Fifty shades of misandry

Is the world of erotic literature dominated by women? US author Andy Nowicki challenged the cultural commissars of contemporary feminism. And ended up writing a book for us…

As an author, I faithfully go wherever my flighty and unpredictable Muse leads me. This dedication to my ever-evolving, often elusive source of inspiration has led me down a winding and torturous path, lined with copious clusters of thorns, nettles, and poison ivy. It has most certainly not, thus far, brought me widespread recognition, fortune, fame, or glory. Yet I trust my Muse just the same, because really, when it comes to creative stimulation, who or what else do I have? Without her, I’m nothing.

I will not spill too much ink here investigating the identity, orientation, or overall reliability of the Muse, nor even exploring the question of whether she dwells within, capriciously stirring my consciousness when she feels the inexplicable urge (but always on her own terms) or if in fact she is a separate entity entirely, one who hovers above me, flitting about and occasionally whispering mischievous notions in my ear before withdrawing with a girlish giggle, darting away to a cleverly chosen hiding spot and teasingly mocking my efforts to find her again. Suffice to say that she moves in mysterious, and at times infuriating, ways. In the last couple of years, however, the Muse has proven to be a faithful helpmeet; she has sung to me freely, and I have translated her music into numerous works, some that I have managed to publish and others that have yet to find a suitable suitor.

A couple of years ago, for reasons unknown, my Muse became raunchy, ribald, and risqué: a saucy wench indeed. This is when I began writing literary erotica. In searching for possible publishers in this genre, I soon became aware of an undeniable fact: these days, erotica writers tend, overwhelmingly, to be women. This has certainly not always been so: men, in fact, created and helped to shape the course of this type of literature for centuries. (Forget De Sade; think of King Solomon, author of the most supremely sensual book of the Bible!) But today, male authors tend to write in other fields, and erotica has largely become a no-go zone for men.

It’s hard to say precisely why this trend has developed. But as a result of the clustering of female authors in this genre, a bewildering set of ideological assumptions have sprung up, usually unspoken, and laden with inconsistencies and double standards. Contemporary erotica is permeated with a feminist ethos, even as the subject matter of most popular erotic novels are strongly traditionalist when it comes to depictions of sex roles and gender relations. In spite of being a rather poorly written work, E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Gray series has achieved immense popularity, and has spawned numerous imitators, all of which depict the beautiful heroine finding majestic joy and unbearable ecstasy submitting her body and soul to the whims of a dominant, powerful, exceedingly masculine man. Yet since the author of Fifty Shades and its knockoffs are all women, and since most of its readers are women as well, no disapproval is evinced from the cultural commissars of contemporary feminism. Instead, in writing and enjoying these books, women are seen as taking charge of their sexuality and embracing all of its fetishes and kinks: you go, girl! Never mind that what they are embracing is the very “antediluvian” notion of female submission, which apparently still seems to resonate with a great many women, perhaps largely because of its politically-incorrect “forbidden fruit” quality.

Yet, as I have learned, such exemptions are not granted to authors of stories with similar themes… if the author is a man. In fact, if my experiences are typical, and I strongly suspect they are, a man who writes explicitly sexual tales is largely treated with suspicion, if not thorough contempt. It matters not whether his stories are well-written, though of course reasonable people can disagree about the literary merit of any given piece. In my experience, even if the female reader/would-be publisher admits that the writing is good, the fact that a man would write such things is seen by her as deeply disquieting. The assumptions are rampant: he’s a despicable misogynist, a creepy pervert, perhaps a closet rapist or child molester. “He’s just writing to get himself off,” the scornful editors snort snidely, and that’s apparently a problem, since he’s a man; unlike female masturbation, which is a beautiful gesture of liberated womanhood (even if one is fantasizing about being dominated by a man), male self-stimulation is disgusting and perverted. No one is declaring “You go, boy! Embrace your sexuality, be liberated, throw off your chains of repression!” to the man who gets off on recording what turns him on; instead, he is just a sicko wanker: a loser, to be shunned and derided. The same encouraging “sex-positive” feminist, who fully approves of the Fifty Shades-esque fantasy indulged in by female authors, becomes a stern puritanical sex-negative schoolmarm, and a fierce and hatefully abusive bully to boot, when she discovers that a man is the author of the erotic work in question.

We hear a great deal these days from feminists who claim that men hate and fear “strong women,” and that open, frank depictions of female sexuality are anathema to our “patriarchal” culture. But in fact it is male sexuality that is commonly hated, feared, and anathematized. Far from being “phallocentric,” our culture today is in fact overwhelmingly phallophobic. We aren’t afraid of the turned-on woman, with her lovely, proud, wonderful feminine wetness between her legs; instead, it’s the horny dude with his awful, ugly, insufferable erection, that gives our misandric, feminist-indoctrinated culture the willies (pun intended). In short, feminists can only endure a sexually aggressive character with a penis if said character is written by an author with a vagina.

I will cop to some personal bitterness on this front: I have had (female) would-be editors greet my erotically-charged material with unjustified anger and defensiveness; they have treated me like a cad for even writing such stuff; how dare I? I don’t believe that interpretations of my work as woman-hating at all stand up to scrutiny, though admittedly an author isn’t necessarily the best judge of the meaning and message of his own stories.

I am thankful to ER for publishing my short story “Motel Memento Mori” and to (whose editor just happens to be a man… hmmm) for publishing my novel Heart KillerAnd I hope the future will reveal greater open-minded acceptance and less reflexive punitive derision for men who find their Muses leading them into gynocentric literary territory in the future. To use an ironically apt metaphor, I hope they don’t get dicked around like I was!