This post is a public response to an email sent by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, asking all erotic writers to take down any books that contravene their Terms of Service
I thank you for taking the time to write all published erotica writers offering their work for sale on Smashwords. I thank you for the effort you took in explaining why Smashwords has decided to allow a plutocracy to determine what is or is not publishable on your groundbreaking and exceptional site.
I applaud your passionate defense of creative freedom amongst erotica writers, as long as it is eroticism that you personally find acceptable.
Let me offer you some thoughts in return for your very generous ones.
First, let us be clear about the law. There is no legal issue with literary representations of any form of sexuality besides pedophilia. None. You and Paypal may feel morally discomforted by what, in literature, some people find arousing, but let us be clear: fictional, textual depictions of pedophilia are the only content that is specifically prohibited by law. All other forms of explicit material must bear the legal test of containing ‘no artistic merit’ in order to be considered an ‘obscene publication’. As a writer, although I find the standard to be highly subjective, is one I can live with comfortably. My work has literary artistic merit. So let us be clear, since Smashwords has always prohibited the publication of material containing underage sex. This is not a legal decision, it is a moralistic and financial one.
You wrote: “PayPal is requiring Smashwords to immediately begin removing the above-mentioned categories of books.”
No, sir. Smashwords is requiring the removal of these books to maintain its relationship with Paypal. Please let us be clear on this. I am sure your aspirations regarding the founding of Smashwords were and are very noble. But it is YOU who have decided to let a financial services provider dictate your TOS and therefore impose censorship on the authors who post their works on your site.
Secondly, you, like so many other people seem to have intellectual difficulty in distinguishing between the textual, fictional representation of something and reality. The language you use in your letter is evidence of a conceptual inability to do so. You are not alone in this: forces within our society who wish to ‘protect us’ from ourselves have used this blurring of the fictional with the concrete to great effect, whipping people who also can’t distinguish the fundamental difference up into froths of moral outrage.
So, although I thoroughly condemn incest, bestiality, rape and necrophilia, I am quite capable of distinguishing between those acts in reality and fictionalized texts that contain descriptions of them. Scenarios played out within the pages of a fictional text are NOT crimes, sir. Although for the last 50 years, scientists with deplorably transparent agendas have sought to prove a link between textual depictions of sexual violence and sex crimes in the real world, they have not succeeded in doing so. In fact, quite the opposite. Cultures that tolerate highly sexualized, graphic depictions of rape, such as Japan, have some of the lowest rates of rape in the world. While countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, with only a debated 67.2% literacy rate, little access to erotic fiction, no significant pornography industry and low internet access, have among the highest incidence of violent rape in the world.
Or, if sexual torture is your concern, it is good to remember that Egypt, with an outright ban on erotic fiction, has the highest rate of female circumcision in the world. And if a clitorectomy doesn’t count as sexual torture, I’m not sure what does.
So please do not make a pretense of care for social order or good corporate citizenship. These arguments hold no water and they never have. They have been assumed to have validity by dint of constant and irrational repetition.
Literature has always been the place where humans have been able to safely explore the darker sides of our natures, especially our sexual natures. And although I do not find fiction containing incest, bestiality or necrophilia erotic, I find that as an adult, I can simply choose not to buy or read fiction containing eroticised subjects that I find offensive, or disturbing or amoral.
You, sir, do me a deep disservice by patronizingly assuming I cannot choose my reading material for myself. Yes, you. Like the Church in the Middle Ages who felt women should read nothing but religious texts if anything, like the pseudo-scientists of the Victorian era who warned that Gothic novels were dangerous and ‘too unsettling’ for a woman’s sensibilities. Like the sexist, elitist male literary critics who have so derided the romance novel… You are there, numbered amongst the age-old Masculinist Hegemony who have sought for millenia to prohibited me from finding my personal expression as a writer and as a reader.
Just about now I am sure you are scratching your head and wondering what this has to do with feminism. Well, it may be because the huge majority of erotica writer are women, and so are their readers. Please read on.
Although our Terms of Service prohibits books that advocate violence
against others, we did not specifically identify rape. This was an oversight
on our part. Now we have clarified the policy. We do not want books that contain
rape for the purpose of titillation. At Smashwords, rape has no longer has a
place in erotica. It has no place anywhere else if the purpose is to titillate.
Non-consensual BDSM – or any other form of non-consensual violence against another person – is prohibited.
Fictional depictions of violence do not ‘advocate violence’, and fictional depictions of rape do not advocate rape. If someone submits a non-fiction text for sale with you, advocating either, I will be the first person to agree that you should not sell it. However, fiction, sir, is FICTION. And although I understand how you, as a male, may be puzzled as to why eroticized fictional depictions of rape are erotic to some women, I am disappointed that you did not think a little more clearly about the matter.
40% of women have non-consensual sexual fantasies. I’m not pulling this figure out of my ass, sir. There is an excellent study (unlike some of the shoddy pseudo-scientific studies seeking to link erotica with sexual violence) by Joseph W. Critelli and Jenny M. Bivona “Women’s erotic rape fantasies: an evaluation of theory and research” which estimates that in fact, the numbers are slightly higher.
There have been some intriguing attempts to answer the question of why so many women have these fantasies and a considerable number of feminist critics who have sought to humiliate the women who have them, but nonetheless, for whatever reason, we do. And I claim it as my right, as a writer and as a woman, to explore this phenomenon in my fiction.
The fact that you would seek to stand among the moralizing, intolerant, sexist multitudes who would participate in censoring me is shameful. Because you… the person who started Smashwords, the person who wrote: “We read fiction to be moved, and to feel. Sometimes we want to feel touched, moved, or disturbed. A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved” has just denied me the right to do so – as a writer, as a woman, as a reader.
The publishers who published Nabakov did not sanction pedophilia. The publishers who published Yukio Mishima, or deSade, or Henry Miller did not sanction the morality in reality of what was contained fictionally in their novels. They sanctioned the prerogative of literature to fully explore humanity, no matter how dark the fictionalized explorations might be. They sanctioned the author’s right to explore it and the reader’s right to explore it in his or her turn.
Smashwords, sir, is NO GROVE PRESS.
But of all the hidden insults in your letter, the worst by far is your request for me to take down my own work. Sir, if you wish to censor me, you will have to do so yourself. How dare you tell me you will censor me and then have the gall to demand I save you the trouble by doing it myself. That is akin to forcing an prisoner awaiting execution to dig his own grave and put on his own blindfold.
I will not participate in my own repression. I refuse to act as my own censor.
That, sir, is a refusal to take responsibility for the deeply unethical thing you do. If you have decided that what I write requires censoring, then at least have the courage to wield the axe yourself.
You wrote: “From an imagination perspective, erotica is little different from a literary novel that puts us inside the mind of farm animals (1984)”
Sir, I think you are referring to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, not Nineteen Eighty-Four. And considering the compelling philosophical principles both those novels explored and the intellectual freedom that they so passionately and eloquently sought to defend, the fact that you have mistaken one for the other may go some way to explaining why you thought your letter was appropriate.
Welcome to Oceania, Citizen Coker.
Your Newspeak is exemplary.
There’s a place for you in the Party.