Photo by Brian Kaiser.

Girls Just Want Societal Autonomy

It’s the holidays and your conservative uncle is at it again. He’s going on-and-on about how women are flooding into politics and are becoming a larger-represented group in areas like Congress, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. His sentiment is simple: women hate men, especially feminists, and they’ll stop at nothing to take down every man.

But what do feminists actually want? Maybe I’m not the best person to answer this. As a man, my life is pretty simple. I can go outside wearing any outfit I want and no one, besides maybe my mom, is going to say anything to me. If I want to sit in bed and eat a large cheese pizza by myself on Saturday, my roommates won’t bat an eye or tell me that it’s going to go straight to my thighs. And when the plumber comes to fix my toilet, we talk about sports and the weather—there’s no grazing eyes or unsolicited flirtations.

These are just the things that I, as a man, don’t have to endure. But for women, these are day-to-day experiences. Women are presented with a constant struggle of, “I had a long week, but I can’t go to work without my makeup on—” because everyone in the office will surely ask, “Are you okay? You look tired.” And heaven forbid a woman sit in bed and binge Netflix while they gorge on junk food. You *know* where all those carbs are going, right?

As you can see, it’s tricky waters for women. For every potential voice pushing forward for progress, there seems to be a louder one pushing against. But treading these waters is something some women are used to, and when it comes to the authors of “New Erotica For Feminists: Satirical Fantasies Of Love, Lust, & Equal Pay,” they are experienced.

“We take the literal view of feminism as all people should be equal, We’re not trying to create a society where men don’t exist. It’s just literally like, ‘treat women like humans.’”

“New Erotica For Feminists” is not an erotica novel. Readers will experience the same stereotypical situations you’d find in erotica novels, or maybe even pornos, but the story is told much differently. The book uses those erotic yet corny situations—the plumber stops by the house while you’re alone to “lay some pipes”—and juxtaposes them with moments that shed light on modern-day feminism—the plumber and the protagonist happily walk to the bathroom where the plumber lays down new copper piping and the two talk about the upcoming midterm elections. Instead of an overly and ridiculously sexualized situation where the woman is but a sex pawn for the story, the book uses these scenarios to show that feminists aren’t after some sort of hierarchy, rather, sometimes they just want some new copper pipes and a good conversation with another human being.

“We take the literal view of feminism as all people should be equal,” co-author Brooke Preston said. “We’re not trying to create a society where men don’t exist. It’s just literally like, ‘treat women like humans.’

The book was a collective effort of four different satire writers: Caitlin Kunkel, Fiona Taylor, Carrie Wittmer, and Brooke Preston. Coincidentally, the collective effort was actually more of a cloud effort—the four writers never actually met in a room to write the vignettes until the weekend they finished the book. Their meeting spot? Brooke’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

“He calls me into his office and closes the door… to promote me. He promotes me again and again. I am wild with ecstasy.”

The women were already experienced writers because of the website they co-founded, The Belladonna, a comedy and satire site with women and non-binary authors. In the book, the women explain that the idea sprang from them all goofing off in their group chat while editing some things for the website. It started with trying to devise a scheme that would get LaCroix Sparkling Water to deliver them cases with the intent to obtain a “corporate sponsorship.”

“And hey, while we’re speaking these desires into the universe, why not send, say, Tom Hardy to make that delivery?” —excerpt from the ‘Foreplay’ of “New Erotica For Feminists.”

After a shorter version of the book went viral in early February 2018 on McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies, a humorist website that’s been around since 1998, the four women did some legwork, secured a book deal in the United Kingdom, and eventually secured a deal in the States as well. Believe it or not, the entire process—from contracts to writing to publishing—all happened in 2018.

“He calls me into his office and closes the door… to promote me. He promotes me again and again. I am wild with ecstasy.” — vignette from the original McSweeney’s story.

While on the surface, reading this book might create the illusion that these writers are professional comedians with touring careers, Brooke said it’s not as it seems. She said she lives in “the shadows of suburbia,” or in other words, she’s a wife and the mother of a five-year-old. For her and the other authors, the joy of this book is in satire writing.

But why erotica? When Brooke told her parents about the book deal, she was quickly met with, “Brooke? Are we going to be able to show our face in church?” But, as the book says, erotica offers the chance for the reader to imagine themselves as someone else, and this book is no different in that sense. Sometimes people’s reaction to that is good, and other times people are a bit more reluctant.

“For the most part, people get it. [When I was in] New York, people were like, ‘Yeah, no I get it. I read the subtitle,’ ” Brooke explained. “But here the reaction I usually get is, ‘Oh, my!’ Usually, I’m like “stop clutching your pearls, it’s fine! It’s all tongue-in-cheek!”

Brooke said the themes in the book were meant to be universal, and that included steering clear of being too political.

“We felt like the book was political in itself just because all of those things do affect women on every level. We do touch on health care, paid maternity leave, and all those things, but we didn’t want to put Trump in our book.”

There’s many reasons for that, but most notable is the idea is that anyone should be reading this book—regardless of party lines. Yes, the book itself is progressive and your aforementioned conservative uncle will probably not agree with everything therein. But what the book does do is open the eyes of people who might not realize their actions have implications.

“It’s like you walk up and press the button and a man walks up behind you, checks, and presses it again ‘just to make sure’ that it’s been pressed. It’s just like, ‘Cool! You’re an adult, you know how to use elevators!’,” Brooke explained about the elevator vignette in the book. “It’s just a small subconscious thing, but when it happens to you all the time, you’re just like, ‘I’m not a child! I know how elevators work! And if it’s not working for me, it’s not going to work for you.’ ”

So maybe this book won’t be the driving force for a change in conversation for the holidays this season, but what it might do is change the way we go about these conversations. Instead of your uncle bitching up a storm about too many women in politics, he might respectfully accept your point of view as another human being and engage in a political discourse that is beneficial
to society.

New Erotica For Feminists is available on neweroticaforfeminists.com. You can also find more work from the authors on their website, thebelladonnacomedy.com.

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