I have gotten older, I am more sensitive to this type of thing. I don’t have the tolerance for the misogyny at all. It was one of my biggest complaints towards A Bend in the River by Naipaul (which I just read)…and was a big part of why the book got only a one star rating from me (and then I find out it is not just Naipaul’s characters who are violent and disrespectful of women…he is as well being not only an adulterer, but also having recently admitted he has beat women!).

    I wouldn’t read anymore of the book…in fact, although I have never actually done this, I would probably drop the volume in the nearest dumpster. My vote is to read the Virago book!

  6. October 5, 2009 7:16 pm

    I haven’t read the anthology, but I don’t think you’re overreacting. Sadly, this seems to be a common problem in horror. Did you see this Guardian article from a few weeks ago? It has a few links worth following too. I’m very glad you hit publish – the world needs MORE feminist rants, not fewer. And now I’m worried about 20th Century Ghosts :S

  7. October 5, 2009 7:19 pm

    I hate this about horror and horror films as well. UGH.

  8. October 5, 2009 7:22 pm

    Yeah, I wouldn’t have gotten that far either. I’m with Care. I’m curious about the stories written by the women. Maybe just read those, report back to us, then move on. :-) I’m glad you decided to post this, too. I’ll be very interested to see the comments it generates. And huge kudos to Jason for sharing his point of view!


  9. October 5, 2009 7:26 pm

    Ick! I don’t think you’re overreacting at all. I think it’s difficult to write about women being abused in a way that steers completely clear of voyeurism. Nabokov manages it really well by (ironically) having his narrator be utterly voyeuristic. But it’s important to bring it up when it bothers you – how else does anything ever change, right?

    • October 5, 2009 7:31 pm

      Wait, I’ve said that wrong. Not it’s difficult to steer completely clear of voyeurism, but that it’s easy to fall into it. I have noticed it much more often in male authors (to be fair).

  10. October 5, 2009 7:36 pm

    Ugh. That’s just horrible. I agree – you’re not overreacting. I don’t have words coherent enough to express my disgust.

  11. October 5, 2009 7:53 pm

    This is only tangentially related to your specific topic as it’s not about horror, but I’m still fuming over an essay collection titled “The New Kings of Nonfiction,” edited by Ira Glass, and, of course, with way more men than women in it. I mean, really — the new kings??? No way am I reading that book.

  12. October 5, 2009 8:01 pm

    It is good to see male point of views here. You’ve written a very thought-provoking post, Eva!

    You know, I really am not familiar with this genre, but when I recently read “The Dead Zone” by Stephen King, there was a rapist/murderer in the book — it was squeamish reading. But, the other characters in the book pretty much reacted the way we would have– by being devasated by the news each time it happened, and wanting so much to solve the case.

    So, seems there is a fine line between horror being true horror (in that we are horrified at the thought of the events in the story); or it being the literary (and I use that term loosely) equivalent of snuff films.

    I would be tempted to toss the book also. It’ll be interesting to see how the female writers compare.

  13. October 5, 2009 8:08 pm

    Holy camole. Everything you quoted was barbaric! Heck, I skipped most of it because I felt too queasy, as though I was peaking in on something inappropriate… and, I kinda was, wasn’t I? I recommend shoving that book under your bathtub and letting it rot. Or, you can cremate it, but that sounds too respectful. Let it roll in on itself, damp and sickly. That’s what it deserves. I guess you could just rip out those terrible stories and save the rest. They need not take the blame for the other’s transgressions, right?

    I wonder if female writer’s kill all the men? Either way, whatever the opposite sex may be, it doesn’t help anyone much, as we all depend on each other, don’t we?

    Well, cheer up. It’s one Monday. I think destroying the book would make you feel better, although I bet any shrink would beg to differ… Nah. Who cares? It would be fun to see those terrible words suffer.

  14. October 5, 2009 8:10 pm

    This post is one of the (many) reasons why I love you, Eva. You should always speak the truth about stuff like this. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to finish these stories if I read most of this stuff – it just makes me want to vomit and women should never be portrayed this way, no matter what type of “effect” the author is going for.

    And yes, the way women are portrayed absolutely affects my reading. I can’t stand this crap in books – it makes me mad (and sad…but mostly mad.)

  15. October 5, 2009 8:13 pm

    So, I have a question, if I may:

    Is this trend (for lack of a better word) something connected only to horror stories or is it just a symptom of a wider problem that crosses all lines?

    Here’s my point – there are things being said, written, and filmed about women these days that would never see the light of day if they were to be said, written, or filmed about any other group of people. You cannot, in most cases these days, say ‘the N word’ and get away with it yet you can call a woman any vile name you wish to and it’s acceptable.

    From female genital mutilation to the sex trade to selective abortions eliminating an astonishing number of female babies, the world has adopted the attitude that it’s okay to attack women and no one, not even those involved in the woman’s movement say a word.

    Pornography? Hey, it’s trendy, it’s harmless, what’s the problem? Prostitution? No big deal. Disagree with a woman’s politics by calling her ‘the c word” on a T-shirt. If you’re talking about women, everything goes.

    So, yes, women have never fared well in horror stories. They’ve always been the victims, the ones that need rescuing by the strong manly man character. But the violence in the stories you cite might seem to reflect the state of our culture right now.

    That doesn’t make it right. In fact, in many ways, it makes it much worse because it is becoming acceptable… and every woman suffers from it.

    Sorry for the rant, but I think this is one area where we agree, Eva.


    • barbara permalink
      October 23, 2009 8:47 am

      To cjh – THANK YOU for the rant. You took the thoughts right
      out of my head. And you are SO right. I’m in NY – and I’ve heard men say – ‘well, I know women who don’t mind the pronography or misogeny in films’ — my response has always been that at this point we don’t have much of a choice – it’s part of the scene and in our faces 24/7, and women have become pretty deaf and blind to the issue. I did, however, recently hear (radio) of a relatively new group of male activists trying to get men to talk about male violence. To acknowledge that rape is not an exclusively WOMEN’S issue – it’s a male issue! They said it was a difficult battle, because most men will not interrupt a conversation of a group of men belittling women in one way or another – that the man doing the interrupting is seen as an outsider – not manly enough!

      And of course every woman suffers, young women suffer, and men suffer. For me – the quotes from the book were disgusting – I’m not a horror story fan and this has certainly confirmed my distaste for the genre.

  16. October 5, 2009 8:14 pm

    p.s. I can never decide between using the word “effect” and “affect” so I probably used them wrong. Just fyi. :)

  17. historyofshe permalink
    October 5, 2009 8:17 pm

    >:o that’s all I have to say

  18. October 5, 2009 8:22 pm

    Oh, you are not overreacting. I don’t read horror a great deal, but, as Fozmeadows says, I imagine female dismemberment is a common theme. As with any writing, it must be done well. Simply using rape pointlessly to sensationalize a story is not only lazy but offensive. Thank you for publishing this.

  19. October 5, 2009 8:31 pm

    I say toss the book. I would have quit much sooner than you. It sounds more shock value than horror.
    I’d be interested in your review of the short stories written by women

  20. October 5, 2009 8:42 pm

    I agree with the Literary Omnivore. This writing is lazy AND offensive. Like, the authors couldn’t think of what else to do ? Couldn’t make a story out of something other than purposely crossing a line? Watched a few too many CSIs and tried to take their own stories a step too far, have they?

    While I don’t think men are solely responsible for poor, sexist writing, these all have the same “thing” – blatant violent meaningless-to-the-story violation against women.

    I think the editor failed completely in his job. I think he did not read all of the stories, was not focused, maybe had some help, some other hired readers who let these stories through, maybe “just to see” what kind of impact it would have, what feedback, what “bad” PR it would create thinking that any PR is good. No. He’s wrong.

  21. October 5, 2009 8:47 pm

    When I’m reading a horror (or horrific) novel, I do have to take into consideration the “voice” of the character in the book (as mentioned above). I think what is so offensive in these stories is that rape is a continued theme, which I think I have to agree with CJHilll that this is directly related to the culture that we live in.

    I’ve read about rape in many novels, but what I find amazing about the way it is written is that it is something horrific that happens to a woman who is slightly less than human. Meaning that we (as readers) can distance ourselves from the pain of it because it is happening to an object, but remain horrified by it because the rape is happening to a person.

    Which really all goes back to the objectification of women and how it is so dangerous to be seeing all these boobs in our media without ever really seeing a woman’s face.

  22. October 5, 2009 8:47 pm

    I don’t think you’re overreacting at all. Frankly, I think that’s disgusting and I for one will NOT be picking up that book!! What is with people? Do they seriously think that people want to read that garbage? The sad thing is…the truth is…there is a market…a huge market for this type of literature. And that’s a disgusting thing. But it’s posts like these, a wonderful post that you wrote Eva that fights that misconception that this is literature. This is not literature, it’s trash. I’m sorry, but it is. It’s smut really. I wouldn’t even bother continuing with it if I were you. I’d go with your all female collection! There’s bound to be more intelligent literature there! Not to say that there are not male horror novelists that do it right, there are…but the ones that you quoted are not them. Sorry for this rambling comment…just infuriated!

  23. October 5, 2009 8:48 pm

    That’s not over-reacting. And it’s not feminism.

    Your reaction is a human one.

  24. October 5, 2009 8:57 pm

    Real quick, on the other side of things, I wonder if (sometimes) this is improving (very slowly) because of the nature of new media. The thing about titillation is that it doesn’t have a fair market price – no more than stolen goods have a fair market price, or a snuff film. Titillation at some moral level is a crime against the sensibilities of the exploited (you can’t titillate, I’d argue, without exploiting someone). It’s stolen goods – you are selling the stolen dignity of the people you victimize.

    I think that most people at some level feel and know this, but much like crime, titillation is extremely easy to market in a capital exchange market place, because people feel it a guilty pleasure (an example: a few years ago, a fraudulent company posed as a porn reseller and then snet out blank tapes. To get a refund, you had to mail it back to something along the lines of ‘Filthy Porn for Sickos, Inc.’ People dont’ speak up abotu being cheated on porn, because they don’t want to admit they bought it in the first place). So, Titillation media works off an extortion business model – they take money because people have an unhealthy need for their products.

    In online media, where it’s increasingly easy to get things for free, extortion is more difficult, since no money changes hands. Instead, you have an economy of choice, where people contribute to artists that they feel strongly about. People don’t, generally, feel strongly about trash (or at least not strongly in favor…), so they spend exactly what they MUST spend and no more (if you’re buying chocolate, you might go for Godiva. If you’re buying a cheap thrill, you only buy the more expensive model if you’re desensitized to the cheap one). So, the big success storeis in, for instance, music haven’t been Britney Spears exploitative, I don’t think?

  25. October 5, 2009 9:15 pm

    I read very little horror fiction so I can’t comment on trends in horror. I do read a lot of detective fiction, very hard-boiled stuff which is not known for being kind to women. But I have not found anything like the passages you quote in the stuff I read, not even the early James Ellroy novels. Okay, maybe he comes a little close at times.

    I do think rape is overused, way overused, in fiction and I think it’s too often used as a plot element instead of as a theme. I hope that conveys what I mean. I think all topics are fair game as themes for fiction, but when something is just used to advance the plot or provide “excitement” that’s just sloppy writing–not really something one can defend. Too often crimes against women are used this way.

    I remember, many years ago, many, many years ago reading an interview with an actress who played a detective on a television show, a hit show like T.J. Hooker but not exactly a high-brow one. She pitched a fit when presented with a script that had her character being raped in it because it was the third time that had happened over the life of the show. It was like they just ran out of ideas for plots. I stopped watching The Sopranos, which I loved, when the psychiatrist was raped. Enough already.

    And! Only four stories by women! Is that representative of the horror genre? I’ve not idea; I don’t really read the stuff. But I will say that if you published an anthology of hard boiled detective fiction and featured only four women authors out of 24 no one would or should take you seriously at all. Women authors rule hard boiled detective fiction these days.

    A do have a volume of Angela Carter’s fiction on my shelf that I haven’t read yet. Maybe some of her horror fiction for Halloween this year.

  26. October 5, 2009 9:24 pm

    I’m going to let out one long, sad sigh. I am a rape crisis hotline person and HOLY SHIT we would NEVER EVER say something like that. We know better than that, and the fact that the author wrote that, he obviously doesn’t know shit.
    Excuse my frank language.

    I hate that horror also becomes synonymous with violence against women, for no good reason. There’s never a good reason for that, I’m sorry. There’s a difference between writing about rape and violence for a purpose, to demonstrate something that actually happens or to tell a story, but there is no excuse for using it for shock value.

    I applaud you for writing this post. I’m glad you published it, things like this need to be said.

  27. October 5, 2009 9:33 pm

    I’m disgusted and horrified. I’m thankful to you for bringing this author to my attention. I will be crossing him off my list and I am not usually someone who ever wants to not take a book into consideration!

  28. October 5, 2009 9:34 pm

    This is why I prefer old horror to new. I stop watching horror films at about the early 1960s and I prefer Victorian horror stories. Why? Because they are about psychological terror and not so much about physical violence. Violence isn’t scary, it’s just gross. And it’s not smart. Even when I read for pure entertainment, I want the stories to be intelligent and representative of the best of their genre.

  29. October 5, 2009 9:40 pm

    I would have tossed the book after the story about Vira. Horrible writing and horrible mindset!

  30. October 5, 2009 9:40 pm

    Eewww! No, I don’t think you’re overreacting at all. I feel certain I would’ve felt the same way, and I don’t know that I would’ve been able to wade through as far as you managed to.

    As for Joe Hill, I’m only 3 stories into 20th Century Ghosts, so I haven’t been affected by misogynistic undertones in this one, but I certainly felt something of the same “ick” and
    “OH MY GOD, that’s wrong” reading one particular scene in Heart Shaped Box. Will definitely be on the lookout.

  31. October 5, 2009 10:03 pm

    Ugh. Like everyone here, I don’t think you’re over-reacting. I avoid the horror genre in general because… well, it frightens me on many levels, one being that I am worried when horror books are best-sellers. I understand that violence occurs in our world, and that it can be really, really horrible. And it is fine if authors write about it; but I don’t think it should be glorified. That is one of the reasons I so disliked The Pillars of the Earth- I thought there was a lot of gratuitous violence in that book, even though so many other people loved it…

  32. lena permalink
    October 5, 2009 10:48 pm

    I can’t believe you made it so far! Goodness gracious, I would have given that up so quickly. Women in my country were raped to make a political statement. I do NOT take things like that lightly. Nobody ASKS or WANTS to be raped, much less have their throat slit.

    I agree with wordlilly that this is a human reaction, not a feminist one. Everyone should be disgusted at this – not just feminists.

    I hope you didn’t purchase the book, and if you did, I would honestly return it and ask for my money back – I do NOT support rape literature.

  33. October 5, 2009 11:23 pm

    Im fairly new to your blog, but I’m so happy you did post this! That book is an outrage and I wouldn’t have gotten as far as you did! What was she thinking to write that? It’s way beyond anything, or any words I can think of to describe it. Or maybe the word WRONG. And everyone should be disgusted and made, not just feminists.

    Thanks for the entry.

  34. ShelliO permalink
    October 6, 2009 12:43 am

    I linked here through about 5 blogs and my eye went right to the name of the book (I also have it) and then back up to the title of the post. Intrigued? Yes.

    I posted a quote by Dorothy Allison on my FB the other day. She says: “I believe, absolutely, that if you do not break out in that sweat of fear when you write, then you have not gone far enough.” Schow isn’t writing out of fear, he’s writing, ignorantly, about an experience he will likely never understand. And not writing very well about it either.

    You’re not being negative. You’re standing up for good writing. Good writing does go to those ugly places and exposes them to scrutiny and revelation, even in horror writing (maybe especially in horror…?). Schow took a lazy way into and out of a story. Unimpressive.

    But Eva…do make sure to read the Neil Gaiman story. It’s beautiful and haunting and Neil does right by the gothic genre.

  35. October 6, 2009 3:03 am

    You are not at all overreacting. Those scenes are disgusting and I would put the book down myself. I don’t read much horror, I’m not really a fan, but I do like Stephen King, so I’m very disappointed to hear that about Joe Hill. I’ll have to reconsider reading his books. I do suspect that this is a trend, if only because I used to watch a good number of horror movies, but it makes me feel sick. =(

  36. October 6, 2009 3:33 am

    Excellent and thought provoking post, Eva.

    Well I think in this instance the genre has to be considered; as previous comments have noted, the traditional horror story relies on the horror of impending physical violence against a helpless victim, and the most helpless victims of all are women. In a way the fact that you reacted with such horror and disgust at the descriptions of violence against women is really the point of the story; it is meant to initiate a reaction, and it is meant to be horrific, to boot.

    At the same time though, I completely understand and agree with your reaction, and agree that not very thinly veiled porn based around the pleasure men gain in causing pain to women being used as a basis for a horror story is both disgusting and offensive. You don’t get women writing stories about men in this degrading way (not that some women aren’t degrading to men – I have read a lot of feminist books and articles that accuse men of all sorts of evils and denigrate them to the status of unthinking, power hungry, oppressive, bullying sexually rampant animals, which is equally unacceptable) and using one of the most painful and distressing experiences that can happen to women as a form entertainment is vile. Why is it deemed acceptable? Well, because not enough people complain, perhaps. Or because it’s ‘art’ and anything goes.

    You are right to be angry and to speak out. However, in our desensitised world where violence is for so many a form of entertainment, and so many women are willing to let themselves be treated as objects by men, I am not surprised by what you describe.

    It just goes to show that equality of the sexes is far from alive and well. What disgusts me the most is that people actually enjoy reading this kind of stuff. How could rape entertain anyone? How could anyone even think up this story and enjoy writing the descriptions of violence that you have copied out? It is just incomprehensible to me. And it glamorises rape, too. That’s just inhuman.

  37. October 6, 2009 5:34 am

    I don’t think I can add much to what has already been written. I am just disgusted that a book like that is actually in print. I wouldn’t be happy to read it. I started reading Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson and had to give up because there was so many distasteful descriptions in it, only more about men that women.

  38. October 6, 2009 5:59 am

    I would be offended by that imagery too, yikes, I wonder how can people think of something like that when breaking an egg.

    And that David Schow story was really a sad attempt to create a disturbing story.

    You are right in voicing your opinion Eva, someone should be done about it.

  39. October 6, 2009 6:15 am

    That is horrible!! I don’t think I would have lasted as long as you. Toss the book…better yet, burn it. I’m reading from The Virago Book of Ghost Stories now, and it’s wonderful. I’m glad you pushed the ‘publish’ button for this…your opinion should be heard!

  40. October 6, 2009 6:24 am

    I agree with most of the people that commented here. It’s a grey line.

    Was it crossed in these stories? Probably.

    It’s a tough call because horror is just what it’s title suggests.

    In any case, I’m glad you posted about this and got a discussion going. I love reading what well read people have to say about subjects that walk the line.

  41. October 6, 2009 6:42 am

    Sounds like a case of poor writing to me. I don’t read horror fiction, it’s just something I’ve never dipped into, but like all types of fiction there is good and there is crap. And it’s obvious from just the few small quotes you’ve include that these stories fall into the crap category. I’d try to find a better anthology of horror fiction. Maybe try researching the editor? This guy sounds like he’s a piss poor editor.

  42. October 6, 2009 7:39 am

    It certainly seems to me that these stories became more and more offensive, and I’m not sure I would have kept reading. I haven’t read many (contemporary) horror stories so I can’t speak to whether this is a common occurrence in the genre, but I sadly wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Just based on the horror movies in general (which always seem to have a topless woman in them, don’t they), women are always presented as the victims. That’s why a show/movie like Buffy was so empowering and inspiring, because it took the genre and turned it on its ear.

    I’m not sure that this problem is only limited to the horror genre, to be honest. I mean, I think horror allows authors to be more explicit and gory, but I was recently thinking about how so much sci-fi and fantasy tends to feature male heros, with a token girl thrown in simply as a sidekick. Clearly there are exceptions (e.g., His Dark Materials, The Hunger Games, etc.,), but there seems to be an imbalance of power there still. I wonder if this is because of who’s writing the books (mostly men) or who the target audience generally is (again, mostly men). Perhaps a combination of the two?

  43. October 6, 2009 10:10 am

    Disgusting! I think I could not have continued for as long as you did!

  44. October 6, 2009 12:29 pm

    I say you are NOT overreacting. Sounds like a few stories have spoiled the rest of them, and I certainly would not keep reading. Through that anthology out the window!

    If there is a beetle on your ice cream, do you eat around it? I’d personally throw out the ice cream and get fresh bowl. Certainly there are story anthologies less offensive or at least that have a greater number of good stories than horrible ones.

  45. October 6, 2009 4:19 pm

    Sadly, one of the most read and bestselling authors these years use rape in his stories the “wrong” way.

    Now I know that there is no “right” way of raping a woman, of course not! But there is what I think has been coined the “tasteful” or should I say literary, way of describing it, and then there is the misogynic way to describe where the rape is, basically, the woman’s own darn fault. And THAT makes me sick. I wouldn’t want to read those stories you have written excerpts from above, but I am still not into censoring books. As has been suggested, better to let as many people as possible know exactly what they are in for if they choose to read this book.

    I also agree that it is highly problematic that less than 20% of the stories are written by women. I am no feminist as such, but sometimes I do feel like one, and am proud of it!

    Well written post. Thanks.

  46. October 6, 2009 6:11 pm

    If you want to read a good set for shortish stories that have a fantastical bend to them, check out Saffron And Brimstone by Elizabeth Hand. Quite refreshing so far.

    As to Poe’s Children, “What the hell is that?!” indeed. Personally, I think Poe himself would be appalled. And from the copy you quoted, it seems like the vulgar language used in the “Vira” quote is there just to be there. I found it rather juvenile and the rest of it disgusting.

  47. October 7, 2009 12:04 am

    Yeah, I can see that this isn’t for you. It would be hard to read all of these stories together.

  48. October 7, 2009 3:42 pm

    I, too, do not think that you are over reacting. In fact, I probably would have been more angry. I had a similar reaction to a book which I have not reviewed yet because I was offended by the elitist and racist assumptions throughout the book. Like you, I was worried about coming across as too negative. After reading your post and the comments, I am feeling braver to start working on and publishing the review. Thank you Eva for speaking your truth!!!

  49. October 7, 2009 3:55 pm

    Better to read Poe himself, than vulgar knockoffs. I’d like to think that if he were alive today, his stories would still deal more with the psychological aspects of crime and horror, and not cheap thrills.

  50. October 7, 2009 6:46 pm

    Eva, I can totally understand where you’re coming from and, even though, I’m not easily offended, those are pretty disturbing images that I’d have a hard time reading too.

    I do think, however, that we need to look at it from another angle. Perhaps the writers aren’t necessarily doing this to demean women. A lot of the time these shocking scenarios, like rape, are used as metaphors for other things. The content doesn’t necessarily reflect what the author himself feels but is used as an ‘out there’ way to speak against something else. Maybe this disgusting way women are being treated in this book is a message about how society sees women as pieces of meat.

    I think this book is pretty disgusting – I wouldn’t read it after reading the passages you posted – but we do have to ask, is misogyny in writing a bad thing? We need characters like this to keep teaching us about morals and good ethics. We shouldn’t always turn a blind eye to the fact that there are horrible people like this still out there, even though this is the 21st century, and I sometimes admire artists/writers who aren’t afraid to give us the ‘shock factor’ and open our eyes.

  51. October 7, 2009 9:18 pm

    Not an overreaction at all. Those examples are pure trash. Nothing more.

  52. October 8, 2009 7:09 pm

    You should always say what you think about a book, regardless of its negativity. If no one speaks up, who will? I read a mystery last year that described people with disabilities as people who will lie in order to get something the author did not think we deserve. It’s the kind a portrayal that results in hate crimes. I complained to the publisher and got an apology.

  53. October 9, 2009 7:37 am

    If Straub considers this work “beautiful,” I’d be sure to stay away from other pieces he writes or edits.

    Wordlily said it well, your reaction isn’t feminist, it’s human.

  54. October 9, 2009 3:31 pm

    I absolutely do not think you’re overreacting. I’d quit and move on to the Virago book, myself. Not being a horror reader (except on rare occasions) I can say whether or not this is common, but I just finished and reviewed a Zombie book, which I believe you could classify as “horror” and was surprised by how gentle and respectful the protagonist behaved towards the females.

    As to the way rape is portrayed — it’s frustrating. I’ve had friends who were raped. You’re right that the size of town has nothing to do with it. Rape occurs in sweet, quiet little backwoods places. It’s an act of violence, not sex, even though it’s sexual — it’s about domination and it’s pure evil. There was a rape in the book The Poseidon Adventure, of all things. That caught me totally off-guard and then truly angered me when the female went out of her way to tell her rapist it was okay, then just moved on. I don’t buy that and while the book was written in the 60s or 70s, it’s hard to believe that even then that horrid act of violence was so completely brushed off. It certainly shouldn’t be today, but I don’t believe things are improving. CJ made some excellent points. Name-calling and other abuse are becoming more common rather than less. It’s sad.

  55. October 10, 2009 8:50 am

    I’ve been reading horror for a long time and never thought too much about the treatment of women as a whole. I definitely see how many stories can be seen as misogynistic. Whether that’s the intent or not I don’t know.

    I can say that horror films have always been pretty hard on women (with the exception of the lesser-known rape-revenge sub-genre.) Being a huge horror fan and a member of many forums dedicated to the horror genre something really disturbing to me is that it’s almost impossible for men to comprehend a female being a fan. It’s becoming more common lately, but 4-5 years ago it was rare to see more than 10 or so women members in a community of hundreds. And the females really had to prove themselves.

    Bringing this back around to books, perhaps it is how society in general views the audience of readers for this genre. Or maybe the mistreatment of women in literature is the surest way to get a horrified reaction from female readers.

    Women and their roles in horror literature would be an interesting topic to look into. I’ve never read anything written about it but I have heard of Gothic Feminism by Diane Hoevelor and I’ve read Men, Women and Chainsaws and The Dread of Difference – both excellent gender studies of horror films.

    Also the Journal of Popular Culture published an excellent article concerning the use of rape in crime fiction. It debated the misogynistic nature of violence against women with some statistics showing that some women who’ve dealt violence and/or rape can read these stories with positive psychological benefits. Personally I wouldn’t argue for/against either side, I think it all depends on the specific reader – fascinating subject though.


  1. In Which I Revisit Monday’s Post « A Striped Armchair

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