Thursday, February 13, 2014

Vagina Dentata.

I wasn't looking to stir up controversy and be infamous.

Not really.

I was being insomniacal like I usually am.
Refreshing Facebook every five minutes and commenting on and liking things that I liked.
Not commenting on things and hiding things from my News Feed that I didn't like.
I saw a Status Update from someone that I wasn't that familiar with.
The Status Update was "Wow. That's fucked up. I just got blocked by an actress for asking her to be upfront with her complaints about a convention. Sigh."
I was curious, since I used to work the convention circuit, but I don't like stirring up public drama, so I private messaged her, asking her which actress and which convention.
She told me which actress and which convention and we chatted about the whole thing.
I checked out the Facebook profile page of the actress in question and her cover picture was a promotional image for Women In Horror Month.

As some of you may already know, I'm not a huge fan of Women In Horror Month.
I might as well attempt to clarify my position on that matter first.
The reason that I don't like Women In Horror Month is not because I don't like women.
That's the most common knee-jerk reaction from people when I say that I don't support Women In Horror Month.
"Well, you just don't like / are scared of / are intimidated by / hate women."
Quite the contrary.
I like women.
Not only as my preferred variety of sexual partner, but I also have a fair amount of platonic female friends that I really don't see as potential sexual partners.
I actually posted a blog post about the problems that arise from men sexualizing their female acquaintances because there had been some controversy over the whole "Friend-zoning" / Girlfriend-zoning" phenomenon and I decided to offer my unsolicited opinion on the matter:
It only had 37 views.
Hopefully it well get a few more looks based on the reads that I anticipate this blog post will receive since I managed to inadvertently incur the wrath of about half of the world.
I front-loaded my defense because I anticipate what the accusations will be as I state my position regarding Women In Horror Month.
My problem with Women In Horror Month is many-faceted.
My primary problem is that women use it as a promotional tool to try to receive special consideration because there is a generally assumed bias against "Women In Horror".
With the recent advances in self-publishing, where the power of "the press" is in the hands of anyone that wants to publish whatever they want to publish, the playing ground has been leveled.
Some women argue that the bias still exists and that some men don't buy books written by women because they're sexist.
That may be true, there may be some men out there that think, "Oh, this was made by a woman!  Pfft!  No thanks!" but those jerk-offs are missing out on some excellent stuff as a result.
I'm not one of those men, although as of late I have been accused of being so.
Again, to front-load my defense, the first person other than myself mentioned in my bio is a woman, Helen Hoke.  I didn't design it that way, it just happened organically.  I used to read her horror anthologies at my local public library when I was a kid, and the stories she collected really fueled my early interest in horror literature.
If you don't know who Helen Hoke is, click the follow links and learn about someone awesome.
I also have a tattoo of Frankenstein, which I am well aware was written by a woman, and a tattoo of a fragment of a poem by Sappho, the Greek poetess who is the woman that the term "Lesbian" was derived from as in "a women attracted to other women" and "from the isle of Lesbos" since she was both.
I digress.  I apologize, but it's just how things fall out of my head sometimes.
Do I agree that there may have been a bias against women in the horror-genre and that it is mostly a boy's club?  Yes and no.
I agree in theory, but I'd like to see some statistical proof that proves this.
I'm sincerely interested, so if you're reading this, send me some links.
Some people say that there is a bias in the number of horror books written by man and that men sell more books than women.
First off, there shouldn't be a quota enforcing that an equal number of books in any genre are written by both genders.  If you're a woman and you want to write a horror genre book, go ahead.  These days, no one can stop you from doing so and I would actively take your side and defend you against anyone that tried.  Also, send me a copy.  I like books.
As for men selling more horror genre books than men, some men sell more books than some women.  Some women sell more books than some men.  If men, in general, sell more horror books as a gender than women, that's an interesting statistical artifact, but is only indicative of a market trend and not proof of a gender bias.  People buy what they want to buy.
As a side note, I am aware that there are some vile, reprehensible men that send women working in the horror genre disgusting misogynistic messages filled with unsolicited sexual / sexualized statements and threats of physical violence and rape.
I'm truly sorry that happens.  But I have never, and would never do that.
Again, in my defense, if I find out that someone is doing that, I'm on the woman's side, and I would defend your freedom and right to do what you do regardless of your gender be it male, female, or in-between.
I don't have to like what you do, but it's not up to me to tell you that you can't do it.

Another problem I have with Women In Horror Month is that it is almost entirely a self-promotional tool used by women to try to receive special consideration for a month.
I would fully support posting a list of women authors and film-makers and saying, "There's a gender bias in the horror genre.  Here are some excellent women working in the field.  Check out their stuff."
Instead, all I've been seeing is, "I'm a woman, so check out and buy MY stuff."
It's self-centered.
I'm all for self-promotion.  That's how you sell things.
If you don't promote what you're working on, people rarely wander over and check it out organically.
As an author, and soon to be a publisher, I am my brand.
My participation in social-networking is about half personal promotion.
Not exclusively, mind you.  I hate those people whose Facebook content is nothing but promotional posts and links to where people can buy their books.
I understand the necessity of it and know that it works, but that's just not me.
I like to actually provide people reading my content on Facebook with a variety of content so that they don't get promotional fatigue and remove me from their News Feed.
It's not the self-promotion I mind, it's if we're going to do a Women In Horror Month, then let's celebrate WOMEN in horror, not just you.  Stop being so selfish.
What is my solution?
I was having a conversation with Selene MacLeod and I think that we managed to resolve our differences and found that we actually agreed on a lot of points.  I suggested that later on in the year, around August, that we work together to put together a gender-blind horror anthology.  I'm not sure what the theme will be yet, but the point is that if there is a gender bias in horror, let's remove the gender tag of the author's name, and remove the gender bias.  I'm still working on the details, but I figure we can have a third-party, probably one of my gay friends so they don't have any stake in the contest, act as an impartial central-mailer.  They will receive and keep track of the submissions by the authors, and send Selene and I the submissions with the name of the author removed and have to unanimously agree on the quality of the final selections.
Then, at the end, when the contents are locked, we reveal if there is actually a gender bias based on the content of the stories
The kicker?  All proceeds will go to help women.
My knee-jerk first thought is to spend it on horror novels by women authors to donate to a domestic abuse shelter for women, but they're probably had enough horror in their lives that they won't want to read about horrifying things.
Ideally, if the sales are strong enough, I would like to contact a women's college and set up a creative writing scholarship that can be given away to help an actual women author.
I'm not sure if this is a mic drop moment, but I think it might be, so, here...

So what's all the fuss and why am I suddenly such a controversial person?
Because I spotted an obvious use of the vagina dentata and pointed it out.
For those of you that don't know what a "vagina dentata" is, which seems to be most of the people that have gotten upset, here's the Wikipedia listing:
Pretty much, a vagina with teeth.
It's not something I just came up with, although a lot of people seem to think I did.
It's a bit more complicated than that, so you may have to do some supplementary reading.
Here.  I'll Google it for you.  Go ahead and do some reading.  I'll wait.

As I said, I saw the cover picture I posted, and will post again by way of example, and immediately thought "vagina dentata".

I thought that was interesting, so I tried to find the least offensive picture of a vagina that I could find.  A picture from a textbook, presumably, and put this together.

With the accompanying message:
"This one's going to sting a little folks...
I like women.
Both as humans and as sexual partners and either and neither and both.
As long as they do the same amount and quality of work I believe they should receive the same amount of pay and vice versa.
But do you seriously think that a sideways vagina dentata with a huge clitoris is a great logo for your feminist horror movement?
I've read the feminist horror film theory and criticism have you?
If that's not a vagina dentata, then a knife plunging into a female victim isn't a substitute metal male penis being used out of impotence frustration.
Stay classy ladies.
Oh, and anyone that finds this offensive, grow up.
Every single one of you was shoved out of a vagina at birth and if the picture on the right of the attached image arouses you, you have a serious school book sex-ed diagram fetish.
Let's see how long this stays up before someone complains."

Okay, in hindsight, I admit that the message was a little confrontational, and being in an insomniacal stupor is not much of an excuse for being confrontational.
But I stand by what I noticed.  That is clearly a vagina dentata.

Coincidentally, I was as surprised by and enlightened as anyone else when I first read about the vagina dentata while reading feminist horror film theory.
It also ruined the film "Teeth" (2007) when someone tried to recommend it to me.
I took one look at the DVD and said, "Vagina dentata." and the person recommending the film said, "What?".  I said, "Vagina dentata.  A vagina with teeth."  They said "How did you know?" and I tried to give them a simplified version of the feminist/Freudian concept of the vagina dentata.

I figured I couldn't be the only person that noticed this and that everyone knew what a vagina dentata was and that at most I would get a few likes and comments and that would be it.

Instead, people lost their motherfucking minds.

Some people didn't.
Some people knew what a vagina dentata is and just shrugged it off, with a "Well, duh!"
They were in the minority.
Most people became self-righteously offended and posted some really fucked up comments insulting me as a person, and when I left the thread to work on a painting yesterday and the conversation continued in my absence, insulting others that decided to participate in the conversation.
Keep in mind, I didn't ask anyone to check it out and comment to stoke the controversy.
Anyone that I'm acquainted with that decided to participate in the conversation did so of their own free will.  I just posted it, rode the thread for a few hours and defended my position with as much civility as I could, defending myself against personal attacks and trying to unsuccessfully keep the conversation focused on whether or not this was obviously a vagina dentata and to discuss the concept of the vagina dentata by way of feminist criticism and them clicked "Stop notifications." because it didn't seem like there was any constructive conversation to be had.
Then I woke up this morning as an infamous misogynist.

What I find most interesting about this now, is not the whole "vagina dentata" thing, but just how vile people can be to someone they don't know personally using the internet.
I know... it's the internet.
It's a hive of scum and villainy and cat memes and porn.
But for people that consider themselves so self-righteous, and pious and defenders of women, there was some seriously fucked up hateful misogynistic shit said.

As I said, before, and this time I'm a bit more well-prepared, "This one's going to sting a little folks...".  I'm going to name names and show you exactly who has been saying what.

I'm posting this now, as I gather my reference materials so feel free to read this as a preamble.
I'll be updating with screenshots of all of the wonderful, kind, gracious, pious people as the day goes on.

For example, Allison M. Dickson, decided to comment on Twitter with this:

And, believe it or not, I sincerely was, and am, offended.
I would never say anyone was "asking for it".
I've been in relationships with women that have been victims of rape and molestation and it's really not much of a laughing matter, but, keep in mind, that's what she said.
Her words, not mine.

This seems to be a result of Chuck Wendig deciding that he was offended and posting a blog about his offense.
I hate giving him the page hits, but it's necessary for the purposes of this conversation, and if you scroll down and read the comments they are amazing.

He also posted a link to the blog on Twitter which, I assume, is why Allison, someone who did not know me, and does not know me decided to attack me on Twitter based on someone else's opinionated paraphrasing of my intent filtered through their offense.
I didn't go looking for Chuck Wendig to try to start trouble with him.
He came looking for something to be offended by and then posted a defamatory post about me and someone brought it ti my attention.

This is Chuck Wendig's comment on my post.
Keep in mind, Chuck and I were not previously acquainted so he went looking for something to be offended by, knowing that he would probably be offended by it.
This is what Chuck had to say as a comment in public in the thread:
"This entire thread is actually pretty shitty. If anybody wonders why women sometimes feel unwelcome in genre spaces -- it's because of posts and threads like this one.
Nice work, folks. Way to be part of a problem instead of its solution. Way to see a set of red, vampire lips and say that what YOU see instead is a place to stick your penis. High class.
Fair shot.  I did compare lips to a vagina.
I didn't say anything about my penis though.  Maybe Chuck just has my penis on his mind.

Now, this is what he had to say publicly on his blog:
"Saw some toolbag “horror author” this morning on my FB feed post this thing about how some WOMEN IN HORROR group is advertising itself using an image of a vampire woman (replete with fangs) licking blood from her lips.
And said toolbag whipped up an image that put this banner image next to the anatomical image of a woman’s vagina and from there proceeded to explain how it was silly for this feminist group to advertise their efforts using what was effectively a woman’s ladyparts. He also explained that women paint their lips red in order to simulate flushed labia. Translation: he sees every woman’s mouth as a place for him to, erm, stick it.
In the comments, which were a delightful circus act of dipshittery, he went on to explain that OH IT’S OKAY because he took a writing class taught by a lesbian once (why is it that lesbians are the token “black friends” of misogynists everywhere?) and he was the only man in that class and it was cool to have to defend the male gender from all their misinformation.
I don’t have much to say here except, goddamn. What the fuck is wrong with people?
I want to excise all this toxic stuff out of genre. Because most genre authors are awesome.
And this was decidedly not awesome.
And we wonder why women don’t feel welcome at the table.

So, we start with character assassination.
Because he's a mature adult and mature adults use "toolbag" to refer to people they disagree with.
I'm not a "horror author" I write in many different genres, but that shows how much Chuck knows about me.
I didn't say it was "silly" I said that it was a paradox.
"He also explained that women paint their lips red in order to simulate flushed labia. Translation: he sees every woman’s mouth as a place for him to, erm, stick it."
I did say, "that women paint their lips red in order to simulate flushed labia". because they do.  I thought that the premise was generally accepted and if not, then someone had better be able to explain why women spend millions of dollars a year on lipstick.  It's the same reason that women wear bras that push their breasts together to enhance their cleavage.  It's a secondary sex characteristic.  If it's just a matter of back support, there's be no need for padded bras or "push-up" bras.
It's the same reason that women use eye make-up to accentuate their eyes.  Women who say that they "just do it to make themselves feel pretty" are inadvertently supporting this premise.  Pretty as in attractive?  Attractive how?  To whom?
As far as seeing every woman's mouth as a place to "stick it" presumably referring to my penis.  That's a misattribution and the equivalent of slander.
And, seriously, Chuck, stop fixating on my penis.
If you really want to see it, just ask and I'll send you a picture.
He goes on to say, "In the comments, which were a delightful circus act of dipshittery, he went on to explain that OH IT’S OKAY because he took a writing class taught by a lesbian once (why is it that lesbians are the token “black friends” of misogynists everywhere?) and he was the only man in that class and it was cool to have to defend the male gender from all their misinformation."
So, he suggests, by analogy that I am also a racist, which was a pretty common trend in the "discussion" in the comment thread.
I'm not going to trot out a list of all of my friends that are female, gay, transgender, and of a different "race" than I because that's demeaning to them, because I don't think of them that way.  I think of my friends as my friends, not my female, gay, transgender, or "black friends".
But that was a really awkward attempt at trying to compare sexism with racism and it doesn;t stick.  I'm not a sexist or a racist or a homophobe.  I don't care what you are or who you fuck as long as you're a decent person.
Chuck thought he knew everything there was to know about me based on one thing he saw from someone he didn't know that offended him.
Judging someone without getting to know them first?
Last I checked, that was a pretty decent definition of "prejudice".

I also never said it was cool to have to defend the male gender from all of "their misinformation".  If he had asked for clarification instead of paraphrasing what he thought I said and attributing it to me as an actual statement, again, slander, I would have explained that all semester long, the girls in the class were trying to use the class as a misanthropic venting session, and, being the only man in the class I was pretty much put on trial for having a penis for a whole semester and had to defend myself against the blanket accusation for everything awful that men have ever done in recorded history.
I didn't go in there looking to fuck with a bunch of college girls.
I liked the teacher, we got along well, she was teaching a class and it would fill one of my distribution requirements so I strapped on my armor and threw myself into the den of the lionesses.
I got a little taste of what it was like to be a woman in a man's world.
It was a really eye-opening experience.
It also showed me that women can be just as sexist as men when given the opportunity and superior numbers.
I'm not complaining.  I knew what I was in for, taking a Women's Studies class as a male, and I admit I was trying to prove a point and that over-all it was a positive experience.

So, Chuck, I ask you, if you really want to "excise all this toxic stuff out of genre." why not start out by excising all of the toxicity out of your blog post?
You could start by not being prejudiced and paraphrasing misattributions.
The things that you say that I said, that I never actually said, are much more revealing about who you are as a person than anything derogatory I could ever say about you.
No wonder the comment thread is full of righteous indignation and reactionary vitriol.
If I had read your post, not knowing who it was about, I would be offended also.
As things stand, I'm not offended by what I said, I'm offended by what you said.
You paraphrased, lied, insulted me personally without knowing me and misattributed my statements reframing the conversation into what you wanted it to be.
I find you to be reactionary, small-minded, prejudiced, slanderous and not a very nice person.
If you would like to have a conversation or a public debate to defend yourself against the preceding I would welcome the opportunity to defend my original statement using my actual words to explain what I actually meant rather than your misattributed paraphrasing.
We could co-host a call-in blog or do a Skype chat and everyone can feel free to chip in and tell me all of the horrible things that they think I said, and call me all sorts of names and try to hurt my feelings by accusing me of being a sexist, and a racist and of being impotent, or having a small penis or being afraid of women or whatever they have to get off their chest.
For that matter, if you can think of a way that we can use it to help sponsor some kind of Women In Horror Month Event that focuses on the accomplishments of women in the genre that aren't actively exploiting the phenomenon for the purposes of self-promotion I would be more than pleased to do so.
As I may or may not have clarified, my problem is not with celebrating the contribution of women towards the horror genre.
My problem was the self-promotional nature, the special entitlement that is demanded, and the paradoxical dichotomy of not wanting to be objectified and treated differently as women working in what is generally accepted as a male-dominated genre, but simultaneously wanting to be treated differently for being women.
You can't claim to be insulted for being treated differently and suggest that the solution is that you be treated differently.
I mean, different in a better way, obviously, I get that.
Not as a series of holes for penises to be put in or body parts to be glazed with semen.
I fully support that.  I don't look at women that way as a general rule.
If the paradox inherent in that is not clear, then this blog post was probably not for you.
Also, before you start typing a scathing response, I suggest that you do a little reading.
Here are two books on feminist film criticism, written by women, by the way, that should set you straight on a few things about "Women In Horror".

Oh my!
Look at that scandalous book cover!
What could that woman possibly be thinking by using a pair of reddened lips presented sideways as her book cover.
Perhaps she was suggesting something?
I'm sure that Chuck Wendig has an opinion about Barbara Creed and wants the world to know his opinion.
I'd love to be a part of that conversation.  Can we make that happen?


  1. UPDATE:
    Just to show that not everyone is vile, reactionary and prejudiced, I am posting a part of a conversation that I have been having in private.
    I have removed their identity as I am not trying to make people take sides or inadvertently expose them to any resultant backlash.
    THIS is how to have a conversation about something that you disagree about.

    "You make a lot of valid arguments, I still disgaree a lot with you, and I still feel that you're going to get shit. I think your original point-whether rightly or wrongly, got lost in the thread because of the **gasp** vagina picture hahaha, and I don't think that you'll scrape your way out of that. I mean you're right, the original point of lipstick, many a year ago was to replicate the look of an aroused vagina. If women can't deal with that then they are very silly. I mean, it is what it is. Now they wear it without realising the full meaning, and that's not your fault, that's there's. Or maybe society for forgetting important shit like that. Regardless, the vampire mouth with the tongue sticking out ISN'T supposed to represent the vagina, just like if it was a male vampire mouth with the tongue sticking out doesn't represent a cock. The similarity is there, no doubt, but that's not what the image is about. Or maybe it is, when you really break it down, and maybe we're all uneducated fools that just see a female vampire mouth, licking a bit of blood up and find the image sexy, the vamprie just happens to wear lipstick- but hell, that could be a dudes mouth for all we know. So, personally, I think that you read too much into the image and gave yourself a bad name by trying to put this arhument out there. WiHM is a great thing, it's ALL for self promotion. To promote women who write horror. ALL OF IT. EVERY DAMN THING. It's shameless, and yes we're using the fact that we're women to sell books and get people to take notice of us, just the same as if someone put up a post and said 'anyone who writes about ginger people come promote yourself here.' Then you might think, 'hey, I write about ginger people, I'm going to do that and get people to see me in this huge industry.' Or maybe you wouldn't. Personally I don't think that there is anything wrong with that. But then if you look on my website, you'll see I promote other writers a lot. It's my 'give back' I guess. Or maybe I just think my readers would like to know about other books I think are cool or are within their genre and so i like to promote them, because this whole fucking industry is big enough for everyone. We just have to get ourselves seen somehow first. Sheesh, sorry about that. I forgot my first point. Anyway, this isn't in any way a dig or jibe against you. You're entitled to your opinion, even if I disagree with it. That's the great thing about the world. Ps. Ignore the haters. I actually think it's kinda cool that oyu stood up for your point...even if I do think that you're wrong"

  2. With all due respect, I have to point out that Chuck Wendig never named you in his blog post (aside from "toolbag"), and he never posted a link to your Facebook page. You may find his language disrespectful, but I'd say the fact that he didn't say "Scott Lefebvre did this and here's where you can find him" keeps this from falling under slander. And to be fair, he only makes one (implied) reference to a penis, which doesn't exactly count as a preoccupation with yours. I know you're angry and defensive, and Chuck (like so many other people) certainly was, and he drew some conclusions––as people tend to do when they get riled up. We all need to vent now and then, and sometimes we feel it best to use the Internet to do so. Sometimes we see red and just go running into a situation. We're all human.

    Ultimately, I feel this is an argument that could go on forever. Is it meant to resemble a vagina or isn't it? Even if it is and it is meant to play into sexual symbolism that you feel runs contrary to the spirit of a feminist message, it was still a marketing decision made by a person or small group of people, not by all women collectively. We're not talking about a national holiday with a centralized Government authority overseeing it. Different women will choose to celebrate and promote it in different ways. Some women will choose to say "Hey, I'm a woman, buy my book." Some will say, "Let's take a moment to focus on all the talented female horror writers out there." I saw one promotional image that used a Friday the 13th-style hockey mask with the female gender symbol emblazoned on it. This is the main image on the Women in Horror Month website. There are also additional promotional materials floating around with different looks.

    One of the reasons why so many people are angry at you is because they feel that you don't have any personal or financial stake in the issue of allegedly vaginal imagery being used to promote Women in Horror Month. They don't feel it really effects you. It's one month out of the year that doesn't preclude you from promoting or selling your own fiction. Yes, as a man, you're subjected to certain gender biases, and some people have the preconceived notion that you must be a sexist for even bringing this thing up. But the fact is you aren't a woman, and regardless of how well-meaning or educated your perspective is, you can't fully put yourself in a woman's shoes–just as a woman can't fully put herself in a man's shoes. Bear in mind that there are also many different schools of feminist thought, which is why some people (despite the studies you use as evidence) don't agree with you on the concept of vagina dentata.

    We've all brought our respective backgrounds, biases, and life experiences to this argument. You want so much to show why you feel the way you do and why you feel that you're right. And, naturally, other people will do the same. It's doubtful that any of us can truly be objective about it.

  3. As a woman who sometimes writes horror and has read a whole lot of it, I think the image of the sexy lips is kind of cheap, obvious, and insulting. Whether it's supposed to be an alluring mouth, a vagina with teeth, or both, it's a sexualized image used to represent a large group of women and a large body of work. I'm also part of the geek community, where hyper sexualization of the female form has been the focus of debate for some time now. It seems we -- women included -- can't find a way to represent the female gender that isn't overtly sexual. That's a problem.

    I fully embrace my nature as a sexual being. I wear red lipstick and know exactly why it works on men. I'm fond of my cleavage and sometimes choose to display it prominently. But you know, I wouldn't put those things a book jacket or a business card, and I don't care for their use in an image that's supposed to represent the comprehensive contribution of women in horror. If we can't get past the use of sexuality to represent womanhood, how can we expect to tackle issues like institutionalized sexism, the feminization of poverty, and rape culture?

    Adrienne Dellwo

  4. I should add that, while it may seem purely self-promotional, we do need things like Women in Horror Month. Whether it's statistically measurable or not, women do still face considerable discrimination in the publishing industry. Female authors are routinely sexually harassed by editors and publishers at conventions with threats made against their careers, which speaks to how at least a portion of the industry views us. The fact that some men (and I'm not saying this includes you, Scott) hear about Women in Horror Month and immediately jump to sexist and even threatening language speaks to how at least a portion of society views us.

    Looking further into the sexy lips logo, I've found that it was designed by a man who works with women who have a very sexy brand. While the logo may be appropriate for them, I really don't like it applied to all of us. I think if it hadn't been for the vagina comparison and ensuing controversy, a lot of people who are embracing it would have been bothered by the objectification.