Years ago I found a very hard to get book – Bad Behavior (1988) a series of short stories by American writer Mary Gaitskill – among which stood out a story entitled Secretary, which was made into a film starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and which narrates the fiery relationship between a girl suffering from self-harm and a masochistic streak and her employer, a devoted advocate for sadism. The topics covered are domination, submission and BDSM.
The natural aspiration of Lee, the protagonist, to (auto) inflict pain is replaced by the discovery of a new world and a new way to enjoy pain, in this case allowing her employer to spank her, and the girl will become the portrait of sexual awareness, developing a happy relationship with Mr. Grey, the lawyer.
A few months ago at the iconic New York Strand bookstore I came across Mary Gaitskill’s new book, This Is Pleasure, a 100 pages narrated by two voices, that of Quinlan Maximilian Saunders, an editor, and Margot, his pupil and friend.
The book addresses issues of great importance in these times of #MeToo and witch-hunts, or better sorcerer-hunts. The couple telling the story is made up of Mr. Quin and Margot, both major New York literary editors, who share a twenty-year-long solid friendship based on love, ambivalence, humor and wit.
The narrative tone is reminiscent of a confession in two voices. The trigger of the story is the accusation of sexual harassment directed against Quin by a series of his collaborators. Quin is a character of the past, a quaint dandy of English descent, married to a beautiful heiress, libertine and witty in a world where even irony is accused of sexism. He is a generous man, a caring soul, who loves to provoke. When he is accused and dethroned from his golden publishing world, Quin says: “Today women are very likely to portray themselves as victims. Women are angry with the country and with the government. And not being able to hit the King, they aim at the Jester. ”
The book does not offer easy solutions or moral remedies, the two narrative voices converge and diverge, swinging between agreement and disagreement with lucid intelligence and addressing the #MeToo minefield. A land that turns out to be a gold mine for the publishing industry as demonstrated by two books which quickly became best-sellers in the United States: the first She Said is by Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey, the two journalists of The New York Times, the first newspaper to unravel the history of abuse of producer Harvey Weinstein, investigation for which they were awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The other is Catch & Kill – Raiders – by Ronan Farrow on the same investigation conducted for The New Yorker and for which he too won the Pulitzer Prize.
United States have become the home of the fuck-by-contract, the land where nowadays apps with evocative names – such as Consent Amour, Legal Fling, The Consent App and YesMeansYes to give sexual consent prior to amuse oneself among the sheets – are making it big. And boring. I have always considered them a sound bullshit. But I had to change my mind when I, as another Margot, found myself in conversation and confession with my Mr. Quin …
I have been visiting and living New York for almost thirty years when back in those decadent times we used to chase after one another on the streets without having to resort to dating apps to apply ourselves to look for someone to love or even just to fuck. Never before have I sensed such a heavy and gloomy atmosphere in terms of romantic relationships. Consensual but not sensual contracts. Terrified approaches and frigid encounters. Men in disarray and women in fury. In short, the ultimate extremism of sexually correctness generates deep frustration. And it proves to be a double edged sword. Because women can not only claim the narrative of the victim – absolutely legitimate and necessary, it goes without saying – but some even take possession of that of the executioner, armed with such a fury which would put to shame Alex Forrest’s, the fearsome character played by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.
In the nineties I shared an apartment in New York with a friend, then a wannabe photographer, who today, after an admirable and earned career, became a household name in the artistic field. Cool, cocky, tattooed – he purposely created his dismissive façade to conceal his intimate and sensitive nature – HT (from #HeToo) has widely enjoyed, without ever abusing it, his sexually-charged charisma with every type of “lens”, bedding a wide array of beautiful girls, willing and eager to do so.
Last year, the moveable party, or rather feast, of the talented photographer suffered a shocking setback when he was hit, and almost sunk, by a rape accusation from a girl he shared a one-night-stand with.
The story is creepy: she approached him in a hotel bar, she joined the table occupied by him and his friend and she invited them to follow her to her room where they caroused in narcotics revelry until his friend left the crime scene, but not before warming him: “She’s bad news”. HT, swaggering yes but naive and superficial when it comes to pussy (boys will be boys), did not give the proper weight to his friend’s Cassandra-like prophecy and stayed on spending a night of casual sex that would turn into an excruciating cause against him. The morning after, without escaping if not to say goodbye and go to work, HT’s phone was flooded with messages, first cheesy and loving, then more and more insistent and delusional. One-night-stands are so called because they describe fleeting sexual encounters, usually consumed at night, and to fully enjoy them you have to be able to accept their early demise. HT responded to some message and then skirted the issue by implementing the practice of ghosting, the virtual disappearance.
That happened almost a year ago. Exactly six months later, the NYPD SVU, the special victim unit, yes precisely that of the famous eponymous series with the legendary sergeant Olivia Benson, knocked on HT’s front door to inform him he had been accused of rape in the first degree: police searched his apartment, confiscated his cell phone and interrogated him under pressure.
“Roberta, I have two children. How could I defend myself from such an accusation? Rape in the first degree carries a minimum sentence of ten years in prison,” he told me lowering his gaze for the sheer shame of just talking about it. Something he hasn’t done with none aside from his brother, his attorney and I.
While he was recounting me his dreadful nightmare – I’ve known, and loved, him for thirty years – I could grasp in his eyes and in his gestures, the terror and humiliation he was experiencing, for “only” being accused of a such an abhorrent crime. For him, for his kids, for his family, for anyone who knows him … because a rape accusation will always leave some lingering doubts. “Maybe he did it,” the excruciating mental refrain passing through other people’s minds. But he hasn’t perceived it on my mind. Indeed, I would Hindu-style immolate myself on the wood pyre to defend the innocence of HT who is, in effect, my brother of selection and affection. Just as I had no doubt about his absolute innocence, I couldn’t not scold his total idiocy.
“You’re a jerk!” was, in fact, my sensible comment.
As a woman, who in her troubled and adventurous life has undergone a “good” deal of harassment, hearing the story of a victim – even if they only represent a tiny statistical, also men can be victims – and of how a woman, so upset by someone’s absence and certainly suffering from mental disorders, can get to the point of calling the cops and slapping someone with a false rape accusation, with the sole aim of destroying another person, made me fume with raw anger. For a damned liar who throws to the wind accusations, there is not only the risk of ruining the life of a fool (at times jerk) but also to undermine the credibility of a victim of real violence.
Have we got to such a demented state of amorous affairs?
To women so furious and aggressive they make up rape charges to retaliate over being refused?
To men so frightened – HT is still suffering from PTSD, the post-traumatic stress disorder – they’d rather passively sit home in front of a screen rather than embark on a relationship?
There’s something rotten in this world …
I have been, I am and always will be direct, up to inconvenient at times, when it comes to scream out loud, in spoken and written words, my unruly protests against violence perpetrated by men, just as I will be when it comes to defending a man from the violence perpetrated by a woman.
Because as a woman I do not arrogate for myself the victim’s prerogative.
Because as a woman I abhor dreadful women who exploit their sex in order to punish men.
PS. The case against HS was dismissed because the crime did not stand on its merits. And because the shrewd womanizer had filmed the alleged victim while she was more than willing, and eagerly, sucking on his cock.
It is absolutely deplorable to film a woman during a sexual act.
It is absolutely commendable having done so with a fucking boaster.
She who lives by the sword, die by the – swallowed – sword.
SUCK IT UP, BITCH!