Filia Dolorosa: A Radical Lesbian Feminist Reading of Charlotte Roche’s ‘Wetlands’ (Harper Collins, London 2009)

For the first time since I have this blog, I feel the need to give a content warning. This review of a “feminist” novel is graphic and contains outright nauseating bits. I found myself walking the tightrope of any radical feminist writer: How to precisely name patriarchal horrors without using horrifically patriarchal language? I quoted parts of the book directly, since no description seemed effective enough to convey the horror sold as feminism that is this book.

So I put the rest under the cut – please proceed with caution.

That I chose a seemingly random German novel for this next part of Radical Readings has not so much to do with the book’s success – according to the blurb of the English edition it sold over a million copies in Germany alone[i] – but the fact that it was marketed and received as a meaningful voice on women, female bodies, sex and feminism. This review serves as a springboard for some of my own thoughts on “equality feminism” which Wetlands is a perfect example of.

It is the story of eighteen year old Helen Memel, who after an accident while shaving around her anus has to have surgery and spends her recovery thinking about sex, playing with her body fluids and wishing for her divorced parents to get back together. Her only hobby is growing avocado trees from pits which she also uses as sex toys. While in hospital, Helen keeps thinking about her childhood in a way that leaves the reader to decide what is memory, dream or outright lies. Despite Helen using the break of her bed to rip open her wound in order to buy more time, ultimately all of her attempts to make her parents reconcile are futile. After that, she remembers (?) to have found her mother after she tried to commit suicide and kill Helen’s brother alongside her. She stages a melodramatic break with her family and moves in with her male nurse Robin she has – not very convincingly – fallen in love with somewhere along the way.

Wetlands‘ plot is simplistic and the characters are wooden; in fact Helen is the only fleshed-out character in the whole novel. All others are merely auxiliary to her and more the literary equivalent to stock photos than anything.

Still, reviews of Wetlands are not typically concerned with the technical shortcomings of the book, but with its content: Wetlands is gross, sexually explicit and its author Charlotte Roche revels in endless descriptions of bodily fluids and the main character’s unhygienic behaviours, very clearly aiming for shock value. Logically, Wetlands has been dubbed ‘pornographic’ by many mainstream media reviews (whether this was deemed negative or positive depends on the reviewers). I second this, although for different reasons than given by all reviews I’ve seen so far. It is neither the sexual content per se that makes it pornographic, nor the candid descriptions of body functions that are really the problem. It is the underlying message that liberation for women lies in imperialist, classist, sexist masochism that is, ultimately, the true obscenity of Wetlands.

The disgusting parts of the novel are almost a red herring distracting from the monstrosity of Charlotte Roche’s ideas on women, sex and feminism. All the internalised sexism, all the unabashed racism, all the casual classism in the novel get buried underneath the exaggerated outrage over Helen’s habits. For a medical professional, for a woman nursing an infant, the elderly or the severely disabled, all the banging on about pus and shit and blood and sperm and vomit and smegma is about as scandalous as last Tuesday at work.

 

Death of the Author: Charlotte Roche’s Work, Life and Feminism

Who is Charlotte Roche? Before she wrote Wetlands and the follow-up novel Schoßgebete (English title: Wrecked) she was best known as a presenter for the German music channel Viva. She also has appeared in other German media and took part in several music and film projects. She is married and mother of a daughter. She is a secularist and dabbles in feminism:

“Charlotte Roche gilt seit einigen Jahren als Vertreterin einer neuen feministischen Generation. Im Mai 2001 war sie auf der Titelseite der Zeitschrift Emma zu sehen; (…)  einige Standpunkte des klassischen 1970er-Jahre-Feminismus – wie etwa die vollständige Ablehnung von Pornografie – hält Roche für überholt und vertritt eher einen Sex-positiven Feminismus.”

“Charlotte Roche since a few years is considered a representative of a new feminist generation. In May 2001 she was on the cover of Emma magazine; (…) she considers some viewpoints of classical 1970s feminism – such as a wholesale rejection of pornography – to be outdated and represents a more sex-positive feminism.”[ii]

Charlotte Roche has an explicitly feminist agenda with Wetlands, which is underpinned by the interviews she gave in the wake of the book’s huge success. Wetlands and Wrecked are also unseperable from Charlotte Roche’s  biography. She has called Helen Memel “thirty percent invented, seventy percent me”[iii], Wetlands “a novel about my youth” and Wrecked about her “adulthood”[iv].

Nonetheless I refuse to discuss Charlotte Roche’s presumed psychological condition and the relationship between her life and her work. I don’t know her and despite her exhibitionist interviews I would find it disrespectful to speculate about her emotions and her feelings. Charlotte Roche says her psychoanalyst told her that Wetlands and Wrecked should not have been published due to their strictly autobiographic and therapeutic value[v], but ultimately she did publish them. By this, these texts have become part of the political discourse and works of art. They deserve to be scrutinised as such, and just not written off as some woman’s emotional discharge (pun intended). I want to take Charlotte Roche serious, even if that means that I will have to pan Wetlands completely.

Charlotte Roche says about herself that she is “not a writer”[vi]. Logically, in interviews her reflections on Wetlands and Wrecked show clearly she is not at all interested in how she says things, but only in what these things are. By this, she is utterly positivist, and demands of her readers to take her literally. Wetlands is a work of fiction, but it is as close to a manifesto as fiction can get. The excuses of artistic license and “but it is just entertainment” do not apply. Charlotte Roche has a message, and she wants it to be heard.

In an 2008 interview with German magazine Der Spiegel Charlotte Roche laid out her viewpoints. They are just as simplistic, inconsistent and liberal as I expected them to be, starting with her claim that she is married to a feminist (he must be, he likes to bake[vii]). When asked by the interviewers about the mission of Wetlands, she replied:

“Mission klingt scheußlich. Aber wenn ich einen zarten Appell formulieren darf, dann so: Ich hätte gerne, dass es auf Frauen einen weniger großen Druck gibt, sich komplett zu enthaaren. Frauen rasieren sich aus einem vorauseilenden Gehorsam. Ich glaube, dass sogar Männer über ein paar weibliche Schamhaare ganz dankbar wären, weil sie ja mit Frauen, nicht mit Kindern schlafen wollen.”

“Mission sounds awful. But if I may express a gentle appeal, it would be: I would like to have less pressure on women to shave completely. Women shave out of a rushed obedience. I think that even men would be grateful for some female pubic hairs, because they  want to sleep with women, not children.”[viii]

Wetlands is not just critical about shaving. It is critical of today’s hygiene practices as a whole. The topic is so central it made it on the blurb: “(…); through the fluids, odours and discharges, [Helen is, imf] rebelling against the hygiene hysteria of the modern world.”

In her Spiegel interview Charlotte Roche drives home the same message:

“Eine Grundidee war: Hass auf Parfums, Hass auf Deos. Als Menschen sind wir ursprünglich darauf angelegt, im Geruch des anderen den potentiellen Sexualpartner zu suchen und zu erkennen. Indem wir uns künstlich parfümieren, nehmen wir uns eine Quelle der Lust. Ich möchte das Geschlechtsteil des Mannes durch seine Hose hindurch riechen.”

“One basic idea was: Hatred of perfumes, hatred of deos. Humans are hard-wired to look for and find a potential sexual partner through body odour. By putting artificial perfume on us we deprive ourselves of a source of pleasure. I want to be able to smell a man’s genitals through his pants.”[ix]

This last sentence makes it very clear that Charlotte Roche doesn’t have any radically critical analysis of heterosexuality at all. Despite her criticism of media depictions of women she calls for more sex in public and advises women to take a leaf out of men’s book when it comes to sexuality:

“Ich bin für mehr Sex – mehr Schweinereien, keine Tabus. Ich glaube, dass es vom echten Sex, dem Sex, der riecht und schmeckt und schmutzige Geräusche macht, nie genug geben kann. Das Pin-up, das ich auf einem C & A-Plakat sehe, wenn ich mein Kind zum Kindergarten fahre, das stört mich auch. Schon deshalb, weil es den Sex langweiliger, flacher, spießiger und unaufregender darstellt, als er in Wirklichkeit ist.”

“I’m in favour of more sex and obscenities, no taboos. I believe there can’t ever be enough of real sex that is smelly and tasty and makes dirty noises. The pin-up I see on a C&A poster when I drive my child to kindergarten, I’m annoyed by this as well. In particular because it makes sex out to be more boring, shallow, bourgeois and less exciting than it really is.”[x]

This position of course leads to her being perceived as some kind of feminist:

“SPIEGEL: Vor 40 Jahren hießen Slogans der Frauenbewegung “Verbrennt eure BHs” und “Frauen, tragt keine Stöckelschuhe”. Was unterscheidet Ihre Forderungen von denen von 1968?
Roche: Der Feminismus der ersten Generation wusste immer genau, wie wir Frauen uns zu benehmen haben. Diese Gewissheit fehlt uns. Ich habe keine Ahnung, wo gutes Benehmen für Frauen aufhört und wo böses Benehmen anfängt. Ich möchte nur, dass Frauen die Wahl haben, den einen oder einen anderen Weg zu gehen.
SPIEGEL: Ihre Forderungen klingen explizit feministisch.
Roche: Gerne.
SPIEGEL: Mit dem Label Feministin haben Sie kein Problem?
Roche: Woher denn? Den Feminismus habe ich mit der Muttermilch aufgesogen. Konkret bedeutet das, dass meine Mutter mir beigebracht hat, dass die Welt frauenfeindlich ist und dass es noch viel zu tun gibt, bis Frauen dieselben Chancen haben wie Männer. Das hat auch etwas mit Zivilcourage zu tun: Wir müssen uns streiten. So wie ich das sehe, verdienen Frauen in gleichen Jobs und nach der gleichen Ausbildung wie Männer immer noch rund 15 Prozent weniger als ihre männlichen Kollegen. Frauen verhandeln ihr Gehalt nicht vernünftig. Das müssen wir noch lernen.”

“SPIEGEL: Fourty years ago the slogans of the women’s movement were “Burn your bras” and “Women, don’t wear heels”. What’s the difference between your demands and those from 1968?
Roche: First-generation feminism always knew exactly how we ought to behave as women. We lack this certainty today. I have no idea where good behaviour for women ends and bad behaviour starts. I just want women to have the choice to take one way or the other.
SPIEGEL: Your demands sound explicitly feminist.
Roche: Sure.
SPIEGEL: You have no problem with the label ‘feminist’?
Roche: Why would I? I imbimbed feminism with my mother’s milk. This means that my mother taught me the world is hostile to women and that there is still much left to do until women get the same chances as men. It has to do with moral courage: We have to quarrel. The way I see it, women still earn around fifteen percent less than their male collegues in the same jobs and after the same education. Women are not negotiating their salaries properly. We still have to learn that.”[xi]

In an interview like this, conducted by a German newspaper, there is one name that inevitably will be brought up: Alice Schwarzer.

Alice Schwarzer is politically active in Germany and France since the 1970s as a journalist, writer and activist, and her name has become synonymous with German feminism itself. Logically, she is a major target not just for antifeminists, but also for generation after generation of fun feminists trying to make feminism sexy.

“SPIEGEL: Die Forderung nach Lohngleichheit ist ebenfalls schon viele Jahrzehnte alt. Wie grenzt sich Ihr Feminismus vom Feminismus der Alice Schwarzer ab?
Roche: Junge Feministinnen müssen Alice Schwarzer für viel dankbar sein, zum Beispiel dafür, dass Frauen ihre Männer nicht mehr fragen müssen, ob sie arbeiten gehen dürfen. Bei vielen ihrer neuen Kampagnen wie bei der Verteufelung von Pornos können wir aber nicht mehr mitgehen. Frau Schwarzer möchte Sadomaso-Sex verbieten. Frauen sind aber total masochistisch, das wird auch sie nicht ändern können. Ich habe keine Lust, Frau Schwarzer erst um Erlaubnis zu fragen, bevor ich im Bett richtig loslege.
SPIEGEL: Ist Alice Schwarzer in Ihren Augen zu alt, um eine gute Feministin zu sein?
Roche: Sie wird dem Menschen in der Frau nicht mehr gerecht. Ich finde es schrecklich, dass es für so etwas Wichtiges wie Feminismus nur diese Frau gibt.”

“SPIEGEL: The demand for equal pay is also decades old. How does your feminism differ from Alice Schwarzer’s feminism?
Roche: Young feminists have to be grateful for many things, for example that women no longer have to ask their husbands if they are allowed to work[xii]. We cannot, however, join her more recent campaigns like her demonisation of pornography. Ms Schwarzer wants to forbid sadomaso-sex. But women are totally masochistic, and she won’t be able to change that. I don’t want to ask Ms Schwarzer for permission before I get it going in bed.”
SPIEGEL: In your eyes, is Alice Schwarzer too old to be a good feminist?
Roche: She does not right by the human being inside a woman. I consider it horrible that for something so important as feminism there is only this woman.”[xiii]

Alice Schwarzer of course does not want to forbid sadomasochism. In fact, while she has tried to fight SM pornography by legal means, her stance on individual women’s SM practices is very liberal[xiv].  Not that Alice Schwarzer’s actual views matter at all in this context.

Charlotte Roche is not offering a thoughtful critique of another woman’s feminist work. Neither is she baited into making controversial statements by a malevolent interviewer. She is a media professional. She has worked in media her whole life.  Whatever she says in front of a camera or into a mic is professionally calculated for effect. Attacking a straw effigy of Alice Schwarzer is an effective and cheap marketing technique, nothing more and nothing less[xv].

 

Resistance is Futile: Helen’s Body

Wetlands‘ focal point is its protagonist Helen Memel.  As a matter of fact, there isn’t much else to analyse in Wetlands except her. So I gave her the most thought, starting with her name.

Obviously I can’t know exactly why Charlotte Roche chose ‘Helen’ for her main character, but my first association is (of course) Helen of Troy[xvi]. Despite all efforts to add more complexity to the debate, Helen of Troy is still mostly perceived as the epitome of feminine beauty, a Hollywood character or a whore.

Either of these aspects fit Helen well. She is beautiful in a patriarchal sense, as she is hypersexual, very slender and proud to look younger than even her eighteen years (p. 7). By this, her body is coded as essentially ideal in what Alicen Grey calls ‘paedophile culture‘.

Against this backdrop, all her scandalous behaviours like eating her body fluids or forgoing washing become inherently acceptable. Under patriarchy, perfect bodies are the only ones that get leeway to be deviant: Runway models get made up into grotesque caricatures, see e. g. Alexander McQueen’s wildly successful shows. It required perfectly beautiful Charlize Theron to play Monster Aileen Wuornos. Lady Gaga made a whole career out of deliberate ugliness and so did Madonna before her[xvii].

Ironically, Charlotte Roche blames Madonna for her “refusal to age” and idolises Harold and Maude[xviii]. In her own novel, though, she takes the easy way out. Helen’s body is young, beautiful, sexually desirable and generally works without hiccups (she e. g. doesn’t have cramps or any kind of pain during menstruation, p. 110). By this, her body is the utterly respectable body, which is strengthened by her being coded as middle class. Helen has enough money to spend on any whim, and just assumes that money will get her anything she wants: Ordering pizza and beer into the hospital is just as natural to her as buying herself a sterilisation the day after her eighteenth birthday. The latter, on a meta perspective, also shows Charlotte Roche’s own privileged background. No matter how much money someone has to offer, it is damn near impossible to be sterilised in a German hospital in your twenties, let alone as a teenage girl. This enormous suspension of disbelief Charlotte Roche demands of her readers relates to the very nature of the novel itself. Charlotte Roche’s belief that her autobiography needs to be made available to the benefit of the masses is middle-class mindset incarnated. She even says she started out with the idea to write a manual on how women are supposed to treat their bodies:

“Es hatte erst ein Sachbuch werden sollen: Charlotte Roche empfiehlt Frauen, wie sie mit ihrem Körper umzugehen haben. Das kam mir dann aber zu plump vor. Eine Romanfigur war schon deshalb besser, weil sie sich grotesker aufführen kann als die Privatperson Charlotte Roche.”

“At first, it should have been a non-fiction book: Charlotte Roche gives recommendations to women how to deal with their bodies. But that eventually struck me as too heavy-handed. A fictional character was also better because she can behave more grotesquely than private person Charlotte Roche.”[xix]

Helen Memel interacts only with two kinds of non-middle-class women: The prostitutes she pays, and a professional cleaner whom she immediately feels the need to criticise:

“She leaves footprints on the freshly mopped surface. Right. Of course. She did it wrong. No way. She has started at the door and then tracked dirt right back over everything. When she leaves, everything will look dirtier than before. Maybe she’s new. I could tell her how to do it, just a little tip. I see her leaving footprints as she walks toward the door. But she pulls the mop behind her, snaking it back and forth. Footprints gone. All upset for no reason, Helen. Interesting technique.” (p.160)

Both this episode and Helen’s endeavours in the brothels (I’ll get to that further down) serve to distance herself from these other women – women who work and serve rather than consume and take like Helen does.

Ultimately, all these traits undermine any attempt to radically explore female physicality: The physicality of a perfect body is uninteresting.

This is even more drastically true for Charlotte Roche’s mission to shatter society’s obsession with hygiene. Helen is putting her body through so many objectively unhealthy, sick-making and sometimes potentially life-threatening things, and still doesn’t experience any negative repercussions. Her very trip to the hospital with an infection of the anus is presented as a freak accident, a deviation from the norm of her usual physical indestructability, more metaphor than real injury. Helen does not get infections, despite not washing her mascara off for months (p. 61ff), eating pus (p. 77 and 135), not wiping after urinating (p. 91), putting make-up on her vulva (p. 125), leaving her (homemade) tampons in for extended time or exchanging them for used ones from her friend (p. 113) and rubbing her vulva over the seats of public toilets (p. 14). There are no STDs in her world. She can jam cotton buds into her ears without risking damage to her eardrums. She inserts a whole showerhead into her vagina and uses water pressure to masturbate in a way that at best would put any real woman at risk of disturbing her vagina’s microflora and at worst of an air embolism with a potentially fatal outcome. When she tries to extend her hospital stay to have more time to trick her parents into reconciliation, she rams the break of her bed into her anus. Bleeding freely she still has the nerve, time and strength to collect a bottle cap full of her tears and wipe the blood off the break to hide evidence before she is being rushed into emergency surgery.

Helen’s body defies biology to such a degree that for a while I figured Charlotte Roche attempted to be satirical. She lets Helen argue that dog shit has to be perfectly edible, since dogs eat canned meat and that can’t be possibly harmful when it comes out again the other end (p. 195/196). She also puts her bloody tampon on sterile dressing material to prove that the patient receiving the contaminated bandages will not get sick (p. 166). But there is at least the possibility that Charlotte Roche actually means what she writes. She also lets Helen claim that she is able to hold in her period blood deliberately due to her good pelvic floor muscles (p. 149), and she does a similar trick with the aforementioned water she masturbates with. It could very well be that Charlotte Roche’s grasp on anatomy and biology is really that tenuous.

In one way or the other, her exaggerations defeat any realistic message of body positivity. It is easy to be all unconcerned about hygiene if one’s body is virtually indestructible.

Helen’s perfectly beautiful, perfectly functional body is a patriarchal ideal which is completely unattainable in real life. Helen is not vulnerable at all. She controls her pain, her diseases. She is invincible. She literally is the all-powerful body,  a paradox just as unreal as the virgin mother of God.

And here sets in what I wrote in Sacred Kink IV about male subs: Only when there is power in abundance, it can be temporarily shed. Helen can be unsanitary and reckless, because her body is invincible. Lorelai and Rory Gilmore and their real-life counterparts #girlswithgluten can give the impression of eating junk food all day long, because they are thin and beautiful. Male fetishists can play at being paralysed, because they have the power to force others to play along. They still have nothing of value to add in a discourse about the physicality of people with a disability. Gilmore Girls has nothing of value to teach about the physicality of fat women. And unnaturally healthy Helen Memel has nothing of value to teach about the physicality of real women.

 

In the way Helen is meant to embody physical liberation her mother embodies the opposite. She is the source of Helen’s anti-hygiene obsession and her antipathy for everything that has to do with rules, order and safety. The anti-hygiene arguments are really just anti-mother arguments, and, ultimately, anti-woman.

Helen’s cutting-edge criticism of her mother contains gems like the claim she doesn’t go to the toilet, but holds her shit in until it desintegrates (p. 72) or that she packed Helen’s avocado sapling collection to well and drives too carefully (p. 93). She of course also brings Helen the wrong clothes into the hospital (p. 139) and even her bubble bath is worthy of Helen’s contempt (p. 91). She is also the root cause for Helen’s habit to shave, via a vaguely Freudian dream-scene (or memory) of her cutting off younger Helen’s eyelashes out of jealousy (p. 61ff).

Nothing Charlotte Roche writes about Helen’s mother has anything to do with a feminist critique of motherhood. The mother just serves as that Other Woman™ Charlotte Roche and Helen Memel are not like at all. Helen’s mother of course is also not sufficiently sexual, a neurotic freak who doesn’t even like to have sex with her own husband (p. 129). Cutting off Helen’s eyelashes, telling Helen to wash after sex, she is the big ol’ anti-sex boogey woman who tries to cut Helen off from her own sexuality out of sheer prudishness.

 

You’re the Puppet: Racism, Sexism and Classism as Liberation

Charlotte Roche likes the idea of men being aroused when they read Wetlands[xx]. She calls the novel pornographic outright:

“Vielleicht ist es wirklich ein Porno geworden, das wäre schön. Im Ernst, die Frage ist doch, was ist Pornografie? In Filmen sind das ein erigierter Penis und eine weit geöffnete Scham, die beim Vollzug des Geschlechtsaktes gezeigt werden, wobei der Mann derbe abgeht und die Frau die Unterlegene spielt. So kommt das in meinem Buch nicht vor. Mir geht es eher um Masturbation und die Erforschung des eigenen Körpers.”

“Maybe it [the novel, imf] did turn out to be porn, that would be nice. Seriously, the question is, what is pornography? In movies it is an erect penis and a wide-open vagina[xxi] shown during the act of sexual intercourse, while the man has a good time and the woman plays the inferior. That doesn’t happen in my book. I am more concerned with masturbation and the exploration of one’s own body.”

Charlotte Roche here gives a classical argument of sex positivism trying to re-define what sex should be. There is barely any penis-in-vagina intercourse in Wetlands, but rather a sexual kaleidoscope so multifold, it doesn’t even require the distinction of vanilla and kinky, of queer or straight, of monogamy or polyamory. Sex in Wetlands is a collection of “perversion” in the queer sense, without labels, borders or a need for political analysis.

Still, when Helen falls in love with nurse Robin, the sex act she dreams of is sticking her tongue in his anus (p. 151). Doesn’t seem less pornographic to boring vanilla Dyke me than plain old vaginal het sex, but okay.

This is not even the strongest argument why “alternative porn” Wetlands is the same old bullshit as regular porn. The strongest argument is, once more, Helen’s body. It is not the obscene language of the novel or the intent to shock stinos[xxii] that make it pornographic, but the fact that Helen in sexual matters is the perfect patriarchal fantasy come to (literary) life.

Helen’s body is not pornographic in the sense of the strained, real body of an actress that has to be screened for STDs every two weeks, numbed with drugs, painkillers and alcohol, stitched back together after anal prolapse, surgically mutilated with labia reductions and breast enhancement, painted, waxed and plucked. Helen’s body  is not like the body of a porn actress, but of a porn character. It is an avatar body, a projected fake body made out of patriarchy’s unnatural demands, constructed and re-constructed over and over again.

She is wet all day long (p. 15), orgasms from a penis in her anus and no other stimulation (p. 2) and experiences her whole life through a lens of sexualisation. She manages to actually sexualise surgery:

“The pain is getting worse, stabbing at my sphincter like a knife. They must have stretched the sphincter wide open. Of course. How else would they get in there. Down my throat?” (p. 27)

Andrea Dworkin, in the introduction of one of the later issues of Pornography: Men Possessing Women, wrote about the horror to see everday objects like telephones or scissors used on women’s bodies in porn and to be unable to unsee what is being done with them when she sees these same objects in her everyday life. Helen’s masturbation habits are the patriarchal reversal of this experience. She is shown as a hypersexual fantasy girl 24/7, her everyday life as one big pornographic setup, any random object a potential sex toy (e. g. eyelash curlers, p. 63).

This merge of the everyday and the pornographic has a parallel in real life: The man who translated Wetlands into English is first and foremost an editor for Playboy, whose writings were also featured in mainstream media like the New York Times.

Porn has poured over the watershed long time ago[xxiii], and Helen Memel is the perfect poster child of this. For every seemingly transgressive act she sets there is a porn clip out there depicting just that. Helen and her friend drunkenly vomiting in a bucket and then eating their shared vomit (p. 59) is lifted directly from Two Girls One Cup. Ass-to-Mouth is porn mainstream and scat an established practice of the SM scene, rendering the idea of Helen eating shit (e. g. when she imagines to eat dog-shit by the spoonful or fantasises about rimming) a faint rip-off of real women’s actual experiences. But other than bacteria-proof supergirl Helen Memel, porn actresses and kinksters do end up with infected throats and intestinal parasites.

Helen also internalised the male gaze and in a way that liberal feminists no doubt would call “subversive” enacts it on herself. Pornography relies on the onlooker: Without a reader, no writing about whores[xxiv]. Filmed porn requires watchers. Therefore, women’s bodies have to be shaved and twisted into uncomfortable positions and  sex acts have to be parodied (e. g. cunnilingus) to give the camera access.

Helen performs her sexualised avatar body by having pictures taken of her wound (p. 40/41). Not only to watch them herself (p. 43ff), but also to make males look at her and them – the male nurse who takes the pictures just like the actual surgeon. This doctor does not even want to see the pictures, which enrages Helen so much she calls him a sissy and drops the ‘Dr’ from his name (p. 65).

This is in many ways an ironic scene. Charlotte Roche obviously attempts to fortify the dichotomy: There is Team Law, Order, Rules and Hygiene (made up of Helen’s mother, the crucifix as the emissary of the Catholic church, female germophobic nurses and the surgeon/boss), and there is Team Cool and Sexy (Helen, the by sex atypical male nurses who disavow the most basic tenets of their own profession to admire her, random male pizza restaurant employees[xxv] and her perfect father).

Lastly, and most damningly, Helen also embodies pornography’s main premise, namely that women find punishment and violence arousing. She tells the story of two young women who were not sufficiently submissive to the male employees of a pizza restaurant and subsequently got their pizza covered in their semen:

“There’s an urban legend that made the rounds a while ago; I think a lot about it. Two girls order a pizza. They wait and wait but the pizza never comes. They  call the delivery service a few times and complain. Eventually the pizza shows up. It looks a little funny and tastes odd. By coincidence, one of the girls is the daughter of a food inspector, and instead of munching the rest they put it in a bag and take it to dad. They all think maybe the pizza’s gone bad or something. Instead it comes out in the lab analysis that there are five different people’s sperm on the pizza. This is how I picture it getting there: The guys at the the delivery service are annoyed by the phone calls. Since the complaints are being made by girls, the delivery guys have rape fantasies. The usual. They talk about it, come up with a plan, and all whip out their cocks to jerk off on a pizza.” (p. 67ff)

One page further in, Helen explicitly wishes she could get such a semen-stained pizza for herself:

“Anyway. I’m always extra mean whenever I order pizza. And I complain even when it doesn’t take long. I’d love to eat a pizza with sperm from five different guys on it.” (p. 68)

This scene is short and could easily be overlooked. By this, it is crucial.

It gives away how casually acceptable it is for Charlotte Roche to promote the hypothesis of inborn female masochism. With these few throwaway sentences she validates the porn industry, woman-hating forms of psychology and MRAs’ sadomasochistic views of women, all at once.  Women deserve punishment for being uppity, and in fact “properly heterosexualised” women like Helen get off on it (hi, Havelock Ellis!). Helens masochistic enjoyment of potentially life-threatening (Hep C is not fun), sexualised punishment is so normal to Charlotte Roche, she doesn’t even make the effort to justify it by devoting a central scene to the concept. She can rely on the readers to recognise this pattern instantly and not challenging it.

It also confirms Helen’s identification with socially disadvantaged males (the pizza restaurant employees) – in particular socially disadvantaged males with white skin. As far as Wetlands is concerned, socially disadvantaged women (e. g. underpaid female nurses or women in prostitution) as well as men and women of colour can fuck off.

Indeed it is a man of colour (Kanell, an immigrant from Ethiopia) who brings up shaving to Helen in the first place. This is remarkable. The beauty practice of shaving off pubic hair has become mainstream by two major forces: Pornography (from Ruskin to Pornhub) shaping sexual expectations on the one hand, and campaigns to get the female half of the population to buy razor equipment shaping the perception of shaved genitalia as “clean”[xxvi] genitalia on the other.

Both are utterly Western, capitalist phenomena, so why an Ethiopian man as the one who actually takes a razor to Helen’s genitals? A razor Helen uses the handle of to masturbate with after Kanell says she is too young to have sex with and leaves the room? Is Charlotte Roche trying to invoke an associative continuum between shaving body hair and FGM, which is prevalent in Ethiopia?

Such a thought sure would match her perfunctory and racist treatment of characters of colour in Wetlands. There is Kanell and there are black women in prostitution Helen pays to have sex with. That’s about it.

 

We are supposed to believe that eighteen-year-old teenage girl Helen is a regular john, with references  to her brothel visits all throughout the book (p. 9, p. 68; p. 115ff)[xxvii]. She isn’t actually bisexual in the sense of having sex with women she meets along the way. She is specifically a john, paying women in prostitution to involve them in her anti-hygiene body practices:

“At one of my numerous brothel visits a hooker told me that some men get off on coming in with their cocks dirty and making a hooker suck them off. She said it was a power game. Those are their least favorite clients, the dirty ones. The purposefully dirty ones. They don’t have anything against inadvertently dirty ones. I wanted to try that, too.  I didn’t wash myself for a long time and then had a hooker go down on me. For me there was nothing different about it from having someone go down on me when I’m clean. Power games aren’t my thing.” (p. 123)

Helen walking into a brothel is Helen walking out of her respectable, middle-class environments (hospital, school, suburbia).  She is presented as a traveller into a foreign country, and, in a way, on a trip to a foreign past.

For much of history, it was not exaggerated hygiene practices that were used to submit the female body. Quite the contrary. For millennia, males pondered the dirty, inferior, sexual female body in great detail, such ideas even pre-dating institutionalised Abrahamic monotheism, in e. g. Greek philosophy or medicine. These aspects were absorbed by Roman misogynists (e. g. Stoic philosophers and poets like Martial) and nascent Christian theologists[xxviii], and brought to flourishment in European Christian cultures[xxix].

In the Malleus Maleficarum (Witches’ Hammer), the single-most important manual for generations of witch-hunters, women are considered to be more likely to be witches due to their very nature: Compared to men, they are more carnal and less rational, and therefore slaves to their own sexual desires and Satan himself. The Malleus is part of a theological tradition going back centuries, and ultimately the logical consequence of the foundational myth of Christianity damning women to eternal heterosexuality[xxx].

Augustine of Hippo, inventor of the concept of Original Sin, has been ascribed (and, considering his theological positions, understandably so) with the saying ‘inter urinas et faeces nascimur’: We are born between urine and feces[xxxi]. A faint echo of this tradition can still be found in pop culture, e. g. in the TV show Scrubs. In any way, the command to be fruitful and multiply is inevitably the command to fuck.

Medieval and early modern monastic authors have written elaborate “deconstructions”[xxxii] of the female body – and modern-day MRAs have come around to do the same.

Protestant witch-hunters were not substantially  different to Catholics in their views about female inferiority based on their physiology. Martin Luther himself deduced the second-class status of females from their very bodies and saw hetero sex the only thing females were good for. Scottish protestant John Knox even called ruling queens ‘weake, the sicke, and impotent persones‘.

Ironically it were sexually abstinent nuns and sisters who were major targets[xxxiii] for persecution in the first years of the protestant reformation. These women over centuries had developped intricate rituals of purging and cleansing for themselves (e. g. explaining  hunger amenorrhoea due to harsh fasting as piousness overcoming the filth of female fertility). The reformers attempted to disrupt this tradition by replacing it with the “proper” use of female bodies, i. e. heterosexuality and childbearing.

It was only centuries later that the ideal of the lily-white sexless woman sex positivism and queer theory are obsessed with came into being at all. One had to be a honourable, rich, white, married, middle-class, literally straight-laced[xxxiv] hetero wife and mother to get a claim to this status; the rest of womankind remained the dirty whores of yore.

The Victorian “angel in the house” is a reaction to the millennia-old tradition of filthy, sexually insatiable womanhood. Until then, there were no Madonnas and whores. There was one Madonna and every other female was a potential[xxxv] or actual whore. Such chosen women  descend their nature by turning the cleansing of themselves and their surroundings into a performance of godliness  and wealth. Godliness and wealth come together in the protestant tradition equating economical success with being in god’s favour, which in turn is the gateway this particular cultural aspect has been transferred to and is perpetuated by in the United States.

When liberal feminists and sex positivists point out the oppressiveness of the concept of the sexless “angel in the house”, they inherently admit they feel part of the demographic the concept was applied to in the first place.

As far as Charlotte Roche is concerned, this is glaringly obvious. She is straight, white, middle-class, educated, thin/beautiful and able-bodied. So is Helen Memel.

It makes sense for Charlotte Roche to have her try and rebel via dirt and sex. And yet, she falls into the same trap as the whole “sex positivist” movement: For millennia, women were the dirty sex, the sexual sex, the discharging, filthy, unclean sex. If Heinrich Kramer was presented with Wetlands, or Martin Luther, or Augustine, or even Aristotle, they’d all immediately recognise Helen as the prototype of female inferiority. It is Helen with her obsession of sex, bodily fluids, odors and self-chastisement, who, as a heroine, is way closer to the “traditional” Catholic idea of womanhood than her “frigid” mother who refuses to move the crucifix from Helen’s hospital room wall.

A rebellion into inherently pornographic  heterosexuality may overcome (historically speaking) five minutes of upper-class Victorianism, but it plunges women back into millennia of not-just-Abrahamic demonisation and exploitation. Ditching ladylikeness in favour of serfdom is not a rebellion. It is pointless, worsens women’s lives and – for actual white, straight, het, middle-class women – amounts to appropriating other females’ oppressions. Lesbians, women of colour, poor women, they will never be able to garner the respectability Charlotte Roche and Helen Memel try to shed so desperately.

 

I intentionally called Helen straight despite her having sex with prostituted women. She is not bi or a Lesbian. She does not love women at all. She objectifies (e. g. by separating “fuckable” from “unfuckable” women) and consumes women. Her bisexual encounters are mimicry of male heterosexuality (see Charlotte Roche’s appeal to women to be more like men below).

Helen is a predatory het woman à la Karla Homolka and Rosemary West, the sort actual Lesbians know all too well. She does not seek mutuality or kindness. She hurts herself out of sexual masochism or to achieve goals like forcing her family to re-unite (e. g. by making her parents worry about her, p. 185) or to get around a French test (p. 28: She fakes an appendicitis in order to avoid writing the test). Other women she hurts via objectification and endangering their health (e. g. feeding them her vomit or saliva). She does not want an egalitarian relationship with another woman or women in general.

She is sexual only with women in prostitution. Helen is the one who pays and consumes, while they are the ones who get paid and serve. Helen does not just use their bodies, but also their skills of sexual service to males:

“Naked, as she [Milena, a woman in a brothel Helen pays for, imf] she walks in her high-heeled shoes over to a cabinet and pulls out a big cardboard box. I have a chance to take a long look at her from behind. I love her ass. When she goes down on me, I’m going to bore my finger deep into her ass the whole time. What she’s holding in her hands is a family-pack of something. She takes one out – it’s something I’ve never seen before. A round piece of foam packed in clear plastic. Looks like a fortune cookie, only soft. “This is a sponge. When we have our periods we’re not allowed to work because of the risk of infection. And if we use normal tampons, the clients can feel them with their cocks. Tampons are too hard. We shove these sponges as far inside our pussies as we can and it holds the blood out of the way for a while. The sponges are so soft no cock in the world is going to notice it touching its tip. It feels just like your cunt – even to a finger. You can try it. Lie down. I’ll push it in. Then I’ll go down on you, even though you have your period.” (…) I could definitely use sponges. Because not every guy I fuck likes to dip into the red river. In those cases I could hide the blood the good old hooker way.” (p. 118/119)

Scenes like this are clearly written for their shock value. They have nothing to do with Lesbianism or loving women. The women Helen pays for (or at least claims to have paid for) in the narrative are incarnations of “lower class filth”, the human equivalent of the shit and pus Helen consumes. Helen ingests and consumes these women and calls this “respect”:

“I found the numbers of the brothels in our town, called them up, and, with hope in my voice, asked them whether any of the hookers working there dealt with women. Not many did. One of the brothels, though, immediately said it had a large selection of hookers open to women. It’s called the Sauna Oasis. The madam said it would be better if I came early in the evening as the male johns often got annoyed at female johns. Or do you call them johnettes? Whatever. I was okay with that and now I go there often. I wanted to pick out the right hooker for me in the waiting room. She looked like a black version of me. By that I mean she was built like me. Thin, small breasts, a wide, flat ass, but overall petite. And long, straight hair. But I think her hair was made out of plastic. Island braid extensions. I went over to her. I already knew she was willing to go with women. That didn’t need to be discussed. When I’m picking, the only women in the waiting room are ones there for me, a female client. All those who service only men – maybe on religious grounds? – disappear while I’m selecting. I go over to her, as determined as possible. I feel very awkward in this brothel setting. No wonder men always have to get hopelessly drunk before they get up the nerve to go. And then they can’t get it up or can’t remember their expensive fuck afterward. You really feel as if you’re doing something unbelievably taboo, something crazy. I wish I were drunk, too, when I’m here. But I worry I won’t remember afterward what the pussies look like. In which case it would all have been for nothing. That’s why I’m doing this, after all. Studying pussy. So I go sober. I have too much respect for the women there and for the situation.” (p. 115/116[xxxvi])

Sick yet?

“It was in one of those films that I saw a black woman’s pussy for the first time. That’s something. Because they have dark skin the interior colors of the pussy really pop when it’s spread open.  Much more than with white women, where the contrast isn’t as extreme. Something to do with complementary colors, I think. Pussy-pink next to light-pink skin tone looks a lot more boring than pussy-pink next to darkbrown skin tone. Against dark brown the pussy-pink looks dark-lavender-blueish-red. Swollen and throbbing. I’m telling you. Complementary colors. Brown skin complements pussy-pink. (…) Since I learned that black women have the reddest pussies, I only go to black hookers. There are no other black women in my world – not in my school, not in my neighborhood. Prostitution is my only chance. I’m sure plenty of men understand my problem. I had a really bad experience with a white hooker. She had skin as pale as cheese and light-red hair. She was a little chubby and – totally unnecessarily – completely shaved. And I mean everything was bare. Not a single pubic hair anywhere. Her crotch looked like a sculpture of a newborn baby made out of cheese.  I had been looking forward to her tits. From beneath her shirt they had made a good impression. Big but still pointing upward. When she undressed and took off her bra, it was a big disappointment. She had big droopy breasts with flat nipples.  (…)[xxxvii] Overall it was a bad experience with the redhead. Now whenever I see a light-skinned redhead, I chuckle inside and think to myself she’s lazy in bed, has no hair – anywhere, like an alien – eats goldfish and has never had anything up her ass. And her nipples don’t stick out. My dad, drunk at a party, once said to a redhead friend of my mother’s, “Ginger hair, always moist down there.” Not at all!” (p. 124 – 128)

In Wetlands, women of colour and working class women serve solely as staffage for a middle class self-improvement pseudo-feminism without any political value. Emulating male sociopathic values is not feminist and not politically effective, and yet, this is exactly what Charlotte Roche makes Helen do.

 

Normcore: Girlhood Violations as Liberation

Helen as a missionary of the anti-hygiene/pro-sex gospel is violating other people’s boundaries constantly, both in non-sexual and sexual contexts. She has fun running around in town and ripping off glasses from people’s faces to destroy them (p. 9). She doesn’t flush the toilet after urinating and makes fun of anyone who might be offended (p. 152). She uses barbecue tongs to remove lost tampons from her vagina, and puts them back without washing, delighting in the idea that other people use them (p. 112). She attempts to contaminate sterile dressing material with her period blood (p. 166). She offers a candy striper mineral water she has taken in her mouth and spat back several times (p. 188/189). In a somewhat forced scene she imagines to have sex with her father and when taking turns with him blowing up an inflatable hemorrhoid pillow, she deliberately leaves a lot of her spit on the valve for him to consume (p. 168). She also sexually harrasses female massage therapists by involving them into sexualised conversations (p. 204), a variation on the trope of the predatory Lesbian.

There is no solidarity, no genuine feeling of relation or common cause with other women in Helen. She is not one of them, not one of us. All female characters in Wetlands are evil and prudish or – at best – scatter-brained, while the male characters are easy-going and relaxed. Helen inherits all her personal problems solely through the maternal line, while her so seemingly “liberated” sex drive and attitude to hygiene is traced back to her father’s example. Every single female nurse is malicious, incompetent, sadistic, unfuckable and underfucked (p. 214) or unreasonably germophobic (p. 108), while the male nurses don’t mind her washing down her pain medication with alcohol (p. 81) and admire her for her exhibitionism (p. 99).

Helen does have female “friends”, but there is no emotional connection, just shared excess (e. g. drugs, p. 57) and violent fantasies. In a scene that could be lifted from The Silence of the Lambs, Helen imagines to surgically remove her friend’s bigger breasts to replace her own (p. 147), if necessary without her friend’s consent. I guess in times where a trans cult activist on a “feminist” website can unironically claim[xxxviii] that Buffalo Bill is the feminist hero of The Silence of the Lambs and not Clarice Starling, a little mutilation fantasy is not worth any outrage[xxxix]. I myself also was hit harder by the obnoxious cliché of shallow female friendship Charlotte Roche rehashes: Women are not really capable of true friendship, they are frenemies, always jealous, always bitching, always competitive. The best Helen can do in terms of making friends – in this case with a female candy striper[xl] she initially hates and only later in some kind of lenient mood starts to tolerate – is to admire her make-up and sexualise her (p. 189).

As this caricature of a predatory female teenager Helen is like an upside down Humbert Humbert, or rather, Charlotte Roche’s Lolita. It is not so much Helen Memel who is the unreliable narrator of her life, but Charlotte Roche who is the unreliable narrator of the lives of girls under patriarchy.

Girls like Helen are not the predators. They are predators’ victims, and at a closer look, Charlotte Roche knows it. She makes Helen out to be disturbingly childish and child-like.

As mentioned above, she looks underage to a degree she draws suspicion. She also is the Cool Girl™, totally different from other girls, who unlike her don’t know how to open beer bottles with a fork handle (p. 78). The Cool Girl™ personality is a type of dysfunctional armour some teenage girls put on as they grow aware of patriarchal oppression during puberty. Cool Girls™ degrade and hurt themselves before patriarchy can do it. Helen fits the pattern to a tee, enhancing the impression of her immaturity. It doesn’t really help she in the very same scene she feels superior to other girls references the song of the Seven Dwarves from Disney’s Snow White movie.

Her childlikeness becomes most obvious in the way she idolises an “intact” family. Helen trying to force her parents back together is the main plotline. She tries to achieve this by making childish plans, like scheduling her parents’ visits close enough to make them meet at her bedside and fall in love again (p. 96).

Still, it never becomes clear just why her parents should reunite: Her father is completely absent through the first half of the book, and when he finally turns up, there is not the slightest explanation what he and his ex-wife have in common. It is absolutely not clear why Helen would want her mother back in her life. She idolises her father despite his very real shortcomings, but – as stated above – has nothing positive to say about her mother. It remains a complete mystery why Helen or anyone else would want this family back.

This plotline makes even less sense in relation to Helen’s aversion against Christian imagery: By the name of it (Maria Hilf), she is in a Catholic hospital, which means there is a crucifix in her room. She is incredibly annoyed by it, tries to to pester her mother into taking it off and sulks when she refuses (I was honestly surprised she didn’t masturbate with it at some point, à la The Exorcist). Charlotte Roche herself refuses to even step into a church.

And yet, she seems to be unable to imagine any other way of life than heterosexual pair-bonding and nuclear family in fiction and reality. Helen is pining for the very ideal of family the crucifix symbolises, thus undermines any secularist message that Wetlands may have been intended to have.

 

No Outlaws: Heterosexuality as Liberation

When Helen’s plans for family reunion fail, she has a back-up strategy. She remembers (?) an unforgivable act of betrayal by her mother  (the attempted suicide/murder of herself and Helen’s brother) or at least makes up this scenario to justify why she in her emotional neediness latches onto the next person around: Her nurse Robin.

Once more, Charlotte Roche completely fails to make the reader understand why on earth Helen would fancy Robin. He is an utterly forgettable, pale character, and Helen before page 100 (which is about halfway through the book) not once considers him attractive or shows interest. It is like a switch is being flipped, and all of a sudden Helen starts to fantasise about having sex with Robin (p. 101 and p. 151). She also is jealous when he interacts with a female collegue (p. 137) and jumps to the conclusion that he loves her when he tells her he is scared for her before her emergency surgery:

“I’m scared, Robin.” “Me too, for you.” Understood. He loves me. I didn’t know. Sometimes it happens that quickly.” (p. 183)

It may be just me, but showing basic empathy does not make Robin a convincing romantic lover. It just so makes him a human being.

Later Helen comes clear to him about her plotting for her parents to get back together (p. 225), and asks him if she can come and live with him. He strokes her greasy hair (p. 226), thus passing her anti-hygiene test (for crying out loud: He is a nurse, hygiene is his core business!), and rides off into the (metaphorical) sunset on her knight’s in shining scrubs’ bicycle. It astonishes me Charlotte Roche didn’t call Helen Marian.

Nothing in this “love story” makes any sense. Robin does not seem to be in love at all. He pities Helen and falls for her emotional manipulation where her parents didn’t. Don’t get me wrong: He is not the victim in this. Starting a (sexual) relationship with a vulnerable, quasi homeless, teenaged patient is not romantic. It is exploitative, and that Robin is manipulated into it does not absolve him from responsibility.

Helen’s emotional blackmailing does not make her a predator. She is a teenage girl under patriarchy. She has no actual power. She has no plan for autonomy or personal liberation, no passions or future. She doesn’t seem to have a place to go after she breaks with her family.

Manipulation is the last resort of the weak, and Helen is very weak. She has no other medium to express herself but her own body. Her body is the only thing she has a modicum of power over, even though Charlotte Roche seriously overestimates just how much power she could possibly have (see: sterilisation on demand with eighteen and the invincible/indestructible nature of her body). Her self-harming is an expression of this: She can’t force her family to reunite, she can’t build an autonomous adult life for herself, but she can shove a metal break into her anus and she can move in with a perfect stranger in exchange for sex, which is what the heavy-handed “love story” with Robin amounts to.

In this, Helen as a character is believable. Real-life girls and young women[xli] all too often fall into the trap to believe a vague “feeling of empowerment”[xlii]  reached through sexualisation and exploitation by men is actual power. Radical feminists have identified childhood sexual abuse as the first training ground for women in prostitution; it is driven to its logical extreme by the rhetoric of “sex worker activists” who promise power, money and sexual healing as benefits for formerly victimised young women.  To use sex and manipulation to somehow get by has been utterly romanticised (e. g. by the Happy Hooker/ethical slut narratives) and sanitised (e. g. by the concept of ‘agency’). Wetlands with its “sex-positive” stance is doing exactly the same. Helen’s story of early sexualisation passed off as sexual agency is something no mainstream reviewer I know of even has bothered to look into:

“I once had a really old lover. I love to say “lover.” It sounds so old-fashioned. Better than “fucker.” He was many, many years older than me. I learned a lot from him. He wanted me to experience everything about male sexuality so that in the future no man could ever pull one over on me. Now I supposedly know a lot about male sexuality, but I don’t know whether all of what I learned applies to all men or only to him I still have to see. One of his cardinal rules was that you should always stick your finger up a guy’s ass during sex. Makes him come harder. So far I can certainly concur. It’s always a hit. They go wild. But you shouldn’t discuss it with them beforehand or after. Otherwise they’ll worry they’re gay and get all uptight. Just do it and afterward pretent nothing was ever in there. This older boyfriend also showed me lots of porn films. He thought not only could men learn a lot from them, but women, too. It’s true.” (p. 124)

I have not found a single reference in the media to this passage as one potential root of Helen’s erratic behaviour, despite the classical grooming (“He wanted me to experience everything about male sexuality so that in the future no man could ever pull one over on me.”). The English Wikipedia article on Wetlands actually contains the sentence “A sexually active woman since she was fifteen, she has had sex with lots of men and boys and describes herself as continuously randy.”[xliii] This reference to a fifteen year old as a “sexually active woman” is just as casual as Charlotte Roche’s description of underaged[xliv] Helen having sex with an old man. It would be radical to question the sexualisation of girls, not to carry the trope forward that teenage girls somehow obtain power by having sex with men.

 

Sleeping With the Enemy: Take Back Feminism From the Patriarchs and Collaborators

Despite my efforts, this has become yet  another monster post. So I’ll try to wrap up my thoughts and come to an end with this:

Charlotte Roche is not a feminist. She is not interested in the welfare of women. She is interested in making the lives of het-partnered, white, middle-class women as nice as possible, but nothing else. Her second novel Wrecked is testimony to it. It has a different protagonist (not Helen Memel), but is about yet another “neurotic” woman married to a “cool” man whom she joins on his brothel visits. In a way, Wrecked is taking on where Wetlands ends, making utterly clear Charlotte Roche does not believe in her own redemptive narrative. That she tried to pass this drivel off as feminist and has the chutzpah to give women tips how to get more equality is an insult to all actual feminists. Alice Schwarzer in her public letter very accurately wrote that Charlotte Roche doesn’t have the solution, but the problem.

It is endlessly ironic that Charlotte Roche, who is exclusively interested in the self-serving navel-gazing of white middle-class women is being perceived as the properly sex-positive, intersectional feminist in this equation. Wetlands is racist and anti-feminist, and Alice Schwarzer is right. If Charlotte Roche’s ideas got applied to society at large, we’d be back in the 1950s – plus pornography.

Wherever Wetlands ties into any kind of actual feminist analysis (e. g. regarding shaving), it is nothing but appropriative and parasitic on radical women’s work. Helen for example likes to have sex on her period (p. 109), and has an utterly unconcerned relationship with her period blood reminiscent of the classical radical feminist stance on this topic[xlv]. I was even willing to view this normalisation of menstruation as one of the few things I liked about the book – until Charlotte Roche lets Helen think that only stupid girls who want to remain virgins use pads (versus tampons and sponges that properly male-serving women ought to use, p. 117).

Charlotte Roche really does not have any kind of feminist conscience whatsoever, or else such casual anti-feminist slip-ups wouldn’t happen. The root cause for all female misery is not patriarchal oppression along the lines of anatomy, but other women and magazines (?!):

“SPIEGEL: Man kann sagen, dass Elizabeth, die Erzählerin in “Schoßgebete”, ziemlich durchgeknallt ist.
Roche: Ja, schon.
SPIEGEL: Aus Liebe zu ihrem Mann entwickelt sie eine untertänige, fast pornografische Art von Sexualität. Sie hasst das Patchwork, in dem sie lebt. Eigentlich hasst sie alles in ihrem Leben, außer ihren Mann, den sie dann aber fertigmacht. Als männlicher Leser kann man Angst bekommen vor Elizabeth.
Roche: Es ist ja klar, dass in einem Roman immer die eigenen, aber auch die Geschichten anderer Paare einfließen, und tatsächlich entspricht es meiner Wirklichkeit, dass es fast immer die Frauen sind, die ausrasten. Das mag jetzt frauenfeindlich sein, aber die Frauen, die ich kenne, sind halt neurotisch und machen alle ihre Männer fertig. Männer ruhen viel mehr in sich. Sie lieben ihre Frau und sagen: Du bist schön. Sie reden sich den Mund fusselig, aber es bringt nichts. Diese Frauen sagen: Ich weiß es ganz genau – du gehst fremd und findest mich in Wahrheit nicht schön. Und ich rede da nicht nur von mir selbst. Frauen laden alles ausgerechnet bei demjenigen ab, den sie am meisten lieben.
SPIEGEL: Vielleicht kennen Sie die falschen Frauen?
Roche: Weiß nicht. Frauen sollten zugeben können: Bei uns zu Hause ist die Kacke am Dampfen, und ich mache meine Beziehung kaputt, obwohl ich das nicht will.
SPIEGEL: Aber wieso tun sie das?
Roche: Weil sie viel mehr Druck verspüren als Männer. Sie sollen schön sein, eine tolle Mutter, arbeiten, alles soll toll, toll, toll sein. Männer haben diesen Druck nicht, Männer können einfach Männer sein, die machen sich nicht fertig, die zählen nicht bei jeder Mahlzeit die Kalorien, und das macht Frauen schlechte Laune. Und ich glaube, dieser Druck kommt nicht von den Männern. Männer wie Lothar Matthäus, der seiner Freundin gesagt haben soll, lass dir die Brüste operieren, kenne ich persönlich jedenfalls nicht.
SPIEGEL: Woher kommt der Druck?
Roche: Von den vielen Bildern. Von diesen Dreckszeitschriften. Frauen dürfen keine dicken Oberarme haben, keine weiblichen Oberschenkel, sie müssen dieses und jenes machen, und alles an ihnen ist falsch.

SPIEGEL: One could call Elisabeth, the narrator of Schoßgebete [Wrecked, imf] totally crazy.
Roche: Yes, sure.
SPIEGEL: Out of love for her husband she develops a submissive, almost pornographical kind of sexuality. She hates the patchwork family she is part of. Actually she hates everything in her life, except her husband, whom she still lays into. Male readers could start to fear Elisabeth.
Roche: It is clear that a novel always contains one’s own stories, but also the stories of other couples, and it is my truth that it is predominantly women who flip out. I may sound woman-hating, but the women I know are neurotic and lay into their husbands. Men are much more at ease with themselves. They love their wives and say: You are beautiful. They are talking until they are blue in the face, but it is pointless. These women say: I know it – you are cheating on me and don’t really think I’m beautiful. And I’m not talking just about myself here. Women are putting the biggest burden on those they love most.
SPIEGEL: Probably you know the wrong kind of women?
Roche: Don’t know. Women should be able to admit: In our home shit hits the fan, and I’m ruining my relationship despite not wanting it.
SPIEGEL: But why are they doing that?
Roche: Because they feel much more pressure than men. They should be beautiful, a great mother, work, everything should be so great, great, great. Men don’t have this pressure, men can just be men, they don’t lay into themselves, don’t count calories with every meal, and that puts women into a bad mood. And I believe this pressure does not come from men. I don’t personally know men like Lothar Matthäus [a German soccer player, imf] who is said to have told his girlfriend to have her breasts done.
SPIEGEL: Where does the pressure come from?
Roche: From the many images. From the fucking magazines. Women may not have fat upper arms, no female thighs, they have to do this and that, and everything about them is wrong.”[xlvi]

No further comment necessary.

In Wetlands, all female characters are evil, incompetent, not even good enough to fuck. It may be masked by her orgasms, but Helen is utterly aggressive towards her own female body. That Charlotte Roche wants the reader to believe she suffers no negative outcome of her self-victimising does not take away from the violence Helen inflicts on herself. To get women to climax over their degradation is probably the most effective tactic of patriarchy, and Charlotte Roche fell for it, sound-proofing herself and Wetlands against any real politics. There is no patriarchy in Wetlands, no class consciousness, nobody who oppresses, nobody who is oppressed, just a pointlessly mean mommy, masochism dressed up as empowering and a male saviour.

Wetlands is the perfect illustration of the hollowness of “equality feminism”: If women just leaned in harder into gonzo porn like men; if women were just as irresponsible with their health as men; if women just learned to be ruthless and entitled in their pursuit of pleasure like men, they’d get everything they want, including the freedom to ride off into a perfect Disney princess idyll, leaving behind their sisters  (and mothers) in their self-chosen misery.

Underneath the manufactured scandal there is nothing in Wetlands but the tired old lies patriarchy tells about women since millennia. There is no vision for freedom in the book. From Wetlands to Story of O, from Delta of Venus to Fifty Shades of Grey, heterosexuality and ‘they lived happily ever after’ is just not good enough. Women won’t be able to fuck their way to freedom, and it’s about time they stop pretending that they could.

[i] It also was made into a film whose trailer can be found on Youtube. I have not seen it, no intention to do so, and I can’t tell how true it is to the novel. Should someone have seen it (it made its way to Sundance, after all), I’d be happy to hear about it!

[ii] German quote taken from Charlotte Roche’s German Wikipedia article on November 27th, 2016. Translation mine. Emma is among the biggest and oldest feminist magazines in Europe and was founded by Alice Schwarzer (see below).

[iii] Moritz von Uslar and Claudia Voigt, “Ich bin gar nicht so frech“, Der Spiegel, 25. 02. 2008

[iv] Lothar Gorris and Claudia Voigt, “Guckt mal was jetzt kommt“, Der Spiegel, 08. 08. 2011

[v] Lothar Gorris and Claudia Voigt, “Guckt mal was jetzt kommt“, Der Spiegel, 08. 08. 2011

[vi] Lothar Gorris and Claudia Voigt, “Guckt mal was jetzt kommt“, Der Spiegel, 08. 08. 2011

[vii] Moritz von Uslar and Claudia Voigt, “Ich bin gar nicht so frech“, Der Spiegel, 25. 02. 2008: “SPIEGEL: Im echten Leben sind Sie verheiratet und Mutter einer fünfjährigen Tochter. Wie hat die Feministin Roche die Kinderbetreuung in ihrem Hause organisiert? Roche: Mit einer Kinderfrau und einem vernünftigen Zeitmanagement. Die Leute fragen sich, wie man es schafft, Feministin zu sein und trotzdem mit Männern zusammenzuleben. Meine Antwort lautet: Man muss sich als Frau mit einem Feministen zusammentun. Wenn der Ehemann selber Feminist ist, läuft alles glatt. SPIEGEL: Ein feministischer Mann: Was dürfen wir uns darunter vorstellen? Roche: Der feministische Mann schließt keine Arbeit mit der Begründung aus, dass er ein Mann ist. Meine Männer haben immer mehr im Haushalt gemacht als ich. Mein Mann backt sogar wie eine Weltmeisterin.” My translation: “SPIEGEL: In real life you are married and the mother of a five-year-old daughter. How did feminist Roche organise childcare in her own home? Roche: With a nanny and reasonable time management. People are asking themselves how to manage to be a feminist and still live with men. My answer is: Women have to get together with male feminists. If the husband is a feminist himself, everything goes smoothly. SPIEGEL: A feminist man. What are we supposed to imagine, hearing that? Roche: A feminist man does not refuse any kind of work with the argument that he is a man. My men always did more housework than me. My husband even bakes like a world champion.” World champion, ‘Weltmeisterin’ is grammatically unambigously female in the original German version.

[viii] Moritz von Uslar and Claudia Voigt, “Ich bin gar nicht so frech“, Der Spiegel, 25. 02. 2008. Translation mine.

[ix] Moritz von Uslar and Claudia Voigt, “Ich bin gar nicht so frech“, Der Spiegel, 25. 02. 2008. Translation mine.

[x] Moritz von Uslar and Claudia Voigt, “Ich bin gar nicht so frech“, Der Spiegel, 25. 02. 2008. Translation mine.

[xi] Moritz von Uslar and Claudia Voigt, “Ich bin gar nicht so frech“, Der Spiegel, 25. 02. 2008. Translation mine.

[xii] Charlotte Roche did kind of ask her husband for permission to publish her books: “SPIEGEL: Haben Sie mit Ihrem Mann darüber gesprochen, was Sie da schreiben? Roche: Nicht viel. Es gab mal ein Abendessen mit Freunden, darunter ein Schriftsteller, und der erzählte, wie sehr er auf junge Dinger steht, wie sehr ihn das beschäftigt und dass er schon so lange verheiratet ist und dass er gern darüber schreiben würde, aber es nicht tut wegen seiner Frau, weil er das für nicht zumutbar hält. Mein Mann hat dann später gesagt: Charlotte, ich möchte niemals, dass du irgendwo sitzt und Leuten erzählst, dass du Bücher nicht geschrieben hast, weil es mich gibt. Ich will ja jetzt nicht ins Detail gehen, weil mein Mann das nicht mag, wenn ich über ihn rede, aber der war bei “Feuchtgebiete” nicht schockiert.  SPIEGEL: Hm. Roche: Bei uns gibt es so eine Art Wettbewerb darum, wer zotiger, wer krasser ist. Und natürlich ist es eine Herausforderung, sogar ihn zu schocken. SPIEGEL: Und?  Roche: “Schoßgebete” hat ihn schockiert. Zum Glück. Als er es gelesen hatte, sagte er: Okay, er habe mir zwar geraten, Vollgas zu geben, ohne Rücksicht auf Verluste, aber dass so etwas dabei herauskommt, hätte er nicht gedacht. Er hat dann ein paar Tage lang darüber nachgedacht, was alles auf uns zukommen könnte.” “SPIEGEL: Did you talk with your husband about your writing? Roche: Not much. There was a dinner with friends, among them a writer talking about how much he is into young women [Charlotte Roche literally says ‘young things’, imf], how much that is going around in his mind and that he is married for such a long time already and that he would love to write about it, but that he doesn’t do it because of his wife, because he thinks it is unreasonable to burden her with it. My husband later said: Charlotte, I never want you to sit somewhere and tell people you didn’t write some books because I exist. I don’t want to go into details now, because my husband doesn’t like it when I talk about him, but he wasn’t shocked about “Wetlands”. SPIEGEL: Hm. Roche: There is some kind of competition between the two of us who is more obscene, more gross. And of course it is a challenge to shock him. SPIEGEL: And? Roche: “Wrecked” shocked him. Thank goodness. After he read it, he said: Okay, I told you to go all in, regardless of the consequences, but he wouldn’t have thought that something like this would come out of it. For a couple of days he thought over what could be happening to us.” (Lothar Gorris and Claudia Voigt, “Guckt mal was jetzt kommt“, Der Spiegel, 08. 08. 2011, translation mine.)

[xiii] Moritz von Uslar and Claudia Voigt, “Ich bin gar nicht so frech“, Der Spiegel, 25. 02. 2008. Translation mine.

[xiv] From an article on Fifty Shades of Grey: “Denn es gibt ihn ja, den weiblichen Masochismus. Wir wissen seit langem, dass er der Versuch der Seele ist, real erlittene Erniedrigung und Schmerz umzumünzen und lustvoll zu besetzen. Doch sind masochistische Fantasien keineswegs gleichzusetzen mit masochistischen Taten. In der Fantasie ist die Masochistin Herrin der Lage, in der Realität ist es der Sadist.” “Female masochism does exist. We know for a long time already that it is the attempt of the soul to reframe real humiliation and pain and turn them into pleasure. But masochistic fantasies are not to be seen equal to masochistic deeds. In her fantasies, the masochist is mastering the situation, in reality it is the sadist.” This quote sums up everything I’ve ever read about sadomasochism by Alice Schwarzer. She bases her analysis on the work of Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen. In a letter to the editor written by a young man hesitant about his girlfriend’s liking of “rape play” she merely suggests he takes a ‘playful’ approach to it. I can only deduce from this that Charlotte Roche has not actually read much of Alice Schwarzer’s work.

[xv] She drove this to the logical conclusion with her second novel Wrecked in which she made Alice Schwarzer a character who tries to interfere with the female protagonist’s (marital) sexuality. Alice Schwarzer reacted by writing an open letter, criticising Charlotte Roche’s approach to feminism. Unfortunately I can’t find the original text of the letter. There are plenty of German newspaper articles on it, though, and they typically claim Alice Schwarzer “hates”, “bashes” or “attacks” Charlotte Roche. After Wetlands, Charlotte Roche has been ridiculed and treated with contempt by the media. By putting Alice Schwarzer into Wrecked, she has effectively deflected all this ridicule and hatred to her. Clever strategy, but disgusting.

[xvi] For a moment I toyed with the idea that Helen might be named after St. Helena, who “found” the True Cross on her pilgrimage to Jerusalem, since Helen is so obsessed with the crucifix in her hospital room and her mother’s Catholicism (e. g. p. 26/27). But I guess I suspect too much depth where there is none. This also goes for intertextual references I suspected throughout, in particular the whoppers (Freud, Sade, Beauvoir). I’m fairly sure I see things that aren’t there in the text, so I decided not to speculate too much.

[xvii] On a side note, this also holds true for queer culture. They have broadened their definition of beautiful, but in the end, all social deviance and deliberate ugliness has to be enacted in exactly the right way to be acceptable (see: undercuts, tattoos, piercings etc). Radical Lesbians for sure don’t do it right.

[xviii] Moritz von Uslar and Claudia Voigt, “Ich bin gar nicht so frech“, Der Spiegel, 25. 02. 2008.

[xix] Moritz von Uslar and Claudia Voigt, “Ich bin gar nicht so frech“, Der Spiegel, 25. 02. 2008. German translation mine.

[xx] Moritz von Uslar and Claudia Voigt, “Ich bin gar nicht so frech“, Der Spiegel, 25. 02. 2008

[xxi] I use ‘vagina’ here deliberately, although by anatomical standards it still should be ‘vulva’. But I’m influenced by the German word Charlotte Roche uses for female genitals here: ‘Scham’. As it may be obvious to an English speaker, this word actually means ‘shame’. This is seriously a widely used word for female genitals, to a point where pubic hair or labia are called ‘Schamhaar’ and ‘Schamlippen’ (shame hair and lips). These are not considered to be ridiculous euphemisms, but neutral, slightly medical, non-sexual, “objective”-sounding terms. The English term ‘shame’ also covers two seperate German words, ‘Scham’ and ‘Schande’. ‘Scham’ is the feeling as in “I’m ashamed” and ‘Schande’ is the loss of face, a social crime, as in “She brought shame over her family”. In dialectal Austrian German I also have seen used that second term, ‘Schande’, for female genitalia. I heard it as a young child when my best friend’s mother admonished her not to dangle upside-down on the monkey bars, because “everyone can see your Schande”. (In case you wonder, this mother is a protestant.) In historical texts, I also saw it used as a term used by (Catholic) midwives (!) talking to their patients. There is – to my knowledge – no English synonym for vulva to transport all this woman-hating baggage, so I decided to settle for the burdened and anatomically not quite correct term ‘vagina’.

[xxii] ‘Stino’, abbreviation of ‘stinknormal’ (“stinkingly normal”) is a German term kinksters and occasionally queer-flavoured homosexuals use for ‘vanilla’ or straight.

[xxiii] For the rise of the porn industry in the post-war economic boom, the role of the porn industry in driving technology (e. g. by promotion of smart phones in developping countries to open new consumer markets), the staff transfer between porn and mainstream (e. g. porn producers as video music producers) and the porn industry as part of Big Capitalism, see the work of Gail Dines. I don’t agree with many of her conclusions and find her feminist positions wishy-washy, but her historical and sociological research is reliable.

[xxiv] πόρνη (pórnē) – whore; γράφειν (gráphein) – to write.

[xxv] see below.

[xxvi] Which is particularly ironic, since shaving always carries the risk of infection due to the inevitability of micro-injuries to the skin.

[xxvii] At the very least we are supposed to believe Helen wants to be a john enough to present her fantasies about it as facts. The brothel scenes to me personally perfectly illustrate the artistic shortcomings of Charlotte Roche. Helen Memel is not rooted firmly in reality, but Charlotte Roche does not control her character’s narratives. All the more out-there scenes could be brushed off as either make-believe of an unreliable narrator or satire easily, pulling the rug  out from under any feminist analysis’ feet. Deciding what is a purposeful description of Helen’s brittle relationship with reality or just bad writing means playing reviewer’s roulette.

[xxviii] The relationship of early Christians with pagan philosophy, education and practices is a complex question. While much of pagan knowledge and wisdom was discarded and erased, more ideologically compatible ideas were taken over and made use of. This is not the topic of this review, though. I just want to point out that the demonisation of the female body is not something appearing completely out of nowhere with the Abrahamic tradition.

[xxix] Since Charlotte Roche is German and writing in a Christian context, I focus here on Christianity. I don’t believe Muslim cultures, or Buddhist cultures (in which being re-born as a female or an animal is considered a punishment) or Hindu cultures are any substantially different. But Christianity has encroached all aspects of life in medieval and modern Europe, has been exported via colonisation and imperialism all over the world and even today gets to shape laws and cultures. It also is my own cultural tradition (no matter how much I don’t care for it), and so I’m supposed to (irony intended) look at the beam in my eye rather than the mote in my sisters’.

[xxx] This is also true for the other Abrahamic religions: The cleansing routines of orthodox Judaism around menstruation and childbirth are based on the same mindset as is the idea expressed in the Quran verse 4, 34 that a rebellious wife can be punished by her husband witholding sex.

[xxxi] It is not clear if this quote is actually from late antiquity at all. It could be medieval or even from the renaissance era. This underlines how prevalent and enduring the idea of inherently filthy female physicality has been.

[xxxii] This is for example how Odo of Cluny, a tenth century monk, described women’s bodies: “Nam corporea pulchritudo in pelle solummodo constat. Nam si viderent homines hoc quod subtus pellem est, sicut lynces in Boetia cernere interiora feruntur, mulieres videre nausearent. Iste decor in flegmate, et sanguine, et humore, ac felle, consistit. Si quis enim considerat quae intra nares, et quae intra fauces, et quae intra ventrem lateant, sordes utique reperiet. Et si nec extremis digitis flegma vel stercus tangere patimur, quodmodo ipsum stercoris saccum amplecti desideramus?” (Odo of Cluny, Collationes 2. Quoted from Migne, J. P., Patrologiae Latinae series completa 133, col. 556, Paris 1881) “Bodily beauty consists only of skin. If people could see what is beneath the skin, like they say the lynx in Boetia is able to see the interior, they would be nauseated by the view of women. Their grace consists of phlegm and blood, wetness and gall. If one thinks about what is hidden inside the nostrils, in the throat and the stomach, he will always find filth. And if we are not able to touch the slime and dirt with the tips of our fingers, how could we desire to embrace the sack of dirt itself?” (English translation mine. The ‘lynx of Boetia’ and ‘phlegm and blood, wetness and gall’ are references to antique philosophical and medical texts, once more confirming Christianity did not invent this form of misogyny, but was fueled by older ideas.)

[xxxiii] The story of abbess Caritas Pirckheimer and Nuremberg’s St Clara convent during the reformation is very interesting, but most of the internet info of course is available only in German. After Nuremberg had essentially become a protestant town, the St Clara convent was specifically targeted by the town magistrates. They tried  to dissolve the community and get their hands on the nuns’ property by putting the sisters under economical, social and religious pressure. They ordered the abbess to let every nun go who was in the convent against her will. Of all the sisters only one left, all others refused even under pressure from their families. On the feast day of Corpus Christi 1525 three nuns were dragged out of the convent by their mothers who cited the duty to obey one’s parents and were backed up by the town council. Caritas Pirckheimer and her sisters managed to preserve the St Clara convent until Caritas’ death despite the massive attacks they faced.

[xxxiv] The corset is the foundational garment of proper Victorian womanhood. “Straight-laced” versus “loose” women are a linguistic remnant of this cultural tradition. We still know etiquette rules and polite behaviours that come from the Victorian to Edwardian upper- and middle-class ideal of the corseted, crinolined/be-bustled woman: The habit of men pulling out chairs for women has its roots in the fact that women in hoops have little feeling where their butts are meeting the furniture and could use a little help. Upper class women also still tilt their pelvis back when they sit down “gracefully”, manoeuvering invisible corsets and hoops. This is why I can’t stop snickering about so many kinksters’, sex positivists’, libfems’ and queer theorists’ love and fetish for corsets. They are literally performing proper Victorian womanhood while they are deluding themselves they do the opposite.

[xxxv] Not even virginal saints had a claim comparable to Mary’s. Their virginity could be triumphant only when it was challenged (e. g. Saint Agnes or Maria Goretti) or enforced by chastisement to overcome one’s physical reality (e. g. Elizabeth of Thuringia). For all theological writers based in the ascetic patristic tradition (= the one that saw women as filthy by design following the so-called fathers of the church), it was also crystal clear that married women and mothers were a step beneath virgins by definition.

[xxxvi] It struck me how incredibly naive Charlotte Roche is if she thinks that johns feel like they are doing something taboo and have to get drunk to work up the nerve.

[xxxvii] In the bit I didn’t bother to type, Charlotte Roche wants us to believe that this woman asks her “client” Helen about anal sex, wondering if it is painful. Charlotte Roche seriously thinks that in the 21st century there is a woman in prostitution who never had anal sex before. This and all other brothel scenes are proof  porn- and prostitution-positive Charlotte Roche has not the slightest idea of what is going on in German brothels. As so many liberal feminists of the white middle-class variety, she is incredibly naive and romantic about this brutal billion-dollar industry built on the exploitation of women and children.

[xxxviii] Even academically approved paedophilia-endorsing  Judith “Jack” Halberstam has sunk to this low: “Halberstam’s article hardly represents the best theoretical work of the 1990s. I introduce this piece because it embodies, almost in caricature, a studied coldness that enjoyed a vogue in that decade and has influenced subsequent criticism. Readers who know the novel The Silence of the Lambs or Jonathan Demme’s film adaptation will recall the murderer Buffalo Bill, who fashions a cloak from the skins of his female victims. In a well-known reading of the film, Halberstam suggests that Bill is as much “hero” as villain. For he “challenges the . . . misogynist constructions of the humanness, the naturalness, the interiority of gender.” By removing and wearing women’s skin, Bill refutes the idea that maleness and femaleness are carried within us. “Gender,” Halberstam explains, is “always posthuman, always a sewing job which stitches identity into a body bag.” The corpse, once flayed, “is no woman”; “it has been degendered, it is postgender, skinned and fleshed.” Halberstam blends her perspective uncritically with the hero-villain’s posthuman sensibility, which she sees as registering “a historical shift” to an era marked by the destruction of gender binaries and “of the boundary between inside and outside.” In her more responsible, empirical work on gender identities, Halberstam has described some of the ways in which society does “stitch” people into genders that are taken for natural. But here she reads a fictional text allegorically, to suggest that there is no selfhood at all beneath our cultural stitching. For if Bill pulls each victim apart without concern for what the article skeptically calls an “inner life,” it is apparently because there is no such thing as an inner life. Not only gender but also “identity . . . proves only to be skin deep.” Bill “hates identity” and addresses his victims as “it.” He enacts “a carnage of identity.” Yet the article gives us no terms in which to describe this as unhealthy or cruel behavior.” Even if this reading wasn’t plain eisegesis, logically inconsistent and ignorant of anatomy to ridiculous degree, it still would beg the question how a self-declared feminist like Judith Halberstam justifies a male using females as his artistic medium, as if females were nothing but clay or oil paint to the male genius. Regarding her stance on paedophilia, my most acute memory of Gaga Feminism is that she argues against the pictures of missing children being circulated on milk cartons, heavily inferring that these kids are better off without being found, living their best life, i. e. having sex with adults. The queer/trans cult’s fascination with runaway children sucking dicks for survival is particularly stomach-turning given how many teenagers still find themselves abandoned by their families after an outing as Lesbian or gay. Charlotte Roche’s Helen Memel in a way is a teenage runaway herself.

[xxxix] This reference to The Silence of the Lambs is not entirely random. Helen in a painkiller-induced fantasy sees what she describes as a “six legged man” (p. 31): A man with two legs, two Nordic walking sticks, his penis in front and a dangling piece of shit at the back.  At least in the book (haven’t seen the film) there is similar reference in the iconic scene when Clarice Starling comes into prison to meet Hannibal Lecter for the first time. I can’t be bothered to look it up, but I guess Charlotte Roche and Thomas Harris drew from the same source.

[xl] That I learned the word ‘candy striper’ for volunteers helping bedridden patients with their daily non-medical problems like getting telephone cards or drinks is probably the biggest thing I personally got out of Wetlands.

[xli] In 2010, Charlotte Roche herself offered to have sex with the then-German president to convince him not to extend the life of German nuclear power plants (see her English wikipedia article, retrieved November 12th, 2016). I cannot imagine a more glaring example for utter political powerlessness. If Charlotte Roche has nothing to throw in the ring but her vagina, it is time she admits defeat and starts to develop a whole new tool kit of political action.

[xlii] I recently took Wendo classes, and this is the exact phrase three young women in these classes used to express that they had got in touch with their mental and physical strength and developped a realistic idea of how to protect themselves in case of an attack. They came from different cities and didn’t know each other before, but they all three at some point literally said “I have such a feeling of empowerment right now”, as if power was a feeling.

[xliii] Quote retrieved on November 12th 2016.

[xliv] She must have been underaged, as she is eighteen when she thinks back of this.

[xlv] As a side note, there is a period sex scene in Fifty Shades of Grey. It was considered too shocking to make it into the movie adaption. Showing a riding crop used on a woman is plainly more acceptable than menstrual blood even being implied (let alone shown on-screen). Nonetheless Charlotte Roche in Wetlands utterly fails to dissect patriarchal attitudes around menstrual blood effectively. Het sex, sponges and tampons do not even begin to cut it.

[xlvi] Lothar Gorris and Claudia Voigt, “Guckt mal was jetzt kommt“, Der Spiegel, 08. 08. 2010, translation mine.

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6 Responses to Filia Dolorosa: A Radical Lesbian Feminist Reading of Charlotte Roche’s ‘Wetlands’ (Harper Collins, London 2009)

  1. Sj says:

    Thank you. You are a great writer, and a scholar: I wish we lived in a time when you could be feted as you deserve.
    Also, you seem to have a Mary Daly- esque background connection with me – I recently reread ‘wetlands ‘ (a friend gave it to me a while ago – I don’t know why!) and was, for the second time, disturbed and disgusted. Thank you for validating my feelings so eloquently.
    One thing i feel i can add- you said you didn’t know any english word for female genitals which echoes ‘shame ‘: how about ‘pudenda’, from the Greek ‘pudens’. It’s not commonly used, but it is used.
    Please keep your posts monster-sized – your thoughts deserve the number of words :).
    With sisterhood and love x

    • Wow, thank you so much!! And yes, of course pudenda!!
      I bet you were given that book because they tried to pass it off as ‘feminist’. I got all the Game of Thrones books by someone under the assumption that they are history. Same difference…
      Thank you again for reading and commenting!!!! I really appreciate it!

  2. You are brilliant, IMF. Brilliant! You are one of our best radical feminist thinkers today. Your work — as difficult as it must be to write — is of great importance.– I thank you.

    • Thank you!!
      I’m glad it makes sense what I wrote – I was sceptical if it even made sense to write about something mainly European…
      And women who read this could just jump over to your blog to read about why all the consuming of male body fluids is parasitising Helen… didn’t think of that before! What an opportunity to link you!

  3. k.jane says:

    I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of this book before, but just from reading the quotes from it, it sounds awful and gross. I do not think that the author Charlotte Roche is any kind of feminist and is very anti-feminist. It sounds like her whole book is a class and race-privileged fantasy. Her character Helen is not lesbian or bisexual either, but is a predatory heterosexual women, but I bet you money that people are going to read this and think that this is what lesbian intimacy is like.

    It’s weird that the main character Helen is so obsessed with being unhygienic, but at the same time shaves her butt and genitals. Razor-making companies like to promote the idea that doing those things is hygienic. (Ever heard of “man-scapping”? It’s men shaving their genitals, usually because they believe it is hygienic.)

    “The queer/trans cult’s fascination with runaway children sucking dicks for survival is particularly stomach-turning given how many teenagers still find themselves abandoned by their families after an outing as Lesbian or gay.”

    I also wanted to say that I especially agree with this quote. Prostitution is exploitation and this is more proof that the trans cult is anti-lesbian and anti-gay.

  4. Bev Jo says:

    I can’t believe I never got a notice for this post. I would have responded immediately. I love your writing and politics. You are brilliant.

    What a horrific woman she is. I had to look her up because partway through I was convinced that this had to be a man. I’m still wondering how much she lifted from male writing or how much men were involved in this. It’s all so disgusting, but what seems unlike anything I’ve seen women do, that men love to do (one of the most horrible things I’ve read, but which is proof about the trans cult, is in the endnote of my recent article — I can’t get it to copy here — https://keepingreallesbianfeminismsimple.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/radical-feminism-is-real-feminism-part-1/)

    It is nauseating to look at, just as her writing is. I’m no longer surprised that males con females into eating their filth, but I find it very hard to believe that a woman does this. Everything about her seems like a vile male fantasy. Yes, a male-identified het woman.

    Please keep writing. xoxoxo

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