Robert Arthur Alexie’s “Porcupines and China Dolls” is an extremely sexually explicit novel, in which many characters openly share their sexual feelings and thoughts through Free Indirect Discourse narration. The adult characters in “Porcupines and China Dolls” all seem to be very sexual and notice one another’s sexuality and looks before much else. This is especially evident with James and Karen (the bartender). There are many occasions where through FID we hear what the characters are really thinking while they carry on a conversation. Their true thoughts are extremely sexual, and almost disturbing or awkward to read, since I as a reader am not used to reading such explicitly sexual comments and thoughts from characters. Here is an example of Karen and James’ sexual tension and explicit thoughts towards each other:
“‘What you like?’ she asked and smiled. Know what I’d like? Like you to stick your head between my legs, take a deep breath ‘n go for it.
I’d like to rip your pants off ‘n eat you. ‘Two Blue,’ he said.
She took two beers from the cooler while he watched her ass. Wonder what it’d be like to hold ’em while I jammed.
She took the ten he left and watched him walk across the floor. Wonder what it’d be like to wrap my legs ’round him while he jammed.”
This explicit sexuality in “Porcupines and China Dolls” is disturbing, but understandable coming from the characters that it is coming from. All of these characters were raised with ingrained binaries of sex within the residential schools they were forced to attend, and these ingrained ideas seem to have followed them way past their childhood school days. As did other things they experienced at those schools.
In the residential schools, the boys and the girls were separated in many ways, and made to look like two groups, rather than a bunch of individuals. They were divided into boys or girls, porcupines or china dolls. All the boys and all the girls get their hair cut, and are made to look so similar that their siblings can’t even easily pick them out of the crowds. Their entire identities were taken away from them. Their identities as Indigenous people, and as individual people. In G. Bonnin’s “Impressions of an Indian Childhood” the girl tells the story of her hair being cut by the people at the residential schools. She is heart broken that they cut off her “thick braids” (Bonnin 13), and that her long hair was now short and shingled, which “among [her] people, short hair was worn by mourners, and shingled hair by cowards” (Bonnin 12). this is only one way their identities as indigenous people was taken away. Their language, their family, their individual looks, were all taken away, and the only thing remaining that they had left to identify themselves by was their gender. Which is what seems to be what they used to identify themselves, not only in the school, but this also seems to live on in their adult years. Hence, the sexuality of men and women, and their constant obsession with sex.
As one review of the book says: “There is constant intoxication leading to, or resulting from, or coinciding with sex. Everyone seems to be looking at everyone’s crotches as they go get another drink. It made my skin crawl, and I was completely disgusted — yet I think I understood what Alexie was doing. It is, to say the least, effective.”
But this sexuality that all characters have in the novel is not seen as acceptable by all characters, some characters even judge their own sexuality. Men and women seem to react differently to their sexuality. Two good examples of this are James and Angie.
Angie is seen as the town slut, and is looked upon negatively, especially by James. James also is known as the town slut, but is not seen negatively by women. Instead women want him, and he is very popular with the ladies of the town. He is dating Brenda throughout the novel, but many other women also flirt with him, and he could likely get together with many of them at his own will. Some of these women include: Angie, Karen, Norma, and Louise, who is in love with him. Brenda is another example of a woman whose sexuality is not something she is very proud of. Many times she has sexual thoughts, and then calls herself a slut, and says she has to stop thinking that way.
“‘Want something to eat?’ Wanna eat me? She smiled. Geez, I’ve gotta stop thinkin’ like a slut.” (Alexie 63).
“Got an interview for a job down there,’ she said. I gotta get outta here too. I’m turnin’ into a whore ‘n a slut.” (Alexie 63).
This double standard of sexuality is seen in today’s western culture as well as Indigenous culture. An excerpt from a book by Jessica Valenti called “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut” shows the double standard and the way in which it effects people’s views of women and men:
“Despite the ubiquity of “slut,” where you won’t hear it is in relation to men. Men can’t be sluts. Sure, someone will occasionally call a guy “a dog,” but men simply aren’t judged like women are when it comes to sexuality. (And if they are, they’re judged in a positive way!) Men who have a lot of sexual partners are studs, Casanovas, pimps, and players.”
“And let’s face it — the slut stigma isn’t just dangerous to our “reputations” or to some weird-ass notion of purity. How many times has rape been discounted because a woman was deemed a slut? How many times are women called whores while their partners beat them? How often are women’s sexual histories used against them in workplace harassment cases? The sexual double standard is a lot more dangerous than we’d like to think.”
As the quotes say, women are unfairly judged about their sexuality, and sexual behaviours, but men get a free pass, and are commonly praised for it, rather than judged negatively. This double standard should be taken seriously, and broken down, or else it is dangerous and debilitating for women.
Heres another way in which the double standard is talked about and fought against. Christina Aguilera’s song Can’t Hold us Down.
Heres a link to the lyrics and a video.
This double standard exists in many cultures, however it is interesting to note that the strong binaries of gender seem to stem from the fact that most of the adults in the community went to the residential schools, were separated depending on their gender, and went through horrific experiences, many including sexual abuse. I am curious as to whether the people would have been so sexually obsessed, had they not been put through the residential schools, and had been raised by their own families with their family’s morals and customs. Is this obsession with sex, and the double standard that goes along with it, a factor of the residential schools, or is this something that would always exist in indigenous communities?
Alexie, Robert, Arthur. Porcupines and China Dolls. Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 2009. Print.
Bonnin, G. “Impressions of an Indian Childhood” in Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym, pp. 1-22. 1989. Norton and Company Inc. Print.
“Robert Arthur Alexie: Porcupines and China Dolls.” The Mookse and the Gripes. Web. http://mookseandgripes.com/reviews/2010/02/26/robert-arthur-alexie-porcupines-and-china-dolls/
Jessica Valenti. “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut: The Sexual Double Standard.” AlterNet. Web.