Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s a 2000-word rant about slut shaming!
Last chapter, Zoey cast a circle as part of her plan to get a plan by asking the goddess Nyx for help. Despite the goddess Nyx not showing up or providing Zoey with a plan in any way shape or form, everyone deems their efforts a success, because why the fuck not.
“That was truly some of the most prodigious circle-casting I’ve ever experienced!” Damien gushed
Yes, of course they make a big deal about Damien using a word with more than two syllables in it. I’m sick of writing about it by now. [Ariel says: Last chapter they acted like him saying “affirmative” instead of “right” was this impressive display of vocabulary.]
So even though the casting the circle did not achieve what their only reason for casting the circle was, everybody freaks out about what a good job Zoey did, which makes me think that that entire scene was just an excuse to work in a way to show how special Zoey is, like this isn’t something that happens in every chapter anyway. All of Zoey’s friends talk about how Zoey was able to summon all the elements so powerfully.
“Do you know I actually could feel earth when Zoey called it?” Stevie Rae said.
You were presumably standing on it, Stevie Rae. [Ariel says: Did she feel the Earth move under her feet? God, my references are getting to be just as dated and bad as Zoey’s. LOOK WHAT THIS BOOK IS DOING TO ME!]
Zoey wonders why she’s been given this gift of affinity with all five elements. (Join the club, Zoey). She stays behind after her friends to be alone with her thoughts for a bit. Of course, this is a young adult fiction novel about vampires that has thus far shamelessly copied other popular stories, so it’s about time for a stalker love-interest to show up.
“Seems like I keep finding you by this tree,” Erik said, smiling down at me and looking like a god. […] Just exactly why did he keep “finding” me? And just exactly how long had he been watching this time?
Whoa, sounds ominous! Maybe this is subtle foreshadowing that Erik isn’t a good guy?
“Hey, I didn’t mean to intrude or whatever. I just couldn’t concentrate on my homework so I went for a walk. I guess my feet carried me this way without me telling them to […] I’m really not stalking you. Promise.”
He stuck his hands in his pockets and looked totally embarrassed. Well, totally cute and embarrassed
Alright, well, that was a total 180 in mood, so maybe this book is in the “stalking=love” post-Twlight camp. [Ariel says: And here I thought this book about vampyres instead of vampires would be so different.]
Erik walks Zoey back to her dorm (again) and Zoey works up the nerve to ask about Aphrodite’s “he will always be mine” comment.
“Well, not that it’s any of my business, but-”
“It is your business,” he said quickly. […] “At least I’d like it to be your business.”
…Okay. That is actually kind of cute. Don’t worry, though! It’s not all tits and rainbows, because Zoey ruins it by continuing to judge everyone!
“Z, don’t believe the crap Aphrodite says. She and I haven’t been together in months.”
“But you used to be,” I said.
He nodded and his face looked strained.
“She’s not a very nice person, Erik. […] I don’t like it that you’d be with someone who’s so mean. It makes me feel funny about wanting to be with you.”
Ughhhhhhhh okay. As much as it irritates me how Zoey just obsesses over peoples’ sexual histories and judges them endlessly for it – which is a bad thing, because people change and judging someone based on who they were in the past is a shitty thing to do – I can’t entirely dismiss Zoey’s feelings here. We already know her to be a very emotionally immature person and it makes sense that she’d be scared about how she’s interested in a guy who was previously involved with someone who’s so awful to her.
[Ariel says: At first I had a completely different reaction to this scene. I was impressed that Zoey was straightforward about her conflicting feelings. But then I wound up coming to the same conclusion as Matt. It’s fine that she’s bringing up why he dated someone as mean as Aphrodite, but she should recognize that he’s done with her now, which implies that he saw her true colors and didn’t like them. 99% of people have dated someone who they thought was one way and then realized they were not that person at all.] [Matthew adds: OH! OH! OH! I have a gif for this!]
Of course, Zoey takes this well beyond the point where I have any sympathy for her.
“Okay, how about I watch those dorky DVDs with you Saturday?” I said before I could freakishly talk myself out of going out with the most gorgeous guy at this school.
“It’s a date,” he said.
Obviously giving me time to pull away if I wanted to, Erik slowly bent down and kissed me. His lips were warm and he smelled really good. The kiss was soft and nice. Honestly, it made me want him to kiss me more. […]
Then he kissed me again, only this time he wasn’t hesitant. The kiss deepened, and my arms went up around his shoulders. […] It was crazy and amazing, and more than anyone else’s kisses had ever made me feel.
Naturally, Zoey hasn’t used the word “slut” once in this paragraph, and must rectify the situation.
As my senses started to return to me I realized that I was totally smushed against him and that I’d been standing in front of the dorm making out like a slut.
It’s really hard to say something like, “I was reading this, and was waiting for this exact thing to happen, and then it did happen! I totally called it!” on this blog, because not only is there no way to back up that claim, but it doesn’t really have the same impact if you’re not also there in the moment. However, I was seriously reading Zoey’s description of her kiss with Erik, waiting and dreading the point where she’d take a (surprisingly) legitimately sweet moment and go “OH MY GOD I’M SUCH A SLUT NOW”.
“What’s wrong? […]” he said, tightening his arms around me.
“Erik, I’m not like Aphrodite.”
Yes, because kissing a boy twice and giving a blow job in public are pretty much the same thing. [Ariel says: I have no jokes to make at the moment. I just hate Zoey so much. I get that this could be a legitimate and interesting set of beliefs for a character to have. Well, it would be in a book with a stronger handle on its characters, but the book’s authors seem to truly believe that Zoey is this badass teen who is wise beyond her years when she is very clearly not. [Matthew interrupts: Poopie.] It’s not Zoey that thinks she’s hot shit, it’s the Casts, and that’s why her character is so unlikeable.]
“I know you’re not. I wouldn’t like you if you were like her. […] Zoey, you make me feel different than anyone has ever made me feel before.”
Does she make you feel like poopie? Because I’m really not sure what you’re seeing in her, Erik.
“Don’t patronize me, Erik. I saw you in the hall with Aphrodite. You’ve clearly felt this kind of stuff before, and more.”
Okay, so it’s time to play, “But what makes this a ‘bad’ book”.
“What makes this a bad book” would seemingly be obvious with this scene, but I feel it’s important to tread carefully here, because while Kristin and P.C. Cast’s House of Night slut shames like a Bible Belt evangelical conservative talk show host, it isn’t like there aren’t good stories – or important stories – about this sort of thing.
One of my top five favorite movies of all time is Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy. To summarize the relevant part, the main character learns that his girlfriend has a very wild sexual history, the straw breaking the camel’s back being when he learns that she once had a threesome. He subsequently slut shames her like a motherfucker, much like Zoey does in this book, but what Chasing Amy does differently (and what makes it “good”) is that the movie focuses on his feelings of inferiority, and how he gradually realizes that that is the real issue and not someone else’s past that that person has moved on from anyway. Of course, that realization doesn’t solve the problem, because – rational or not – it’s hard to shake feelings of inferiority, and the movie explores the conflicting emotions of his love for this woman and his fears about not understanding her past or feeling like he’s enough, and though he tries to overcome his insecurity, he often only makes things worse.
Chasing Amy identifies the human part of that struggle by reminding us that people aren’t perfect, that people change over time, that people can struggle with insecurity, and that’s all okay. Kristin and P.C. Cast’s House of Night presents a limiting and condemning part of a moral panic that some people are better than others, that people should be judged by his or her past, that people should just know better, and that this exaggerated absolutism shouldn’t be challenged. A “good” story like Chasing Amy tells us that slut shaming is really about deeper issues that we have to work on, sometimes together and sometimes individually, even though they challenge us. A “bad” story like House of Night tells us that, nuh uh, no it isn’t; it’s about sluts.
Okay. Semi-aside rant over. Let’s get back to Zoey devaluing Erik’s feelings that I still don’t understand why he has for Zoey. [Ariel says: God, she’s just so mean to him! Just because Zoey saw this brief incident in the hall doesn’t mean she has any clue about his feelings!]
He shook his head and I saw hurt in his eyes. “What Aphrodite made me feel was all physical. What you make me feel is about touching my heart.”
Wow, they missed a huge opportunity to write, “But what Aphrodite made me feel was about touching my dick.” [Ariel says: It was the first thing that came to my mind too. Same brain!]
“I know the difference, Zoey, and I thought you did, too.”
This has to be setting up character growth for Zoey, right? There is no way Kristin and P.C. Cast actually intend for Zoey to be “right” here. Like… we criticize them for slut shaming all the time, but they have to be writing this knowing that Zoey’s in the wrong, right? There is no way anybody could write this and not think that.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly. “That was mean of me. I do know the difference.”
“Promise me that you won’t let Aphrodite come between us.”
“I promise.” It scared me, but I meant it.
See, that’s much closer to the “good” part of my outlining of “good” vs “bad” stories about slut shaming. The “people are allowed to struggle with insecurity, and that’s all okay” part. So is there hope for House of Night to realize “wow, Zoey is wrong about this issue” and allow her to grow in a way that feels genuine and doesn’t miss the point? Well, I’d feel a lot better about it if the chapter didn’t end with an abrupt shift in mood and sweeping of issues under the rug worthy of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.
“Okay.” He smiled and gave me a quick kiss. “See you Saturday, Z.”
My lips tingled all the way up to my room.
NO YOU DON’T, HOUSE OF NIGHT. YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ACT ALL CUTE AFTER ALL THAT SLUT SHAMING AND CLOSED-MINDEDNESS.