Power and pleasure dominate two new books about women's desire

Tuesday 24 September 2019

This review originally appeared on rabble.ca. Click here to read the complete review. 
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
(Simon & Schuster, 2019, 27.00)
Just Pervs by Jess Taylor
(Book*Hug, 2019, 20.00)
Desire can get under our fingernails. It's on our hair and in our eyes, and it sits on our lips with such urgency that at some moments the need to be touched feels like it could break us apart. Yet, in a climate where women prioritizing pleasure is seen as selfish and male fantasies often dictate heterosexual relationships, feeling desire, according to two new books about pleasure and power, breeds shame in many women, leaving it largely unexplored and rarely discussed.
In Three Women, a non-fiction work of reportage by American journalist Lisa Taddeo, and Just Pervs, the bold sophomore collection of short stories by Toronto's Jess Taylor -- pleasure, rather the pursuit of pleasure, is central; however, in so many of the stories told in each remarkable book, power imbalance and the scrutiny of others challenge women's agency over their own sexuality.
The result of eight years of immersive reporting, Three Women is touted as "the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written" and the "riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women," who shared their stories with Taddeo in person, on the phone, by text message, and email over nearly a decade. There's a familiarity to each woman -- Maggie, Lina, and Sloane; Each is young, white, cisgender, able-bodied and heterosexual. Each has been traumatized, overjoyed, othered and made fragile as a result of her sexual experiences or, in Maggie's case, sexual assault.

Normal People

Tuesday 27 August 2019

“She closes her eyes. He probably won’t come back, she thinks. Or he will, differently. What they have now they can never have back again. But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain that she used to feel, of being unworthy. He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile his life opens out before him in all directions at once. They’ve done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change one another.

You should go, she says. I’ll always be here. You know that.” 
― Sally Rooney, Normal People

Have you ever finished a book, and then started it again the second you finished? I hadn't either. Why would anyone do that when there are a thousand other books to be read?

I devoured Normal People and then I devoured it again — the second time with a highligher. (Who does THAT?) and when people ask me why, I don't have an answer. I don't know why Normal People is the book I needed to read at the exact right moment I read it, but it was. And when people ask me what it's about, I can't really explain. What struck me most about it is it's a book about the people who fit in the margins — the people who grow you and change you but never really belong to your life's main narrative. The people who exist between friendships and relationships, but don't fit the definitions of either.

Everyone is talking about Normal People, so I know I'm not alone. But it's special, and it's stayed with me all summer. I keep reading the quotations I've highlighted over and over again. I think I might read it again.

The H-Spot by Jill Filipovic

Thursday 4 April 2019

Three times I enthusiastically nodded while reading The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness by Jill Filipovic:

"Looking around at the women I know, there is no question that all of our lives have been shaped, and so many doors opened, by the ability to not get pregnant, or not stay pregnant, when we didn't want to. Our sexual and romantic lives have also been improved by being able to have sex for fun, because we want to, without risking our educational futures, our jobs, our health, or what we wanted in our partners, relationships, and lives."

"Politically, though, we treat sex like it's a vice instead of a normal part of human behavior — a sinful defect but also a consumer product."

Review: Screwed: How Women Are Set Up to Fail at Sex

Monday 18 March 2019

This review originally appeared on rabble.ca.

"The man screws; the woman is screwed." This is the assertion at the centre of journalist and television host Lili Boisvert's book, Screwed: How Women Are Set Up to Fail at Sex. First released in French Canada as Principe du cumshot, or The Cumshot Principle, Screwed argues that the dominant principle behind heterosexual encounters is that "desire is a male phenomenon and women are merely its object."

In "Me Hunter, You Prey: Passivity as the Cornerstone of Femininity," the first of seven chapters in Screwed, Boisvert explains: "In pornography, the 'cumshot' is the moment when the camera captures a man ejaculating onto a woman’s body or face. It's the final scene, and leaves the actress covered in sperm," she writes. "This image is a perfect representation of the principle underlying a typical heterosexual relationship: in our dominant conception of sexuality, desire originates with a man and is directed upon the woman."

A small book at only 200 pages, Screwed explores the idea that women's lives are dictated by their status as sex objects, and that from girlhood, women are conditioned to be passive.

Click here to read the complete review. 

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

Monday 11 February 2019

"I have always been afraid of her ability to pull the rug out from underneath us, her capacity for cruelty and kindness in the same sentence, same action. I can see it in Grace too. It must be a prerequisite for being a mother, something that growing another person inside you does, heart and heartlessness, as though simplistic empathy has been scooped out and replaced with something more fundamental, something more likely to guarantee survival." — The Water Cure

The Guardian called The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh "an extraordinary otherworldly debut." Penguin Random House is promoting it as "The Handmaid's Tale meets The Virgin Suicides" (two of my favourite books) and "a dystopic feminist revenge fantasy about three sisters on an isolated island, raised to fear men." How could I not read The Water Cure? How could we not all read The Water Cure with all that is going on right now in the world?

In The Water Cure, "King has tenderly staked out a territory for his wife and three daughters: Grace, Lia, and Sky. He has laid the barbed wire; he has anchored the buoys in the water; he has marked out a clear message: Do not enter. Or, viewed from another angle: Not safe to leave. Here women are protected from the chaos and violence of men on the mainland. The cultlike rituals and therapies they endure fortify them against the spreading toxicity of a degrading world."

Shortly after King disappears suddenly, two men and and a boy appear, challenging all Grace, Lia, and Sky have known about the world they've been guarded from. The result is a tense and unsettling book not only about how unsafe and inhospitable the world can be for women, but also, at its core, it's about womanhood, girlhood, and sisterhood set against Mackintosh's strange, carefully crafted world.

Review: Putuguq & Kublu and the Qalupalik!

Wednesday 16 January 2019
Something lurks beneath the sea ice of Arviq Bay. That is, if siblings Putuguq and Kublu believe their grandfather’s tale of creatures, called qalupaliit, who snatch unsuspecting children playing too close to the water.

Published by Inhabit Media, an Inuit-owned publishing company that preserves and promotes the stories and knowledge of northern Canada, Putuguq & Kublu and the Qalupalik! is the second graphic novel in a series. The first installment, Putuguq & Kublu, was included in the United States Board on Books for Young People’s Outstanding International Books List.

Read my full review at Quill and Quire.

Summer Cannibals at the Hamilton Review of Books

In case you missed it, check out my latest review — Summer Cannibals by Melanie Hobson — over at the Hamilton Review of Books. 

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