Remember the time I told you about that story, "Instructional" by Brandi Wells over on Pank, you know, my political ally (sorry for repeating a dumb joke). Well, over at htmlgiant, my friend Ryan Call has initiated a discussion about whether a man could "get away" with writing such a story.
"Instructional" is uncomfortable stuff. It begins:
Grab me by the back of my neck and slam me facedown on the desk, so my cheek is against the slick wood surface and the desk corner juts into my stomach.
Pull my skirt up roughly (because, really, doesn’t it have to be a skirt? It’d be hard to rape someone in jeans. Especially skinny jeans).
Pull your cock out-
And it only gets more painful to read from there. It may come off as one woman's demented sexual fantasy, but the lack of context invites readers to provide their own, adding layers to the story. Is this a woman being raped? A rapist's thoughts while in action? Or an attempt to change sexual power dynamics?
It inspires a lot of thought. That's what good fiction does. Initially, I dismissed the story. In an interview with Pank associate editor, Roxane Gay, Gay describes it as a love it or hate it work. I thought it was neither, just an attempt to shock. But the work stayed with me and I kept asking myself questions both about the story and the authorial intent.
I e-mailed Wells a week or so ago and asked her the most banal of those questions. I wondered about the response she was getting. Publicly it was nothing but positive comments. She said that while she's gotten negative feedback about other similarly themed stories, she had gotten no negative feedback on "Instructional." On htmlgiant, all comments were positive also. Perhaps it's not as shocking a piece as many of us think it is.
For what it's worth, here are some of my comments over at the htmlgiant discussion (feel free to join in):
I think a more interesting question is, How would our reading of the story change if it had been written by a man? I remember being “relieved,” for lack of a better word, that a woman was the author. One thing I liked about the story was that it caused a lot of discomfort. Is the narrarator serious? Fantasizing? Attempting to wrest control in an uncontrollable situation? Am I “viewing” a rape? BDSM play? How should I feel about all of this? If it were written by a man there would be that extra layer of discomfort. Not sure if that would be a good or a bad thing.
Since we are in the world of fiction though, that discomfort (for me at least) would evaporate pretty quickly. And I would be impressed by the story the same way.