I met a girl called Bella at a School of Life event in September, something about how to actualize your career potential, be a better person. Bella was gregarious; we had easy, fun conversation. In the context of networking, it was natural to exchange info. We kept in touch and Bella invited me to an event she organized — a reading at a gallery, part of an online platform called Better Times. It would feature stories by women, followed by a discussion. I was excited to attend.
“Better Times is a response to the hashtag activism of #metoo and #timesup, which, while important, perhaps don’t offer us a positive path forward,” Bella says. “We want to encourage women everywhere to approach love and sex with hope and joy, and not just demonize men and the dating scene.”
Bella’s cheerfulness and sex-positivity offer a contagious happiness. It’s amazing to see someone so strong and ambitious and good, putting forward an alternative narrative into a society so angry and misguided. “This platform is meant as a complimentary voice to all that,” she says. Online, most of the stories are anonymous for some reason. But in person, it’s all very personal, easy to connect.
One story was about body hair, and the awkward dance taken by lovers who grappled with their own desires in a society that has such strong opinions on the topic. Advertisements (especially for razors, of course) encourage us to shave, to remove everything — this is what is sexy. Pornography enforces this (though there are certainly alternatives). Hair removal is definitely mainstream. There’s a counterculture idea in reaction: Don’t shave. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do with your body! When everything we do is politicized, it’s difficult to know how to best groom ourselves. And it becomes difficult to manage a relationship under a political lens like this. What happens to personal preferences? The story was fascinating and ambiguous.
Another story was about a kinky threesome, in which two women (can I say plus-sized?) meet a submissive male in a club (he starts by kissing their boots and peeking up their skirts), then invite him to their flat a week later to be their slave, sex- and otherwise. They watch the movie Shortbus while giving him orders, dressing him in fetish gear, then having sex all together. This was an exciting peek into a world beyond me. I felt like a child peering through a keyhole, listening to this erotic tale. Well, it kind of felt like watching the movie Shortbus, actually. To each her own.
There was a story about a hook-up at a party. This one was read by a guy and girl together. At first I was surprised that a guy was (allowed to be) involved. But of course it was fine. It was like a poem, each one of them describing their perspective, how they wanted things to go, how each felt uncertain as things progressed, aware of societal/cultural expectations but not dedicated to them, self-conscious. What if a man doesn’t feel like being in charge? What if he doesn’t want a woman to even go down on him? How does he say this? What does she ask for? How does she take the lead? Perhaps we don’t actually know ourselves until we’re in such positions. Perhaps that’s what makes it all so exciting. Communication is so important in all of this — I think that’s really the major message. There exist typical roles for people to play, a sort of standardized path for the majority. If your aim is to transcend or transgress those normalized procedures, communication is necessary. Lots of communication is nonverbal, I’ll add, but surely smoother when in line with convention.
After the several stories (read from a votive-lit circle, to a pretzel-sat audience), Bella invited a man to the stage. She made it clear that his work wasn’t appropriate for the website, but asked for him to participate anyway. He read a slam poem called “Dear Men”. This is when the tone of the night shifted. I had been enjoying the readings very much, and felt good and safe in this feminine space. Suddenly words like “patriarchy” and “violence” were being spoken loudly. I looked at this guy, wondering what he was about, who he was talking to exactly, and where his passion came from. I dare say it felt somewhat charlatan. I felt the air in the room change.