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An Open Letter To Bret Easton Ellis

Michelle Anne Schingler, a former librarian and Hebrew school teacher, is the managing editor at Foreword Reviews. Her days are books, books, books; she knows how lucky that makes her.  Twitter: @mschingler


I’ve never read your work. Now, after reading your rape-denialism heavy interview with the Hollywood Reporter,  I never will.

I know you think it’s really “scary” when people refuse to engage the work of artists based on public perception. I in no way share that particular fear. My artistic free-play time, my choice. No matter where I am. No matter what parameters you consider appropriate for (in this case) aesthetic appreciation.

So you’re upset that your buddy James Deen is having a hard time following a bevy of rape accusations. I get that. Rape is pretty upsetting. But the thing that should scare you is not that people are refusing to work with him after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct on set; the thing that should scare you is that you–a person whose success ought to hinge on your ability to write nuanced, human, deeply felt scenes–are apparently incapable of extending any sort of empathy to women in the porn industry. Or men in the porn industry. Or any human being, really, who might be violated.

This isn’t simple misogyny. When you imply that a person who’s acting in porn can’t be raped on set, that’s not just an affront to people on porn sets who’ve been raped–it’s an affront to all of us. No means no means no, no matter where the f**k you are.

It’s not okay with me that you take abuse for granted “in the porn world.” Both laws and basic decency reach to there. If your buddy thinks it’s okay to take liberties with a woman’s body past the boundaries of her consent just because they’re on an adult film set, he’s wrong. Wrong and scary. Scarier, even, than a woman not willing to work with a man who can’t recognize or respect women’s boundaries.

I sometimes have qualms about my willingness to forego an artist’s work because of nasty stuff they’ve said or done. Anne Rice thinks its wrong that people reacted strongly to an evangelical Nazi romance book: I’m done with her, but a little sad about it, because her new work sounds sort of interesting. Dean Koontz donates to Sharron Angle’s campaign, I skip a book of his in disgust, but then cave–maybe he was just helping to highlight her crazy. I lifted a personal ban on Orson Scott Card to read Ender’s Game with my book club, and I’m glad I did, though still confused about how someone who can write with such empathy manages to be homophobic. There are grey areas, I guess, with writers and their personal jerkiness.

Not here. This is pretty black-and-white for me: you don’t think porn stars can be raped? I don’t think you’re worthy of one moment of my reading time. And I also think, frankly–the allegations against your buddy aside–that women should have the sense not to work with you, now. A person who believes that consent can ever be taken for granted is not a safe individual to be around.

Part of a writer’s job is to put themselves in the places of people wholly unlike them. That’s how you make characters come alive: you occupy their skin, their mind-space, you take on their aches and their dreams and their fears. The best novelists accomplish that seamlessly. You have to be able to feel.

You can’t feel how terrifying it would be to have someone you work with force sexual contact on you without your permission? You can’t empathize with that sense of violation?

I think I know all I need to know about your capacity as a novelist.