A clue to one of the main themes of my fourth and most recent novel (published May this year) lies in the title: Objectification.
I’d say the seeds of this novel were sown in the ‘Noughties’ when my Inner Prude grew increasingly discomforted by the apparent creeping of porn culture into mainstream media. A little open-mouthed at the Music channels on TV which attracted a young audience, she sighed at the idolisation of a Page Three alumna turned role-model of young girls, felt let down when Dr Who’s ex-assistant played a call girl, based on a real-life postgraduate student spinning yarns and money, who justified selling sex as an ‘economic necessity’ (setting a precedent?) All above the watershed? Then came the Disney Girl Next Door wearing her genitalia on her sleeve so to speak, to name another of many influences, which include documentaries such as the one which featured a septuagenarian grandmother getting in on The Game, selfies and the rise of sexting. I could go on and on.
In 2014 when I began to work seriously on the novel, my goal, and greatest challenge, was to find out as much as I could about the nature of, influences on, and attitudes towards our ‘hyper-sexualised, so-called ‘Porn Culture’, and its normalisation and sanitisation, without resorting to porn itself. There was plenty out there to get my teeth into. Articles, videos, documentaries, recorded interviews, fiction, non-fiction, autobiographies, academic and journalistic research; anti-porn, sex-positive, feminist, conservative, informative, educational. I wanted context, and it was a long time before I felt ready to tackle it.
Why? It was hard-going. It was not an area I could approach coyly. My Primcess Inner Prude (Pip for short) was rattled. I had to bat her down a lot. But how was I going to deal with my material in a balanced and candid way without slipping into salacious or censorious tones? How would I bring in beauty, fun, humanity and humour? In the end I persevered and I’m glad I did. I overcame my fear of disapproval, the idea that dealing with this kind of dirt wasn’t nice; best swept under a glamorous rug. It isn’t nice, and whilst I believe that every generation has its own challenges to work through, and that most young people do find a healthy balance in popular culture, I believe we help protect them and progress by shedding light on and questioning darker influences. When is it wise to ignore bad behaviour or call it out?
Which brings me to the phenomena of Weinstein (once described as “wonderful” by Michelle Obama, a “God” by Meryl Streep) and others with a similar predatory mindset; rich and powerful men who have found they can no longer prey on women with impunity. Their behaviour cannot be separated from the culture they operate in. It was the responses of the Hollywood and wider community which brought to my mind the process of my novel. We move forward when we take responsibility for the ills of society with courage, compassion and honesty. That is why I am optimistic that the whistle-blowing on Weinstein and men of his ilk (without witch-hunting) heralds a change for the better.