Tag Archives: women

Review: Wounding by Heidi James

Wounding by Heidi James tells the story of Cora, a thirty-something professional who shares her seemingly idyllic life with her doting husband and two children; everything a woman is supposed to aspire to. However, it soon becomes apparent that Cora is desperately seeking an escape from this prescribed lifestyle; guilt-ridden and unhappy, she seeks solace elsewhere…

The first thing that struck me about Wounding was the dual narrative of Cora, our main protagonist, and her husband. As we are privy to both perspectives within the relationship, we can sympathise with both parties and can approach Cora’s plight with some sense of continuity and insight. Whether Cora or her husband are indeed reliable narrators remains to be seen. Cora’s husband seems to agonise over the widening gulf in their relationship, and desperately analyses their past, before marriage and kids got in the way, in order to ascertain why Cora is drifting further and further away from the family unit.

Obviously, it is quite easy to sympathise with Cora; she is buckling under the pressure of society’s expectations of how women are supposed to live their lives; having a good job, marrying the right person and having kids, and all the while, being expected to ‘enjoy’ the confines and restrictions that having a family places on an individual. We are often bombarded by images of what the ‘perfect’ mother and wife should embody by the media, and so often, reality does not correlate with fabricated notions of the role of women and the various guises imposed on them. It seems to me that what Cora is experiencing is in part society-sponsored sadism; the things society tell us should make us happy often have the opposite effect, yet we still do them, despite our better instincts. There is no handbook telling women how to be the perfect wife/mother/citizen, yet it is expected of us regardless; as if we are subject to a kind of tacit social contract in which we perform our duties, and should never expect to complain.

All in all, I found Wounding to be a complex, sympathetic and visceral observation of Cora’s disintegrating sense of self and the effect that this has, not only on herself, but on those around her. Wounding asks difficult questions regarding the issue of motherhood, and what, exactly, makes a good parent, but it also explores the labyrinthine notion of self-hood and how our prescribed life choices can, ultimately, jeopardise our identity (-ies).

My review for FWSA is now live!

My review of Julia Long’s ‘Anti-Porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Porn Feminism‘ is now live on the FWSA blog. You can read it here.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in my review, then feel free to comment. If our opinions differ, that’s fine, but refrain from using derogatory or abusive language. Cos it’s just not cool.

I hope you enjoy my review, folks!

The Dragon Lady and the Mother Goddess Archetype.

SPOILER ALERT!

(Soon to appear (amended) in print in my very own self-published Stephen King fan-zine! Watch this space!)

Paul Sheldon, author of the best-selling Misery Chastain series, finds himself in a very precarious situation. After finishing his new novel ‘Fast Cars’ (his long-sought escape from Misery’s world) and inebriated after a bottle of celebratory champagne, Paul drives off in the snow. You can probably guess what happens next.

At the bottom of a ravine, Paul lies broken and bloodied in the wreck of his car. Lucky for him, a mysterious stranger comes to his aid and administers life-saving CPR…

…his rescuer is none other than former nurse and self-proclaimed number one fan, Annie Wilkes.

This signals for Paul the start of an ordeal unrelenting in its sadism. Book16

For me, Annie is a very interesting horror character. At first glance the narrative may seem to paint her as just another one dimensional psychopath but as Paul’s suffering intensifies, the complexities of her characterisation and representation are revealed to the reader.

Annie, represented as the archetypal ‘mother goddess’ initially, is caring, nurturing and patient. She rescues Paul from the snow blizzard, resets his shattered limbs, feeds him painkillers (the origin of which remains a mystery) and selflessly nurses him back to consciousness in her own home.

It soon becomes clear that Annie does not fit any particular ‘mother goddess’ archetype. She is quick to anger, abusive, possessive, obsessive and driven to acts of extreme violence at the slightest provocation.

One notable transgression has terrible consequences for Paul when Annie punishes him by chopping off his foot with an axe and cauterising it with a blow torch (this scene was executed rather differently in the 1990 film adaptation).

Paul, a man used to fast cars, hard living and women on tap, soon realises he is in a hell of jam long before the foot-chopping even begins.

To Paul, Annie represents an ancient savagery that existed before the birth of ‘civilisation’; an elemental force of nature designed to punish and destroy the unfaithful:

‘The image of Annie Wilkes as an African idol out of She or King Solomon’s Mines was both ludicrous and queerly apt…like an idol, she gave only one thing: a feeling of unease deepening steadily toward terror. Like an idol, she took everything else.’

Paul has seemingly awoken a malevolent deity determined to devour and destroy his life as he knows it.

Annie further destroys the ‘mother goddess’ archetype when Paul discovers that in her nursing days, she was alleged to have killed a number of patients under her care; gaining her the nickname of ‘Dragon Lady’ in the press.

Inevitably, Annie does have some weaknesses. One is Liberace. The other is Paul and the Misery series. Annie’s obsession with the fictional Misery Chastain see her buy into a world with entrenched gender norms; i.e. helpless maiden, smitten (male) rescuer. This is obviously directly at odds with her behaviour regarding Paul. But, she is manipulated by Paul to a certain degree; he flatters Annie by calling her his ‘favourite nurse’ and plays upon her social awkwardness (or naiveté) in order to get the things that he wants or make her look stupid.

Paul often denigrates Annie by calling her a ‘bitch’ and in the final climatic scene alludes to rape as the ultimate punishment: ‘I’m gonna (sic) rape you, all right, Annie. I’m gonna rape you because all I can do is the worst I can do’.

The rape threat is a metaphorical allusion, as he does not actually rape Annie (as you can read in the book); having been emasculated in several horrifying ways, all Paul has is his manhood and defending it is worth risking his life.

Obviously, the word ‘bitch’ has strong cultural connotations; one is that it is often used to describe women who are strong, uncompromising and uninterested in pleasing men.

But ultimately, Annie does want to please Paul. She wants Paul to love her as much as she loves him. The power of the idol lies in the unwavering obedience and blind devotion of the hapless worshipper.

Whilst King’s representation of mental illness may be a little clumsy in parts, I think he is successful in creating a character that not only rebels against the ‘mother goddess’ stereotype that is often attached to women, but also horror genre conventions that relegate women to passive and undemanding roles.

This is especially apparent in film where many female characters meet their maker by the most pointlessly violent means, or through sadistic sexual torture.

Annie smashes ‘traditional’ horror conventions by existing within her own right as a female character who is seemingly indestructible. Paul’s attempts to kill Annie are often thwarted by her unworldly levels of precognition (alluding to her representation as some kind of all-knowing being).

However, Annie is not infallible, and she does meet her death at the hands of Paul.

We sympathise with Paul, as we should, as he’s had his goddamned foot and thumb cut off and cauterised with a blow-torch! But we are not surprised because the good guy always wins, right? Especially when there are some crazy women that need putting in their place.

Ultimately, Annie’s (somewhat deranged) ‘love’ for Paul was her undoing; we can also sympathise with her, too.

Anyway, I still love Misery despite my minor observations.

 

April Round-Up! *trigger warning*

I wrote recently, albeit briefly, about feminist fiction which encouraged some positive feedback and recommendations from friends of mine. In all the excitement, I had completely forgotten The New Woman’s Broken Heart by Andrea Dworkin; a very small collection of tales with a stream-of-conciousness feel to them. The stories chronicle the wonderful, terrible life of Bertha Schneider and the abuse that she endures. Themes of women, abuse, birth, identity, tragedy, sexuality and the Holocaust all intertwine to create a multi-layered glimpse at the life and evolution of Bertha Schneider (most probably based on Dworkin’s own experiences of abuse and rape).

My own copy of the book has a wonderful inscription on the inside cover (I love finding things like that in second-hand books) which reads ‘7/21/91 one of my favorite writers-to one of my favorite writers!’ LOVELY.

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I recently finished The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (which I waxed lyrical about in my previous post) and Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines.

Pornland… provides a disturbing glimpse into just how far porn culture has infiltrated our lives. Our sexual relationships are being hijacked by the images we see on-screen and perpetuated by the mass media. I think Dines has, rather succinctly, unpacked some of the key issues surrounding the creation and consumption of porn; namely, how does it affect the lives and sexual relationships of everyday men and women? I found some of the descriptions of porn scenes quite…uncomfortable. Demands for more extreme and explicit forms of pornography (gonzo porn, as Dines calls it) have manipulated a whole generation of young men into believing that what they see on-screen is what actually happens in the bedroom and has them believing that the women on-screen deserve the degrading acts they may endure:

‘The first and most important way pornographers get men to buy into gonzo sex is by depicting and describing women as fuck objects who are deserving of sexual use and abuse. it is especially important for the pornographers to shred the humanity of the women in the images, as many porn users have sustained and intimate relationships with women in the real world…to erode any empathy that many men may have for the women in porn-an emotion that would most likely end up derailing the porn experience as they might feel sorry for her-the porn needs to construct porn women in ways that clearly demarcate them from the women that men know and love,’ (p.p, 63-64).

A typical example of this may be the female performer being called degrading names such as bitch, cunt, slut and being told that they deserve what they are getting, whether that be pounding anal sex, a cum-shot to the face, multiple penises in multiple orifices or ass-to-mouth oral sex. The male performers are usually emotionally distant, hyper-masculine and physically threatening. DINES-pornland-a

Body-punishing sex, such as that portrayed in gonzo porn, negatively impacts the way in which we govern our own sexual relationships. Men feel pressured to perform to standards they see on-screen and women often feel compelled to emulate the women they see in porn;  they might remove all their body hair or exercise excessively to achieve this fabled notion of bodily perfection for fear of rejection from a potential sexual partner.

Sure, the performers are being paid, but what is the real cost?

Dines argues that porn affect both men and women negatively and is keen to point out that men, in some ways, are just as much victims of the façade that gonzo porn creates; exploitation masquerading as liberation.

Dines also dissects the institutionalised racism of porn and the portrayal of men and women of colour, its role in big business and the link between excessive porn consumption, the ‘teen’ sex trend, or PCP (pseudo-child porn) as it is referred to in the book, and child pornography.

Regardless of your stance on porn, whether for, against or in-between, I think Pornland… is a thoughtful and interesting dissection of the porn industry and the affect it has on our relationships. Highly recommended.

Some idle ruminations on feminist fiction

So I have been reading a lot more over the last few weeks which is excellent, given my February slump. Sometimes you just got to do things that aren’t that fun, like work. I guess sometimes I just don’t feel like reading, especially when I have got a lot on my mind.

I am going to see Margaret Atwood in Bristol this summer! This is very exciting. I am a relatively new Atwood reader, having only read Oryx and Crake & Year of the Flood last autumn. I received The Handmaid’s Tale for Christmas and I recently just finished The Blind Assassin, which was fantastic. I also started The Edible Woman but I haven’t really enjoyed what I’ve read so far. It’ll be worth a second glance sometime soon, I am sure. 

I am surprisingly not that well-read in terms of what could be considered (modern) classic feminist fiction.

I read The Color Purple at school (the sense of despair at the injustices of life in particular is something that has stuck with me as I’ve gotten older; but also the sense of unparalleled optimism and the love of friends that shines through the brutality that Celie experiences).

I think one of my favourite books of all time is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. You just have to read it, trust me.

Written in 1937, it tells the tale of Janie Crawford, an African-American woman in Florida who throws off the shackles of society to become the mistress of her own destiny; taking lovers, leaving lovers, becoming financially independent.

I am definitely going to have to take a look at it again as I read it so fast the first time; I literally couldn’t stop reading it from the moment I bought it.

I have yet to start Beloved by Toni Morrison, which I acquired nearly a year ago.

I am mid-way through The Bloody Chamber by feminist favourite Angela Carter. I’ve never read anything by her before. I have to say that I am finding it akin to a sumptuous banquet of words that you just want to rub your face in. If you read some of the stories out loud, the prose would drip off your tongue like honey. Flesh, fur, hair, jewels, roses, snow, blood, ocean…and tigers! Dogs! Horses! Monkey butlers! Strange mechanised doppelgängers!

It’s almost arousing.

I took a little break from my crime fiction extravaganza recently as it was getting a little bit intense but I feel ready to start again soon! Once my eBay purchases arrive…

If anyone has any feminist fiction recommendations then please comment and let me know!

 

Women in Stephen King Film Adaptations #1

I’ve written a piece on here before entitled ‘Stephen King and Feminism’ (you can even read it if you want…just scroll down, it’s here somewhere…) where I discussed some of the arguments regarding whether King represented women fairly in his works. My overwhelming conclusion was that King wasn’t a raving misogynist and that he had a tendency to treat both male and female characters with a sense of fairness; i.e. both men and women are capable of committing good and evil acts, to put it simplistically…

So to continue on a theme, Women in Horror Recognition Month, I thought it would be fun to make another list; this time, my favourite women in Stephen King film adaptations. Sometimes these adaptations in general can be a little hit-and-miss (King himself said that Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ was like a beautiful car without an engine, for example), but they have given us some of our most enduring pop culture icons.

Here is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts on this topic.

Carrie White (played by Sissy Spacek in the 1976 original by Brian de Palma):

'They're all going to laugh at you...'

‘They’re all going to laugh at you…’

Carrie White is tormented at school by her peers and cruelly dominated at home by a fanatically religious mother. Suffice to say, she leads a very miserable and lonely life.

The film itself starts with Carrie starting her period in the shower in the girls locker room. Carrie’s peers are simutaneously horrified, appalled and…excited by this incident and respond by chucking tampons at her. Such is the cruelty of teenage girls.

Carrie is ‘different’ from the other girls at school and for this she pays a heavy price. She has no friends and is mocked, bullied and taunted on a daily basis.

King said in ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft‘, that the inspiration for Carrie came from a couple of girls at his own high school; one of whom (and her brother) wore the same outfit everyday for the entire school year until the hems and sleeves of their clothes became tattered and torn and inevitably, the kids grew out of them. Their parents were known locally for successfully entering a lot of competitions and sweepstakes but neglected the care of their children, inappropriately attiring them in unsuitable clothes that consequently  were the reason why their high school lives were a complete and utter misery. Can you imagine the embarrassment and shame that they felt at sticking out so conspicuously, knowing that everyone one else knew their parents’ indifference?

Struggling with school and her oppressive home life, Carrie discovers to her horror that she is able to control things with her mind when she is particularly distressed.

Meanwhile, one of the girls who were in the locker room, Sue Snell, feels very guilty about what happened and swears to make amends to Carrie by any means necessary. She asks her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom so that Carrie can leave high school with at least one good experience to look back on. Sue believes that this one altruistic act can make up for the years of torment Carrie has endured throughout her high school life.

All in all, it doesn’t go to plan. Some of Sue’s friends plot a stunt at the prom that will show Carrie once and for all where her place in the pecking order is.

Carrie, despite her mother’s screams of protest, scrubs up very nicely and goes to the prom with good-hearted Tommy. She initially feels nervous but with Tommy’s reassurances eventually feels that she finally fits in with the crowd that has been unkind to her for most of her young life.

But then this happens.

Tired of years of torment, Carrie finally loses it and with her terrible power, lays wastes to the prom and to most of the people in it.

I think the on-screen representation of Carrie is excellent, mirroring the book’s themes of just how miserable it is to be a teenage girl. Loneliness, bullying, the desire to fit in, needs and desires (such as knowing all about the ‘birds and the bees’, menstruation etc) and guilt.

I think guilt is the most prominent theme for me. Carrie desperately wants a normal life, but she feels guilty about what this will do to her mother, whom she loves, despite the abuse she has endured throughout her childhood.

Most kids spend their high school lives trying to avoid the types of confrontations Carrie faces on a daily basis. But being so removed from the experiences of most teenage girls as a result of her strict religious upbringing, she is a prime target for high school bullies; those invariably more popular, prettier and richer than she.

Women of Swansea writing project

Today sees the launch of  a new writing project: ‘Women of Swansea’.

In collaboration with several like-minded conspirators, I have decided to create a community-based writing project designed to give women in the local Swansea area a forum in which they can speak frankly about the issues that matter most to them.

If you are a woman living in the Swansea area and you would like to help with the running of this project, then please contact Women of Swansea (relevant email address at the bottom of the page).

In the meantime, here are the submission deets:

Women of Swansea is a community writing project designed to give women in the local Swansea area a forum in which their voices can be heard.

We would like women to submit short pieces (200-300 words) about their lives, an experience they’ve had, or on a personal topic of their choice.

No subject is taboo, though we request that women refrain from using offensive or discriminatory language as such submissions are unlikely to be published. We wish for the Women in Swansea writing project to be a safe and inclusive venture for women from all walks of life.

Women of any age, sexual orientation, ability, class, faith, race and ethnicity are welcome to participate.

Spelling and grammar is unimportant. Women can choose to remain anonymous should they wish.

Submissions (with prior permission) shall be posted on our blog: http://www.womenofswansea.wordpress.com with a view to self-publish an anthology of women’s writing in the very near future.

We appreciate your patience whilst we get our blog up and running!

Please email us at: womenofswanseaATgmailDOTcom for further information.

N.B. We would like to stress that this project is designed for women living in the Swansea area, therefore, submissions from men or women outside the City and County of Swansea will not be accepted.