Over on my better known blog, Bad Books, Good Times, we’ve been reading the first in the House of Night series by Kristin and P.C. Cast. For the first time since we started the blog, we decided we had finally reached a large enough readership where it made sense for us to simply ask our readers what we should read next. We got a number a suggestions, which we then narrowed down a few times until we settled on Marked, the first House of Night book. We read the free sample on Amazon before choosing the book, and – filled with phony teen-speak and nonsensical pacing – it was one of the most unintentionally hilarious things I’d ever read.
Of course, being vampire young adult fiction, we were briefly concerned that maybe House of Night was too easy a target – who would actually expect it to be any good? Is there any point in tearing apart such low-hanging fruit? We decided to go with it anyway, because even if that were the case, we could use a sillier book that would require less effort to tear apart, since our dual reading of Jamie McGuire’s parallel novels Beautiful Disaster and Walking Disaster was proving rather taxing.
Obviously, I’ve gone into plenty of detail into this over on Bad Books, Good Times, which is presumably the only reason why you’re reading this post right now. But the offending passage that set us off – and, even more so, our readers – was the scene where Zoey walks in on a girl performing oral sex on a guy:
Yes, I was aware of the whole oral sex thing. I doubt if there’s a teenager alive in America today who isn’t aware that most of the adult public think we’re giving guys blow jobs like they used to give guys gum (or maybe more appropriately suckers). Okay, that’s just bullshit, and it’s always made me mad. Of course there are girls who think it’s “cool” to give guys head. Uh, they’re wrong. Those of us with functioning brains know that it is not cool to be used like that.
Once you adjust to the terrible quality of writing, there’s a really terrible message in here as well. Smarter people than myself have written plenty about healthy sex, but really all it comes down to and all I’d like to say here is that, between two consenting adults communicating properly about what they want and do not want, then what’s the issue if they’re both doing what makes them happy?
(There is, of course, another issue here in that the book zeroes in on fellatio as it decries moral decay vis a vis oral sex, whilst completely ignoring cunnilingus. The dearth of representation of female sexual pleasure and exclusivity of male sexual pleasure in the media is ironically on full display in this female-penned book, demonstrating how patriarchal social constructs are such an encompassing pitfall. Of course, this particular issue is also beyond the scope of the post I want to discuss right now, but worth taking note of and striving to learn more about. I’m unfortunately rather uneducated about this issue myself, and don’t know any readily available resources I can refer you to at the moment since I’ve only ever learned about this from lectures or panels that I very well can’t just share online.)
But getting back to my point, if Ariel and myself reacted angrily to this scene, it was nothing compared to the comments we got from our readers. People commented on that post and many posts to come about the absurdity of the novel’s message that oral sex is always bad (Ariel probably put it most succinctly in a response to a reader comment with “It’s such an insane blanket statement to say all blow jobs = being used”), to the point where our criticism of the slut shaming in Marked became a running joke (which sounds a little weird, but on Bad Books, Good Times, all things we hate simultaneously exist as jokes). It didn’t take long before one of our readers made this suggestion:
I feel like you should make a mug or a shirt or a bag that says “Proud Supporter of the Right to BJs!”
Ariel and I loved this idea and immediately set plans in motion. There were some problems with the creation process. Ariel does not know how to use Photoshop, so I typically do most of the designing for the blog – which covers the mugs. However, this was in no way my mug to make.
As a white, cis-gendered male who identifies as straight, I try very hard to check my privilege as much as I can, and to always learn more about how to identify when I’m not. Designing and selling a mug that said “Proud Supporter of Blow Jobs” as a man immediately struck me as more than a little problematic, and could very easily turn into just the worst thing ever.
I don’t necessarily feel like there is something inherently problematic about including a male voice in feminist discussion (which I’ve done previously for NPR), but given the sensitivity of this topic and that my own pro-blow job opinions are rooted in something somewhat distanced from the purpose of the proposed mug, I felt like my role in the mug design needed to be as minimal as possible. While Ariel didn’t think I really had all that much to be concerned about, ultimately I felt like this was my privilege that it was my responsibility to check (God, isn’t that just the worst idea ever? Non-privilege privilege). So I made sure that, via Facebook chat, we carefully discussed exactly what this mug might say. And by “carefully”, I mean “a lot of out conversation is usually just making jokes”.
I got you I’m just thinking if there was an image along with the words what could we show that would show it’s snarky but also feminist
Yeah, that’s the thing. It has to be super obviously feminist. And anti-slut shaming.
Is there a line we could add like along the lines of “proud supporters of blow jobs if that’s what you want to do”? Like something in parentheses? Proud supporter of blow jobs and female empowerment.
It is a tricky one. Something conveying the “if that’s what you want to do” angle.
Proud supporter of blow jobs, grilled cheese, and other things that are your choice.
Proud supporter of blow jobs, presents and other things that are your choice to give and receive
Wait, dang, between those two I’m really liking this.
Haha, Jeremy just took my phone and laughed so I think were in the right direction.
AHAHAHA I just thought of a terrible one. Since this all started by criticizing House of Night, the top of the mug: Proud Supporter of Blow Jobs. Middle: stick figure human and stick figure vampire. Bottom: “Suck what you choose to suck”
This is exactly why I should not be allowed to design this damn thing XD
Hahahaha I love it. I was originally going to say proud supporter of all blow jobs from human to vampyre but wasn’t sure it solved the feminist issue.
I decided to post these first few ideas on Bad Books, Good Times for some feedback, to ensure we were going in the right direction with this mug. I couldn’t resist including my own joke in there two. I admit I was a little bummed when the feedback for the mug didn’t mention my joke at all (although that’s probably more to do with the fact that that entire blog is hoping my jokes get good feedback), but ultimately that was exactly why I wanted to put it up there. I cut it from the process and focused it around the language that the community responded well to, and ultimately ended up with this:
Once again, actually including an image of a grilled cheese sandwich on there was Ariel’s idea after I wasn’t happy with my first mock-up (although this had nothing to do with checking, say, sandwich-privilege; comedy duos just have to turn to the other for jokes when they’re struggling sometimes). I’m really excited that we’ve finally got this thing made (and available for purchase hint hint).
So what’s the point of my story? Just a small, simple reminder that, really, it does not take much effort to bother to check your privilege. You’re not always going to get it right, but just stopping and thinking about whether there’s a perspective other than your own goes a long way, which is a good lesson in general.
Also that somehow I’ve become a person selling a feminist, anti-slut shaming mug about blow jobs on the internet. High school me would be befuddled.