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