Monday, September 24, 2012

I Don't Get It

By Lisabet Sarai

Kathleen is responsible for our current topic, a discussion of how secondary female characters are stereotyped as conniving bitches in erotica and erotic romance. All I can say is, “Duh?”

I don't watch television, so I've never seen more than snippets of “True Blood”. However, I can't recall seeing this sort of trend in the erotica and erotic romance that I personally read. For instance, I just finished K.D. Grace's novel Surrogates. The heroine Francie is close friends with her employer Bel, even though Francie and Bel's husband are having a secret affair (with rather odd limits). Bel perhaps seems less appealing than Francie – she's a bit materialistic, and not completely honest with her husband – but I'd hardly call her a bitch. In fact, in the mistaken belief that Francie's suffering from loneliness and sexual frustration, Bel tries to set her friend up with a charming and handsome escort.

Meanwhile, in my own fiction, the other women who enter my heroine's life are more likely to end up as her lovers than her rivals or enemies. In Raw Silk, Kate finds herself in a steamy ménage a quartre with Thai maid Orapin. Miranda's roommate Lucy, in Incognito, role-plays a submissive student to Miranda's stern teacher as well as sharing her fiance with her studious friend. Even Francesca in my thriller Exposure, who is duplicitous and power hungry, and might, indeed, be a murderer, has a soft spot for my heroine Stella. The closest character to a bitch in any of my work might be Ruby Maxwell Chen in Ruby's Rules. However, she's the main character, not a secondary female.

In short, I just don't get it.

Given that I haven't really observed this pattern, there's not much I can say about it. However, to make your time worthwhile, I'll end with a quick excerpt from Exposure, highlighting the interactions between Stella and Francesca.

"Tell me more, Stella. I want to know everything." She leans forward, her tears gone.
Her eagerness makes me suspicious. Why in the world should I trust her? She has every reason to hate me, the floozy who was with her husband when he was murdered.
"That's it. After that – there was just two dead bodies and a lot of blood." I remember how Tony looked, empty, all his life and power gone. At the time I was too shocked to know I was afraid, but now the horror hits me, full force. I am confused and dizzy, and suddenly I am shaking again, my breath coming in gasps, close to hysteria.
I feel her arms around me. She's comforting me now; my head is on her chest. "Hush, Stella, it's okay. Don't worry. It's over. You're safe. It's terrible, but now you're safe."
I'm sobbing, gulping in air, trying to get control of myself. Still I notice that her breast is pleasantly round and firm beneath my cheek. Her scent envelops me in a sensuous cloud. She runs her fingers through my hair, working out the tangles, while she croons in my ear. I begin to feel a bit better, and then suddenly, she slips her hand inside my robe and begins to stroke my breast with cool, delicate fingers.
I raise my head and look into her eyes. Her lips curve into a half-smile. She leans down and kisses me, open-mouthed. I kiss her back.
It is as if I am watching myself from a distance. I feel the sensations, her smooth skin, her minty taste, the tickle of her hair as she bends to suck on my nipples. I can't understand why her touch arouses me so much. I'm still afraid, still suspicious, but the sensation of her tongue prodding my swollen flesh pushes everything else into the background. She nips at me. My cunt contracts into a tight knot, aching to be undone. She laps more gently, circling my nipples with her tongue. My sex relaxes, opens, trembles waiting for her next assault.
I am eager, wet and ready when her fingers find my cleft. I clutch desperately at her dress, arching my back and humping myself against her hand while she plays with my tits. She finds my rigid clit and works it with her thumb while her fingers play in my pussy. I squeeze my eyes shut, grinding against her, reaching for the climax that seems only a breath away. Pleasure washes over me, each wave more powerful than the last. Her fingers strum and stroke. My whole body vibrates with sensation, ready to shake itself apart, as I teeter on the edge for what feels like forever.
I feel all this and yet I am far away, wondering who this woman is, wondering why she wants to give me pleasure and why I am allowing her to. My orgasm is shattering and yet it seems to occur behind a wall of glass. I am divided from myself in a way that is totally foreign to me. It's a little frightening.
None of it seems real again until I find myself slumped in the chair, still panting, my robe hanging open, my thighs sticky. The kitchen reeks of sex. Francesca seems cool and collected. She smiles enigmatically and finishes her scotch.

Francesca is an opportunist, perhaps. A sensualist, definitely. But not, I think, the sort of bitch Kathleen is talking about.


  1. Thanks for bringing up this very interesting topic, Lisabet. I'd love to say more on it, but I'm afraid that what I have to say would simply be too much for this space ;) And I agree, no bitch there!

  2. I'm going to so sad if everyone say "I don't see it." (Meaning other books, not your excerpt) I'm going to be even sadder if a lot of women simply think the portrayal of psycho-bitch ex-gfs and mean girls the way women really are.

  3. I can only speak to my experience. The reason I portrayed my secondary female character as bitchy was to incur empathy for my heroine. Since my female lead is doing something she shouldn't, pursuing her husband's brother who is also married. Any way you look at it, that's adultery, its wrong, but if you portray the brother's wife as unreasonable, it makes the reader think, oh well, he's better off without the wife, its okay, go ahead and do the sister-in-law. And do her often! The story is also written from the heroine's POV, so stands to reason, she would portray the sister-in-law, at least in her own mind, as lacking.

    I agree with Amber, Francesca is not a bitch but wow does she have self control or what. Just smiles and downs the scotch. Whoo ahhh!!!

    The excerpt was sizzling, Lisabet, as usual!

  4. Definitely not a bitch. Sometimes I think authors use the secondary characters to vent their own displeasure with things, without realizing how much it turns off the reader. The other thing is, a lot of writers make those characters snarky, or at least they think they do, but in fact they turn out to be Grade A bitches. Hmm. BTW, Raw Silk is still one of my favorites.

  5. Lisabet, I'm glad you don't create bitchy secondary characters, but I have seen this sort of thing. In older lit, the bitch is called The Rival (e.g. the Baroness in The Sound of Music). If she's The Rival, she has to be shown as less worthy of the hero than is the heroine. This is a juicy topic -- hope I can say something meaningful about it.

  6. Hi, Amber!

    Thanks for dropping by in advance of your own post.

  7. Greetings, Sage,

    Well, you get around this problem by writing guys...! Anyway, it's not my topic. However, since I wrote this post, I've had some additional thoughts. More below.

  8. Kathleen,

    I doubt that women really think that way. But I'm not normal, so it's hard to tell. I find it exciting when my husband is turned on by other women and vice versa. I won't say that I don't have a jealous bone in my body - that's not true, since I've definitely been envious of other women - but sexual jealousy is a bit foreign to me.

  9. Hello, H.K.,

    I'm really glad you dropped by to join the conversation. Actually, I just finished SWAP last night, and thought, "Hey, this is an example of exactly what Kathleen was talking about." I understand your objectives, but Cheryl seemed too awful to be true. That didn't stop me from enjoying the story, but in fact I think it would have been more interesting, and realistic if Cheryl had been a nice enough person, just extremely incompatible with Michael.

    I don't think it was necessary to justify Hailey's choice or behavior. One thing I loved about the book was your willingness to take on the topic of infidelity without either trivializing the gravity of the situation or condemning the characters. The reader can tell that both your hero and heroine are good people faced with an irresistible attraction. You don't need a monstrous ex-wife to rub it in!

    (I hope you don't think I'm being too critical... it's your book, and you're the one who's in control.)

  10. Hey, Desiree,

    What a fascinating theory - that the bitches are our alter-egos, used to vent!

    (Thanks for your kudos...!)

  11. Lisabet - I've never experienced sexual jealousy either. It seems destructive, so I don't want to. (although I'll admit there's something sexy/dangerous about a male lover who goes caveman - until it gets annoying and creepy)

  12. Hi Lisabet!

    Getting here a little late. I think mean bitches in fiction are a way of contrasting or shining a light on the heroine, making her a more sympathetic character. It's a dirty job but hey, somebody has to do it.



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