Guest Post: Sarah Rees Brennan on Movies & Sex

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much for the next week or so. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.

Today we have Sarah Rees Brennan, who is quite mad, which is often quite an advantage for the writing of fine fiction, as you will discover if you read any of SRB’s books. She was last here for an interview where she revealed the insanity of her writing technique.

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Sarah Rees Brennan is from Ireland, but she likes to roam the world causing havoc, and on one such mission encountered Justine Larbalestier in New York City and the rest is history (and spells your doom). She can be found saying stuff like this all the time on her own blog and she is the author of The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy, first instalment out, second instalment out this May, about which more here. Her own demonic possession is an unfounded rumour that has little to no basis in fact.

Sarah says:

So, ladies and gentlemen of the audience sitting in your chairs, happily anticipating another blog post filled with the usual thoughtfulness and wit by your favourite author, Dr. Justine Larbalestier.

I am sorry to disappoint you: said Dr. Larbalestier is currently unavailable.

    JUSTINE: Oh Sarah. I fear my blog readers will pine.

    SARAH: I have no doubt they will. They seem loyal and devoted sorts: they will pine like Christmas trees. (This is the kind of ‘wit’ you guys are in for. You lucky, lucky guys.)

    JUSTINE: Would you write a guest blog for me?

    SARAH: Oh, sure! I will try to be wise like you! Fill the void in their souls!


    SARAH: Well, it was a nice idea.

So instead of Justine Larbalestier, you have me, and I am going to be talking about movies and sex! (Cue that scene when people are at a petting zoo, approaching a sweet kitty, and then . . . ‘IT’S A LION HARVEY, JESUS CHRIST, IT’S A LION, GET IN THE CAR.’)

There is a thing you need to understand about me. Sometimes, I like truly terrible things. I have watched all three High School Musical movies.

Nevertheless, I would not have of my own free will chosen to watch a movie starring Matthew McConaughey. (Apologies to all fans of this fine thespian in the audience. You may want to look away now.) But I was on a plane and had finished my book, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past started playing, I made an error in judgement.

Said movie’s plot: Matthew McConaughey is a heartless playboy about to be taught the error of his ways by apparitions from his dating life! Jennifer Garner is the One Who Got Away, who needs to be recaptured once Matthew has learned his touching and totally unexpected lesson about true love being all that really matters!

Matters were proceeding exactly as anticipated right until the point where we have the flashback to Matthew and Jennifer’s past romance, in which they banter, she softens towards him, his heart grows three sizes, and they come together in one glorious night with all the torrid passion of a box of cornflakes left out in the rain. Matthew McConaughey, sneaky playboy that he is, flees his own feelings and tries to sneak out on her as she sleeps. She wakes up.

    JENNIFER GARNER: Matthew McConaughey, you beast, I trusted you!

    MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: . . . Why? You had a clear view of my smirky, smarmy face at all times!

    JENNIFER GARNER: Because we’re on the movie poster together! I mean that’s not important now! What’s important is that there are some women you sneak out on in the middle of the night, and there are some women you stay and snuggle with, and I am one of the women you stay and snuggle with.

At this point, I turned to the lady in the seat beside me.

    SARAH: I cannot believe I just saw that! Can you believe you just saw that? Can you believe we literally, actually just saw a scene in which the heroine who we’re clearly meant to agree with explicitly says that, pretty much, some women are whores and deserve to be treated like trash! While obviously Matthew McConaughey has made a mistake dealing with these trashy wenches, he is not a trashy wench himself. He’s a dude, so it’s all good, as long as he treats a nice lady right when he’s got one. Because we’re all still divided into ladies and fallen women! Argh!

    MY NEIGHBOUR ABOARD THE PLANE: Je ne comprends pas.

    SARAH: Oh. Oh right. COOL. Excusez-moi. J’avais . . . a fit of feminist rage. Um. Excusez-moi.

The nice French plane lady patted my hand. Clearly, she thought I was insane. Obviously, she was right, but that is not the point at this time.

I have no excuse for watching Wild Child, which is a terrible teen comedy, except that I truly and deeply in my soul love terrible teen comedies, and I went to see 17 Again in the cinema. (‘Justine, Justine’ you all moan faintly. ‘Why hast thou forsaken us, Justine?’)

Wild Child is about a spoiled American teen who is sent to English boarding school, a place which is awfully stodgy, and where many people wear tweed, and some hunt! Obviously she learns valuable life lessons, and it all culminates in an epic lacrosse battle.

But there is a specific part of the movie I wish to focus on, and it is this: at one point, our heroine’s jolly dormitory mates ask if she has ‘done it’ yet, and she says with a toss of her mane that she has! A ton! And that seemed to be that, she got on with playing merry japes and romancing the prim headmistress’s son, and I thought to myself ‘You know. I think that’s pretty great.’

Oh, that was a rash thought of mine. For at the school dance, our heroine having bonded sufficiently with her dormitory mates, she tells them that no, actually, she never has! Just like them! She’s really been good all along.

Now, the heroine of Wild Child is meant to be sixteen or seventeen. I’m not saying ‘People, we need more teenage bangin’!’ Except maybe I kind of am. (Far away in New York City, my editor just had a tiny, tiny stroke. Sorry about that, Karen!) I trust I do not need to tell you guys that the decision not to bang is a totally okay and often wise decision on the part of people of both genders, at all ages.

But really. Really, in this day and age, do we so entirely equate a woman’s moral character with her sexual behaviour? Of course, we (and by we I mean, you know, Society) do. We have a whole lot of insults for ladies who like to have sex, and we don’t draw the same line in the sand for dudes. Having our books and movies reflect that attitude so very clearly just made me think—wow, how patterns go on and on repeating. We must sit down. And take a look. And say to ourselves, ‘Oh, wow, that is pretty gross.’ (Not that I’m encouraging people to go watch Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. MY LORD NO. I’ve taken that bullet for you all. Only too happy to have been of service. SAVE YOURSELVES. I can still hear the lambs on the plane screaming about feminism.)

Another thing that I’ve been doing lately, in between watching teen comedies, is reading romance novels. Because a) I was trying to overcome prejudice against certain types of books, as said prejudice is dumb and b) turns out a lot of romance novels are pretty great, so I wanted to read more.

Quite recently I read The Devil’s Delilah by Loretta Chase, in which our heroine Delilah makes out with a rake! And she likes it. And I was delighted. Not because I wanted her to end up with the rake: I loved the bookworm hero, and Delilah and the bookworm had already made out, and it had been most excellent. But because that’s something I’d noted in a lot of (not just romance, and not just historical) novels—that heroines were given a pass on desire, as long as they desired the heroes alone. The implication of that? Women, with sexy feelings not associated with True Love! They would be no more than common trollops!

So now I have a great love for books with heroines who make out with people who aren’t heroes, and like it, and go with the hero because said hero is a better match. (As an example, if Jane Austen had written make-out scenes, which she did not, I feel Elizabeth Bennet is obviously attracted to Wickham, and could’ve had a great time snogging him, though of course it would still have been followed with the Austen equivalent of ‘Whoops, you are a tool, MY MISTAKE.’)

And—well, I just think it would be great if we could have heroines, even teenage heroines—sure, some of whom have decided to wait or haven’t decided to wait but just haven’t decided not to, but some of whom didn’t wait, had a disastrous experience and came through it just fine. Some of whom didn’t wait, had a great time, parted ways, repeated same five or a hundred times, and were also just fine. (Obviously, the reverse should happen as well, and actually, I think it’s kind of cool that one of the Most Beloved Fictional Characters of Our Time, Edward Cullen, is a self-confessed and unashamed virgin hero of a century plus. So, you know, take a bow, Twilight! If I had to pick between you and Matthew McConaughey, Mr Cullen, you would most assuredly be my sparkly date to the school dance.)

And next time you see a heroine tell people she’s Pure as the Driven Incidentally, or Not Like the Other Girls (those trashy wenches)—well, frown at the screen or the page, and think ‘Oh wow, that is pretty gross.’

Ahem. Thank you for your kind attention, ladies and gentlemen! (*surveys the audience, some of whom seem to be weeping softly and saying things like ‘Get thee behind me, Satan . . . Oh Justine, Justine . . .’*) Please feel free to tell me to get thee behind you, or tell me about kind of gross or kind of excellent portrayals of sexuality in fiction, in the comments.


  1. Tansy Rayner Roberts on #

    I always liked 10 Things I Hate About You for that reason – there was very much a ‘having sex with the wrong person is a mistake’ message in it, but on the other hand, having sex with the wrong person turned Kat from a vapid “cool” sheep of a girl into a truly awesome bitchy feminist who liked indie music and got into Sarah Lawrence on academic merit.

    Hmm, I’m not sure the message of that film WAS ‘having sex with the wrong person is a mistake’ after all…

  2. Keren David on #

    Yes, yes…and did you enjoy 17 Again? I did…

  3. Lori S. on #

    I totally get what you’re saying re: Wild Child, and as I haven’t actually seen the movie, take what I have to say with a grain of salt. But I still remember *being* 17 and my shock and confusion at discovering that several other girls I thought were very worldly and experienced were, in fact, very much not. (And I am sure they felt the same way about me, but that’s another whole story.) And seeing that reflected on DVD is kinda nice, even if secondhand.

    I guess maybe it depends on the other girls’ reactions?

    The problem, as always, is when we have only one story–especially when that story is founded on slut-shaming. And you’re right, that’s gross, gross, gross.

  4. Neesha Meminger on #

    Oh, my word. This was a WONDERFUL read first thing in the morning (particularly since I had to endure GoGP, myself). Thank you, SRB! *warmth*

  5. Isi on #

    Absolutely! There is a bit of a character trope for the confident, apparently sexually adventurous, or at least sexually active, girl turning out to actually be a virgin still, as in Wild Child (I can’t believe you watched that… Oh dear, Sarah) and while that’s fine, it really shouldn’t be implied that somehow makes her a better person for it. It’s good to show being confident and comfortable in yourself doesn’t just mean waiting around – it can equally mean enjoying yourself and making out with handsome rakes and not feeling guilty about it 🙂

  6. Jesi on #

    Yes yes yes!!! I remember getting into an argument in a commenting thread on Tamora Pierce’s Alanna books. Another reader called Alanna a whore, and I was like, “Hold up! She has sex with three people, all of whom she’s very much in love with or at least great friends with. How does that make her a whore?” Alanna is an awesome example (as is Kel, in a lesser way, with her many crushes) of a girl/woman who has multiple relationships, multiple peopel she has sex with, but isn’t trampy. It’s presented as normal for her to have gone through multiple partners before she decides who she wants to marry. And you know why it’s presented as normal? *Because it is!*

  7. R.J. Anderson on #

    This is very timely because I am sorta-kinda writing something like that right now! (I leave it up to you to decide what the “that” actually refers to.) Also, I have a slightly different take on the double standard thing, in that I think it is completely gross and wrong and unfair to put all the blame on women who are sexually active and let the guys off scot-free, and that what’s good/bad for the goose should also be good/bad for the gander, BUT I love books and movies best of all when there is romance and strong attraction and temptation and all those things but both the girl(s) AND the guy(s) decide to save the major sexytimes for the person they’re going to spend the rest of their lives with. Of course, given the world in which we live and the great variety of attitudes about this subject, it would be unrealistic to expect that this will always happen, or even that it will happen most of the time. I’m just saying that it makes me all kinds of happy when it does.

  8. Maija Suvanto on #

    Yes to everything! I couldn’t agree more.

    How much I would have loved it if in 17 Again the children would have had gender swap! That the dad would have tried to keep his son from sleeping with someone who obviously (to the dad, anyway) was no good and would only break his heart while encouraging his shy doughter to make contact with the boy of her dreams.

    In Four Weddings and a Funeral, Andie MacDowell’s character is refreshing: She clearly has more sexual experience than “the hero”, she has nothing against one night stands, she makes the mistake of marrying a guy she’s not really in love with and when she realises this, she solves the situation on her own and then goes find the hero to inform him of the fact. I think somebody calls her slut in the movie, but that doesn’t make her any less a dream girl for the hero or a match for him.

  9. Sherwood on #

    Yay yay YAY!

    *clapping wildly*

  10. Shveta Thakrar on #

    *clap, clap, clap*

    I’ve had it with the stupid double standard, too, and it hurts most when other women embrace it and judge. *sigh*

    Great post, Sarah!

  11. Jo Treggiari on #

    I am proud of being a fallen woman in my teens. My late teens, I hasten to add. I think it’s absolutely time for the double-standard to go. Girls should make their own choices but if they make the wrong one, they should learn from it and move on.Guilt is not much good for anything.
    And remember Hollywood is always a couple of decades behind society and persists in promoting ideals which are outdated, unrealistic, and confusing. It’s just a movie, folks. It’s not supposed to be real. Read books- you’re far more likely to get the whole truth and some of them can help you avoid making those blush-inducing errors of the heart.

  12. MundieMoms Sophie on #

    Sarah, I think that we at Mundie Moms adore you just because of your accurate conclusions, like the ones above!!! Thank you for the laugh on Friday morning!

  13. rockinlibrarian on #

    For me it feels entirely backwards. Well, I don’t appreciate the double standard, either. But it seems in correcting the double standard the world is always like “It’s not only okay, it’s natural, for girls to be sexual too!” and never “But it’s also okay for ANYBODY, girls or boys, to be NOT sexual!” Maybe somebody will nod to it here and there, but there’s always an undercurrent of “Such people are freaks, goody-goodies, repressed, or merely immature… ie, if you DON’T want sex, you are UNnatural, and probably have a Problem” underneath their apparently accepting nods (I, personally, have always hated that “immature” part most of all, because I have heard it from PSYCHOLOGISTS, people who apparently know what they are talking about, which makes it hurt more). Maybe it’s too much to ask for more male virgin heroes (who are cooler than Edward)– maybe it’s just some romantic ideal that doesn’t exist, but it must exist SOMEWHERE.

  14. Diana Peterfreund on #

    Oh, SRB, wait until you read Ascendant, in which Astrid totally makes out with the wrong unicorn, and it’s pretty hot…

    I find I often can’t watch a whole lot of recent romantic comedies for that reason — they always present the girls as being such horrible sluts OR frigid virgins and nothing in between, and certainly not wonderful sluts. Like that movie 27 Dresses? I wish it had been about the Judy Greer character. She seemed AWESOME — anyone who shamelessly saunters into work after a weekend of debauchery wearing the ripped remnants of her bridesmaid gown (I see teeth marks) as a belt around a man’s shirt worn as a dress is my HERO — and also the only one that the Katerine Heigel character was friends with without a wedding.

    I haven’t seen Wild Thing so I don’t know how it was dealt with, but it seems to me that it’s a very realistic thing for a teenager — girl or boy — to lie about their sexual experience in order to seem cool. And maybe it’s not necessarily a good or evil thing, but one about her own insecurity if people thought this supposedly wild girl was a virgin.

    Also, for teen comedies, props to bring it on, which (aside from one jokey line about cheerleaders “swear that they’re not whores” and an equally jokey comment from one of the villain cheerleaders about the Eliza Dushku character being a “dyke”) actually treats sexuality as a non-issue.

    Also, I like ten things for the little sister actually having it in for the adorable dorky guy all along. So cute.

    Also, hate to say it, but American Pie. I liked how there was that cool sexually active curly haired girl who was there to dispense advice to all the clueless people around her. Not to mention Allyson Hannigan and her comfort with her own kinky sexuality.

  15. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    It truly irritates me that virginity is still a thing. It’s not a thing. It’s the absence of a thing and it shouldn’t define anyone’s moral state. But I fear we will not let it go because in our persistently patriarchal society, we love nothing more than to punish women and girls. We will punish them for having sex or for being prudes. We will punish them for being too fat or for being too thin. We will punish them for being too weak or for being too strong. But we will always punish them for something. How tedious.

    Also I saw 17 again and was rooting for the hero to stay 17 so the female lead could actually have someone worth shagging again. Because really, to suggest that the Zac Efron’s of the world automatically grow into the Matthew Perry’s of the world is the height of cynicism. And if the gender roles were reversed it would be a very very different story.

  16. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    So many delightful people thinking thinky things at me, thank you! I am very glad you guys enjoyed the post.

    @ Jesi – Someone called Alanna a whore? *head explodes with rage* Tamora Pierce was the very first fantasy I ever read (that Tolkien guy came later) and so I think for a long time without ever really reflecting on it I thought ‘these kind of books are awesome, look at all the stuff ladies can do.’ And some of them ARE. But people who judge Alanna for her behaviour are helping along the ones which aren’t. Grrrr.

    @Lori S – Completely, it’s a familiar story, and not something that bothered me in Wild Child qua Wild Child, but I was bothered by how happy I was when the heroine said she had – and I realised it was because I hardly ever got to see the heroine say she had, and it was fun. You are entirely right that it’s seeing the same story over and over that’s gross.

    @rockinlibrarian I remain very fond of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (Cross Stitch in the UK) for a scene where, the hero and heroine being about to wed, the heroine who’s been married before says ‘I’m not a virgin’ and the hero says ‘Well I am, so thank goodness someone’ll know what to do.’ I entirely agree I’d like to see the double standard reversed both ways, but I do find the ‘girls can be sexual ONLY WITH THEIR TRUE LOVES’ very troubling.

    @Jo Treggiari I can think of many, many books that reflect the same standards as the movies above, and a lot of them sell super well. So I don’t think it’s just Hollywood by any means, alas! That said there are also many books that do a good job not punishing the ladies for any sexytimes they get up to: Val from Holly Black’s Valiant springs to mind, a lass who has sex with two guys who are both sort of dead losses – and while regretting wasting her time, not feeling any shame – before ending up with the hero.

  17. Emily C. on #

    A hearty “word,” Ms. Sarah. On the non-fiction side, Scarleteen is a superduperawesome resource for this kind of thing. Sadly, I cannot think of much YA fiction that I can say the same thing for. Perhaps those Angus, Thongs, etc. (I can’t remember the rest of the title) books? They focused pretty heavily on random crushes and making out and not feeling bad for it at all. So huzzah for them!

  18. Susie on #

    \o/ Thank you Justine for getting Sarah to guest blog, and thank you Sarah for this wonderful post! Not only was it hilarious, but very thought-provoking too.

    I’m always kind of disturbed by how ingrained these attitudes are in society–for instance, I didn’t even notice the double standard at work in that quote from GoGP until you pointed it out! And then I thought, “Why don’t I notice these things more? This is horrible!” (Loved your conversation with the Frenchwoman, by the way)

    And I totally agree about Elizabeth Bennet, and that we need to see more undercutting of these stereotypes. There are lots of great books that do it already–but the movies not only reach a wider audience, they are way behind the times.

  19. Julia Rios on #

    Awesome guest post! Um, I mean, Oh, the horror! What have you done to us, Justine? I’m a sucker for romatic comedies and teen comedies, too, and it’s a really rough thing to have a weakness for that sort of movie when one is also a feminist. So many of them disappoint with messages like the ones you’ve mentioned. I’d love to hear recommendations for movies in these genres that others have found non-disappointing. I’d nominate Clueless to start. Of course, it’s building on Austen, so maybe that’s cheating. What do you think?

  20. Alexa on #

    Brilliant, brilliant post, I couldn’t agree more! I liked Rachel from GLEE from the beginning but the I loved her for the moment in the Chasity club when she says ” I’ll let you in on a secret girls think about sex too, all the time!” and stomps out.

    And as for Ghosts of Girlfriends past (which I also saw on a plane) no way would the truly awesome Jennifer Garner fall for Matthew M!

  21. Ace on #

    This is partly why I enjoyed Meg Cabot’s ‘Ready or Not’ so much – the message about sex in it was mainly, it’s okay to do it if you feel ready but, it’s also totally okay to wait! And it was such a refreshing thing to find in a YA book; the view that it’s okay for teens to have sex (also encouraging being safe about it). It’s a theme that I wish would be shown in more YA books, honestly.

  22. JJ on #

    I will have to echo Jesi about Alanna being an awesome feminist character (one whom I would argue steps into the realm of genderqueer–here is a sword-wielding heroine who isn’t just “better than the guys”–she has to work hard at it!). A few of the characters call her a slut in the book but I’ve never come across a girl who has read it and thinks Alanna’s a whore.

    This comment might end up being kind of long (and sort of spoilery for Bones–I don’t know how far you are! So maybe you want to skip this…)

    In a recent episode, Angela thought she was pregnant. She had been sleeping with one of the interns and Hodgins offers to marry her and take care of her and the baby. I was fascinated by this until it’s revealed that the pregnancy is a false positive and Angela is not pregnant.

    I discussed this with my best friend afterwards and she said, “Well duh, she can’t be pregnant with THE WRONG MAN’S BABY.” To which I said, “WHY?” Angela does say, “Wrong guy, wrong time”, but I thought it would have been great to develop this, especially with regards to how this affects her relationship with Hodgins. In fact, I think Angela being pregnant would go a long way in making me like her and not find her frou-frou and annoying. But my best friend was firm in the belief that she SHOULDN’T have another man’s baby when clearly, the “right” one was standing before her.


    What is WRONG with her having another man’s baby? Angela isn’t interested in pursuing something with the intern, but she was committed to her unborn child, regardless of parentage or circumstance. Is it because when she inevitably ends up with “the right one”, she’ll be “tainted”? How come she doesn’t think Booth is similarly tainted by having a child out of wedlock?

    ARGH. Just…argh.

    Regardless, I do love Bones. I especially love Brennan. Now there’s a feminist icon! I love that episode where she’s dating two different men for two different reasons (one for sex, one for intellect) and it gets hilariously awkward and weird.

  23. Natalie on #

    First off, I’m a big fan of SRB’s writing. It was fun to see her cross posting on here. Thanks for being so fab, Sarah! 🙂 And I agree that a double standard certainly exists (like, why doesn’t anybody ever call James Bond a whore?). But I also wanted to say that I so appreciate RJ Anderson’s comment. While I’ve decided to wait (or at least try my darndest to wait :), I absolutely do not think girls who choose differently are sluts. I think every woman deserves to be respected. Sexuality is a very personal thing and I don’t think anybody should judge anybody else for the decisions they make. However, in my reading experience, girls who are having the sexy times are sometimes the confident, smart, assertive girls while girls who aren’t (by choice or by circumstance) are characterized as self-righteous, insecure, and mean. I like it best when a character’s sexuality is part of her life but doesn’t define her (or at least doesn’t define her as dated and overused stereotypes say it should). Thanks for such a great post!

  24. Doret on #

    This is great post and oh so true.

  25. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    @ Julia Rios I hold firm in my conviction that Clueless is a truly great movie. People in the comments are talking about seeing different views, and I enjoyed that Cher the heroine was waiting, her best friend Dionne has sex for the first time during the movie, and their new friend Ty has had sex plenty of times and except during one regrettable fight, that’s all fairly cool in the friend group. Ten Things I Hate About You was also mentioned, and I agree with it.

    @ Ace I agree with being totally impressed by Ready Or Not – I liked that the heroine decided she would, and the heroine’s beautiful older sister decided she was waiting thank-you-very-much, and that both of them felt pretty good about their decisions.

    @ Natalie Thank you! And indeed, the lovely RJ Anderson makes, as she often does, very good points. Decision not to totally okay and often wise! I will say that my reading experience has been different from yours: I’d love to see confident, smart, assertive girls who are having sexy times more in books: I feel like I hardly ever do. Though it’d make me sad to see anyone demonised for not doing so. As you say, it’s terrible to show a character’s sexuality as defining them no matter what that sexuality is.

  26. Canicula on #

    Unfortunately, I cannot name any movies I feel really showcased sexuality being removed from moral value. But with books, I liked Rampant by Diana Peterfreund for this very reason. (Spoilers if you haven’t read it, which you should) At first, I was very happy with Astrid’s attitude toward her boyfriend. She’s with him because she feels socially obligated to be, and has no interest in sleeping with him. And it’s really just about him; it’s not the sex she objects to, really. I liked that she was a virgin and cool with it, but not worried about losing it either.

    As the book progressed, I admit I started to worry. The whole unicorn hunting thing being tied to a girl’s virginity bothered me to no end for a while. Up until Phil’s whole ordeal. Now, Phil is “defiled” for losing her virginity. She can’t hunt unicorns anymore. And yet she’s just as awesome as she was before. She’s still Phil. And she still manages to be useful to her fellow hunters. I love Phil. I love her for a hundred little reasons that have nothing to do with her sexuality and one or two that do. I love how it’s a non-issue with her, while still being lifechanging. Very realistic.

    And I love Giovanni’s attitude toward sex with Astrid. It’s refreshing to see a guy that wants to wait. It always seems to be the girl (what’s up with that, btw?) in everything. I love how he doesn’t want Astrid to do anything she might regret, that he genuinely cares for her in a way that’s not at all related to sex, and has no problem never sleeping with her even though he wants to. Because he loves her the way she is, in a way that’s totally unrelated to her sexual activity or lack thereof.

  27. Rebekah on #

    I wish there were more heroines who were simply disinterested in relationships, making sex a general non-issue (like Egg in most of Boy Proof), or just interested in sex/relationships in general without fixating on one person (Ruby, kind of, in the Ruby Oliver books) or even with a narrow fixation, but a willingness to have sex with other people (like Jessica Darling), or even heroines who have no interest in relationships but then develop one, but without becoming slaves to the idea of marriage (which was one of the things I enjoyed most about Graceling, in that Katsa was firm in her decision not to marry, and maintained that position even after becoming both romantically and sexually involved with Po).

  28. Megan on #

    I’m sorry, I think I have to hijack this post and be a complete Joss Whedon fangirl for a moment. It’s not a movie (well, the bulk of it isn’t), but this is one of the reasons I love the show Firefly so much; all of the women in it (except for River – the poor dear had quite enough going on in her head without adding sex into the mix too!) were comfortable in their sexuality and didn’t have a problem expressing it. The most obvious example is Inara, of course; as a Companion her job is all about sex, but in this ‘Verse Companions are treated with the utmost respect. Inara is more than a “whore”; she adds femininity and class to the crew and is probably the most educated of its members, save for the Tams. In combat, she outwits her opponent (i.e. Saffron in “Trash”) while Jayne and Mal just run around shooting everyone. A great example of what you are talking about in this post, although it is said to a male character, is in the episode “Jaynestown”, where the town’s magistrate hires her to “make a man” out of his son. The son is embarrassed about the entire incident and Inara tells him that being a virgin is simply one state of being and losing it is another, and that neither state should reflect on you as an individual, which delighted me. Then there’s Kaylee, who’s shown many times to be boy crazy and up for a roll in the hay anytime. She even got that line in the movie – “Goin’ on a year now, I ain’t had nothin’ twist my nethers ain’t run on batteries!” – that showed she’s not scared of talking about sex. But she’s never condemned for that – she even got her job as Serenity’s mechanic because she figured out how to fix the engine while having sex with the former engineer! Zoe is less upfront about her sexuality, and usually she thinks of herself as “one of the boys”, but we see Zoe as a women as well as a warrior in her scenes with her husband Wash. She knows she’s sexy, as evidenced by the scene in “Shindig” where she announces that if she were going to wear a dress, she wants one with “slink.” But at the same time she doesn’t use her sexuality to get what she wants; she uses her head. Zoe is a great example of a character that didn’t have to be female, but her dichotomy of woman and warrior is excellent and far too rarely seen in entertainment.

    (I hope all that made sense to anyone who hasn’t seen Firefly. I tend to be a little blinded by adoration when I talk about this show.)

  29. Jessie on #

    I don’t blog a lot, but I love reading books and reviewing books, and reading reviews, and then reviewing more books. And I particularly love your reviews. I once used one as a model for my year ten English class and they thought you were awesome.

    Anyway, I’m posting to see whether you’ve read Thomas Hardy’s “A Pair of Blue Eyes”? Your thoughts (about how morality, women and sex are represented) made me think of this fabulous novel. The theme’s well worn but never really gets old.

    Anyway, it’s a ripper book and I have such a love-hate relationship with Hardy I couldn’t help but recommend it.

    I reviewed it for a zine and popped it up on the blog (that I rarely post to, except about my garden)

  30. bettyboo on #

    And in the meantime, a girl was buried alive in Turkey for talking to boys….

  31. Najela on #

    I have a question for you, SRB; How do you address a character that has sex without readers labeling her as a slut or a whore? And what about those characters that are more sexually experienced, how do you give them all an air of dignity (even if they really don’t have anything to be ashamed about)?

  32. Sabine on #

    Oooh, have you read Loretta Chase’s Your Scandalous Ways? The heroine is a lady of negotiable affections (though very, very, extremely expensive;) I was sooo happy about that:)

    That “girls having sex are bad” thing kinda really struck me hard while watching Vampire Diaries. The few girls that actually had sex with someone not their true love and/ or not strictly monogamous ended up either turned and killed or enthralled and screwed over.

  33. Diana Peterfreund on #

    Thank you, Canicula!

    The magic system in the book is based around a misogynistic (and, as Lauren pointed out, socially constructed) definition — but just like the social construct in the real world, it’s something the characters are forced to deal with, whether that means choosing the construct, trying to find a way to live within the construct, or telling the construct to take a hike and living their life on their own means.

    Justine and I have actually had several conversations about the similarities between the magic in Rampant and the magic in MORM; namely that they’re the kind of magics you could do quite happily without.

    I must admit I’ve been surprised by the number of readers who ask what “Phil is going to do now.” Phil is actually in a far better position than Astrid. Freed from the dangers and restrictions of the magic, Phil is in a position to do what she wishes with her life. Astrid, however, is in a very different boat.

  34. Ali on #

    @Diana Peterfreund – I had EXACTLY the same reaction to 27 dresses!

    @Megan – What she said! Including the blinded by adoration bit 🙂

    I think 10 Things I Hate About You deals well with teenage sex and the having/not having thereof. I also totally agree with the person who mentioned Clueless. Also, Heathers? I mean, he was clearly NOT the right guy to have sex with (I think the phrase ‘Whoops, you are a tool, MY MISTAKE.’ also applies here!) but Veronica is never presented as ‘ruined’ because of it. She is presented as awesome and still standing (literally) at the end even though she has just been through a whole lot of CRAZY.

    What does everyone think about the way sex is treated in Gossip Girl? I can’t really decide if it’s good or not. Thinking of Blair here, on the one hand she a)sleeps with a guy in what SEEMS a stereotypically you-will-regret-this-in-the-morning way, but then falls in love with that guy and is eventually really happy for it, and b) is presented as an actual desiring sexual subject towards more than one guy, rather than an object, which Dear TV: Can we have more of, please?

    On the other hand, sex/withholding sex becomes kind of a weapon in the mind games going on between her and Chuck in season 2, which I can’t help but feel is not so much a healthy way to think about sex.

    Also, Sarah, I like this almost as much as your essays on ladies in books, which are some of my favourite things on the whole wide internet. I miss Justine on here, but yay guest bloggers!

  35. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    @ Najela Sadly, there is no way to stop people calling your characters sluts! My heroine’s been called one, Justine’s Micah (from Liar) as well, I’ve seen it happen to Cassie Clare’s female characters as well. Happens all the time, because the world in general still has this weird view of women. Nothing we can do about it.

    Except for writing women who don’t have this view of other people or themselves (or possibly who do, and get it challenged) and having respect for your character yourself? Trying to see her as a whole person in your mind, and thus one decision she makes not be the be-all and end-all.

  36. Ari B on #

    ^^ I am late to this party, but I wanted to say that I love your essays on feminism, and sometimes link my friends to them when we start having arguments.

    Also, if you have never seen Chasing Amy, you should give it a try! I did not actually like it, particularly, but it is a movie that very directly deals with this topic.

  37. meredith on #

    I have to admit, I really quite enjoyed reading the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants books – right up until the point when I realised that every single one of those girls had a Major Breakdown (i.e. lasting Months) after having sex for the first time. Never again. It’s straight out of Victorian the-wedding-night-could-well-upset-the-delicate-balance-of-her-mind-better-make-a-reservation-at-the-local-madhouse-just-in-case…thank-goodness-this-fits-in-with-my-dastardly-plan-eh?
    I can’t forgive a 100% strike rate. It’s too gross!

  38. MissAttitude on #

    Hilarious on target post! I agree with all the points you make, I would love to see more books about girls who had sex as teens and survived without feeling like complete crap, because some people have a nice first time or a just ok first time but they could keep on having sex.

    This happened to me the other day, I was dancing and this guy said I was “one of those girls” who (I’ve cleaned it up a bit) was always all up on guys. Nevermind the fact that this isn’t true (I just bumped into the guy but he took it to mean something else entirely) there was a guy all over two girls but no on ewas saying anything. Why is a bigger deal made if girls sleep around (or people think they do). Ugh. I hate double standards, lol that’s such a duh statement.

    Come back and guest post again! Feel Better Justine =)

  39. S on #

    Thank you for that. This has been an issue that has bothered me for a really long time. It’s something I’m struggling to fight in myself, and it’s even more frustrating to realize that most people don’t see the double standard as a problem. Most concerning of all, I feel like it’s something women use to tear other women they are jealous of down.

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