Comments from August 2007
What you had to say about The F-Word in August
Maria Roberts, author of the article, replies
Thank you for your comments. I’m glad it reached
out to you; I think women who have been through tough relationships
so often get stigmatised, it’s good to provide alternative pictures.
It’s been very hard for me to actually talk about all this some seven
years later, the play has kind of encouraged me to do so, and so it’s
worth it if someone who has been through a similar situation says
they identified with it.
Maria Roberts, author of the article, replies
Thank you for your comments. In many respects you are correct: it’s this idea to help that makes women stay – initially but I think this changes over time. Women don’t fall in love with violent men, they fall in love with men who then become violent, at first they want to help because they don’t wish to see the worst, then it becomes impossible to leave. In my case, at least, it was dangerous to leave, you truly do believe they will kill you and the police….well they are a load of crap. Or they were then, things are slightly different now. But I’m glad that you commented on the piece, thank you.
Abby O’Reilly, author of the article, replies
Thanks for your comment on the Abby Lee interview. It was fantastic that
Abby was able to answer so many questions in so much depth. But I would also
like to address a few issues you raised. I think it is too reductive to say
that Abby finds one-night stands unfulfilling, as she definitely promotes
the idea that women should have a more liberated attitude to sex and to
achieving sexual gratification independent of relationships.
The majority of
women still crave this even if they are not in committed relationships, and
as I discussed in my article, although Abby does support the concept of sex
for sex’s sake, she doesn’t view it exclusively as a mechanical process. She
does appreciate that one *can* get emotionally involved with a person they
are having sex with, and that this in itself can be an enjoyable process.
But I don’t think there is disproportionate emphasis placed on her
discontentment with one-night stands, nor do I think that she laments those
she has had as regrettable because they did not satisfy her emotionally. I
think to endorse this interpretation does to an extent devalue the message
Abby is conveying, which is that no-strings sex can be enjoyable and that
there should not continue to be a stigma attached to this.
Whether or not
she wants a relationship, she still views this as being separate to the
pursuit of sexual pleasure, as well as being something that would play an
integral role in a relationship. Although she may not have had many sexual
partners over the last two years, her writing is still very sexually
charged, and she does reminisce about past sexual experiences, as well as
provide detailed expositions of her sexual fantasies. The fact that she has
not had a huge number of sexual partners recently does not undermine the
fact that she still supports an empowered, liberal and frank attitude to
sex, something she explores eloquently through her own creativity; she still
demonstrates that it is not wrong for a women to be thinking about sex even
if she is not having sex frequently at that time.
I think that Abby’s
attitude is healthy in that although she may like to have a relationship
should she meet someone suitable, she does not view her time as a single
woman as nothing more than an interim period between relationships, nor does
she lament the fact that she is single throughout her blog (or bitterly
resent those who appear to be in ‘happy relationships).’ She doesn’t let her
lack of relationship inhibit her in any way, and is still determined to have
fun, setting a good example to young women by taking responsibility for her
Abby O’Reilly, author of the article, replies
I think Abby’s comment
about women needing to get ‘more active in the bedroom’ was not an order,
but rather providing support for those women who would like to and feel that
they cannot owing to social stereotyping and prejudice. Of course, not all
women want to be sexually vociferous, some may be more passive, and others
may not want nor enjoy sex at all. But on the other had some women really
enjoy sex and want to be more adventurous, and more than that they want to
feel that they can talk about this openly without being criticised for doing
so. Abby Lee falls into the latter cateogory, and I believe her comments
reflect this attitude rather than telling woment the way they should behave
– if anything I think she actually resists the tendency to place women in a
box of any sort, offering a new way, not the way.
I would disagree that she advocates ‘compulsory heterosexuality,’ I think if
anything she shows that sexuality can be fluid, that women can be attracted
to men and women. A lot of her experiences have been based on superficial
attractions resulting in one-night stands, and so I think that it’s
difficult to look to her writing to show a balanced representation of a
meaningful lesbian relationship, as Abby is predominantly attracted to men,
and pursues relationships with men. Maybe she does have specific physical
criteria she likes a sexual partner to meet, but so do a lot of women. She
should not have to conform to political correct modes of sexual expression
as people generally don’t think that way when assessing the eligibility of a
sexual partner. As I said in the feature, I think what Abby’s work
demonstrates is that both men and women can be subject to objectification-it
is part of the human condition, meaning that both commit the crime and are
the victims of it. I also think it’s worth remembering that when Abby first
wrote the blog it was an an outlet for her personal thoughts and feelings,
she did not anticipate her identity being made public knowledge, so she was
not attempting to offer a utopian view of female sexualit, which is part of
the effectiveness of it. It is sincere and real, and whatever criticism that
is levied against it, the support she has received from a number of women
indicates that she has written something that represents the thoughts of a
portion of the female population.
I think that the ‘straight woman who isn’t interested in sex’ is something
that has already been done – I think this is the way women were
predominantly seen (think Queen Victoria and the lie back and think of
England line). In the Victorian era there wasn’t even a term to describe
sexual attraction between women as authorities believed that lesbianism
didn’t exist. What we have done over the decades is move away from this
oppression, so women are able to articulate their own sexual desires, and
what Abby Lee’s book has done is shown how we have moved a step forward
again as women can admit to having sex outside of relationships and not feel
ashamed about it. They can enjoy sex and talk about it explicitly. The
reaction to her book and the media surrounding the release show the extent
to which this is still something society finds difficult to swallow.
There is a market for lesbians as part of the male masturbatory fantasy, but
I think this is largely the ‘she’s straight but she’s kissing her friend
because she’s turned bad and she’s so horny’ idea. Abby Lee is genuinely
attracted to women, and indulges in sexual relations with them for her own
gratification. I also think we need to move away from the idea that a
person’s sexuality can be determined by their appearance.
Abby O’Reilly, author of the article, replies
can completely appreciate what you are saying, and it is a valid point,
and one I thought would be raised. In the process of writing the article,
I did myself question whether or not I should make reference to Lee’s real
name. (I did this at only one point during the article, and for the rest
she was referred to as her persona.) The reason I eventually decided to do
so is because I felt that in the process of ‘outing’ her the national
press had stooped to deplorable lengths to try and portray Abby in a
distinctly negative light, exposing her real identity as if to try and
bolster the outdated and counter-productive judgements they hurled at her.
I felt that Lee dealt with her exposure in a dignified manner, something
that obviously took a lot of strength to do. I have not read a substantial
interview with Lee that has not concentrated solely on her sexual
experiences. I have read nothing that questions further the implications
of her writing from a feminist perspective and her interpretation of
gender relations in the twenty-first century. Her writing does touch on
these ideas in a much more effective way than dense academic publications,
although this is often negated as people are more shocked that a woman can
speak about sex in such a frank manner, and so she has not really been
provided with the opportunity to draw on her ideas further in the majority
of interviews. Lee provided very interesting comments about Feminism,
looking at the implications of her exposure as being influenceed by her
gender. I felt that as she shared such insightful thoughts on contemporary
sexual politics, that she should be credited for it, not just as Abby Lee
but as her real-life identity, in a positive and praising light. Her
real-name is already in the public domain, you’re right, but not in a
favourable way, and it was not introduced in a positive way. I was
attempting to counter the negativity of the national press coverage, and
to illustrate the fact that Abby has not been silenced or forced into
shameful submission for doing nothing more than writing what she feels
just owing to the publication of her name. I also wanted to show that
regardless of Lee’s real-name, she still has a strong fan-base that has
not been deterred from reading her work by the attempts made by the press
to villify her. I felt that choosing not to mention her real-name would
somewhow endorse the idea that it was wrong for a ‘real-life woman’ to
think and express themselves in this way.Presumably for those who do not
know her name but are fans of the work, the publication of her name here
will not matter either way. I hope this explains my reasoning behind the
use of Lee’s real name.
Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies
It’s not a joke.
Louise Livesey, author of the article, replies
Thank you for your response to my article on the F Word website. The F Word, and all the authors who sail in her, appreciate the differences within feminism and that they may lead to some strong feelings. I am truly sorry you felt condescended to reading the article, although other responses received have been very positive.
To address some of your points in more detail, I use the terms heterosexual and submissive once each in the piece (and not together), and don’t use stereotype or femininity at all so I find it a little hard to respond to the idea that I repeat the phrase “heterosexual submissive stereotype of femininity” in the article.
The use of croprophilic imagery in pornography (or images using croprophilic overtones) is covered in several publications and books predating my writing but a good place to start would always be Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women. Not For Sale by Stark and Wishnant also, as I recollect, furthers this work on imagery and meaning. It’s sad but true that paedophilic, croprophilic and necrophilic images from pornography have crossed into mainstream advertising (you only need remember the American’s Next Top Model scandal over the “murder pics” to see what I mean). To point out the images have croprophilic undertones (or rather overtones in this case) isn’t, however, a comment on the model. For it to be such you’d have to misunderstand the power models (don’t) hold on an advertising job. A model doesn’t have the ability to challenge or refuse to pose in a certain way and it is the photographer or artistic director who will set up the “flavour” of the shoot. To deconstruct the image is in no way to comment on the integrity of the model, the image has an existence divorced from the model precisely because (sadly) the model is interchangable (it could be any model) whilst the image communicate a message in cultural shorthand suggestive of sexual practices.
I do think to conflate the comments on the image into being a comment on the model is rather difficult to respond to but I shall say this. I have no strong feelings about the model either way. I do however have strong feelings on the image and it’s representations. If you feel that’s me being superior then so be it. The image analysis was not designed to shock (and indeed I included a caveat that I didn’t want to take the deconstruction too far) and the analysis gives absolutely no hints, clues or references to my own desires or practices whatsoever. To suggest it does, Irina, is personalising the argument in a way which is actually very insulting. As I began with, The F Word, and feminism more generally, welcomes the diversity of views within the feminist movement. As do I and I am firmly committed to engaging with and discussing contentious issues with other feminists whenever the opportunity arises. However the rules of engagement of debate must include an acceptance that sinking to personal insult is not entirely appropriate – otherwise we’re no better than the conservative right who declare feminists to be “dungaree wearing lesbians” “witches” and “family destroyers”.
Thanks again for your comments and I am pleased the article was at least food for thought.
Samara Ginsberg, author of the blog post, replies
I wasn’t suggesting that eating disorders were inherited in the same way as
eye colour, nor was that the conclusion of the original research! The basic
conclusion of the research seems to be that the pattern of processing
information that *can* lead to a person developing an eating disorder may be
inherited, not that having this particular style of brain function condemns
a person to developing an eating disorder. Sorry if that wasn’t clear!
Obviously society and the media play a part. But billions of women every day
are subjected to media images of malnourished models and few starve
themselves to the point of death. The reason that I blogged this article was
that it seems to me that 99% of media coverage of eating disorders seems to
focus on silly girls emulating size zero models and it was great to see an
article treating them as serious medical conditions.