Thursday, 13 November 2014

If Loving This Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Right: Reviewing @FeministaJones' "Push The Button"

If you have a free weekend and $5 to spare, then go get Feminista Jones' kinky debut novel, Push The Button. I promise it's a decision you won't regret.

At a little over 100 pages, Jones' erotic novel is an example of BDSM done right, with lots of steamy scenes and a tight narrative to keep you engaged. Without giving too much of the plot away, Push The Button is about a woman named Nicole who is in a committed submissive relationship with her boyfriend and later fiancé, David. Circumstance pits them both against an abusive former flame of hers in a situations that ramps up to a spectacular ending that will leave you literally begging for more. Push The Button  expertly strings you along like a lustful lover only to giggle with mirth as they leave you to climax on your own.

It's difficult to talk about erotica these days without mentioning the 50 Shades trilogy but according to Jones she doesn't mind. The story structure makes it very clear that Jones set out to counteract the way in which 50 Shades carelessly conflated BDSM with abusive tactics. Nicole's current flame David is meticulously contrasted with her past flame Marcus, and Jones goes to great lengths to dilligently demonstrate the line between consensual and forced submission. There is even an amazing passage in the final chapter (that I won't detail here to avoid spoilers) that deals with the different ways in which consent can be violated and the consequences that it can have.

I won't pretend that I didn't struggle with the at times. I consider myself a sex-positive feminist, and while I intellectually understand that BDSM is not abuse, I am unfamiliar with the intimacies of BDSM in practice, and there were definitely scenes in the book that left me a little uneasy because the lines of consent seemed blurred to me. But Jones, an established voice and advocate for sex positivity  clearly prepared for this effect. For every scene where I questioned whether Nicole was being taken advantage of, there was another that reminded me that her relationship was something that she entered into willingly with eyes wide open. In fact, in the story, Nicole is the one who teaches David how she prefers to be dominated, and slowly introduces him into "The Life." Jones makes sure to remind us that being sexually submissive is Nicole's choice and not something that we should pity her for. While it is easy to reactively connect some of the situations in the novel to emotional  or physical abuse, it's important for us to remember (and for Jones to remind us) that consent is key, and that voluntarily relinquishing control is entirely different from having it forced from you; a situation that Jones also deals with in detail.

Full disclosure, I was given a copy of this book for free for the purposes of writing this review, but I absolutely stand by everything I've said here. I'm not usually a fan of erotic novels, but Push The Button made me not only reconsider my stance, but also demonstrated that "erotic novel" doesn't have to be synonymous with "crappy story with some sex scenes thrown in." Jones is a great writer, and she manages to construct scenes that make you sweat and clutch your pearls while seamlessly tying them into a larger story with ever increasing stakes.

But the main thing I love about Push The Button is that it's a story about something that isn't necessarily mainstream that centers on a black woman. As with pretty much everything else in our culture, white people tend to be the face of kink, and it was refreshing to see the topic dealt with through black characters. In a way, it made my own curiosity about kink seem less strange or stigmatized, because the book allowed me to imagine people who look like me participating and enjoying themselves.

In her short debut, she makes us care about the well-being of her characters so much that the final chapter feels like a punch to the gut. Push The Button is a well crafted piece of fiction that I'm so glad I was exposed to, and you're missing out if you don't get yourself a copy.

Push The Button is available for sale from Amazon and Gumroad as an ebook download.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

On Using #GoneGirl As An Excuse For Misogynistic "Fear"

Recently I decided to break my standing rule about going to see movie adaptations blind, and went to see the Gone Girl move without having read the book. I had a vague idea of the plot from the book's reputation, but for the most part, I didn't know the story going in. Ever since then, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the way that people in my circles (both online and off) have been reacting to it. It struck me as telling that nearly all the men I know have come away from the movie with a conclusion somewhere in the range of "ZOMG BITCHES BE CRAZY." And yes, Amy is "crazy" and manipulative and narcissistic and pathological, but it occurred to me that she is also just the inverse of all the men that women fear in real life.

In the movie, after discovering that Nick is cheating on her, Amy frames Nick for her murder. But on a deeper level, Amy sets him up for failing. For not living up to her expectations for him. For no longer being the bright young guy that she agreed to marry. She punishes him for being a disappointment and for daring not to meet her at her level. In real life, women actually get murdered for much less. And to me, that's what makes Amy's fabricated story so believable to the people around her. The situation is not just totally plausible, but likely, because we hear about the repercussions of stories like the one that Amy concocted every day.

On the face of it, Gone Girl is a misogynist's wet dream. It validates every bullshit MRA fear that women are out to destroy men. After all, Amy frames ex-boyfriends for rape as a matter of course, meticulously frames her husband for murder, murders a different ex-boyfriend during sex, for the crime of helping her escape her "abusive husband" and being a little too possessive, and then traps her husband in their loveless marriage by stealing his sperm to become pregnant. It is a literal laundry list of things that convince men that feminism at its core is simply a "misandrist revenge fantasy."

But in truth, Amy simply took her frustrations to the same "logical" conclusion that men get to every day in the real world. Instead of just leaving Nick, she transposes all her frustrations onto him and then punishes him for them. But how is that any different from the men who beat their wives because they're frustrated with their own unemployment? Or hide their assets so they can run off with the new girlfriend and leave their wife destitute? Or the ones who kill their wives for cheating, or God forbid, "dressing too sexy" or even looking at another man? In Gone Girl, Amy and Nick's positions are simply reversed from the traditional roles of aggressor and victim.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Count On My Love: Tessanne Chin's Major Label Debut Showcases Her Winning Voice

Unless you’d been paying close attention to her various social media channels, you might never know that Jamaican songstress Tessanne Chin, winner of season 5 of NBC’s The Voice, released her major label debut Count On My Love all the way back in July. Yup, July. Limited promotional support from her label translated to the lowest post-Voice sales ever, with just a measly 7,000 units sold in the first week. And it’s a shame, because with Count On My Love, Tessanne shows us just why she deserved to be recognized for her powerhouse voice.

Now, this was never an album that would storm the charts. (Count On My Love debuted at #41 on the Billboard 200.) The songs were clearly chosen with an interest in showing off Tessanne’s vocal range, as opposed to ensuring commercial success. But the music is lilting and easy; Chin’s sound is noticeably more mature than her 2010 independent release, In Between Words.

The single choices are baffling however. Tumbling Down, Tessanne’s “coronation song”; written by Ryan Tedder of One Republic fame, and performed the night she was announced as the season’s winner; is a middling number. It’s a mid-temp, slightly pop-y ballad that doesn’t adequately let Tessanne shine, and should never have been chosen as the album’s lead single. The second single Everything Reminds Me Of You does nothing to improve on the tepid impact of the first.

A much better choice would have been the album’s incredibly radio friendly title track, Count On My Love; a delightfully breezy pop song with a distinct “island vibe.” It’s a great song, and by far the stand out track. The song could easily have been the sequel to her 2010 duet with local star Kees Dieffenthaller, Loving You. This fact brings to light another issue with the record: it is entirely a solo effort, with no collaborations. While Tessanne most definitely holds her own, proving her mettle from track to track, the lack of other voices is conspicuous, considering the number of high profile musicians she has worked with in the past.

The entire album has a consistent rock steady vibe, but this is both a blessing and curse. Many of the songs blend together, indistinguishable except by their hooks, and punctuated by Tessanne’s breathtaking voice. But the positives largely outweigh the negatives on this ten-track record. The tunes are very catchy, and they’re exactly the kind of songs you want to sing along to in your car. The melodies are fun and they show off Chin’s extraordinary vocals without lapsing into the oversinging that plagues many popular artists (*cough* Christina Aguilera *cough*) Chin’s voice easily reaches notes most wouldn’t dare attempt and her intermittent lapses into Jamaica patois are endearing, and a clever stylistic choice.

The one track that feels misplaced is the closing number, One Step Closer. While not a bad song, the track seems to be the one attempt to produce something radio ready. But the heavy bass and dubstep influences battle for attention with Tessane's voice, and it's a testament to her skills that they never quite overpower her. After nine tracks of breezy melodies, One Step Closer stands in stark contrast.

In the end, I give the album a B+. It’s a solid body of work that deserves far more recognition that it got. Tessanne’s skills don’t disappoint for a second, and the music shows how talented she really is.

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