Tag Archives: female empowerment

Anything and Everything We Want: Rebecca Brooks Examines Surprising Desires in Make Me Beg

21 Mar

No need to beg for it. Click right here and buy it!

By Rebecca Brooks

When it comes to desire, books and movies can make it look easy. You see the one, and you know.

Unless you have no idea.

Or you know what you want, sometimes, but then other times it’s not so clear. Or part of you wants something and the other part says, “No way.” Who wins the battle of head versus heart? Should you listen to the voice that’s shouting, “You can’t have that!” Or is it better to lock Lady Responsible in the basement for the night? And why do we say no to ourselves so much, anyway?

In Make Me Beg, bartender Mackenzie swears up and down that she’s never going to fall for the ripped and rugged chef she’s worked with for three years. Connor may be gorgeous, funny, and smart as a whip, but he’s the love ‘em and leave ‘em type, and Mack’s got her reasons for staying away. She sticks to her guns—until the two are given the opportunity to design their dream bar/restaurant, and late nights working together make it hard to remember why she’s so determined to say no.

Early on, an explosive argument leads to some of the hottest sex of their lives. In the morning, they both decide their transgression can be chalked up to stress, hormones, and too many hours at work. It’s never going to happen again.

But then Connor proceeds to blindfold Mack, bind her wrists, and feed her a picnic. Yeah, I know, that’s not where you thought that sentence was going. But the scene really does start off—I won’t say innocent, because everything between these two is crackling with sexual tension. But the point is to get Mack to taste his proposed menu for their new bar/restaurant without letting other distractions get in the way.

But it turns out that no matter what they tell themselves, desire doesn’t fit into neat little boxes, easily compartmentalized and pushed to the side. It’s not long before Connor moves from feeding Mack to putting…other things in her mouth. Mack, blindfolded and bound, hears him undo his belt buckle. Then the sound of him unzipping his pants. She licks her lips, and that makes Connor lose it. He commands her to get on her knees. Mack hears the edge in his voice and thinks:

Oh, fuck, that was hot. Was she allowed to find that hot?

Could she be independent, wear shut-the-fuck-up boots behind the bar, and still be slayed by such a command?

It’s a question I’ve asked before, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one. Mack is strong, independent, capable, and not at all passive. She certainly doesn’t hesitate to give Connor a piece of her mind the rest of the time, which is why he has to hogtie her for a picnic in the first place. So is it “okay” for her to be turned on by Connor’s command?

In other words, can she be strong, independent, capable, and sexual? Is she allowed to be excited by something that could be thought of as passive or degrading, i.e. being commanded to get on her knees? Could that be empowering instead? And is it okay if she likes it, no matter what the answer is?

I wish I could say exactly where these questions come from, so I’d have a better idea of how to move past the limitations they stick us with. But it’s hard to discount a lifetime of social pressure women face to be good but not too good (a prude), and to please men but not too much (a slut). We’re supposed to make ourselves sexually available, but we have to be careful not to act like we like it too much. Really, are women allowed to enjoy anything guilt-free? (According to television, the answer is salads, non-fat yogurt, and doing laundry. Thanks, but I’ll pass.)

Mack has to work twice as hard to make it in a male-dominated field like bartending. She practically raises herself after her mother dies, finds her own way in the world, and has now worked her way up to become a co-owner of her own bar/restaurant. Mack survives by being smart and always staying one step ahead. She’s pretty much kicking patriarchy’s ass in her killer black boots.

So no wonder it throws her off to get on her knees for this man. She’s not just worried about the usual BS that she’ll be judged or denigrated by society, her friends, and most importantly, herself, if she winds up another notch on Connor’s belt. She’s wondering whether she’ll still be the same powerful woman she aspires to be if she submits to him and likes it.

Anne Calhoun’s Liberating Lacey is a great book, but Lacey’s genuinely upset after she and Hunter role play a forced-sex scene that she specifically asks for. It’s totally okay to want to try something and then decide it’s not for you! But what would happen if Lacey actually loved living out a taboo fantasy? And why does good girl librarian Sophie in Victoria Dahl’s Taking the Heat feel her naughty side has to be secret? Sure, it’s fun and sexy to have such a prim little lady be full of surprises. But the whole reason that storyline works is because everyone expects her to be proper and prudish in the first place. Can you think of a high-heat romance novel where the fun and surprise is that the strong, sexy hero turns out to also have a naughty side? Of course not, because it’s already assumed!

Mack is ready, though, to take charge of her sexuality and own what she wants. She has a very inspiring man to work with, and she goes on to make it very, very clear how much she wants him. Being bound and told what to do paradoxically winds up unshackling her. It gives her permission to let go and do what she wants—not what she thinks she’s supposed to do or has convinced herself she’s not allowed to have. By pausing and having that gut-check, she allows that sex and sexuality can be complicated and gives herself permission to break a few rules and discover what she enjoys. Especially since those rules aren’t necessarily ones she deep down agrees with in the first place.

And she’s not a different person because of it. What we do in the bedroom (or in this case, by a lake) doesn’t have to translate into the rest of our lives; it doesn’t even have to mean anything outside of the particular pleasures of the moment. Mack can consent to one command, now, but that doesn’t mean Connor gets to tell her what to do the rest of the time. Or even at the picnic—the whole time, he’s still very clearly reading her body language, checking in with her, and making sure that sex is something they’re doing together. Mack may be on her knees, but she’s by no means powerless.

Mack isn’t less of a badass because she’s turned on by Connor’s command. She can absolutely wear her shut-the-fuck-up boots behind the bar—and when she’s kneeling in the grass. She’s not a different person for doing it, and she’s not giving anything up. She’s complex, and multifaceted, and human. And isn’t that a good thing?

I like that Mack asks herself whether she’s allowed to want what she does. I’m also glad she decides the answer is yes. She’s all the better for listening to her desires and allowing herself to go for it, even—or especially—when those desires surprise her. I think it’s a good lesson for the rest of us, too.

More about Make Me Beg:

“Intensely sexy and packs and emotional punch!” – #1 New York Times Bestselling author Lauren Blakely

He’ll bring her to her knees.

Bartender Mackenzie Ellinsworth has always gone it alone. So when she has a chance to open her own bar and restaurant, she’s got a plan for how it should go. Not in that plan: a ripped and rugged playboy stepping in to take over. Mack doesn’t do players, and she doesn’t do one-night stands. If Connor wants to work with Mack, he’s going to have to keep his strong, sexy hands to himself.

Connor Branding is determined to prove he’s not the directionless playboy Mack thinks. But opening a place together causes more problems than it solves. The two of them can’t agree on anything—except how scorching hot their chemistry is. Connor may be ready to indulge every desire Mack’s been denying herself…but turning business into pleasure is likely to get him burned.

 

Rebecca Brooks lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She received a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Sign up for Rebecca’s newsletter at www.rebeccabrooksromance.com/newsletter to get a free novelette and a monthly email about Rebecca’s adventures.

 

Why don’t you? The appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey

10 Mar

“Why don’t you write something like Fifty Shades of Grey?”

We romance writers get asked this question by friends and family. I have to admit this question puzzles me. Each time I’m asked I wonder:

  • Do you mean, why don’t I write something about two people seeking love and connection?
  • Do you mean, why don’t I write something erotic?
  • Do you mean, why don’t I write something that pushes the boundaries of relationships?

I only wonder these things because me asking them aloud would draw attention to the fact that the person asking the question hasn’t read any of my books. Of course, I don’t care whether or not the person has read my stuff but …well, I don’t want to make things awkward by pointing that out. Besides, as a writer, here’s the question that makes the most sense to me:

  • Do you mean why don’t I write something that sells millions of copies and creates just as many devoted readers and fans?

That one I don’t have an answer for. Nobody does. Many–many–of us writers have tried to figure out why that series in particular took off like that.

50 2

In my other life, I teach freshman composition at a college. We write essays, the standard sort that college freshman have been writing for years. Thesis statements, MLA formatting, research. All the usual stuff. One place where I get to mix things up is in the prompts. So, wondering what my students think of the 50 phenomenon, I include a prompt about the widespread popularity of the series. The prompt encourages the students to question the contrast between the book’s content, the relationship between the two characters, and the current wave of new feminism. Bottom line–why do women connect this book?

As you might imagine, the prompt generates interest. After reading seve50 3ral essays I’ve found a distinct difference between the younger, 18-20, and older, 25-30 women in regard to Mr. Grey’s relationship appeal.

The younger women find him super romantic. They are drawn to the idea of having a man so dedicated to you that he is “interested” in every aspect of your life. They don’t find him stalky or boundary-crossing, they find him devoted. These younger women write very little about the sex; they write almost exclusively about the attentive relationship. It seems that while young women view career and societal contribution as essential and validating, they still long for a dedicated partner.

The older women write about the sex. They are drawn to the idea of an extremely intense almost completely sexual relationship that has no emotional commitments. These women reflect that while they hope to have an emotionally intimate relationship in the future, they are, at present, busy with school and work and don’t have time to develop “that sort of thing” right now. This staying-single-longer, waiting-for-real-commitment life plan is on the rise,  but as noted above with the younger set, this older set seeks devotion. They simply define devotion in a different way.

If you’re one of the thousands, maybe millions, of people who’ve had this conversation–why is 50 so compelling–we’d love to hear what you think. Give us a shout in the comments.

And – follow us here at Lady Smut. We’re always here to inform, entertain, and keep you up to date.

Isabelle Drake writes erotica, erotic romance, urban fantasy, and young adult thrillers.

Yes! Yes! 365 Times, Yes!

13 Dec
Click here and get to yes.

Click here and get to yes.

By Alexa Day

Shonda Rhimes’s book, Year of Yes, came out a little over a year ago, and I jumped on it as soon as it was released. I picked it up again a few days ago, now that I’m deciding what the next year is going to look like. I’ve tried to say yes more often that I’ve said no this past year, and 2016 has been pretty exciting as a result. As I start looking into 2017, I thought I’d share with you all some of the high points from Shonda’s Year of Yes — and one high point from my own journey.

(In my head, Shonda and I are on a first-name basis. Someday she’ll challenge me on that, I’m sure, but I doubt today will be that day.)

The Year of Yes began shortly after Shonda’s sister observed that her famous sibling never said yes to anything. After some reflection, Shonda pledged to say yes to everything that scared her. One week later, the president of Dartmouth College asked her to deliver the commencement address.

She said yes.

After dropping the f-bomb at a back-to-school meeting in response to the suggestion that contributions to the bake sale must be homemade, she said yes to storebought baked goods and to a nanny. Enlisting help and support when necessary does not equate to failure in parenthood, she writes. Finding help and support makes the well rounded life — or even moderate levels of sanity — possible.

She said yes to her body, to the physical vehicle she depended on as she created a body of work and raised her children. During the Year of Yes, she lost 100 pounds, and she did that without making any one food off-limits. Shonda lost 100 pounds during the Year of Yes without saying no to food.

She said yes to herself by saying no to others. She did not respond to work communications after 7 p.m. during the week or at any time on the weekend. She said no to poor casting decisions. She left a long-term relationship because she didn’t want to be married.

I tend to think of myself as being comfortable with yes. I’m even better with why not? But I saw myself in Shonda’s journey to saying yes to praise, compliments, and recognition. Like Shonda, I used to be the sort of person who deflected compliments with explanations and reductions. I think I’ve made my way out of that phase — it’s a lot less stressful just to say thank you and keep it moving. I also know that recognizing that one’s own talents does not diminish anyone else or their talents.

And yet …

I made the USA Today Bestseller List this past July. It’s been about five months now. I still have trouble telling people that.

Oh, sure. It’s one thing to type it here, there and everywhere. If I could put it on a nametag and be done with it for good, I wouldn’t have any problems at all. But I’ve only told a handful of people, and very few of them are other authors. When it comes to telling other authors, I’m all deflections and explanations. It was a box set, I said. I was with a lot of very talented people, I said. I didn’t expect that from myself; I’m a firm believer in tooting one’s own horn. And yet here I was.

Finally, I confessed to someone the other day that I didn’t actually feel like I had done it.

“Okay,” she said. “Well, you did do it. So you may as well tell people you did it.”

And she’s right. This is how Shonda had to take on the Year of Yes, by taking hold of these uncomfortable acts and following through anyway.

It’s good to have an example to follow. And a whole year to get better at saying yes. And also The Year of Yes Journal, while we’re appreciating things.

What do you need to say yes to? Find your people in the comments.

And follow Lady Smut. We know all about saying yes.

In the End, Women Always Win

15 Nov
In our world, women win every time. Click to buy.

In our world, women win every time. Click to buy.

By Alexa Day

The first version of this post was much angrier. In the days since then, I’ve walked things back a little. I don’t feel great about doing that because it feels like I’m giving in, but the truth is that I’m exhausted. I’m not interested in going high. As a woman of color and a daughter and granddaughter of immigrants, I have serious concerns about the future, and smiling through it isn’t going to address any of those concerns. I’m grateful to, and grateful for, those people who have fearlessly called out wrongdoing and ignorance. I’m grateful to and for those people who have quietly stood up to support and defend those who need it. I’m so happy those people exist and that they’re coming forward.

But we live in a huge world.

Having said that, I need you to understand that I’m also not interested in defenses, justifications, or any attempts to belittle, mock, or minimize my position. I don’t like the way I’m looking at people after last week. I don’t like the position I’ve been placed in. I don’t like having to walk myself back or talk myself down. Make no mistake. I am still very, very angry. If you don’t see why that is, or if you feel that I should feel something a little more convenient for you, I don’t know that I can help you.

Okay? Great.

I spent part of last week trying to figure out how I could most be of service now. Where am I needed? What can I contribute?

Like many others, I checked in with friends and colleagues, allies and advocates, to let them know that I stand ready to assist them. A month or two ago, I had considered surrendering my law license. I’m glad I didn’t go through with that. I’ve never been more grateful for it, which is saying something after almost twenty years of calling law school the biggest mistake of my life.

Then, after taking a bit of time to regroup, I returned to my writing. I have projects already in motion, and I can neglect them no longer.

This was not an easy decision to make.

In the wake of last week’s events, I asked myself if there was any point to continuing to write empowering stories about black women. I would never have imagined that I live in a country with so many people who either fully embrace bigotry and hatred, or are simply apathetic toward it. Why should I keep creating strong female characters, especially women who look like me, in this toxic environment?

I eventually arrived at a conclusion.

I have to keep writing romance because women always win in romance.

Last week, I watched the documentary Love Between the Covers again; it’s a film about romance fiction and the women who read and write it. I’ve probably seen it four or five times already, but this time, I heard its message a bit differently. The romance genre is dominated by women. When the stories are not about women or written by women, they are designed for women’s consumption. The world of romance is a woman’s world.

It is immense, and it is immensely powerful. It generates the revenue that sustains genre fiction as a whole. It is a force to be reckoned with.

Romance is home to thousands of women-owned businesses. It enables women to support their households and families.

Romance gives women artists a voice and a massive stage from which to reach a hungry audience of women.

The women who drive romance, both as content creators and as readers, are thriving. Women will desperately need an environment in which to thrive in the coming days, months, and years.

But consider the stories themselves.

In a romance novel, a woman will come out of the darkness, and she will win.

A woman will overcome her fears, and she will win.

A woman will survive impossible odds, and she will win.

A woman will decide her destiny, and she will win.

A woman will discover her power, and she will win.

No matter what happens to her, in a romance novel, a woman will win. The lone exception to this is the male/male romance, and even then, a woman will likely win as a consumer or a content creator.

I predict that romance, which has always been the target of misogynistic abuse, will come under unprecedented attack in the new regime. The new regime fears a world where women are always victorious. It will do whatever it takes to suppress this world. It will try to convince women that this is foolish or unimportant or unrealistic. It will use women as the means to subjugate a world designed by and for women.

I cannot stand by and permit this to happen.

My mission is to continue creating worlds where women win.

Every time. Every single time.

I am delighted to report that I have returned to work.

Follow Lady Smut.

Alexa Day is the USA Today bestselling author of erotica and erotic romance with heroines who are anything but innocent. In her fictional worlds, strong, smart women discover excitement, adventure, and exceptional sex. A former bartender, one-time newspaper reporter, and licensed attorney, she likes her stories with just a touch of the inappropriate, and her literary mission is to stimulate the intellect and libido of her readers.

Return to Snctm: Who’s on Top in Utopia?

25 Oct
I just had one question. One persistent, slippery question.

I just had one question. One persistent, slippery question.

By Alexa Day

I was enjoying a long, lazy summer when I first wrote about Snctm this past May. The goop.com sex issue sent me right through the looking glass.

I go into a lot of detail about Snctm in that post, but in essence, Snctm is a sex club catering to men with money. Applicants, both male and female, are evaluated in large part on their appearance. There are pool parties and masquerades and such, but honestly, if you read erotic romance, you probably already know what a sex club is.

About two and a half months after that post, an email from a Snctm member appeared in the LadySmut mail room. I have agreed not to disclose this person’s identity or to quote this person in such a way that would lead to this person’s being identified. For ease of reference and in deference to the classical tradition of storytelling, I will refer to this person as Nemo.

Nemo guessed, correctly, that I have not been to a Snctm event. Nemo said the reality of the events surpassed the press coverage, which was plentiful.

Nemo also said that Snctm was empowering for women.

I was skeptical about this at first. After all, nothing I’d turned up for the first post left me with this impression. But the journalist in me wanted to improve inadequate coverage and the eroticist in me wanted to know how this worked. So Nemo and I began to correspond.

Because I have agreed not to quote Nemo, I will distill our correspondence to these bullets.

  • Nemo suggested that I interview Snctm founder Damon Lawner, which I would be delighted to do if I could get hold of him.
  • Nemo assured me that security was incredibly tight at Snctm events.
  • Nemo emphasized that women outnumbered men at Snctm events. If those women wanted to undress and engage in a little girl-on-girl while the men looked on, well, they should feel perfectly comfortable to do that wherever possible. Seriously, Snctm is all about greenlighting girl-on-girl.
  • Nemo said that everyone at the Snctm events had loads and loads of money.
  • And finally, Nemo repeated that women were empowered at Snctm events.

That last point was really all I was interested in. Snctm has been compared to the club in Eyes Wide Shut and to the Playboy mansion back in its heyday. If that conjures up visions of naked women cavorting around for the enjoyment of wealthy men, well, the Snctm membership video seems to back that up. (BTW, that video link is probably the most NSFW link I have ever posted.)

I asked Nemo what I was missing. Nemo promised to call. I wrote down a list of questions.

And then Nemo ghosted me.

I’ve been ghosted before. It happens. But that’s not the way to change my mind. Indeed, that cemented my opinion that Snctm was not empowering for women. It certainly sounded like Nemo wasn’t able to answer my one pressing question.

I signed on to the Snctm email list a while back. From time to time, I received lovingly overblown messages from them about a Classe (yes, with the ‘e’), like the one on “bondage, impact and sensation play,” complete with “canapes and premium libations.” Invitations to masquerades and pool parties joined the rest of the promotional emails in my inbox.

Then, on September 27, I received the following email.

“For 2 months in a row our problem is too many amazing, gorgeous ladies and not enough men! This is something most clubs only dream of, but we are serious. Our prices are very high for men and free for ladies guest list. What this means is we have created a literal sexual utopia for gentlemen smart enough, successful enough, and lucky enough to attend our events. The ladies to gentlemen ratio is 4 to 1. 2 or 3 to 1 is what we are looking to achieve. ‘Blessed are those entering our hallowed halls’ has never rung so true as now.”

I have trouble squaring empowerment for women with “a literal sexual utopia for gentlemen,” especially when utopia is about having two or three women for every man. That’s lovely news for guys bringing a partner to the events, right? No need to be limited to the one you brought, it seems. If you’re a woman not interested in girl-on-girl, I’m not sure what that means for you.

Anyone feeling empowered out there? Don’t worry if you don’t. There’s more.

On September 28, I received this next email.

“From this moment forward to any and all gentlemen who request discounts and/or free entry here is our response. FUCK OFF. If you can’t afford Snctm, you need to be a real man and get your shit together. Enough said.”

In May, I suspected that Snctm’s membership was made up of women Damon Lawner found hot and men he found cool. Still, this second email is a little jarring. One does not often find toxic masculinity in an environment that is empowering to women.

Want to try this club instead? Click to buy.

Want to try this club instead? Click to buy.

I think I was still rolling my eyes a little when I received yet another email. This one contained a link to an Esquire feature on Lawner. The title suggests that he is unhappy. I found this a little galling so soon after “FUCK OFF” but I read on anyway.

Esquire’s coverage of a Snctm masquerade includes all the luxe details. The giant mansion. The sumptuous food and drink. Topless women at the pool. When the feature opens, Lawner and Caroline, with whom he shares an open relationship, are evaluating someone’s membership application. The female applicant notes that she is a hyperpolyglot who enjoys dirty talk. Lawner is intrigued by the notion of dirty talk in multiple languages. Caroline suggests that the applicant probably “likes to get fucked really hard.”

You ladies feeling empowered yet?

Esquire also reports that “Lawner has tried to create a spiritual and erotic utopia where people of like minds and desires can have as much sex and romance as humanly possible, in as many different ways as the imagination can invent.” That sounds intriguing, no? It conjures up images of long conversations that might be inappropriate elsewhere, the kind of sensual, intellectual interaction that lasts for hours before anyone undresses. So how did he get from there to a “literal sexual utopia for men,” a place that can afford to tell potential applicants, guys who might have like minds but less extravagant budgets, to “FUCK OFF”?

The Esquire reporter also captures a disturbing moment between Caroline and another party guest, a man whose “vigorous” touch prompts her to flee the room in “obvious distress.” I remembered Nemo’s insistence that the parties were full of security personnel, but none are present in this account. Lawner follows Caroline out.

The next morning, he asks if he should have intervened.

The next morning.

I don’t think I need to say any more about that.

All is not lost.

Before the incident with Caroline, the feature touches briefly on a female Devotee, a performer in Snctm’s erotic theater. Dressed in a pig mask and a sign that reads “Touch Me,” she is led through the party by two other performers, who encourage guests to do as the sign says. The Devotee tells the reporter that “she loved the way the guests looked at her with a mixture of shyness and desire, men and women alike.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. This was all I wanted to hear. It took five months, but now we know that somewhere in Snctm is a woman who feels empowered by what the club has to offer her.

Actually, Esquire offers up a smaller feature — very NSFW — follows the Devotee into a performance with a Snctm regular known as the Bunnyman. Considering that this Devotee is the only woman to describe in detail how she’s empowered by the experience, that’s definitely worth a read. I’d certainly love to hear more from her, and from anyone who knows the thrill of power in a setting like this. I really am interested in the intellectual and erotic underpinnings that go along with this.

This does nothing to reassure me about what happened to Caroline or the environment in which it happened. That gives me very real reservations about the Snctm experience and the male members’ perception of it.

So while one of my questions is answered, others have arisen.

I know that readers of erotica and erotic romance are no strangers to the sex club, at least as it appears on the page. I found a new favorite in The Gentlemen’s Club by Emmanuelle de Maupassant, who leaves no question about whether the ladies of the club are empowered. Be sure to tell me who else is doing it right in the comments.

And follow Lady Smut. We’ll take you on a long trip sometimes, but the journey’s certainly worthwhile.

 

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