Saturday, 22 August 2009

Embrace The Inner Skank

Warning: long opinionated bitch-rant ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

It's always fun coming up with interesting titles for blog posts. It was going to be RWA roundup but come on, how interesting is that? Embrace the inner skank was a comment that popped up in the erotic romance/erotica author chat I did (along with Denise Rossetti) at the Romance Writer's of Australia conference (I cannot remember the name of the savvy individual who said ‘we need to learn to embrace our inner skank’ but it was not me. Shame, because it was quite clever).

I was talking with a couple of lovely ladies about a contemporary heroine's motivations for sleeping with the hero early in their relationship (or even before they have a relationship), which so often needs to happen in erotic romance in order to meet that 'erotic' tag. The sticking point seemed to be how do you have her do that without making her seem like a skank. And I had to ask:

What's so wrong with being a skank?

What is a skank anyway?

An internet definition search came up with this:

skanky - disgusting: highly offensive; arousing aversion or disgust; "a disgusting smell"; "distasteful language"; "a loathsome disease"

Wow. That's harsh. Because a woman sleeps with a man early in the piece, when she's not in love with him (yet), or when she has no intention of getting into a relationship, that's loathsome, disgusting and highly offensive? Other words don't paint any nicer a picture: slut: A derogatory term. Refers to a sexually promiscuous person, usually female; Ho: A whore; a sexually loose woman; in general use as a highly offensive name-calling word for a female with connotations of loose sexuality.

Notice how all these terms are used specifically to target female sexual behaviour. When we talk of male sexual activities we have much more glowing terms. The word 'stud' for instance: a man who is virile and sexually active. Virile and sexually active, in reference to a man, does not constitute 'a derogatory term'. When a man (or indeed a horse--nay!) is a stud, he is highly prized, sought after by many for his prowess. It is a title spoken with much reverence. When a man 'gets around' with a lot of women he is seen to have gained a certain valuable expertise that increases his attractiveness. A woman does it? She is a skank, a tart, a whore, a slut. A woman of loose morals, tantamount to a highly offensive, disgusting odor. She is, basically, filth, pond scum, lower than low, damaged goods.

I for one, am sick this double standard shit.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re out there muttering about how new terms are emerging that even the balance. A man is now called a ‘manslut’ if he has lose sexual morals or low standards, or just plain old takes it whenever he can get it. I’ve heard this term used but alas an Internet search did not locate it in any of the urban dictionaries I frequent. So here’s my take on the use of terms such as this: It does not even the score.

It is counter-productive to bring a man down to the level at which women have been forced to exist if their social or sexual behaviour is considered inappropriate by puritanical pockets of people who believe sex is shameful. That is like saying ‘oh isn’t it great now that men also have eating disorders. It means the sexes are achieving equality’. Isn’t the ultimate goal to eradicate eating disorders, not share them around? That does not achieve a healthy level of equality; it does not raise everyone up, but bring us all down to the same miserable place. Calling a man a slut seeks to portray him as base and disgusting, the way sexually proactive women have been portrayed since Eve took the blame because Adam ate the apple (man, was that a bitch). This is not moving forward—it’s taking a giant leap back into judgment. Salem witch trials type of judgment. It totally dismantles everything the feminist movement of the ‘60’s and 70's stood for—the edicts of freedom and choice for all women.

How are so many people—namely women—still missing the point of all that? Men will never stop calling us sluts or disrespecting us if we don’t show them how to treat us. Let’s respect each other’s choices, whether our first urge is to disapprove of them or not. Above all, let’s respect our own choices. No voice speaks louder than the one in our head.

We chics who write romance novels, chic lit, women’s fiction etc. are in a unique and powerful position to impact societal attitudes. I have a personal abhorrence for any contemporary novel that portrays a woman’s sexuality as something she or anyone else thinks she ought to be ashamed of. That’s an instant wall-banger for me, no matter how skilled the writing. The simpering ninny, I-can’t-believe-what-a-whore-I-am-for-letting-that-guy-touch-me heroine of those older romance novels (and unfortunately some recent ones) should, in my opinion, be obliterated from the genre. She reinforces sexual shame and the belief that men are somehow in control of female sexuality. Eg. ‘He made me do it’ ‘he seduced me’ ‘I couldn’t resist him’. If he ‘made her do it’, that’s rape. If he ‘seduced her’, she wanted to be seduced. And by God of course she could have resisted him if she chose to. She’s a woman—she can do anything!

We brave the singles scene in search of love, climb the corporate ladder, run our own businesses. We make it through pregnancy, have babies and raise them, then juggle motherhood and work, or manage not to go insane if we choose full-time child rearing. We deal with disappointment admirably if these things do not happen for us in the way we expected, or indeed at all. We find other ways to become our full selves—travel, creative pursuits, professional achievements. We are the ones who work on ourselves, maintain our relationships--as well as those of our significant others, more often than not. We—women—are strong and amazing, capable of astonishing feats. Yet somehow, we still struggle to accept our own sexuality and the sexuality of other women. We do not accept our desires, our healthy and very normal appetites in the same entitled, casual way that men do. We still call that woman a skank. And we do it as often, perhaps moreso, than men.

Let’s stop it now, okay?

So as to the question: how do we get an erotic romance heroine into bed with the hero fast without making her seem like a skank? I think the answer is, it’s all in the reader's attitude.

Rant over.

PS. Yes I was supposed to do a RWA round up, a list of my weekend highlights. But if you’re actually still reading I figure you’ve had enough out of me. If you were at the conference, why don’t you tell me what your favourite part was? Personally, I loved the food.



  1. Sheesh, I'm almost scared to comment after that rave...
    Almost. But you know me, I like to have my say.
    I love this post, Sami and I can't help but think of that wonderful scene in Four Weddings and A Funeral when Hugh Jackman and Andy McDowell are talking about their past lovers, and she's counting off loads of men, and he's sitting there looking totally inadequate. I don't think there's a person who's seen that movie, male or female, who considers Andy McDowell skanky.

  2. That scene came to my mind too! So funny when Hugh's characters wonders what the f*&% he's been doing with all his time!