Friday, June 15, 2012

Anita Blake: Faux Champion of Sexual Agency

Many people, especially ex-fans of Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series have become very strong critics of the series, especially after Narcissus in Chains. Myself included. Before this point, Anita was a strong, determined female character, she made her own rules and decisions, she was the dominant actor in her own life – she had issues, certainly and was far from perfect, but she was a strong character in a rich, diverse world with interesting and often surprisingly deep issues.

And then the ardeur landed, after which opening each book came accompanied by bow-chika-wow-wow porn music. The plot and the world took a back seat to random sex scenes and unnecessary and not very edgy orgies which occasionally sprouted new magic powers (humping to level up!) and people were disappointed that such a great series had devolved into such a plotless wonder.

And in response to the criticism, the straw man was raised that the critics were prudes who were against a sexually pro-active, powerful woman and there’d be no problem if the protagonist was a man. Which is a shame because it misses the actual complaint – that the books were a really well written, fascinating series of books that had all the plot and development cast aside. I don’t actually mind Meredith Gentry – because Meredith Gentry has been squeezing plot in between the endless sex scenes and occasionally humping to a new level of magic since book 1.

But let us examine this straw man a little closer – Anita is a sexually pro-active woman. Is she? Because I question this a lot.

Now, I very much like a book that includes a woman who is in charge of her own sexuality, has sex as and when she wants to, with whom she wishes, without pressure and without shame. I love that and praise that. But Anita Blake is not that woman, primarily because Anita Blake did not choose her sex life, did not seek it out – and most dramatically, did not consent to it.

That sounds extreme, but look at Anita’s sexual encounters. Start with the more casual of them, the one offs. The vast majority of these happened because the ardeur struck and Anita physically had to have sex – absolutely had to. If she didn’t she’d literally go mad, starve or drain energy from Nathaniel and Damien and kill them. She has to have sex now to save her life or the lives of people she cares about. If she had her own choice, completely un-coerced and without these supernatural pressures, would Anita have ever had sex with London or Byron or Requiem or Graham or Wicked or Truth? I don’t think anyone can claim that Anita would have chosen these sexual encounters, but the magic forced her. Do I even have to mention the weretiger orgy that happened under the influence of Belle Morte? Anita blacked out for that one and still has no memory of what she did/what was done to her.

And they’re not the only metaphysical emergencies that force Anita into sexual contact. Channeling Raina’s Munin (magical werewolf ghost) to heal forced to initiate sexual contact with Nathaniel (twice), Jamal, Jason and Gregory all, again, at times when she would not have consented to or sought sex with any of them. Healing her triumvirate has driven her to deep ardeur feedings with the heads of different shapeshifter packs, Donovan Reece of the swanmanes, Rafael of the wererats and even tried for Joseph of the werelions (who refused due to being monogamous. She actually refuses protection for him that would lead to his death for not having sex with her). Again, would Anita without pressure or coercion have chosen these sexual encounters? Given the character, I don’t think you can sensibly say Anita would have freely chosen this and that this sex was of her own un-coerced volition.

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