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Dirty Girls: 

Erotica for Women

Rachel Kramer Bussel

When I was a kid, I was coerced into wearing dresses with starched skirts and Mary Janes, ordered to sit on a hard pew and not squirm, and expected to listen to tales of fire and brimstone handed down from the pulpit. "

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary

This anthology owes a big debt to the personal fantasies compiled by Nancy Friday in her famous collection, A Secret Garden. This was the first widely available publication to say it was OK for women to admit that the sight of Mr Darcy in damp breeches, while all very acceptable, wasn’t broadly representative of the average female sexual fantasy. Dirty Girls would like to take Mr Darcy and rub him thoroughly in the mud, stick a dildo or two in an orifice or three and find out what he’s really worth. And not just that. It wants to show us that women’s triggers are many and varied, safe and unsafe. 

Just another girl on the train is a story about voyeurism. The heroine spies on couples, male and female, in public and in private. At the end of the story she decides to become the object of another woman’s voyeurism. So the baton is passed on, and there is a real sense of the way in which women can be empowered by sex. The women in these stories are all after one thing, and they make sure they get it.

Cheesy Boots, the one story with a classic female dominatrix strutting her stuff, relies on comic effect rather than hardcore imagery, perhaps because the anthology as a whole is concerned with breaking down traditional gender roles and upsetting the comfortable clichés of how much aggression or submission is 'permitted' to women in the arena of sex. The Garden of Sinn has no female characters at all. We assume that Eve’s out having fun while the men in the story pant over the sublime lines of the gardener, Sinn. Why is a story of homoerotica in an anthology for women? Because there are women who are turned on by that, and this collection wants to please women. 

The most disturbing story, Dreams, starts out as the fantasy of Veronica, who dreams "in the house of love". By the end of the story we are reading about a man who creeps into Veronica’s bedroom as she sleeps to "spend the night violating her". This reads more like a male fantasy than a female one but for shock value the story is hard to beat. If this were a book of fiction without the agenda of arousal, Dreams would be one of the best examples of tension and dynamic –the criteria by which we judge most fiction – here it becomes hard to separate that criteria from the politics and gender issues that go hand in fist (their pun not mine) with reading erotica of this kind. 

The anthology’s strength lies in the eclectic nature of its content. I’d have liked more eclecticism, or a shorter volume of stories. It became repetitive in places, and the desire to shock lost its impact over 400 pages. Dirty Girls is so determined to upset the sensibilities of anyone after a cosy read that they sometimes make the mistake of numbing the parts they are trying to arouse.

Read an excerpt from one of the stories from this collection on TangoMag.

Sarah Hilary won the Fish Historical-Crime Contest with Fall River, August 1892, and has two stories in the Fish anthology 2008. She was a highly commended runner-up in the Biscuit Short Story Contest 2008. MO: Crimes of Practice, the Crime Writers' Association anthology, features Sarah's story, One Last Pick-Up. Her work appears in Smokelong Quarterly, Literary Mama, Every Day Fiction, Dogzplot and Zygote in my Coffee. Sarah blogs at http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com/

Sarah's other Short Reviews: Katherine Mansfield "The Collected Stories"   

Muriel Spark "The Complete Short Stories"   

"I.D. Crimes of Identity" anthology

Susan DiPlacido "American Cool" 

Sophie Hannah "The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets"

Benjamin Percy "Refresh, Refresh"

Chavisa Woods "Love Does Not Make me Gentle or Kind"

Jennifer Pelland "Unwelcome Bodies"

PublisherSeal Press

Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First anthology?Yes

Book website: DirtyGirls.Wordpress.com

Editor bio: Rachel Kramer Bussel lives in New York City. She is Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations, and a Contributing Editor to Penthouse. She has edited or co-edited 20 anthologies. 2008 will see the publication of her first novel, Everything But... (Bantam). She has written for numerous publications and wrote the bimonthly Lusty Lady sex column for The Village Voice and is a rotating interviewer at Gothamist.com.

Authors:  Marie Lyn Bernard, Saskia Walker, Catherine Lundoff, Kristina Wright Isabelle Gray, L. Elise Bland, Lillian Ann Slugocki, Tenille Brown,  Kate Dominic, Alison Tyler, Darklady, Teresa Noelle Roberts, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Marilyn Jaye Lewis, Carol Queen, Donna George Storey, Gwen Masters, Sofia Quintero, Suki Bishop, Tsaurah Litzky, Maddy Stuart, Andrea Dale, Madelynne Ellis, Melissa Gira, Sage Vivant, Gina de Vries, Shanna Germain

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What other reviewers thought:

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Erotica Revealed

Baltimore City Paper