Julia vs the Facebook Advertising Policy

I don’t do rants often, but I’m feeling a little irritated.

GIF of Sister Michael from Derry Girls, via tenor.

As you probably know by now, I just released my debut novel, The Madness of Miss Grey. It’s hard to get a book by a brand new author noticed, so I’ve been trying a bit of everything including (and despite hearing decidedly mixed opinions as to their effectiveness) Facebook ads. The Madness of Miss Grey is an historical romance with the sort of cover most historical romance covers have. In case you’ve forgotten (as if I’d let you,) here it is:

The Madness of Miss Grey cover

Not exactly Caligula, is it? In fact, let’s compare:

Caligula (1979) Blu-ray cover, via imdb.

Nope, not Caligula.

Nevertheless my ad was refused because “it includes an image or video depicting people performing seductive or implied sexual acts.”

Which sexual act? Kissing? Both people are fully dressed (okay, his shirt is unbuttoned, but she’s shielding his modesty with her body). Her back is to him. Surely there must be some mistake, right? So, I appealed and was once again denied.

GIF of Emperor Commodus ( Joaquin Phoenix ) from the movie Gladiator (2000) , via tenor

Let me tell you, it’s going to be tricky advertising this book without showing the cover. So, for the first time in my life, I bothered to read Facebook’s advertising policy with regard to sexy content. You too can partake of this joy:

No artistic nudity even if it’s only implied. No hot women in bed even if they’re alone and covered in a sheet. No cleavage because women’s bodies are just too inflaming. Won’t someone think of the children? Won’t someone think of the poor men (for they cannot control themselves)?

And that’s not all.

No eating a banana! That banana is clearly meant to imply something! No couple in bed even if we mostly see just feet. We know what’s going on under that sheet and it’s something dirty! No bare man chest. (Actually, that one took me by surprise. There was me thinking only female bodies are rude.) Oh, but artistic nudity is fine after all, as long as it’s a statue or a painting. Put a woman next to him and I’m thinking it’d be a different story because then they might be about to do…stuff. Not sure what would happen if it was a statue of two naked men. Facebook might put a red x by it or they might take the view common to so many elderly male historians that two naked men in art are always and only best buds.

Sister Michael from Derry Girls, via tenor

No, Sister Michael, this isn’t hell. This is 2019. Hard to believe, I know.


Eminent Victorians: How I fell a little in love with La Goulue.

Moulin Rouge: La Goulue by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

Lautrec’s posters and paintings were my first introduction to can-can dancer Louise Weber, otherwise known as La Goulue (The Glutton). A quick google will tell you she got her nickname because she would down the drinks of Moulin Rouge patrons as she danced past. Lautrec was a genius but I’ve never heard anyone say he flattered his subjects. The first thing that struck me about this poster is how worn and ragged she looks, dancing her heart out for a faceless and, to me, somewhat sinister-seeming crowd of spectators.

Weber doesn’t fit in with today’s beauty standards where we assign women (and sometimes men) attractiveness points based on increasingly narrow parameters. But, as her popularity attests, she definitely had something. Photographs do her more justice:

Louise Weber, 1892. Via Pinterest.

This lady was flexible.

Louise Weber, 1895. Unknown photographer. Perhaps Achille Delmaet?

And not shy.

She was, for a few short years, the highest paid entertainer in Paris. The undisputed Queen of Montmatre. But in 1895, she decided to leave the Moulin Rouge and strike out on her own, literally taking her show on the road. Unfortunately, the crowds didn’t follow, and Louise Weber’s star faded along with her fortune.

But none of this is why I love her.

In the 1920s, Louise Weber was travelling in a caravan. She stepped out, saw a man holding a camera, and this was her response:

Louise Weber “La Goulue” in the 1920s. Source: Youtube (Untefinu balaninu)

Her glory days may be behind her but she’s still dancing, still graceful, and still fierce.


Victorian Mad Doctors and Clitoral Stimulation Redux

Just when I thought I knew where I was with this topic, I find this article by Dr. Kate Lister. In a nutshell, while there is next to no evidence for Victorian doctors using the vibrator to stimulate women’s clitorises as a cure for hysteria, there is actually quite a bit suggesting they used manual stimulation of the vulva or pelvic massage.

‘The Physiotherapy in Gynaecology and the Mechanical Treatment of Diseases of the Uterus and its Appendages’, 1895, via inews.

According to my understanding of the article (and, truth be told, I am beginning to doubt my ability to understand anything about this subject), the point of the treatment was not to induce orgasm (though people at the time worried this would be an unfortunate (?) side-effect), but to treat a miscellany of conditions including “prolapses and protrusion of the uterus; prolapse of the vagina; hypertrophy and induration of the uterus; ulcerations; abnormal haemorrhage, depending on relaxation of the uterus; tendency to miscarriage; slight hypertrophy of the ovaries.”

So, no vibrators, but apparently fingering was fine and dandy. And recommended by The Lancet.


History as a Moving Target: Did Victorian doctors really use clitoral stimulation to treat hysteria?

As a history geek who also writes historical romance, I do a lot of research. One of the things that strikes me is how our image of the past is less fixed than we think. The 19th century as written by Jane Austen differs drastically from the version we find in a primary document like The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. And, contrary to what I’ve read in romance novel reviews over the years, members of the ton occasionally married sex workers (e.g. Elizabeth Armistead, Lady Meux etc.), trans people existed, and same sex couples occasionally lived together happily and even occasionally *gasp!* openly.

I’ve always been fascinated by Victorian sexuality, probably because it diverges so widely from the stereotype promulgated by nineteenth century novels. The idea that Victorian doctors used clitoral stimulation to treat female hysterics has long been accepted as fact. There’s even a book about it written by an actual scholar and published by John Hopkins University Press. So it must be true, right?

EPSON scanner Image

There’s even a (very fun) film about the invention of the vibrator. Here’s the trailer in case you’re interested. Which you should be because Rupert Everett is in it.

When I started writing The Madness of Miss Grey, I certainly believed Maines’s research to be solid. There was never a draft of my story where this particular treatment was practiced; I was writing historical romance, not historical fiction, and I decided including scenes (in which inmates of a lunatic asylum are masturbated to orgasm to relieve hysteria) presented too much of an ethical minefield.

How could such a thing have been true given what we know (or think we know) about Victorian society? According to Maines, the medical profession didn’t view clitoral stimulation as sexual because they had a woefully penis-centric attitude to intercourse. This didn’t jibe well with what some primary sources had to say regarding the Victorian belief that female orgasm was necessary for procreation, but I reasoned that, then as now, different doctors held differing opinions. I wonder if, on some level, I wanted to believe it because it’s so titillating (see the trailer above) and because the artwork is seductive:

CURE (2)

I came across opposing opinions, particularly Dr. Fern Riddell and Oneill Therese, but it wasn’t until I read this article that I realized I was going to have to reassess my beliefs. Maines responds to criticism of her book by declaring her ideas only an “hypothesis,” adding :

“I never claimed to have evidence that this was really the case.”

As the article states, “she was a little surprised it took so long for other scholars to question her argument, given how admittedly “slender” the evidence she gave in The Technology of Orgasm was. “I thought people were going to attack it right away. But it’s taken 20 years for people to even—people didn’t want to question it. They liked it so much they didn’t want to attack it.””

As someone who has read The Technology of Orgasm, this may be true, but her tone was certainly authoritative.

So, can we definitively say that Victorian doctors didn’t use clitoral stimulation to treat hysterics? Well… not really. As with so much of history, we can’t be absolutely sure. Maines includes a lot of very suggestive stuff. But if we can’t be 100% certain, it’s still fair to say there’s little to no evidence.

Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to remove and adapt the few references in The Madness of Miss Grey. It just goes to show that, even when you’ve done the research, even when you think you know what the past was like, you really don’t. Whether its historical fiction, historical romance, or even non-fiction we’re writing or reading, we’re all imagining our own versions of the past.