Books, Literature, recent

Pop Fiction’s Rich History of #MeToo Drama

Lately, the very serious people who write about TV and film and books for publications such as the New Yorker and the New York Times have been tripping over themselves to heap praise on highbrow novelists, filmmakers, and screenwriters who have used their platforms to tackle issues such as rape and sexual harassment in the workplace in the wake of the #MeToo movement. To hear these writers rhapsodize about Susan Choi’s novel Trust Exercise or Lisa Hanawalt’s TV series Tuca and Bertie, one might conclude that these are the first creative endeavors that ask Americans to examine how unfair the contemporary workplace can be to women, how serious the threats of date rape and acquaintance rape are, and the many ways that powerful men such as Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves can use their power to destroy the careers of subordinates who refuse their sexual advances.

Writing in the New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum calls Tuca and Bertie “the latest in a deluge of TV series that feel like a direct response to the #MeToo movement, touching on third-rail themes that are meant not merely to comfort or inspire but to unsettle… It’s a powerful story, precisely because it doesn’t leave out the discomfort.” In the New York Times, book critic Parul Sehgal likewise praised several recent novels that deal with the collision of sex and power: “’#MeToo novels,’ they’re called, these disparate stories of sex and power suddenly regarded as timely, and read through the lens of an unfolding moment – with happy results, I’m about to argue…”

So-called “third-rail themes” are, by definition, things that no one wants to touch. But, over the past several decades, many writers—of both television and novels—have touched upon the topics Nussbaum and Sehgal mention, and they would have to have been living in a very insular New York cultural bubble to have avoided it all for so long.

While it may be true that very few of the writers who emerged from the creative-writing industrial complex that dispenses MFAs have written novels that anticipated the current #MeToo moment, plenty of good fiction has been written throughout the last half-century about men like Weinstein and Moonves. Alas, this fiction was written for a wide readership, by artists not endowed with a Seal of Approval from Stanford’s Stegner Fellowship or the Iowa Writers Workshop, and has thus tended to be dismissed as mere pop-fiction by publications such as the New Yorker—that is, when they deigned to acknowledge its existence at all. But English-language popular fiction has nonetheless done a pretty good job of telling the truth about how the powerful can prey upon the powerless, sexually and otherwise, in the workplace and just about every other venue of contemporary life as well.

Just as feminists grow indignant when they see articles praising fathers for doing things (washing dishes, changing diapers, attending PTA bake sales, and so on) that mothers have been doing for eons, so do I grow indignant when I see writers of “serious literary fiction” getting praise for doing something that pop-fiction writers have been doing for eons.

Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal in Peyton Place

Let’s begin with the book that many credit with kicking off the craze for salacious popular fiction: Peyton Place. Grace Metalious’s 1956 novel has been derided as sleazy, scandalous, and poorly written, but no one can say that it doesn’t address, in a fairly serious fashion, issues of importance to the #MeToo movement. One of the book’s main characters, teenager Selena Cross, is raped and impregnated by her stepfather. In her study of the novel, Unbuttoning America: A Biography of Peyton Place, scholar Ardis Cameron writes:

[N]o one familiar with the horror of child sexual abuse would ever dismiss Peyton Place as trash. A rare portrait of incest in the fifties, Metalious’s description of child sexual abuse remains vividly realistic today. In almost every detail the story of Selena Cross conforms to recent clinical and historical studies that have revealed the discrepancies between the myth and reality of girlhood sexual assault.

The novel also deals with workplace power dynamics. Another main character, Constance MacKenzie, leaves Peyton Place for New York City as a very young woman. She gets a job in the publishing industry, where she winds up being seduced and impregnated by her married employer. Naturally, he doesn’t leave his wife and legitimate children to take care of Constance and her daughter, Allison.

The Best of Everything, a 1958 pop fiction by Rona Jaffe, also dealt, in part, with the sexual harassment of young women in the publishing industry. But, like Peyton Place, it was generally dismissed by literary snobs as beneath consideration. That year also saw the publication of Anatomy of a Murder, a courtroom drama by Robert Traver (the pen name of Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker) that dealt with rape and murder, sexual promiscuity, and whether some women are “asking for it” by behaving or dressing in a “provocative” manner. Parul Sehgal’s article praises Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise and Anna Burns’s Milkman for providing readers with “inconsistencies and incoherence, stories that thicken the mysteries of memory and volition.” Traver’s novel did exactly that nearly 60 years prior to the advent of the #MeToo movement. And just as many of today’s #MeToo novels seem to be addressing specific stories from contemporary newspaper headlines, Anatomy of a Murder was based on an actual rape-and-murder case and the many thorny issues it raised in the public consciousness.

This is true of countless pop fiction novels. Norman Katkov’s 1983 bestseller Blood & Orchids was based on the infamous Massie Affair, a scandal that rocked Honolulu in the 1930s andwhich mixed volatile elements such as race, rape, revenge killing, class distinctions, and domestic violence. Like much of his fiction, Dominick Dunne’s 1993 novel, A Season in Purgatory, was inspired by the real-life bad behavior of rich and powerful men. It presented a lightly fictionalized account of the 1975 murder of 15-year-old Connecticut schoolgirl Martha Moxley, a crime that led to the conviction of a minor member of the Kennedy clan. After his own daughter was strangled to death at the age of 22 in 1982, Dunne became an obsessive chronicler of the ways in which powerful men can ruin vulnerable women, often with near-impunity (his own daughter’s murderer served only three years and eight months in prison). America’s cognoscenti have been heaping praise upon Dunne’s sister-in-law Joan Didion for decades. But despite the fact that he spent almost his entire writing career telling stories sympathetic to the #MeToo cause, Dunne has never won much attention from the serious literary community.

Much of the energy of the #MeToo movement has centered on high-profile men in media, such as Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, Bryan Singer, and, of course, Weinstein and Moonves. Popular fiction has long focused on the precarious position of young women in media professions, particularly show business. Because of their boundless appetite for people who are photogenic and exude sex appeal, Hollywood and Broadway attract hordes of young and very attractive women and men to their casting offices every year. This combination of guileless and beautiful show-biz aspirants and older men with the power to make or break a career has lent itself to all sorts of abuse for as long as there has been a film industry or a Great White Way. Probably much longer. And pop fiction has been documenting this sad phenomenon for decades.

One of the best depictions of a woman abused by high-powered men in show business is Queenie, written by Michael Korda and based loosely on the life of his aunt, Anglo-Indian film star Merle Oberon. The book was published in 1985 and my paperback edition is adorned with endorsements from the likes of Sydney Sheldon and Jackie Collins, which should establish its bona fides as a true piece of pop fiction. But the book is also a searing and serious look at the price beautiful girls and young women often have to pay for any kind of show business success (sometimes even for failure). As a young schoolgirl in India, the beautiful protagonist of Queenie finds herself sexually exploited by her drama teacher. Later, she and her uncle will escape to London, where she hopes to pursue a career on stage. The uncle, who has long harbored an incestuous lust for young Queenie, now has total control over her welfare, and he uses it to rape her. As she makes her way to the top of show business venues in London, New York, and, eventually, Hollywood, Queenie (now using the stage name Dawn Avalon) finds herself being sexually exploited every step of the way. At one point she muses:

Men controlled the world, whether it was movies, banking, or journalism—even here in Hollywood, where the whole industry revolved around the sex and glamour of a few female stars. A beautiful woman earned a fantastic salary…but no matter how much money she earned, she was never the one who made the decisions or shared in the profits.

Three years after his own novel was published, Korda, who was the longtime editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, helped bring to print A Glimpse of Stocking, a novel by the pseudonymous Elizabeth Gage, and an even more coruscating exposé of the way that some powerful Hollywood producers treat young starlets like cheap toys. Harvey Weinstein’s career was still nascent at the time, so the portrait of fictional film producer Harmon Kurth, described on the dust jack as “the most sadistic and dangerous of Hollywood’s superpowers,” couldn’t possibly have been based on him. But reading the book, one might easily forget that fact. Here’s how Gage introduces her villain:

[T]o the public at large, Kurth was a pillar of responsibility and commitment to social justice who bore a mantle of dignity more impressive than that of any film producer in history.

He had seen to it, over the years, that International Pictures made more than its share of serious, socially conscious films – films which garnered critical praise and Best Picture Academy Awards for the studio in far greater proportion than the efforts of its rivals.

Kurth was himself a former advisor to two Presidents on problems in culture and communication…an honorary doctorate holder from several universities, and a key contributor to countless charitable causes. Harmon Kurth was a living legend.

He’s also a monster who rapes young starlets and then pays them off with small movie roles to keep them quiet. Although much of the novel is pure pulp escapism, the scene where Kurth physically assaults the book’s protagonist, aspiring actress Annie Havilland, reads more like true crime. Alas, when she reports the assault, the police arrest not Kurth but Annie, and charge her with solicitation. After studying the arrest report, Annie’s own attorney tells her, “Rape is a complicated crime. Annie, you are an aspiring actress. A starlet, Kurth’s attorneys will say. And you went to Kurth’s house to discuss an important role. It will be just as easy for Kurth to say you propositioned him as it is for you to say he forced you. Besides, he has three witnesses, all pillars of the community, who contribute to the Policemen’s Benevolent Fund and have lunch every week with this town’s major judges—and all three will swear they were there the whole time, heard your proposition, and saw you leave uninjured.”

I’ll concede that there are plenty of pop fictions that treat the sexual abuse of women as something titillating or, even worse, amusing. For every Peyton Place, which deals honestly with the horror of a young girl being raped by her stepfather, you get a book like Richard Adams’s massive (and massively awful) fantasy novel Maia, which describes the statutory rape of its 15-year-old title character by her stepfather like this:

The moment he entered her, Maia was filled from head to foot with a complete, assenting knowledge that this was what she had been born for. All her previous, childish life seemed to fall away beneath her like broken fragments of shell from the kernel of a cracked nut. Tharrin’s weight upon her, Tharrin’s thrusting, his arms about her, were like the opening of a pair of great doors to disclose some awesome and marvelous treasure within.

For a much better pop-fictional treatment of an underage girl experiencing her first encounters with sex (in the arms of her mother’s lover, no less) try Janet Inglis’s 1994 novel Daddy’s Girl, which depicts the pleasure, pain, confusion, guilt, and self-loathing that can accompany a wholly inappropriate initiation into physical “love.” Or you can try just about any of the YA novels written by Norma Klein back in the 1970s (Mom, the Wolf Man and Me; It’s Not What You Expect; It’s Okay If You Don’t Love Me, etc). She made a specialty of that kind of thing.

Another pop fiction that ought to be better known is Shane Stevens’s 1979 novel By Reason of Insanity. Probably no book does a better job of showing how a single act of sexual violence can create a vicious cycle that spreads like a disease throughout society. It is a crazily ambitious novel that weaves together real-life people and events in American history with fictional ones. The triggering act of violence is the rape of a 21-year-old woman, in September of 1947, by notorious Los Angeles thief and rapist Caryl Chessman. Sara Bishop becomes pregnant as a result of the rape and, of course, in 1947 abortion isn’t an option for her. The rape leaves her with a deep-rooted hatred of men, which she takes out on the son she and Chessman produced. The son, Thomas Bishop, in turn, develops an antipathy towards womankind that leads him to become a serial rapist and murderer. For hundreds of pages Stevens manages to weave together tales of Bishop’s unfortunate and socially-insignificant victims with tales of how the killing spree affects larger aspects of American society, from the Mafia to a logging conglomerate in the Pacific Northwest (I kid you not) to the White House. In fact, Richard Nixon eventually takes on a speaking role in the story. Stevens understands that crime and abuse are usually continuums, part of a worsening progression, rather than random standalone events.

Curiously, the snobbish periodicals that never bothered to review the likes of Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson, Philip K. Dick, or Elmore Leonard back in the 1960s when they were all near the height of their novelistic powers, began to embrace these authors in the 1980s and ’90s when their books were made into prestigious A-list Hollywood films such as The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Grifters, Minority Report, and Out of Sight. The same is true of television. Prestige television is the homage that snobbery pays to populism. Writers and publications that never would have deigned to review a novel by Michael Crichton or George R.R. Martin back in the 1980s now offer in-depth recaps of every episode of West World and Game of Thrones. Writers who wouldn’t have deigned to read one of Liane Moriarty’s pop fictions a few short years ago now gush about the brilliance of HBO’s Big Little Lies. Apparently, all it takes to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear is the presence of a few A-list actresses like Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon and a change of setting from upper-middle-class Sydney, Australia, to crazy rich Monterey, California.

But in the world of highbrow TV criticism, it is the more avant-garde shows such as Tuca and Bertie, Fosse/Verdon, Barry, and Fleabag that come in for most of the praise. Emily Nussbaum’s New Yorker article makes no mention, for instance, of the Netflix drama High Seas, a soapy Spanish import that sets an Agatha Christie-like mystery aboard a luxury liner in the late 1940s. After all, High Seas was made for lunkheads like me who enjoy melodrama and romance, but its storyline includes rape and spousal abuse and those issues are explored with the appropriate gravity. Crowd-pleasing television gets no more love from serious critics than does crowd-pleasing fiction.

Pop fiction has never shied away from subjects that people in polite circles would probably rather not discuss: incest, rape, Satanism, murder, prostitution, under-aged sex, and so on. I’m glad that serious literary types are starting to embrace lurid subject matter as enthusiastically as pop-fiction writers always have. But they shouldn’t be celebrated as groundbreakers. That ground was covered thoroughly long before #MeToo arrived on the scene.

 

Kevin Mims is a freelance writer living in Sacramento, CA. His work has appeared in numerous venues including the New York Times, National Public Radio’s Morning EditionSalon, and many others. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinMims16

Featured image: George C. Scott and Lee Remick in Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

43 Comments

  1. Saintlerat says

    Roll on Quillette’s exploitation of their he man patronage!
    There’s gold in them their misogynists & their favourite whipping boy #me too…

    • Jonny Sclerotic says

      There’s gold in #metoo full stop.

      • Luke Ovarthere says

        Oh yeah, haven’t you heard sexual assault’s a growth industry?

    • Denny Sinnoh says

      I’m just glad these comments didn’t start out with someone writing something stupid Rat-Chan.

    • DiamondLil says

      What makes this a take down of #metoo? It’s a criticism of self-appointed “thought leaders” rushing to get in front of a parade that started without them.

      • David George says

        Saintlerat is clearly not interested in the truth Diamond Lil. The priority is insulting Quillette and it’s readers and the opportunity to put “whipping boy” in a sentence.

        • Aerth says

          @David George
          The more people like Saintlerat arriving here the better. It just shows Quilette strikes where it hurts and that’s nothing but good news 🙂

      • Aerth says

        I don’t think Saintlerat read anything beside title before writing comment.

  2. Geary Johansen says

    It’s worth noting that in many jurisdictions if you harass someone in their place of work, you don’t actually have to work there to be legally liable- I would encourage women in the service industry to consider that next time some sleazy drunk male decides to get overly-friendly- they should consult legal representation, for the purposes of obtaining a settlement. Furthermore, I would consider that the fact that Harvey Weinstein was able to get away with his abhorrent behaviour for so many years, is a sad indictment of the shoddy way that women in media have been treated and portrayed for years. But, if anything, the fact that there seems to be no sense of proportionality to the movement, only seems to harm the cause in the long run.

    Whether its Al Franken, making poor taste jokes with his hands (which given the fact that comedians are supposed to be transgressive- NOT woke- was not altogether reprehensible), or Neil deGrasse Tyson finding Pluto, with pictures available that show just how innocent his actions were, there seems to be an element of delusional hysteria at play, or at least a certain bandwagon narcissism driving this issue. The worst cases were no doubt Tim Hunt forced to resign for a bad joke or Dr Matt Taylor, shamed for wearing a T-shirt. It’s pure batshit crazy.

    Years ago, I used to get lifts with a friend’s dad to parties and clubs. His dad was a friendly, amiable type, who wouldn’t hurt a fly- but put him behind the wheel of a car, extend his personal space forty yards in all directions and the spit and bile expletives that used to issue forth from his mouth were an auditory force to be reckoned with. In a sense, this is what I believe is happening with social media- with people hearing about the suspect conduct of others, and creating the most malign imaginations their brains can come up with, to fill in the gaps. If you don’t know them, don’t know the context and certainly don’t know the state of mind or motives of the accuser, why would you rush to judgement in the court of public opinion? If the recent Netflix drama ‘When They See Us’ teaches us anything, it should be that media influence can be downright malignant in undermining due process- as well as calling into question the advisability of allowing politics, and the election of judges and district attorneys, to influence the proper functioning of what should be an independent and impartial judiciary. It would have never happened if media and the threat of losing ones career hadn’t conspired to perversely steer the actions the court.

    But perhaps the most toxic issue confronting the West, is concept creep, when it comes to blurring the lines between what constitutes legal coercion and what more reasonably might be called social or emotional coercion. There have even been instances when women have decided that they were raped after having consented, along with new feminist assertion- that if a husband and wife decide to go out for a romantic dinner and have too much to drink, they are raping each other if they subsequently make love. Although it is likely that someone would never be charged for pretending they’re an investment banker when they are not, threatening to leave a relationship because the transactional analysis isn’t working in your favour, might be- it’s still technically a threat, after all. I always found that pity worked well with women- will that be outlawed soon? Plus, even if you are subsequently exonerated of any wrongdoing by whatever investigative or prosecutorial powers the state brings to bear, the reputation-damage lasts forever.

    In the UK, there was recently a scandal involving the Crown Prosecution Service and a failure to disclose, in relation to 47 different cases. These were instances in which social media proved that the rape or sexual assault cases were unsubstantiated, either directly or because the relationship continued enthusiastically, after the event. Police and prosecutors failed to pass on the evidence of exoneration to the defence. And one presumes that these were only those instances in which the woman was stupid enough to leave evidence of the falsehood of her allegations online…

    Now, of course, every rape or sexual assault allegation should be taken seriously. But with the FBI asserting that 2 – 8% of all cases are provably false or provably unfounded, one wonders just how many other allegations are false. The estimate of some Police Departments that false reporting falls around the 30% mark, seems credible, if somewhat high, in this light. Ominously, these narratives only seem to make their way into the mainstream media, when charges are brought against the accuser, or in the increasingly rare instances where investigative journalism still functions. In the meantime, popular bureaucratic activism will increasingly lean towards failing to give full emphasis to the facts of the case. If you have a son, you need to tell him to just leave, if he is with his girlfriend and she puts the breaks on. Tell him not to hold hands, or lie there for hours chatting, because quite apart from possibly being moved to the friend zone, if petting subsequently resumes and things go further, he might end up on the wrong side of an accusation. Because all it takes is one of her friends regurgitating the skewed view of relationships promoted on her gender studies courses, for the allegations to start flying…

    • SaintLeRat says

      Some human’s take unethical advantages when they can?
      No shit!
      Of course it’s only #metoo that counts….

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      “Unfounded” also includes cases that are dropped or not pursued for some reason, not necessarily false. The 2-8% number seems to be quite reliable. I have no idea why you would throw an unsupported number like 30% into the mix but to sow a little doubt and muddy the issue.

      So it’s 2-8%. You really think that’s what we should be focusing on? That 92-98% doesn’t seem like a more pressing issue to you, eh?

      The evidence is not on your side, regardless of how much bullshit you sling about all those poor, poor teenage boys victimized by girlfriends who won’t have sex with them on demand.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ Nakatomi Plaza

        According to Police sources, unfounded relates to allegations where the police determine that no crime has occurred- not when the case is dropped or not pursued for lack of evidence.

        When Baltimore reduced it’s unfounded allegation stats from 30% to 2%, a figure I stated was high in my original comment, their total accusations also fell by 17%, as they likely convinced women to withdraw their accusations. If 8 to 10% of rape or sexual assault cases are provably unfounded, that is the police have proof that no crime occurred, it does not then follow that all of the remaining 90-92% are definitely true- of the quarter to one half of cases in which charges have been filed, but the prosecution declines to proceed to trial, a majority will be tragic cases in which there simply wasn’t sufficient evidence, but a significant percentage will be cases in which there was no evidence to exonerate, and no crime was committed.

        The source information I used came from the DOJ, FBI, Christina Hoff Summers ‘Factual Feminist’ at AEI on YouTube, and Cathy Young’s excellent article for Slate ‘Crying Rape’. The info on the ‘failing to disclose’ came from the Guardian.

        I understand that in all probability at least 80% of all rape cases are true from the perspective of the victim, but you also have to consider that there is also a small but significant percentage of cases where victim and accused have differing accounts and perspectives over whether consent was given, especially in instances where consent was implied. Believe it or not, but there are still criminal cases in which the victim believes that consent was not given, and the accused believed that consent was given. These cases are sadly all too common and the standard of law in most jurisdictions requires that both parties believe that consent wasn’t given.

        On the subject of teenage boys, it’s worth noting that if her friend is on a gender studies course, then she, and by extension he, are legal adults fully capable of declining sex if they want, and also fully capable of leaving the relationship if the progress of the relationship doesn’t satisfy both partners expectations.

        The reason why I perhaps come over strongly in my original comment, is because however flawed our current system of due process is, the alternative is far, far worse. The adversarial process is proven to be the best system for determining guilt or innocence, regardless of whether or not it is unable to deliver justice in a large number of cases where only personal testimony exists as evidence. It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.

        Let’s look at it this way. You wouldn’t want to convict a black man of murder on the basis of one shaky eye witness, especially given how notoriously unreliable witness testimony can be. There needs to be supporting evidence in most cases. Documentaries have been made on such matters.

        If you don’t believe me, you should research an interesting phenomena. With the advent of Uber a number of allegations were made by groups of drunken women against drivers- in one instance the police were called with an allegation of sexual assault, simply because the driver didn’t want to let them smoke in the back of the car. What most didn’t realise was that its pretty much standard practice to have camera’s in your car if you’re an uber driver, to protect yourself from false accusations.

        Think about how callus one has to be to level an accusation against a perfect stranger for no reason- add alcohol, mistaken assumptions about one night stands, the desperate need to maintain reputation in front of ones peer group, the hurt that can occur when the man dumps the woman and you have a recipe for disaster, in terms of broader sexual relations between men and women. It’s why if you’re a man and you find that you’re not getting that ‘Every little thing this does is magic’ feeling, it’s always been the best course, to act inattentive, be obnoxious and a dick, in order to make her feel that she’s dumping you. ‘Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned/Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.’

      • Dai Anto says

        @Nakatomi Plaza, The Metro Toronto Police, as reported by journalist Christie Blatchford. puts false allegations in that city at 54%. This is a similar figure to researchers such as Kanin and studies mentioned in Dr. Warren Farrell’s book the Myth of Male Power.

        The current figures often used for false allegations are 8 to 12 percent but that is not representative of the number of false claims but only those that are tested in court.

        You may whine about poor,poor teenage boys but Shakespeare also had a relevant observation. “Hell have no fury like a woman scorned.”

      • Jesse says

        Nakatomi,

        Not that you’re here to argue in good faith, but I’d like to point out that just because <10% of allegations are probably false doesn’t mean that >90%are probably true. I’ve seen this rhetorical sleight of hand elsewhere, but repeating bad arguments doesn’t make them good. If, say, 2.5% of rape allegations lead to convictions and 2.5% could feasibly lead to successful prosecution for false allegation, then 95% are simply indeterminate. If most of that remaining 95% fail to lead to conviction, it’s not because of “rape culture”, but rather due to the following two more mundane reasons:

        (1) Western culture in general, and the United States especially, values the presumption of innocence very highly;

        (2) even actual cases of completely unambiguous rape are difficult to prove due to the nature of the crime.

        To expand on (2): rape, like consensual sex, tends to occur with no witnesses, and the physical evidence of rape is often just as consistent with an account of events in which the sex was consensual. One might argue that if a woman is being raped, she should resist mightily, and, if unsuccessful, immediately call the police and go to the hospital. If she did this, a physical exam would clearly show that, at the very least, the sex was extremely rough, which, while still not enough on its own to surmount the threshold of reasonable doubt, would go a long way towards that objective. However—and this is the cruelest and most unfortunate fact of the matter—if you’re being raped and there’s no one around to help, it’s perfectly rational to just try to wait until it’s over and get the hell out of there. Violently resisting is an incredibly risky proposition in that situation.

        So you tend to have a crime with no witnesses and little or no physical evidence. In light of this, a low conviction rate isn’t evidence of “rape culture”, but rather a (very) unfortunate side-effect of a commitment to the presumption of innocence. Should we then question our commitment to that principle? A die-hard classical liberal will say “Absolutely not”, regardless of how strongly they may sympathize with those who suffer from its side-effects.

  3. Super Edgelord says

    For all the harping on 50 Shades or whatever is fashionable to despise out of totally no jealousy at all, literary fiction is where you generally find the true trash heap of writing. It’s like continental philosophy, truly genius in its premise of impossibility to be judged, refuting any criteria and marketing itself as any of: deep, avant-garde, challenging, “ruminating on themes of x”, and so forth.

    As if the signal of someone thinking and MFA isn’t useless wasn’t enough, just ask them for their manuscript about the lesbian cat who cannot decide if the mime living across the hall is actually a baguette. It’s layered and multifaceted!

  4. Nakatomi Plaza says

    So, we’re attacking contemporary critics for not commenting on old material? Yea, I’m sure a NYT article about an obscure text from generations ago would sell like gangbusters.

    And who said that stories about sexuality are a new phenomenon? This topic is aeons old, but that doesn’t mean that every new criticism has to address or acknowledge the long history of the theme. What a bizarre article with no apparent purpose but some sorry, feeble attack on those dastardly elites.

    • Aerth says

      “So, we’re attacking contemporary critics for not commenting on old material?”

      The same critics can go out of their way to attack “an old material” if their find it “problematic” for modern “standards”.

  5. SaintLeRat says

    @Denny
    Don’t feel too good to know you Quillettes b#%@h after all your ‘loyalty’?
    Never mind, the cuck is always the last to know…

    • Denny Sinnoh says

      @rat
      I don’t give a shit. You are stupid. Ha ha.

  6. Daz says

    That was an enjoyable article.
    Give me an Elmore Leonard novel over any ‘man Booker prize’ winner any day.

  7. I’m more preferential towards “To Kill A Mockingbird”, in where a black man has to deal with a white woman falsely accusing him of rape. She did so for absolutely petty reasons — risking a man’s life, for the sake of her reputation. Just so that people wouldn’t have to know that she not only consented to having sex with a black man, but actually seduced him into doing so, back when it wasn’t socially acceptable for races to even casually mix.

    It’s a great story of why due process is important, why the criminal justice system is a completely inappropriate place to “listen and believe”, and why we need more women in prison to teach them not to perjure their sworn statements.

    For a film from 1962, it never gets old.

    • bumble bee says

      @B,

      I will have to disagree with your TKAM synopsis. Tom and Mayella did not have carnal relations, although Mayella was indeed tempting Tom in that direction. She was testifying against Tom to account for the injuries she suffered from that were actually caused by her father Bob. Her father beats her up because of her attempts to seduce Tom, and to account for those injuries, Bob Ewell blames Tom. Mayella must testify against Tom due to not only racist beliefs, but if she did not she would have been further abused by her father and possibly disowned.

      If anything Mayella is the epitome of female oppression and while she tries to stand up for herself as seen in her rant while being cross examined, the oppression is too encompassing and is forced to acquiesce the truths we can all see.

      • Defenstrator says

        Wow, women always have to have it worse , don’t they. Was she in a bad place? Yes. Did she go to jail for a crime she didn’t commit and get killed for it? No.

        • Janet says

          It’s heavily implied that Mayella’s father sexually abuses her, and that she may even be the mother of her younger siblings. The point is not that “women always have to have it worse,” but that if you’re going to make points about sex and the law using a piece of fiction, you should at least read carefully.

    • Janet says

      It’s quite clear from the text that Mayella’s reasons for accusing Tom Robinson are anything but petty. She does it because her physically abusive father is forcing her to testify.

      Everybody agrees that Mayella was badly beaten, and the physical evidence plus Tom’s testimony make it clear that the man who beat her was her father. According to Tom, during their conversation Mayella also alluded to “the things her daddy does to her,” in other words sexual abuse. We are also told that Mayella’s mother died when she was young. Her father hasn’t remarried, yet she has seven younger siblings to take care of. Where did they come from?

      Nobody in the courtroom seems to have any qualms about sending her home to her father, though!

  8. ossicle88 says

    Absolutely terrific essay, Kevin. Great work.

  9. Defenstrator says

    This article reminded me there are a lot of parallel societies out there. The writer is complaining that people who read books I do not read or even knew existed have been ignoring books I was equally oblivious of. It was interesting to see something about the part of the book store I never wander into.

  10. Luna Vitello says

    Every generation seems to think it discovered social justice, yet culture, both high and low, has challenged oppression and inequity from biblical times. The story of Susanna from the Book of Daniel is the earliest example I can think of.

    On a more modern note, I recently came across a blurb on amazon about the 1947 crime novel “In a Lonely Place” that marveled how “far ahead of its time” it was was for challenging “misogyny” and “toxic masculinity.”

  11. Anthony Young says

    In a recent conversation with my aging aunt, she told me about the industrial hire firm she worked for in the late sixties/early seventies. It was her and one other woman dealing with all male colleagues and customers. She said, the lack of women meant there was no back stabbing or bitchiness and hence the best place she’d ever worked.

  12. Jezza says

    What hateful times we live in, when the innocent are lumped together with the guilty and all are punished for the crimes of some. I am a person who has been falsely accused. I no longer automatically trust women, and as one cannot form a relationship from a position of suspicion, consequently I avoid all solo interactions. I just don’t feel comfortable. And I am tired of trying to navigate this tragedy of manners, of making excuses for women’s innate cowardice, of offering help. So go change the batteries in your dildo and leave me alone. Goodbye.

  13. Steve says

    When I think of old pop culture entertainment that deals with #metoo related issues, there really is only one that immediately leaps to mind …. 9 to 5, the 1980 Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin revenge fantasy / comedy with Dabney Coleman as the pervy abusive boss.

  14. TarsTarkas says

    I’d forgotten Richard Adams, who also wrote the massive fantasy novel SHARDIK, actually set in the same fantasy venue but earlier in time. I remember how pervy MAIA was, and thinking, ‘Did this guy who has this supposed great literary reputation (based on SHARDIK) really put all his weird sexual fantasies down on paper?’ For that’s what they are. Disguised as high ‘art’.

  15. Garson Kanin’s 1970s novel Moviola is overlooked in the otherwise well-researched piece –Of course its impossible to cover every book because, I confirm, #Me Too, like the French Revolution, has its own philosophes. This novel revealed the casting couch culture of Hollywood, particularly the mass sexploitation of young aspirants for the Scarlett O’Hara role. Do I get it right from the article that Sidney Sheldon had backed Queenie? That’s significant because Sheldon’s first novel, The Other Side of Midnight, had a protagonist whose sexuality was scarred by rape.

  16. Marvin the Martian says

    The author’s thesis applies to movies, too. During the Kavanaugh hearings, many outlets painted the early 80s as a completely unsympathetic, brutish period towards women. And while there were several misogynistic films about like Porky’s and many slasher flicks, some of the highest grossing films in their respective years included 9 to 5 (three women get sick of being abused/harassed by their misogynist boss and get revenge), Tootsie (a movie where a man pretends to be a woman and finds himself subjected to all sorts of hideous come-ons and even a scene where a colleague tries to force himself on him), and Sudden Impact (a Dirty Harry film about a rape victim failed by the justice system seeking revenge).

  17. GeorgeQTyrebyter says

    Many many many books involve the moral issues of sex. In “Les Miserables”, the beautiful young woman Fantine is seduced and abandoned by her upper-class lover, and this leads to all manner of complications. Really, the notion of power-sex imbalance is the heart of a huge amount of literature.

  18. Eisso Post says

    Of course this was always a theme. Think of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, think of Steerforth and Lil Emly in David Copperfield. The difference between then and now is that those were simply evil men, just like pirates and bankrobbers were, while nowadays every man doing something rotten is proof or at least an example of ‘patriarchy’, ‘misogyny’ and ‘rape culture’. The author totally ignores this political agenda of MeToo, which surprises me in a medium like Quillette.

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