June 18, 2014

Should anything be taboo in women’s literature?

Bridget and her pants

There’s a scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary where Bridge realises she’s wearing her granny pants, just before she’s about to shag Mark Darcy. Cue a rushed bedroom trip where she swaps into some sexier knickers, and ta-da, she’s ready for sex.

Only… Is she?

In the real world, I can’t imagine so. Surely, for a woman who hasn’t had sex in a while, worrying about her underwear choice is only half of what’s going through her mind. Isn’t she also freaking out about her unshaved legs and the fact that her knickers are an inch away from her skin because she hasn’t waxed/shaved/trimmed her pubes in months? Or that she’s on her period and has to figure out whether to broach the period sex chat, and has no idea if that staple condom in her purse has gone out of date yet.

These are the panicked thoughts that I think a real Bridget Jones would be thinking. As much as I do love Helen Fielding’s version, I think she’s missed out the gory, X-rated female thoughts that would make the nearest man drop the novel in horror.

She’s not the only women’s author to do this either – I’ve spent my entire teenage years and early twenties searching for a novel that went into this level of detail. I couldn’t find one so I ended up writing my own – Virgin – a comedy about Ellie Kolstakis, a 21-year-old student trying to lose her virginity and figure out how to tame her pubes.

My goal was to write something funny, but also relevant. I wanted every girl and woman to be able to relate to Ellie’s panics and to encourage more people to ditch the fear we have of talking about taboos like this.

Because I think that in women’s fiction, taboos have traditionally been ignored. In the average chick lit novel, you will have the occasional detailed sex scene, but there’ll be no mention of what the genitalia really looks like, or – don’t stop reading now – smells like. You won’t hear about sexual insecurities or the awkward mishaps that affect every single young woman I know.

If we do hear about periods, it’s never the details about stained knickers  – it’s just a nod to PMT or stomach cramps. With hair removal, we might hear about Brazilian waxes, but the author will rarely tackle the ‘G-string’ zone or talk about what it feels like when the hair grows back. [FYI it feels awful, hence my novel is dedicated to anyone who has ever gone through the pain of having a Brazilian wax].

Meanwhile, in novels written by men, we do hear about similar topics. Male masturbation is practically an established theme, as are insecurities about penises, and men shave their beards in a way that menopausal women never get a chance to wax theirs in print. Likewise female masturbation is a rarely broached topic, and most female protagonists rarely worry about the way their vaginas look. Sadly, in the real world, women do.

It feels like women’s novels constantly try to present the perfect woman who never has to hide in the loos at work after doing an unexpected poo. This ‘romance heroine’ that everyone rehashes might worry about her weight, her love life or her career – which are accepted topics – but not the lack of men she’s slept with, or even something as ordinary as a period which affects half the population once a month.

Obviously, some novels do break away from this, and other authors might not consciously avoid taboos – it may just not fit into their creative visions. But I do think that women’s fiction shies away from these gritty areas because that’s what our society does too. It reflects a wider gender inequality where, on some level, women are expected to be these airbrushed glamazons we see in magazines.

But, newsflash, we’re not. And I think that now, more than ever, women don’t want to read about perfect women. The reason that Bridget Jones did so well was because she was an ordinary woman that women of all ages could relate. But that came out in the 90s, and now I think it’s time we had more Bridge-esque heroines who go that extra mile and don’t just tell us about their pants – they tell us about the pubes coming out beneath them.