Fear the Swampy Womanfolds by Nicole Kimberling

nicole300By special request this month’s foray into the World of Binky deals with ladies and the ladyparts—most specifically the sometimes strange portrayal of such dark and mysterious environments.

I must start with a disclaimer: I did not coin the term “swampy womanfolds.” The unfortunate verbiage came via my editorial intern, who read them in a het romance some time ago. Usually I shy away from using real text from real books in this column but for the life of me, I couldn’t invent any less appealing or more horribly imagematic term for the female genital region.

I also couldn’t imagine our Binky getting himself into a scary situation with a naked lady. For all his faults, I think Binky is comfortable with and likes women.

No, being alarmed when confronted with the damp, ruckled wetlands of the vajayjay would have to fall upon the broad, tanned shoulders of man’s man Brutus.

This episode finds Brutus in a dimly-lit hotel room on a hot summer night in Paris. Having just returned from his tour of super-spy duty in Istanbul, Brutus is waiting for the arrival of his lover.

Unfortunately an impromptu strike by customs agents in Charles du Gaulle airport has resulted in Binky being stranded in the airport smoking lounge with nothing but a crumpled pack of gitanes cigarettes and the near-certain knowledge that he doesn’t smoke. His phone is dead and his charger is in his checked luggage. An inadvertent victim of French organized-labor solidarity, Binky gazes at the blue gypsy decorating the pack and hopes Brutus won’t be too mad.

Across town in Monmartre, Brutus watches the candles burn low over his room-service dinner and waits, but not patiently. He drinks a whole bottle of red wine then drunk-texts Binky fourteen times to no avail.

The night grows longer.

Then comes a knock at the door. A look through the peephole reveals the heart-shaped face of Sirena Rodriquez-Valeron, crack Spanish operative. Born to a family of flamenco dancers, the woman has feet fast enough to stamp out a tsunami of cockroaches and hips strong enough to break a mechanical bull. She is the ultimate femme fatale.

Against his better judgement, Brutus invites her in. (His handler hadn’t mentioned contacting Sirena, but he’s bored and lonely.) Apparently overwhelmed with heatstroke, Sirena immediately sheds her clothes.

The woman’s dress fell away and there she stood, naked. The wobbly fat of her breasts jiggled as she slid one red-clawed hand down her abdomen to the hairy cleft between her legs.

“Do you like what you see?” she asked.

Brutus was about to answer that he couldn’t see or do anything else straight at the moment, but Sirena sat back on the bed and spread her legs to reveal the hot and swampy womanfolds of her crotch.

Brutus reeled back in repulsion, sickened by the sight of that moist and glistening nethermouth. The lips opened like the leaves of a venus fly trap revealing the pink flesh within.

“Just get the fuck out of my room,” he growled. “You’re disgusting.”

He yanked her to her feet and shoved her, naked, into the hallway, throwing her clothes out after her. Then locked the door, staggered to the bathroom and vomited into the sink.

Oh Brutus… Don’t you think you’re overreacting a little bit?

Leaving aside the point that a super-spy should be able to look at a naked lady without getting so scared he pukes, there is something really wrong with this scene. Brutus is acting like a five year old confronted with a plate anchovy-spiked liver in broccoli-sauce.

Why would an author force an otherwise suave character to behave in this ungentlemanly fashion? Why would she or he use such awful language to describe what is supposed to be a woman so beautiful that she can convince other humans to commit treason?

I can think of a couple of plausible diagnoses. The first involves misapplied research. Who among us hasn’t heard some actual gay guy badmouth pussy? This true-life occurrence normally happens when the homosexual in question has been pressured one too many times to “just try it once, maybe you’ll like it.” The result is a reactionary backlash employing vile and offensive language in order to make one’s own sexual preference inarguably clear. It is the verbal equivalent of expressing dislike by spitting a mouthful of banana pudding across the kitchen.

What’s important to understand here is that the speaker most likely feels nothing for the genitals of the opposite sex. They are irrelevant things concealed beneath pants…or sometimes skirts…in any case they don’t signify. It’s only unwanted offers from others to dive into a cooter that triggers an anti-cooter tirade.

A straight lady writer using genuine rude statements made by their drunk gay friend as a reference point could easily telegraph this language inappropriately into the character’s internal dialogue. Alternately, lack of familiarity might induce a gay dude author to accidentally use icky or insulting language to describe the female red zone.

But I suggest that in many cases there is one other factor at work: shame. Many, many women are simply uncomfortable with their own bodies and, by extension, the bodies of other women. I’m not talking about gender dysphoria here. I’m talking about having ingested the derogatory, fearful and critical language of thousands of years of androcentric culture.

It’s my opinion that almost no author in this field is being offensive to her female readership on purpose. I have to say “in this field” because I’m sure that in some other genres portraying women as scary whores who are trying to entrap the protagonists by deployment of Fiendish, Primordial Hoo-Hoo is standard operating procedure.

So as a beta reader (or just a concerned citizen) what do you do when you come across a scene like this? The trick is not to get mad about it. Instead, talk to the author. Appeal to sympathy, mixed with concern. Try using lines like, “as a reader who is also female, the ugly words the character is using to describe what is essentially my body is kind of hurting my feelings. I feel like others might have the same experience with the text.”

If that doesn’t work take a stab at misinterpretation: “I’m interested to know why the main character has such a violent reaction to the sight of female nudity. Was he ritualistically abused by an all-female Satanic cult? If so, maybe you could develop the evidence of his phobia a little bit before this.”

And finally if the author just keeps on not getting the message, employ the Red Line of Death argument: “If I were not your friend, I would stop reading this book right here because I stopped liking the character. I’m pretty sure that’s not what you’re going for so maybe take a look at this.”

After that, there’s nothing you can do.

Good Luck!

Got a different take on this? Tell me about it!

23 comments

  • Hilarious post! Of course, there’s the m/m stories (though not many, thankfully) where well-written female characters just simply don’t exist, womanfold bits and all. But that’s another topic…

    JP

    Reply
  • I agree whole-heartedly with the post, but I think some women just don’t like other women. I saw a comment once in a thread talking about how much we all loved a certain m/m couple that said, “I hate women, they make everything worse. j/k (not really)”

    That has stuck with me as being so profoundly sad. But at the same time, we all know the women that claim to only like being around men – I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those women gravitated to reading (and writing?) m/m.

    Reply
    • Hi Cris, welcome!

      Hadn’t really thought of this, but I’m sure there’s some truth to it. It’s interesting, in my other career (cooking in restaurants) I’ve often worked in exclusively male settings and so have more male friends than female, but I’ve never not liked women. (On the contrary, I like at least one woman REALLY A LOT. :evilgrin: )

      And yeah, like you said, that comment is really kinda sad.

      Reply
      • When I was a kid, I loved a commercial that began with a woman dancing a flamenco. Someone called out, “Stop! Stop! That’s no way to kill roaches!” I think the answer was supposed to be Black Flag roach spray, and I think the man who called out was Chuck Connors, then starring in either The Rifleman or Branded.

        Reply
  • It is the verbal equivalent of expressing dislike by spitting a mouthful of banana pudding across the kitchen.

    Spit coffee over the keyboard upon reading this. Brilliant post.

    Reply
  • As always love your posts Nicole. This has bothered me for a long time, more now as I my little one is asking my questions about her girl parts.

    Is Brutus (and the others who write this way) heterophobic? Can the author not see how ironic that is in a m/m novel basically trading one kind of intolerance for another. Women have fought misogyny forever and it comes across especially harsh in these stories from people you’d think you’d have more in common with and would understand blanket intolerance. And how does insulting your main reader base in such a way sell more books? I think makes me shake my head the most.

    Reply
    • Welcome back, Issa!

      “Is Brutus (and the others who write this way) heterophobic?”

      Well, I don’t think so. Heterophobia would be more like if Brutus saw a man and a woman kissing and began running them down for it. (think the origin of the term: “breeders”)

      I think one portion of the female authors are shy or shamed and another segment might be overcompensating for an unknown gay male POV and veering into repulsion.

      Since I wrote this article I spotted another factor at work in the Swampy Womanfolds dynamic. That is over-sympathy with the character.

      In this scenario, the author (a heterosexual female) is engaged with writing a scene. She imagines her character (an extension of herself) looking deep into some other woman’s vagina and get’s repulsed (because she does not want to be a muff-diver) and then simply writes the first thing that comes into her head. I mean if any phobia were being described by this it would actually be homophobia, since it’s a repudiation of lesbianism on a visceral level….which is probably the most ironic notion of all–an author attempting to avoid gendered relationships by writing about male homosexuals ends up telegraphing her profound discomfort with female homosexuals so clearly.

      But I’m sure there are as many reasons for characters turning out weird as there are people. 🙂

      Reply
  • Hi Nicole,

    While I cannot give you a different take on this, nor do I think one is needed, I can say what a great post. As usual you had me laughing myself silly at the exploits of Brutus and Binky. The line, “the woman has feet fast enough to stamp out a tsunami of cockroaches…” can truly be appreciated by someone who lives in NYC! Thanks for your unique and always humorous POV. 🙂

    Reply
    • Hello Susan! Thank you for stopping by! I tried to do my best on this one since the subject matter was sort of painful. Glad it gave you a laugh.

      Reply
  • What an interesting post Nicole.

    Based on my observations from reading thousands of books in this genre and others, It seems that most of the insulting is done by female authors. As you said it could be shame, but I feel that most of the authors are doing this for effect and money because they feel the book will sell more copies if they insult their sisters.

    I wrote a post with Sean Kennedy and Jenre about 4 years ago about the treatment of women in M/M in particular, and suggested that if women could not be portrayed positively in the genre maybe we should not have them in these books at all, and I wasn’t referring to women as love interests of gay men. I have read my fill of women who are portrayed as bitches, whores etc. and this does not include insults about their genitalia although that is part of it. Perhaps beta readers do have a role in turning this around but I have found that authors have their own ideas about their characters and it’s very difficult to change their thinking. However, if your piece makes one writer change her ways then maybe your work is done. 😀

    Reply
    • MY WORK HERE IS DONE? Is that a secret message? (Am I getting fired?) 😮

      Seriously though, hey Wave! Glad to see you back. 😀

      “suggested that if women could not be portrayed positively in the genre maybe we should not have them in these books at all”

      While I can see how you’d not want to read books with terrible female characters in them, I suggest that eliminating them entirely is not the solution for a wide variety of reasons. Chief among them would be that it is just profoundly lazy for a writer to avoid 51% of the human race. For a writer to grow I think she must confront her weaknesses and flawed thinking. There is just no reason at all that a writer who can create an appealing male character should fail with a female character. Humans are just not that different from each other. Rather I would encourage the author to try and understand how her own ideas of gender are leading to the creation of substandard females. In my experience a huge number of authors are completely unaware of how their own implicit assumptions shape the characters they make.

      I remain committed to my idea that terrible female characters created by female authors have much more to do with the author’s self-image than craft or design.

      But I’m sure there are exceptions–if the internet has taught us nothing else we now know that there is an exception to every single rule. 😆

      Reply
      • Nicole
        When I saw the name of your post I laughed myself silly, until I read it. This problem has existed in M/M almost since authors started writing these stories.

        As I said earlier, I wrote a post with Sean Kennedy and Jenre about how women are portrayed in this genre. I don’t know how much of it is still relevant but it was written in August 2009 because I was so incensed at a book I was reviewing that I couldn’t contain my anger. Jenre and Sean (he writes some of the best female characters BTW) commented on the review, and I asked them to co-write a post on the topic. Here’s the link:
        http://www.gaybook.reviews/?p=4784

        We have not come a long way baby. In fact we have regressed. My comment that if we couldn’t treat women respectfully in these books we shouldn’t write them as characters was one of sheer frustration. As you will see from the post, Sean, Jen and I took different approaches to resolving this issue but it’s still with us today, in one way or another.

        Great article Nicole and YOU ARE NOT FIRED. 😀 Don’t you dare quit. 😆 I love your posts.

        Reply
  • As always I just want to say thank you – I usually get very irritated at how women are portrayed in so many m/m books but I am also very puzzled. Thank you for suggesting at least some reasons I can understand.

    Reply
    • Hey there Sirius, always a pleasure to see you!. Yeah, like I said, this one was a special request from a reader. I, too, always found the freaky lady-junk baffling but hadn’t tried to puzzle it out until now.

      Reply

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