Images to inspire.

Kathleen Murphey teaches composition and literature courses in the English Department at Community College of Philadelphia.  She has a Ph.D. in American Civilization from the University of Pennsylvania.  She has presented conference papers on the masculinization of female sexuality in popular culture.  Examples include “The Porning of High Medieval Fantasy:  George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series” and “Fifty Shades of Creep:  Yet Another Masculinization of Female Sexuality.”  Recently, she has started creating fiction (poetry and fiction) trying to give voice to more empowered visions of female and of diverse sexualities.  Some of her poems have been published through The Voices Project and Writing in a Woman’s Voice.  She has two unpublished collections of alternative fairy tales, Other Tales and Other Tales II.  “Ruby and Romulus” is a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story and was published in Zimbell House’s The Fairy Tale Whisperer.  She is married and has three lovely daughters who are becoming young women right before her eyes.

Having taught Women in History at Community College of Philadelphia for several semesters, I was looking at the continuing challenges that girls and women face in our culture.  One of the things that struck me in popular Young Adult fiction was the absence of any description of sex.  Female protagonists can desire their boyfriends.  They can kiss them passionately; the young women can even touch them a little and be touched, but nothing explicit happens.  So there is no discussion of female arousal or of their arousal being different than male arousal or of their having different sexual needs than their male partners.  Then magically if sex happens (and notice that we move from passionate kissing to intercourse), it was great.  But again there is no language, no description.  Readers are left to interpret this as vaginal sex in the missionary position, so that vaginal penetration by the penis is climatic for both the young woman and the young man.  This is partly due to the genre.  Young Adult fiction discourage explicit descriptions of sexuality, but the absence of a realistic portrayal of female sexuality bothered me as much as the fact that my three girls were being taught sex education at school with no reference to female pleasure and climax at all.  They were shown pictures of the female reproductive system without images of the clitoris.  Fallopian tubes and cervix were fine, but no clitoris.  So my three daughters and their peers were taught at school that although male orgasm is an essential part of human reproduction, female orgasm and pleasure are not essential parts of human reproduction. 

I looked first at the Twilight books and then at the Mortal Instruments books and a series of others.  Then I moved into popular literature aimed at adult audiences:  the George RR Martin books, Fifty Shades of Grey, and the Outlander books.  These books discuss sex in much more explicit ways.  However, they don’t show realistic descriptions of female sexual response.  Quite often, in fact, they show a fantasy female response much more akin to images in pornography that to realistic sex.  Martin, in particular, with his use of language (cunt and fuck), rape, violent rape, and mutilation seems to be reflecting trends in dark porn more than realistic medieval sex and sexuality.  Even E.L. James and Diana Gabaldon have female protagonists who can be instantly ready for forceful vaginal penetration in a way that resembles female porn stars—and Gabaldon’s Claire Randall Fraser is 47+ years old for six out of the eight books.  Gabaldon does have Jamie make love to Claire tenderly and with foreplay on occasion, but she also has scenes where Jamie is slamming into Claire with barely any foreplay, and this situation, unrealistically, doesn’t cause her pain.  In other words, women in popular literature have sex like men—their sexual responses are not different then men’s and they achieve orgasm like men through vaginal penetration even though in real life the majority of women do not achieve orgasm by vaginal penetration. 

Having written and presented on this topic for years, I started playing around with fiction of my own.  First, I wrote an unpublished fan-fiction version of Twilight, Stalked.  In Stalked, Bella, right after the victory over Victoria’s new born army (at the end of Meyer’s third book), realizes that both Edward and Jacob are manipulating her and stalking her.  With this realization, she makes a plan to file restraining orders against both Edward and Jacob and to move to Florida to get away from them and rebuild her life.  Then I wrote First Loves (an unpublished novel) which traces Julia Gallagher through a series of relationships with young men.  She is seventeen when she has her first sexual relationship, and it follows her to college and closes with her beginning her third significant relationship with a young man. 

Then I started playing around with fairy tales, and I have two unpublished collections of alternative fairy tales, Other Tales and Other Tales IIOther Tales includes “Ruby and Romulus,” “The Prince Rejected,” “Jill and the Bean Stalk,” “Beau and the Beast,” “Sleeping Beauty’s Escape from Date Rape,” “The Twelfth Princess,” “Snow White and the Huntsgirl,” “Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’:  The Wicked Woman Version,” “The Little Mermaid:  The Sacred Version,” “The Frog and the Transgender Prince,” “Hansel and Gregory,” “Lenora’s Prince,” “Jane’s Knight,” “P Pan and Beyondland,” “The Mirror,” and “Anton, the Steadfast Soldier, and Tatiana, the Steadfast Dancer.” Other Tales II includes “Cinderella Rejected,” “Snow White’s Father and the Transgender Queen,” “Wendy and Polly Pan,” “No Mercy in the Garden,” “A Different Creation,” “Lilith and Adam,” “No So Happily Everafter,” “Karen and the Red Shoes:  The Wicked Woman Version,” Karen and the Red Shoes:  The Sacred Version,” “The Huntsman and the Beast,” “Snow White and Sleeping Beauty,” “The Fox and the Rose,” “Elf Wife,” “The Troll Council and the Intersex Savior,” “Rose Red,” and “The Step-Sister’s Happy Ending.” 

Lastly, I have been writing poetry.  At first, it was just a poem here or there.  Some of my poems* have been published through The Voices Project and Writing in a Woman’s Voice.  However, at this point, a have a volume of poetry.  To Herself includes the following poems:  “Becoming Aged,” “Beauty,” “Darling Girl,”* “The Mammogram,” “Alice’s Choice,” “Where Do I Find Me?” “What Do You See When You See Me?” “The Creative Spark,”* “Little Red Riding Hood,” “American Shame,” “Death Waits,” “Entwined,” “Betrayed by Feet,”* “For Coco,” “Porn Worshipper,”* “Teach Us To Be More,” “O,” “Trust,” “What Have We Become?”* “Where Did the Time Go?” “Grandchildren and Regret,” “Natasha,” “Katie Kate,” “Tatianna,” “Call Me a Young Woman,” “The Dirtiest Words,” “Slut?” “Sister Love,” “The Passive Female,” “The One-Eyed Snake,” “Lilith,” “Nymphomaniac,”* “Menopause,”* “Game of Thrones,” “Porn Speaks,” “Viagra Surprise,”* “Sex Ed,” “Broken, Broken, Broken,” “Pink Viagra,”* “My Father,” “Beauty Standard,” “My America,” “A Bat and Hope,” “First Menarche,” “Surprise on the Water,” “Little Rapists,” “Anal Sex,” “Vagina,” “Penis,” “The Rainbow,” “The Mom Sense,” “’Proud of my Body,’” “When Will It Stop?” “Stalker,” “Tre,” “Girl?”


About Kathleen

Kathleen is an Associate Professor at Community College of Philadelphia, an author, a mother to three beautiful girls, and a wife for over 22 years.