First things first here is a list of charities that you can (and should) donate to in order to help people directly affected by the government shutdown here in the US. Many of these people aren’t going to get paid even once the government re-opens and right now they’re suffering greatly. If you can donate, you can help someone get a little bit of financial security in these trying times.
- GoFundMe Government Shutdown Direct Relief Fund
- DC Food Banks: Capital Area Food Bank’s Hunger Lifelineand So Others Might Eat
- NY: Masbia
- Nationwide: World Central Kitchen
- National Diaper Bank Network
Now, some backstory:
In October 2013, the US government was shut down for several days as a result of the Republican congress really hating the idea of letting the United States people get anything close to universal healthcare.
In response to the shutdown and ostensibly for her readers impacted by the shutdown as government workers, Laurell K. Hamilton posted “Shutdown”, a short story (or, more likely, a deleted scene from the novel that had come out in July of the same year, Affliction) about the werewolf alpha Richard Zeeman introducing his newest human lover to Anita Blake and her main-shapeshifter squeeze, the wereleopard alpha Micah Callahan. This 7200-word story is a quick and frustrating look into the life of one of Anita’s former main lovers.
As Hamilton posted this story with good intentions and reuploaded it with the threat – I mean, promise – to figure out a sequel or original short story if the shutdown continues – with good intentions as well, I am sporking it with the best intentiions at heart. I would appreciate it if my followers/readers donated to one of the charities or organizations I linked to at the beginning of this piece.
So, now that you’ve (hopefully) donated to an organization that’s going to help folks impacted by the government shutdown, let’s start the sporking (for a good cause). The usual trigger warnings for any conversation about the Anitaverse apply here as I’ll be talking about the consent issues in the short, internalized misogyny, kink/sex shaming, and sexual violence. So read carefully if you can!
Have you ever had to have lunch with your lover’s fiancé? It was a first for me, too.
To this day, I have no idea why Richard felt like he needed to introduce Anita and Micah to his new fiancé. Anita has an actual habit of pulling in new partners without asking permission from anyone until after she’s already metaphysically bound up with them and can’t cut them out of the relationship/polycule. Why is Richard even doing this?
Also, within like one sentence of this, we get hit with the first smack of the Anitaverse’s usual internalized misogyny as Hamilton has her describe Richard’s new fiancée.
Dr. Ellen Radborne was about my height, 5′ 3″ with thick shoulder length brunette hair that I might have thought was black, but my hair was black, so I knew hers was really just dark brown. Her eyes were brown, like mine, though again mine were a little darker. She had a pale summer tan, to my nearly white skin, but then my skin never tanned, it just burned, and then went back to being pale. She was curvy, maybe not as curvy through the chest as me, but no man who liked breasts would complain that she lacked. She was in shape, though not as fit as I, but then I doubt she needed to hit the weights and cardio as hard for her job as I did for mine.
A woman needlessly but constantly threatened by other women says what?
*cups ear as if waiting for a response*
Look, one of the (many) reasons why I balk at saying anything positive about the Anita Blake series or even bothering to call it feminist (beyond White Feminist ™ practices) is because of Anita’s internal dialogue and moments like this.
This is the first time that Anita meets Ellen and everything that she is is held up against Anita’s pale perfection and found wanting.
Her hair? Dark enough to be black but is “really just dark brown”. Same goes for her eyes, which of course aren’t as dark as Anita’s. Her skin? Pale tan, but nothing compared to Anita’s “nearly white skin”. Her curves? Curvy enough for some people, but her breasts are smaller than Anita’s. And of course, she’s not as fit as Anita.
Ellen is introduced as a weak reflection of Anita and that does not bode well for this short piece.
She taught college level biology, and continued to do research field work in the summers. She reminded me of the last two serious girlfriends he’s had. He certainly had a type, as if only the names changed for his short, dark haired women. He’d sleep with a variety, but for serious dating it was always women like us.
At this point in the Anitaverse, Richard and Anita are barely speaking. They have emergency angry sex every once in a while, but he’s not one of her primary partners. They don’t even like each other half the time – something about how Richard wants a white picket fence and Anita doesn’t – but apparently Richard can’t help himself and keeps dating women that look and act just like Anita – except like… they’re nice people when she actively isn’t.
She liked camping, bird watching, hiking, caving, climbing, and all sorts of outdoor stuff. I had, at one time, enjoyed all of that, but my job as a U. S. Marshal for the preternatural branch didn’t leave me much room for hobbies.
I’m not reading into this, am I?
It really does read as if she’s like “Ellen gets to have hobbies because she’s just a college professor and researcher while I am a US Marshal and too busy for such trifles”.
First of all, Anita’s actual job is still at Animators, Inc. and she isn’t actually a “real” US Marshall in the slightest considering that she doesn’t have caseloads or responsibility and she doesn’t even remotely behave like someone with that kind of job should. (I’ve wailed about my issues with the series’ crappy competency cop porn attempts before, and one thing that stands out is that Anita feels like she’s cosplaying a cop, not that she’s actually one.)
Second of all, though? Anita no longer has time for hobbies because Hamilton won’t write in time for them. I think the last time I remember Anita doing anything for fun was well over ten books before. At this point, we don’t even really get her in scenes where she has sex for fun – it’s almost always for politics, power, or the ardeur.
Plenty of government employees – even in law enforcement – find the time to hike and fuck for pleasure. Anita isn’t special because she somehow hasn’t figured out a work-life balance.
This short is a masterclass in how not to write women, honestly. Every single thing Anita thinks about Ellen is steeped in internalized misogyny like it’s a particularly bitter tea.
We sat across from each other smiling, but her eyes were a little uncertain, and I was trying very hard not to make my eyes look empty. Most women took eyes that were too neutral as unfriendly. Men understood that sometimes you didn’t want to smile, but you weren’t mad either, while women expect other women to be pleasant, and if you’re not they think you don’t like them.
I have six brothers and spent a ton of time with guys growing up. I also watch the news. Fun fact, men do not understand that “sometimes [women] didn’t want to smile”. Considering all the men that harass women (and folks they view as women) specifically demanding that they smile and actual stories of women being followed and even physically assaulted because they won’t smile, for her to have Anita make this claim is like peak Pick Me.
Something that’s followed up by the next sentence:
There are so many reasons that most of my friends are men.
Someone needs to check their internalized misogyny…
Then Hamilton devotes – and I counted – SIX HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-SEVEN WORDS to describing Richard and Micah’s appearances. I’m not sporking that. It practically sporks itself, honestly. Almost seven hundred words dedicated to Micah’s “almost feminine beauty” and how Richard is basically a brick shit house.
Oh, and like… how the dudes are wearing matching shirts.
If I rolled my eyes any harder, they would flat out fall from my head. Which would have the added bonus of keeping me from reading this short story anymore but like… where would the fun be in that.
One thing from the unnecessary description parts that I thought was ridiculous:
Micah’s hair was curly, not wavy, and he normally wore it back in a pony tail, or a braid of some kind, but since this lunch was supposed to help Dr. Ellen understand that I had other yummy men in my life so I didn’t need to steal Richard from her, Micah had left the hair unbound around his shoulders so that it trailed deep brown chestnut curls to mid-back.
See that bold print? This meeting is supposed to assure Ellen that Anita isn’t going to steal her man because… Anita has other pretty men. Wow. And apparently, this is set up to be Ellen’s fault because she’s such an awkward needy person too prudish for Richard or even to be vaguely adjacent to Anita’s polycule.
I knew with that small eye flick that I looked too good, had dressed too well, and she had done that girl thing where you compare yourself to the ex, and she didn’t feel like she was winning. This was so not my problem; I hadn’t asked for the lunch, I’d told her what I was wearing. It wasn’t like I’d shown up in a designer outfit after telling her I was wearing jeans. It wasn’t my fault that I dressed my jeans up more than she did.
Hamilton literally opened the short story with Anita judging Ellen’s appearance and deciding that she was just a weaker/lesser copy. If that’s the attitude Ellen is supposed to be faced with when she sits across from Anita who is judgmental and snappy throughout the piece so far, why is it that her insecurity is written as a “total chick thing” and unwarranted?
Hamilton likes to try and say that Anita is “one of the guys” and therefore somehow above the petty behavior that Hamilton ascribes to all women that aren’t her. But here’s the thing, this is peak “girl” behavior. This how I acted when I was 18 and threatened by the existence of other girls in my social group.
However, Anita is almost thirty.
So she’s not a teenager trying to figure out her place in the world and impressionable in any way.
She’s just an asshole about other women.
It’s not a great look.
Sure, there are other female characters in the urban fantasy and contemporary paranormal romance genres that embrace being “one of the guys”. But they haven’t spent 20+ books also shitting on every single female character that doesn’t woman in a way that they can understand and therefore appears to be a threat to their own femininity.
Another lengthy snippet that sporks itself?
The ONE THOUSAND FIFTY-SIX WORDS that Hamilton wastes on having Micah, Richard, and then Ellen herself reassure Anita that she’s beautiful after her response to Ellen being all “ugh I could see you as less of a threat if you weren’t gorgeous” gets a “but I’m not beautiful” from Anita.
(Just a tenth of the words in this unnecessary scene:
“I didn’t tell you for sympathy, I told you to try and explain that I have trouble seeing myself. Micah is beautiful and he loves me, Richard did love me and he’s gorgeous, and I have other men in my life who are just as amazing, so, like I said, logic dictates that if beautiful people keep wanting to date me, then I can’t be ugly.”
“But you still don’t feel beautiful,” she said softly.
“Sometimes,” I said.
She nodded. “So you mean it, that you think we’re both pretty, because you don’t believe you’re beautiful?”
“Something like that.”
At this point in the Anitaverse, we’ve got well over a dozen individual men falling all over themselves to assure Anita that she’s perfect and precious on a regular basis. A main interaction that’s present at least once in every single book from around Obsidian Butterfly and onward is a man going goggle-eyed over how flat out gorgeous Anita is in an exotic way – because she’s got her mother’s Mexican features outside of her skintone – or a woman telling Anita outright that she can’t stand how beautiful she is and/or that Anita doesn’t know how she looks.
At least one sex scene per book, we’re subject to descriptions of Anita being called beautiful, being treated as if she’s beautiful, and… constantly refuting the fact that if she’s conventionally attractive in face and figure even though she’s defeated at least three “Bad Guy Of the Book”s by her boner-causing charms so far.
(And again, if this was done with any sense of self awareness, a shamelessly sexual heroine in an urban fantasy series written by a woman could be awesome. But Anita is always being forced into “fuck or die” scenarios and the series and author aren’t even close to self-aware on this part.)
After they’re done shoring up Anita’s massive ego, it’s time for Intro to Polyamory 101 courtesy of Anita and Micah referencing a comment that Nathaniel Graison, the missing third of their immediate polyamorous relationship made about her lipstick.
“Nathaniel is your other . . .” she seemed lost for words.
“Boyfriend works,” I said. I didn’t add that it was the phrase I used for vanilla friends who didn’t understand our alternative lifestyle and didn’t really want to.
Nathaniel is their boyfriend. Outside of the kink stuff – which is not something that needs to be shared with friends or strangers that aren’t in the lifestyle anyway – he’s still their boyfriend. And I’m not reading too much into this because right afterwards, Hamilton starts to use Ellen as a mouthpiece for a clumsy person uncomfortable with and confused by the idea of polyamory.
(Obviously, Richard is a bad fiancé because this is the first time Ellen is hearing about any of this and that’s something we’re getting to in a bit but like… really???)
It would’ve been fine to leave Nathaniel as their “boyfriend” and not go into the Polyamory 101 track for a woman who is clearly confused by it. But “fine” doesn’t allow Anita go get up on her high horse and beat the damn thing to death in the process…
What proceeds is another thousand words explaining BDSM-focused polyamory to Ellen like she’s a toddler and doesn’t have internet access.
Hamilton has Ellen out here asking questions like “what does third mean” about Nathaniel’s position in Anita and Micah’s relationship like the context clues aren’t ridiculously obvious. This shit is not that hard to understand. I knew more about BDSM and polyamory by the time I was eighteen and I have never actually practiced either thing??
And then, I shit you not, comes some weird ass bigotry against vampires dropped into a bit of Ellen’s questioning dialogue.
“I don’t understand how either of you can let a vampire touch you, but Asher is submissive to Richard, so how can he also be dominant, or top, to Anita? If the two of you can’t even agree then how am I ever going to understand this?” Ellen asked.
I didn’t know what to say to her remark about vampires, so I let it go.
Which raises a question… does Ellen even know that Richard is a werewolf?
Because if she does, she’s just dissed a similar (enough) species of supernatural being. And if she doesn’t… he’s an asshole for proposing to her without telling her his biggest secret.
(ETA: I must have missed it, but she just brought up that Micah is a lycanthrope – not the actual correct term because he’s a leopard, not a wolf – so she has to know something. Right?)
Also, again, the concept of a “switch” is not that hard to grasp. I could probably text my mom right now and she’d figure it out in a few minutes. Making Ellen struggle to understand the way the Anita polycule works at this point in time is a choice to make her look bad.
And it sucks.
What also sucks? This entire paragraph about how “sad” it is to Anita who thinks Ellen doesn’t enjoy “rough sex” and since no one in the Anitaverse can have sex without trying to plunge their junk through another person, it’s like he’s denying himself something big and important.
She winced, I think at the term “rough sex.” Again, it wasn’t a good sign. How vanilla was Dr. Ellen Radborne? The thought of Richard married to someone who thought just saying the phrase “rough sex” was embarrassing, or bad in some way, made me sad for him. I knew that Richard was capable of enjoying gentler lovemaking, but he was so well-endowed that there was an element of roughness in most of his sex. How could you enjoy sex with him if you didn’t like it a little rough? Or maybe, how would Richard be able to enjoy it if she didn’t like a little rough? It just seemed sad. Why was he doing this to himself?
A) That’s none of Anita’s business.
B) she doesn’t actually know what kind of sex they are/n’t having.
C) it’s not sad that Ellen might not enjoy having her guts rearranged on a regular basis thanks to Richard’s monster cock.
One thing about Anita and where I see the absence of sex-positive feminism here is when Anita judges another woman for not wanting what she likes and has. She spends a significant amount of time in Shutdown silently (and not-so-silently) judging Ellen for not being her, right down to assuming what the other woman’s sex life with Richard is like… and pitying him for having what she decides must be an unsatisfying sex life.
You know who I feel sad for?
Because she can’t imagine a world where women genuinely get along unless they’re fucking each other (and even then…). I can’t imagine writing worlds where my female characters didn’t have female friends or where they immediately see other women as obstructions to be torn down.
Anita doesn’t even like Richard. They occasionally have sex, Anita says as much in Shutdown, but they don’t like each other or want the same things from each other. They are not actually a thing. So Ellen should not be a threat to whatever they don’t have. And yet –
That’s what she is.
I stared into that handsome face with those high, perfect cheekbones, and male model face, and thought, he should have been able to have almost anyone he wanted, why Ellen?
What Anita is actually asking is “why not me” and we know it.
Then, Anita gets this sad-mad-empty look on her face and Micah cuddles her, something which sparks another round of unfounded drama when Ellen is like “I know that stressed shapeshifters go into excessive displays of affection, so why are y’all cuddling out of the blue” and Anita is just… a dick about it.
I opened my eyes where I was cuddled in against the warmth and pulse of Micah’s neck. I looked at her, and it might not have been an entirely friendly look, because her eyes widened just a bit. I switched the look higher to Richard, and said, “What do you want me to say, Richard?”
“Ellen, honey,” he said, her hand in his, “that’s not excessive public display of affection for Anita and Micah.”
Ellen turned and looked up at him, eyes wide. “You’re teasing me.”
Richard shook his head and looked down at her at the same time, so that his hair fell forward and hid most of his face from me.
Ellen stared up at him for a few seconds and then turned back to us with an almost horrified look on her face. I had no idea what we’d done to earn that look.
The one thing I’ll be fair about is that Richard is right: this isn’t an excessive public display of affection for those two. They play tonsil hockey on a regular basis with no shame and Anita frequently seems to take pleasure in engaging in some serious spit swapping in front of people (usually other women) that she thinks are judging her for her lifestyle.
That all they’re doing is cuddling when Anita obviously sees Ellen as a major threat is a miracle, honestly.
Also, in case y’all forgot (the way Hamilton did): Anita is almost thirty. We’re probably the same age actually. And she thinks things like:
Micah sat up a little straighter, doing more of a standard arm across the shoulders half-hug with the other hand just holding mine on the table top. I sat up straighter, too, though part of me wanted to do something even more up close and personal just so Ellen would have a real reason for looking shocked, but I wasn’t a child, and this was Richard’s problem, not mine.
ANITA IS LITERALLY MAKING IT HER PROBLEM.
SHE MAKES IT HER PROBLEM BY NOT SENDING ELLEN HANDY LINKS ABOUT POLYAMORY AND BY ACTIVELY BEING AGGRESSIVE AND MAKING ELLEN’S DISCOMFORT WITH HER RELATIONSHIPS ABOUT HERSELF AND THE JEALOUSY HAMILTON OVERLAYS HER WITH.
Anita mentally writes Ellen off from the start, but she does it extra explicitly in a bit from her internal monologue where she decides that Ellen won’t be a good fit for their polycule.
Unfortunately, one thing I’d learned about being poly is that just because you’re not having sex with someone doesn’t mean they can’t screw it all up; everyone’s lover can affect the emotional side of things and Ellen had all the ear marks of being a pain in everyone’s emotional poly ass.
Anita, I remind y’all, is a huge honking hypocrite.
She constantly drags home new lovers without a) asking permission or b) getting permission.
And they are often pains in “everyone’s emotional poly ass”.
Ellen doesn’t actually seem to want anything to do with the polycule and, as we’ve covered before, Richard already doesn’t engage with them. Aside from his wolves and the occasional tryst with Anita and Asher, Richard is as far removed from St. Louis preternatural politics and polyamory as he can get without being shipped off to another state the way that a bunch of Anita’s disgraced or less interesting lovers (like Asher and London) have been.
So it’s not like Richard would be in Anita’s life on a regular basis…
Predictably, Ellen breaks (but not before Anita condescends at her and definitely acts like the US isn’t a country that fucks up how we think about intimacy and sex from birth in order to make the poor woman out to be a prude).
She looked at us; her eyes were shiny with unshed tears, but her voice was calm when it came. “I thought I could do this, but I don’t think I can. I love you, and you are everything I want, all I want, Richard. I was willing to believe that you needed rougher things in the bedroom than I was comfortable with, so I thought I could accept you needed someone for that and for bondage, but now I see her and you have to stop lying to me, Richard. It’s not needing to be rough, or needing bondage, it’s just her. You want to keep her in your bed, and that’s that.” The first hard tear started down her cheek.
Anita doesn’t want Richard.
Hamilton doesn’t want Richard with Anita.
But she refuses to let them be apart forever. He’s a toy that Anita can’t quite give up, so he gets kept on the shelf. No one’s ever good enough for Richard, the series tells us, but that’s not the truth. It’s that Hamilton genuinely only views Anita as the perfect person for Richard, that’s why he’s still in love with her despite everything, but that ship has sailed and sank.
With six pages to go – I converted the original ebook file Hamilton reuploaded for this shutdown to a Word document – we’ve actually returned to the BDSM conversation. Now, they’re trying to have Ellen shame Anita for liking the massive bruises she gets from ridiculously rough sex.
I don’t know the last time y’all read an Anitaverse book, but at the end of many of the recent sex scenes, Anita usually ends up looking like she’s had the shit beaten out of her. Which is again, fine. I loved the hell out of Solace K. Ames’s stuff and if properly labeled and written, consensual sex that involves that kind of sensation play and end-result bruising can be awesome.
But Ellen, a character in this world, probably didn’t know what BDSM is. So she’s not going to understand that Richard and Anita play out consensual “rape fantasies” or that they like to fight before and during their time together. In fact, it’ll make her respond negatively because this is her gentle giant of a partner and she’s being told that he likes to toss his previous partner around and whip or grab her hard enough that she has bruises.
“I would never allow Richard to abuse me, or any man for that matter,” she said.
“I am not an abuse victim, Ellen. I’m not a victim at all. I own my sexuality in every sense, and I top some of the men in my life. It’s not just me on the receiving end of the rough.”
The thing about this is like… This is how a lot of people view BDSM because of media like Fifty Shades and the Anitaverse that almost exclusively put forward BDSM scenes that are akin to –if not outright – abuse and degradation that at least one participant hasn’t entirely consented to.
So I get Ellen’s reaction…
On top of that, I understand that this is just another way that Hamilton went into overdrive to make sure Ellen was out of the picture by the end of this story. The goal of Shutdown isn’t to entertain the audience or showcase a little bit of what goes on between books. It’s to remind us that Richard will never get to be happy with a woman again because he doesn’t have Anita in his bed on a regular basis.
And he’s dated before, we know that. But these women tend to be nameless and exist offscreen. Putting a name to a face and making her hate (or express discomfort with) everything that Richard is was a Choice.
A real shitty one.
“I’ve worked too hard to accept who I really am. Ellen, I can’t go back to hiding. I can’t go back to lying to myself.”
“So you are choosing her over me,” Ellen said.
“No, I’m choosing myself,” he said.
No, he’s choosing Anita.
We know this.
He’s choosing what he’ll never actually have.
It’s like… Hamilton enjoys torturing Richard.
Which I’d be fine with if we didn’t have to read about it all the time with no resolution whatsoever and if it didn’t, in this case, come with Hamilton turning yet another female character into a villain that must be vanquished.
“You must be incredible in bed for him to throw everything away. I guess I can’t compete with a fur banging, blood whore.”
And as if that wasn’t enough, the in-series bigotry against supernatural beings and sex shaming is compounded by Ellen slapping Richard after he tells her that while he’s not having penetrative sex with any of the dude vampires, it’s still sex.
“If she’s Jean-Claude’s blood whore, then so am I,” he said.
Ellen stared at him; her face didn’t seem to know what expression it wanted to have, as if so many thoughts were chasing around her mind that she didn’t know what to do.
“You don’t have sex with him. You told me you don’t have sex with either of the vampires.”
He leaned in and spoke low, so the other people around wouldn’t hear. Some of the people at the nearest tables were trying not to stare; others were openly watching. He bent closer to her, and said, “Just because no one sticks their dicks in each other doesn’t mean it’s not sex.”
(Which is accurate, but I can’t let it slide without pointing out that Richard spent years as an outright homophobe who did take men coming onto him as a threat to respond violently to.)
Ellen runs out because well… she’s just slapped her fiancé and told him that she hated him. It’s a hot mess of sex shaming, homophobia, and general bigotry against supernatural beings. She kind of has to run out.
But that’s not the end of things because like… Hamilton has to get in one last dig. One last reminder that Ellen will never be Anita.
I looked at his very straight, very still back, and then turned to the window. Ellen was looking at him, as if willing him to turn around, but he didn’t. She walked out of sight, fresh tears streaming down her face. Richard didn’t follow her.
Shutdown has nothing to do with the 2013 US government shutdown or the 2018-19 one. The only that gets shutdown across this story is the relationship between Richard and Ellen. That’s it. This story is awful. It’s full of internalized misogyny that pits female characters against each other and purposefully loads the scales so that Anita comes out on top.
The Anitaverse is a bad series and this story is one of the prime examples of why no one should recommend it as representation for Latinas, feminists, kinksters, or polyamorous people. This story is unnecessarily hurtful, over-dramatic in all the wrong ways, and continues to over-exaggerate characters in order to keep Anita on top.
There are people who genuinely love this series and I… don’t get it.
Now that you’ve checked out this lengthy post, if you haven’t donated to one of the organizations at the top, here’s your chance:
GoFundMe Government Shutdown Direct Relief Fund | DC Food Banks: Capital Area Food Bank’s Hunger Lifeline and So Others Might Eat | NY: Masbia | Nationwide: World Central Kitchen | National Diaper Bank Network
Thanks for reading!