Saturday, January 19, 2013

Romance or Pornography?

I have been reading Jean M. Auel's Earth Children series, beginning with Clan of the Cave Bear and continuing through all the books, now that they are out. I am halfway through The Stone Shelters and had to put it down to read a couple of books for review. I am anxious to get back to it.

Recently, I found a taped interview with Jean Auel about the series and some of the research she did for the book. I listened with rapt attention as she described the painted caves of Lascaux and various archeological digs she had been on. What really caught my attention was the skeleton she saw and on which she based the beginning of what was originally supposed to be a short story, a story that ran to 450,000 words the first time out. That is when Auel knew she had to write a series of books to tell Ayla's story.

The skeleton had an amputated arm (not torn off or a birth defect, but an arm that had been cut off by someone with medical knowledge), was obviously blind (the eye was gone) and looked like Creb, the way Auel imagined him. Creb, The Mog-ur of the Clan of the Cave Bear, the most powerful magician of the Neanderthal world and the man whose hearth Ayla was adopted into when his sister Iza, the first Medicine Woman among the Clan, found and took care of a child of the Others (Cro-Magnons) whose family (and probably her people) had been killed in the same earthquake that had dispossessed Brun's (Creb and Iza's brother) group.

Auel always knew that the main character, Ayla, would be a strong and independent woman, and that Creb would be a part of the story, a very important part as it turned out. Ayla would not need to be protected or rescued and she would be a survivor -- and Ayla is a survivor still since the series is mainly about her life and journey .

During the interview the host took calls and one caller asked why Auel had put so much sex in the books. The caller obviously did not like the sex and had not allowed her daughter to read the second book, or any of the books following, because of the sex scenes. The caller's voice sounded disapproving, but she also sounded disgusted and felt the sex scenes brought down the tone and readability of Auel's series. The caller was downright vehement.

I do understand how she feels, coming from a family where sex is a taboo topic and anyone who talks about sex or in any way condones promiscuous sexual behavior is as much a whore as the person committing the breach of morals. I agreed with the caller for about a minute before I asked myself why sex should be dirty or bring the tone of a good book, or series of books, down. I don't know about anyone else, but I do know how I feel -- or rather felt. Embarrassed.

My embarrassment comes from two sources: my upbringing and my discomfort with explicit sex, no matter how it is rendered. I did laugh from time to time when Auel described Jondalar's penis as his manhood and his organ, but what really got to me was the description of the sexual details as though the act was romantic, which it was.

For some reason, many people react as though they are teenagers and sex is the mysterious wonder that their parents will not discuss openly in front of them or hide, like their father hiding his Penthouse and Playboy magazines, tittering over anatomic pictures in medical books and dictionaries. Some people thoroughly enjoy sex in their books and makes no bones about it and the rest are shocked by the filth that some writers will put in their books. "How can decent people write such stuff?" they ask, even though the writer has gone to great pains to use more euphemistic terms (manhood or organ). It all reminds me of She-Devil with Meryl Streep when she is sitting at a table outdoors trying out different words for clitoris (love . . .). I am sure Streep's author also used safer words for penis, vagina, clitoris, scrotum, etc. After all, she was writing soft porn for housewives, as one interviewer said.

There is sex everywhere in our modern world. Men objectify women, although often tastefully, to sell cars, fencing, John Deere harvesters, and so many other things that have nothing at all to do with sex, and the public buys it. The prudish sector of the public decries such blatant pandering and likens the women (and often young teenagers) posing for such ads as whore, tramps, and worse.

Shows like Queer as Folk  and Mike & Molly that treat sex as a biological function that everyone should enjoy are cited as pornographic. I still do not get what is pornographic about two consenting adults coming together to make love or even to pull off a quickie in a bath house or restroom stall so pornographic, especially since no penises were in evidence, and more's the pity. But that's just my preference. I figure if the media can expose women from top to bottom and full frontal then men should be treated the same way. Equal rights -- for the viewing public. I am still miffed that The Full Monty did not show anyone's full Monty. They were men and penises, hard or soft, are the enemy. Right! Tell me another one.

While sex is vilified in the strongest terms by the religious types who save sex for marriage and always behind closed doors, eschewing the possibilities of sex on the kitchen table or the living room floor, violence is front and center and few people complain. Oh, there are complaints, like teenagers not old enough to see violence in movies, though they are exposed daily to graphic violence in books and on the news every day, and the pacifists among us complain that violence is unnecessary. No one is more vocal or condemns quicker than the anti-gun supporters while they are standing in line to see Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Daniel Craig at their violent best in the movies.

When you come right down to it, there is no easy answer why the sensitive, and graphic, love scenes in Jean Auel's books will upset people more than the latest Tom Cruise testosterone fest as he plays super spy in his most recent action packed gun and bomb fest.

I think it all comes down to modern religion. It cannot be the ancient religions when sex was permissible anywhere and as often as possible between consenting adults (adults being women who had reached the age of menstruation -- usually about 10-12 years old -- and men who had been tasting the Mother's gifts ever since they began having wet dreams and spent time with the local woman who taught young men what women want). Sex was a biological urge and it was not hidden from young children, but celebrated and engaged in while children were present. After all, there is only so much you can hide behind a ring of rocks or drapes and room dividers. Sounds carry and children are curious enough to peek.

Part of the reason is likely also because people understand that babies are not a gift of the gods, or the Great Earth Mother, but the product of sexual relations between men and women. As Ayla describes it, babies come from the essence of a man when enjoying Pleasures with his mate or any woman he has shared Pleasures with. When men discovered they were part of the process, I am certain they decided that making sure a woman had sex only with them to ensure their fatherhood of the progeny and began to see sex not as a pleasurable activity that honored the life giving force, but a possession. As long as they could continue to enjoy Pleasures with any woman that would have them, they would still make sure that the only man their mates had was them. Enter patriarchal prerogative and women as possessions instead of thinking, intelligent beings in their own right who also happen to have cornered the market on nurturing life in their bodies.

Before this becomes an anti-patriarchal diatribe, I should also explain that this is conjecture. I am pretty sure of my theses, but I am also certain that men will be offended by being cast as promiscuous sexaholics more than willing to chain and lock up their wives' and girlfriends' sexual options.

What it all comes down to is conditioning. We have been conditioned to think of sex as private and naughty unless it is between consenting adults, and preferably married adults. I know I was. Too bad I did not follow the training forced on me, as evidenced by my oldest son who is the product of a 7-month marriage.

It is no wonder people view sex in books and movies and in actual fact as something dirty (sometimes a little bit and sometimes sin city), and that is not only because of sexually transmitted diseases. As one friend often reminds me, life is a terminal sexually transmitted disease.

I no longer skim the sex scenes in Jean Auel's books. I enjoy them. I am no longer titillated but I do feel a little nostalgic and a bit deprived. I see each sex scene as evidence of the deepening relationship between Ayla and Jondalar and essential to the plot, as proof that their relationship is loving and how the bonds between the Stone Age pair are forged.

Jean Auel reminded the outraged caller that there was a brutal rape in Clan of the Cave Bear when Broud forces Ayla to "...assume the position" to satisfy his urges. Although she was taught to be subservient to the men in her world, she knew deep in her soul that Broud's sudden interest in her had more to do with control and violence than in sharing what should be a romantic moment. The caller never did respond. Like so many of us, the caller was more comfortable with the rape scene than with the sex scenes in subsequent books. What does that say about the caller -- and indeed about the rest of us?

Earth's Children is not soft pornography or pornography of any kind. The sex scenes are not dirty, although they are a bit funny in the use of substitutes for anatomical body parts; the sex scenes are most definitely romantic.

When I was growing up I was taught that my curiosity about and interest in boys (kissing, holding hands, etc.) was unnatural and I was not a nice girl. Nice girls waited to have sex because it was special and the first time should be with someone I loved. While I agree that the first time should be special and with someone I cared for or was attracted to, I do not agree that sex is only permissible within the confines of marriage. Given a choice, I would prefer to be initiated by someone experienced in sharing Pleasures in a world where sex is a biological act that is pleasurable and to be desired. That is most definitely not pornography but romance, and it is and should be romantic, even if I decide not to marry (or mate) my sexual partner.

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