Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and the labelling of sexualised violence as “erotic” (spoilers)

Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 11.17.18Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest The Clothing of Books is both an essay on the art of book jackets and  love story of books from the perspective of a reader and a writer. It is beautiful and thought-provoking essay examining the way in which book jackets impact on how a book is understood and marketed. It is a short read at 70ish pages, but also one of my favourite books this year.

I read The Clothing of Books the same day I started Han King’s The Vegetarian, which won the Man Booker International Prize (2016). King’s book is also beautifully written. It also exemplifies Lahiri’s thesis on the complex relationship between writers and their books once the publishing company takes control. And, not in a positive way.

The front cover of my copy of Kang’s book includes both the emblem of the Man Booker Prize and a not quite inappropriate quote from Ian McEwan who calls it a “a novel of sexuality and madness”. Unfortunately, I suspect McEwan believes that the two apply to the same character. They don’t.

The blurb on the back is the following:

A darkly beautiful modern classic about rebellion, eroticism, and the female body. One of the most extraordinary books you will ever read.
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The Vegetarian is an extraordinary book, but it’s not “erotic” unless you view multiple accounts of rape as erotic. The book’s central character is Yeong-hye who, following a dream, becomes a vegan. Her husband, described as a “normal man” is abusive before Yeong-hye’s conversion. His abuse increases when Yeong-hye refuses to capitulate to his demands that she eat meat. He ignores her quite clear mental illness and anorexia and punishes Yeong-hye’s “defiance” by raping her on multiple occasions. Yeong-hye’s father also physically assaults her at a family meal for “shaming” her family. Yeong-hye’s husband abandons her after she is incarcerated in a mental institution; as do her parents. Later we learn that the father has a long history of emotional, physical and psychological abuse of Yeong-hye when she was a child.

The Vegetarian is an incredible, beautifully written book but it is not “erotic” since that which is being deemed “erotic” is rape. Yeong-hye, despite being schizophrenic and having anorexia, is read, by those who wrote the various blurbs on the book, as consenting to “allowing” her brother-in-law to paint flowers on her naked body and then “have sex” with her. The brother-in-law, who is already a lazy and incompetent husband and father, uses his position as a ‘trusted’ family member to target Yeong-hye. It is his sexuality and desire that is responsible for the destruction of his own family. His desire is not “taboo” as another comment on the books suggests. It is criminal. He chooses to sexually assault and rape Yeong-hye because he likes the idea of a birthmark on her bum.

In the end, the only person who stays with Yeong-hye is her sister, yet none of the comments on the book jacket mention sisterhood as a theme within. In-hye does everything that is demanded of a women: she is financially successful, the mother of a son, does all the caring and lifework so that her husband, “the artist”, has no responsibilities. She is the quintessential “good girl”. And, is punished, repeatedly, for being so.

In The Clothing of Books, Lahiri ponders if those designing her book jackets or writing the blurbs actually bother to read her books. Reading The Vegetarian, I too wondered whether or not those writing the blurbs had read the book. Or, if they simply failed to recognise the patterns of male violence and its impact on women. As with Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, which is described as “deeply romantic” on the book jacket, The Vegetarian,  demonstrates the unwillingness of readers and reviewers to define male violence as violence.

I gave The Vegetarian two stars on Good Reads. As I write this, I wonder if the number of stars is a reflection of the book itself or a visceral reaction to the book jacket’s definition of the book. There is certainly a huge disconnect between my reading of the text and the blurbs on the book jacket.

#womenwrites – on feminism, male violence, the Women’s March and abortion rights

How Michelle Obama expanded the definition of a first lady by Margo Jefferson

Hollywood must realise that Passengers flopped because of its creepy male protagonist BY Amy Jones

New Year’s femicide in Brazil reminds us what feminism is fighting for by Raquel Rosario Sanchez

Star Wars: Rogue One places Asian heroes at the core of its revolution  by @KellyKanayama

A man who didn’t talk to his wife would not be funny. He would be an abuser | Lola Okolosie

The Black Woman’s “Women’s March” Problem: It Ain’t Just White Folks by Ree Walker

Our cynicism will not build a movement. Collaboration will. by Alicia Garza

I’m so glad to spoil this film for you | Victoria Coren Mitchell

The unbearable whiteness of history by @JENDELLA  via @WritersofColour

You Not ‘Bout No Life: The Logical Fallacy of the Anti-Abortion Conservative & The Reason Trump and His Cronies Can Go Choke on a Communion Wafer  via @writermrsmith

#womenwrites

UK judges change court rules on child contact for violent fathers by Sandra Saville

Why do we still make girls wear skirts and dresses as school uniform? by Amanda Merger

Babette Cole, anarchic creator of Princess Smartypants, dies at 66 by Danuta Kean

First Class Racism by Jamelia

Lesbian Anxieties, Queer Erasures: The Problem with Terms Like ‘Subversive Femme’  via @LucyAllenFWR

Generation treat yo’ self: the problem with ‘self-care’ by Arwa Mahdawi

Response to ‘Transgender Kids:Who Knows Best‘  via @fairplaywomen

TRIGGER WARNING by @extreme_crochet http://buff.ly/2jFtCBH

The Importance of Recognizing the Murder of Women as a Hate Crime  by Zoe Holman via @broadly

Me and my accent(s) by Sara Salem

Liberal feminists ushered Ivanka Trump into the White House by by RAQUEL ROSARIO SANCHEZ  via @FeministCurrent

Remembering Carrie Fisher and Jill Saward

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Carrie Fisher showed the way. I want to acknowledge my own mental struggles | Deborah Orr

“I Wanted To Disappear Until Carrie Fisher Showed Me A Naked, Noisy Life” by Kerry Neville

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-09-41-04Carrie Fisher’s last Harrison Ford story isn’t romantic, it’s tragic by Tasha Robinson

General Leia Organa Is The Hero We Need Right Now by @anne_theriault

Carrie Fisher Brought The Force to All by Joelle Monique

Carrie Fisher: an iconic princess who became a powerful queen by Daisy Buchanan

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Remembering Jill Saward by @UnderstandingSV

Thank you, Jill Saward, for all you did  by @zoe_beaty

Remembering Jill Saward by Linda Riley

Remembering Jill Saward by Dr. Kate Cook

The great legacy British sexual assault activist Jill Saward leaves behind  by Jane Gilmour via @DailyLifeAU

Jill Saward obituary  by Julie Bindel

Favourite Books of 2016

unknownJeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time

Zen Cho’s The Terracotta Bride

Zadie Smith’s NW

Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being

 

 

Kamila Shamsie’s Salt and Saffronunknown-1

Julia Alvarez’ In the Time of the Butterflies 

Janet Fitch’s White Oleander

Kamila Shamsie’s  Burnt Shadow

Celeste Ng’s Everything I never told you

 

Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune

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Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music

Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words  

Elaine Brown’s A Taste of Power: A Black Women’s Story

Audre Lorde’s Zami: A new spelling of my name.

Lindsey Hilsum’s Sandstorm

Gloria Wekker’s White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race

Warsan Shire’s teaching my mother how to give birth

 

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I read both of these at the start of the year. And, again at the end. I have all Fisher’s books ( and Pez dispenser but not a copy of Abnormal Psychology).

Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Thinking 

Carrie Fisher’s Shockaholic

 

 

 

 

 

#womenwrites: on gender, identity politics and VAWG

All politics is “identity politics” by @MayaGoodfellow
via @WritersofColour

Charlotte Bronte did NOT repair her mourning shoes with her dead sister’s hair! by @KatharineEdgar

‘Impunity has consequences’: the women lost to Mexico’s drug war by Nina Lakhani in Jalapa

Princesses Are Terrifying. So Is Ivanka Trump via @ElleMagazine

Maybe We Do Need White History Month or Millennials Don’t Know Shit About Slavery or Picking Appropriate Essay Topics or Being a Black English Adjunct Sucks Sometimes– via @writermrsmith

I’m Tired by @RowenaMonde  via @RoomOfOurOwn

A brief history of ‘gender’  via @wordspinster

On Optimism and Despair by Zadie Smith

National Geographic’s ‘gender revolution’ cover fails women via @FeministCurrent

#womenwrites(November/16)

#womenwrites (11.12) – on 16 Days of Activism to EVAW

What lies beneath prostitution policy in New Zealand? by Maddy Coy and Pala Molisa at  openDemocracy

All day, everyday’: where is the protection against violence in schools and universities? by Sarah Green and Leah Cowan| openDemocracy

Singleness and the world of ‘not belonging‘ ASHA L. ABEYASEKERA openDemocracy

Pubic hair has a job to do – stop shaving and leave it alone | Emily Gibson

Are universities preventing violence against women? by @_HelenMott_  at openDemocracy

To exist is to resist: Million Women Rise by SABRINA QURESHI| openDemocracy

The voice of Berta Cáceres has become the voice of millions DAYSI FLORES | openDemocracy

Dangerous journeys: violence against women migrants in Turkey by Yasemin Mert | openDemocracy

16 Days: survivors and activists at the centre by Liz Kelly openDemocracy

The Italian mafia and violence against women | openDemocracy

The end of domestic violence support for black and brown women in the UK? by REBECCA OMONIRA-OYEKANMI| openDemocracy

A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-44-24A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing is now available:

Paperback

Kindle

CreateSpace

 

 

A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing is a collection of essays, poetry, and short stories written by women. The proceeds of this book will be used to support this platform covering the costs of hosting and website maintenance and development.

Table Of Contents

Room For Our Dangerous Ideas  

Hair by Poppy O’Neill

Used Goods by Durre Mughal

Celeste by Lucy Middlemass

Practicing Self-Love by Priscilla Lugo

Room For Our Courage  

Prologue/Epilogue by Lorrie Hartshorn

Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Racism in the Feminist Movement by Claire Heuchan

An Indian woman by Sunayna Pal

The Outsider Within: Racism in the Feminist Movement by Claire Heuchan

Abortion by Erika Garrett

Room For Our Anger

Cyborg by Susan Dunsford

You women! You’re such bitches by Cath Bore

The Colour of Justice by Estella Muzito

Room For Ourselves

Sister, mother by Lorrie Hartshorn

Because Ogwugwu Said So by Egoyibo Okoro

Giving birth in a dictatorship by Erika Garrett

Feminist Mothering with Fibromyalgia by Louise Pennington

Room For Our Escape

Hollywood’s Woman Problem in Action Films by Christina Paschyn

Room For Our Future

What’s in a Word? by Millie Slavidou

Mother’s Lament by Susan Dunford

An Open Letter to Our Immigrant Parents by Priscilla Lugo

Being Chicana in College by Priscilla Lugo

Love Sick by Erika Garrett

Room For Our Knowledge  

I am not your Mami by Priscilla Lugo

Understanding Feminist Standpoints: Situated Knowledges of Gender, Race, and Class Inequality by Egoyibo Okoro

Hysteria in Performance: The subversive potential of performative malady by Effie Samara

My Mother Said by Durre Mughal

Transforming a victim blaming culture

evb-logo-1Media discussions of male violence against women focus on the actions of the victim rather than the perpetrator. How can we challenge this narrative using survivor’s testimony without putting them at risk of online harassment?

 

“If I was Ched Evans i would find that whore and actually rape her this time!!”

This is one of the many abusive and threatening messages directed at the victim in the rape trials (and appeals) of footballer Ched Evans’ over the past 4 years. She has experienced an incessant barrage of abuse and threats of physical and sexual violence via Twitter, alongside a deliberate smear campaign including repeated breaches of her anonymity. She has also received a tremendous amount of support from women across the UK. Her experiences demonstrate both the importance of centering the voices of survivors, who are frequently disbelieved, but also the limitations, particularly with the development of social media platforms predicated on notions of ‘free speech,’ that allow survivors of rape to be labeled ‘a fucking cunt’ or ‘lying psycho bitch’.   Social media platforms have, to date, been unwilling to have honest discussions of the reality, representation, and ubiquity of male violence against women and girls, despite a recent EU report that suggests 1 in 3 women between the ages of 18-74 have experienced sexual or physical violence. …

Read the full post at Open Democracy.