Judging a book by its cover
About a week ago, a message popped up in my inbox from Igniter Books, an imprint of Harper Collins. The message was about a new book called The Last Living Slut: Born in Iran, Bred Backstage, touting it as a sex-positive, post-second wave feminist anthem for a new generation. It was written by Roxana Shirazi, an Iranian woman who was transplanted to the UK at age ten and later found herself swept up in the world of rock n’ roll.
I didn’t have high expectations — this was a PR pitch– but I admit that I was looking forward to receiving the book.
And so my heart sank a little when it showed up on my desk one morning. Looking like a cross between something out of Maxim and Hot Topic, it was hard to not write the book off completely from one look at the jacket. I could tell that this wasn’t going to be the gutsy pro-woman memoir that I was hoping for. It reeked of the sort of “feminism” manufactured by the publishers of FHM and Stuff magazine.
The foreword was written by Neil Strauss and Anthony Bozza, the folks that co-authored the biography of Eminem. The press kit compares Shirazi’s memoir to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (in which several of the book’s translators were murdered by Islamic fundamentalists).
If I were Salman Rushdie, I’d be writing a strongly worded letter to Igniter/ ItBooks right about now.
She is unrelenting in her commentary and critique of these men, and this book is not for the easily offended.
In this world of nü-metal/ rap-rock and recycled 80s hair bands, she becomes infamous (much to her delight and later, chagrin). She rejects the “groupie” label and reclaims “slut.” She goes where she wants and gets what she wants and doesn’t ask permission. She insists that she’s no victim.
I applaud women that reject the concept that open and active sexuality (specifically sex with men) is anti-feminist, or that it is patently degrading to women. You could say I’m on the pro-sex side of that argument.
But throughout the book, Shirazi doesn’t necessarily apply this sort of sexual freedom to all women — just to herself and a select group of female friends. She denigrates other women and consistently acquiesces to the misogynistic culture that runs rampant backstage. Emotionally, she’s closed off, but in all other respects she’s living up to the status quo for this sort of lifestyle.
Save for a few pages that offer rudimentary observations on the term “slut,” (which she likens to the N-word, shock me, shock me) Shirazi doesn’t question the sexism or sexual inequities unless they apply specifically to her. Which would be fine, after all — this is her book, and she doesn’t need to answer to my particular brand of feminism. Except that this tiny detail — this double standard — is supposed to be the crux of her 300-page argument.
Peppered throughout are mentions of her other, more academic side. Throughout this five-year stint backstage, Shirazi managed to also get an undergraduate and Master’s degree in Gender Studies at Bath Spa University in London.
As I flipped between pages of racy photos and line after line of egregiously detailed encounters, I was searching for some of that academic commentary. Because that’s the point of a book that’s ostensibly about the inequities of male vs. female sexuality, isn’t it?
I did some research before my conversation with Roxana. I found that the book was receiving accolades left and right. Oh wait — from her publishers and other writers under the Igniter/ItBooks imprint.
Then I got an email from her publicist with a few “suggested questions.” I was told to ask inane things like ” What does the role of feminism look like today as opposed to, say, 20 years ago?” and “Are you concerned about the reaction from the Iranian world or that someone might issue a fatwah [sic] against you?”
Never mind the fact that Shirazi hasn’t lived in Iran (nor has most of her immediate family) for nearly 30 years.
She spoke in a soft, genteel English accent as we discussed the book. She talked about trying to be as honest as possible about every taste, smell and sound she experienced, hence the gratuitous detail that made me squirm at times. “I didn’t want to gloss anything over,” she said, “I think I tried to create an atmosphere…to be raw and frank about all of it.”
Fair enough, I thought. But while we were on the subject of glossing things over, I had to ask about her academic career. It was then that she told me what should have been written in this memoir: that she dumbed herself down for the sake of these men. “Rock stars” don’t want to bang book worms — they want vampy, overly sexy caricatures of women. That’s what she was for them, and she regrets it now.
But not for marketing purposes, apparently. Roxana’s personal and fan pages on Facebook and Myspace are plastered with representations of that vampy persona, more N-word references and even a bit of anti-woman sentiment.
From our hour-long conversation, contrasted against the somewhat viral marketing campaign I’ve seen, it appears as though she’s acquiescing to what the boys want to see once again. How much of that is “her” and how much is the image that ItBooks insists of her remains to be seen.