Here's an author's commentary on the fic I just wrote, How Willow Discovered Online Porn. You might want to read that before you read this. I'm told it's very funny. :-) The commentary also contains various questions and thoughts which might be of interest to discuss.
The original fic is rated 12 and non-pornographic, but the commentary does talk about porn and, um, related topics. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.
>> I don't normally include my summary and introduction in the commentary, but here I will since there are some issues it raises.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a teenage girl, in possession of parents, must on occasion be utterly embarrassed by them. Willow's parents, however, take the embarrassment to a whole new level.
>> Confession; I've never actually read 'Pride and Prejudice', but it's one of the first lines that often come up in "guess the first line of the novel" quizzes.
This fic was inspired by a conversation with lavastar (based on an original idea by snowpuppies), on whether Willow has porn on her laptop. I was sure there was a story there to be written, I started jotting down a few ideas... and then this scenario popped into my head pretty much complete.
>> The other ideas included how Willow would hide the porn and what password she'd use ("x4-y4=z2". It was a private joke Willow thought up when she was 14.); how many people know Willow writes porn (Tara, because Willow confided in her; Buffy, because she looked over Willow's shoulder one day before Willow could hide what she was writing (I've actually already written this as a drabble, so it's fanon for me); Kennedy, because she just came out and asked one day, and Willow couldn't think of any valid reason to deny it; Amy, because she uses magic to spy on Willow; Dawn post-series, because she asked Willow to beta her own fanfic.); what Willow's first porn would be (we know she wrote Doogie Howser, but I decided for various reasons that her first femslash story would be Lyta Alexander/Talia Winters, and it was supposed to be gen when she started writing but shocked her by turning into f/f halfway through).
>> I also speculated for a while on how exactly Willow coped during the year when she was both (a) exploring and discovering her sexual identity, a process in which I imagine reading and writing porn played a role (b) sharing her bedroom and private space with Buffy. (But that's because, being British and therefore having my own private room while at university, the American custom of sticking two horny teenagers away from home for the first time into the same bedroom together for three or four years just seems both bizarre and fascinating.)
Characters: Ira, Sheila and Willow Rosenberg.
Rating: 12 (despite the title, there's no actual porn in the story. The subject is mentioned, though.)
Warning: discussion of teenage sexuality.
>> Since warnings are the fashionable topic these days, a word about that. Willow in this story is in her early teens; maybe 13 or 14. That makes her definitely underage by the laws of most countries. However, she's not doing anything that would be illegal; as Sheila says in the fic, it's "a perfectly normal activity for a girl of her age". Even so, I thought some sort of warning would be necessary for people who are concerned by the slightest link between a sexual topic and an under-18 year old.
>> Now I'm wondering what would have happened if I'd made the fic longer and given it an 18 rating rather than 12, by including the follow-up scene where Willow does next masturbate. It would still be plot and character driven, because she'd be fighting her embarrassment at the idea that her parents know about what she does, and there'd be the conflict between her curiosity at this 'online porn' they were talking about and her rebellious desire to do the opposite of whatever her parents expect. But also, it would be a story that had girl parts and an orgasm, which some people might find hot. Or would they? Would they be saying "Dude, she's fourteen, that's disgusting!" (I have to admit, part of me is saying exactly that, which is a big part of why I didn't include such a follow-up scene.) Or would they say "Don't be oversensitive, this is Willow, and she's not doing anything illegal or unnatural, and it's all in character, and I want to read it!" Or would they say "It's disgusting but I still want to read it anyway, but add a big warning!"? Maybe I should do a poll. Or you can tell me in the comments.
>> For that matter, I wonder how many people are interested in PWP which only involves a single character rather than two or more. Is "f" or "m" potentially just as hot as "m/f", "f/f" or "m/m"? Assume there's still the same mix of describing the actions and describing the character's thoughts and feelings, except that if they're alone they'll be fantasising rather than being with another person. Hot? Not? Eww? If the idea of Willow in this situation doesn't interest you, then imagine it's Spike and he's thinking about Buffy. Or whatever floats your boat.
How Willow Discovered Online Porn
>> My serious pieces tend to have poetic or allusive titles, while my comedy often goes for deadpan description.
Ira Rosenberg put down his knife and fork carefully on his plate and turned to the small pile of letters he'd stacked beside him on the table. Most of this morning's post seemed to be circulars, but there was one letter with the University stamp and addressed to his wife, which he passed to her graciously. That left one; a bill by the looks of it.
>> I had a moment of panic where I wasn't sure if Americans used the term "bill" to refer to the things the telephone company sends you through the mail demanding money. After all, they call the bill in a restaurant a "check".
>> I suspect it's quite rare that the entire Rosenberg family will be gathered around the table for a meal, so when they are they make a formal occasion of it. This is a weekend breakfast. Given that the one canon fact we know about Willow's father is that he would object to her putting crosses on the wall, I decided that he would be quite traditional and strict: hence the idea that he collects all the family mail, waits until after breakfast to go through it, then hands the letters to the appropriate person. It's a little formal ritual of control.
Slitting the envelope open neatly, he withdrew the stiff paper inside and unfolded it. The logo at the top was from the telephone company, he noted; then his eyes slid down to the total written boldly at the bottom. He blinked in amazement.
"Oy, this can't be right. It's almost double the last bill!"
"Let me see, dear." Sheila held out her hand for the bill, and frowned in concentration. "It's the extra line we just had installed for Willow's computer. Look, the rentals are the same... it's just the usage costs that are so high."
>> This is set in the early 90s, when going on the Internet still required a dial-up modem for most people. Here's where I do confess my ignorance, since I have no idea if US phone companies bill quarterly, monthly or at some other interval, and whether there actually would be usage costs for going online or if it would be covered by a flat-rate local call usage fee. For storyline purposes I assumed it's the same for them as it was for me back in the 90s, and now await correction. :-)
They both looked down the table to where their only daughter sat engrossed in the book she was reading. Ira had long since despaired of ever separating her from her library; she seemed symbiotically bonded to the books she carried everywhere. He was sure that if paper were waterproof she would read in the shower. Eventually Sheila had insisted, in the face of stubborn resistance and some tears, that Willow should at least stop reading while she ate; but the moment the meal was over, her nose would be straight back between the pages. If she was listening to her parents now, she gave no sign of it.
>> No, there's no similarity at all between Willow and me at that age. *g* (Apart from the tears part...) You'll note that while the Rosenbergs can be quite formal, they haven't actually forbidden Willow from reading at the table as long as she puts the book down to actually eat. I suspect that her parents also read at the table, and that's where she got it from.
"What on earth has she been doing?"
"Going online, I imagine, dear. That's why we gave her the system, after all. We agreed it would be useful for her homework."
>> The standard reason for parents agreeing to get an Internet connection for their children. In Willow's case, I suspect that really is what she uses it for - so far, at least.
"Homework? Nobody does this amount of homework. If you ask me, she's been - what's the word - 'surfing' the Internet looking for pornography. Probably downloading plenty of it too, looking at this bill! Disgusting."
>> I liked the way Ira sounds the inverted commas around the word "surfing", like he doesn't quite want to touch this bit of modern slang. Someone more conscientious than me would have researched to see when the phrase "surfing the net" first came into use, and whether someone in the early 90s would have heard it.
Willow definitely heard that, if the way her face suddenly turned a hot, burning red was anything to go by.
"Ira Rosenberg, how dare you say that!"
Willow did glance up then, in pleased relief that her mother was defending her. Except...
"It's not disgusting at all! You should be proud that your daughter is learning to accept and understand her body! You know full well that masturbation is a perfectly normal activity for a girl of her age. Would you rather she expressed her sexuality by going out and having sex with boys and getting pregnant and diseased, rather than sitting perfectly safely in her computer chair in her own bedroom and masturbating?" Now she looked directly at her daughter, who was starting to fear that the book she was trying desperately to hide behind would catch fire from the heat radiating from her face. "You're a good girl, Willow."
>> Pretty much the punchline of the fic. Sheila means well, and she wants the best for her daughter, but her ideas of parenting are somewhat unusual. :-) Willow is famous for loving research, and I'm pretty sure it's a trait she inherited from her mother; Sheila has carefully studied all the books on adolescent development and taken them to heart, and probably has a checklist that she ticks off whenever Willow reaches another developmental milestone. Note also that while Sheila is all in favour of her daughter discovering her sexuality, she's sending her the message that going out and having actual sex will inevitably result in pregnancy and STDs. Which probably has the effect of making Willow inhibited, insecure and shy about forming relationships with people, because she's afraid of the consequences.
"Uh, thanks Mom."
Willow wondered sickly whether she could somehow use the power of her brain to crack the Earth open and sink into it, down and out of sight.
>> An ability which she will, of course, acquire a few years later. However by that time she's also much more self-confident and doesn't really need it. Note that Willow probably reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy type books (thanks to Xander's influence if nothing else) so the idea of someone with mental superpowers is familiar to her.
She was obviously mortified by her mother using the... the 'M' word in front of her - that she even knew...
>> Am I right in thinking that every teenager believes it's a complete secret that they masturbate, and nobody else could ever possibly know; while their parents are perfectly well aware that's what they're doing up in their rooms?
and, and in her computer chair rather than, um, in bed under the covers? Eww. That was so flagrant and open and exposed... (A secret part of Willow flared up suddenly at that thought, but she hastily shoved the feeling back down far into her subconscious.)
>> This was me playing around with one of early-Willow's character traits. She gets a real thrill from thinking about being rebellious and naughty and breaking the rules, although when it comes to action she's often too afraid to carry through on her fantasy. However, the things Willow considers "rebellious" are often laughably mundane by other people's standards, like eating her banana before lunchtime. So while she's already discovered that playing with yourself is fun, so far she's only ever done it under the blankets where she can't see her hands (or any other part of her) and the idea of doing it sat on a chair, where people might see her (if they unlocked her locked door and walked in) - and where she could see herself, even - sounds incredibly kinky to her.
But there was something even worse to contemplate: which was the horrifying, shameful realisation that her parents both assumed she'd been looking at porn in the Internet.. and she hadn't.
Honestly, the idea had never even crossed her mind.
>> The punchline, part two. Willow likes to learn stuff, and I'm sure she spent hours just following one link to another and reading the most obscure websites and newsgroups. Also, she eventually became a very skillful hacker, and I suspect even at this stage she was intrigued by information on doing that sort of thing.
And she was so ashamed of that, because it made her look stupid and young, and Mom was going on about how she was so clever for learning about her body and all that stuff, and Willow obviously wasn't clever otherwise she'd have thought of it herself, and she felt tears prickling the corners of her eyes; and she couldn't explain, she couldn't, because Mom and Dad would be disappointed in her and she didn't want to hurt them, so she'd have to lie and pretend that yes, that's what she'd been doing, and...
>> Poor Willow. I really feel sorry for her here. She's incredibly brilliant but also incredibly insecure. But you'll notice, also, that I've foreshadowed her worst personality trait - her overriding desire to make sure her friends and family are happy by fixing their problems for them, even if that requires lying and deceit.
"Now, Willow. I hope that whatever sites you've been looking at are woman-friendly and sex-positive? There's some quite unwholesome material out there; one of my graduate students researched it for her thesis... perhaps I should give you a copy? And I think maybe I should have a look at what you've been downloading myself..."
>> These days, advice for parents is full of warnings to monitor your child's Internet usage and keep an eye on what sites they visit. I don't think the same level of concern existed back in the 90s - but more to the point, the Rosenbergs have a very hands-off approach to raising their daughter. There's a lot of positives in that; they show that they trust Willow, and it certainly teaches her self-reliance and inner strength. It also leads to her feelings of abandonment and resentment against them, and helps explain why she later clings so tightly to Buffy and the other Scoobies.
>> The idea that Sheila gives copies of MA and PhD theses to her 14-year old daughter and expects her to understand them tickles me. It's certainly a compliment to Willow's intelligence. My assumption, as you may have gathered, is that Sheila Rosenberg is a senior academic at a university somewhere. Professor of Women's Studies at the University of California, maybe? She's probably not at UC Sunnydale itself, though; maybe UCLA.
"No!!" Willow's rejection was so frantic she even dropped her precious book on the floor. "No, I mean, honest, Mom, you don't need to. I'm very friendly to women, uh, I mean I'm positively sexed, uh... I mean, I mean what you said. I wouldn't even want to look at anything disgusting 'cause... 'cause it would disgust me. Obviously."
>> She's frantic because her mother will discover she's not been downloading porn after all. I love the through-the-looking-glass nature of this situation. *g* Of course, Sheila interprets her panic as adolescent reluctance to tell their parents the details of their sexual desires, which is doubtless something she has read about. Willow's mangling of the phrases "woman-friendly" and "sex-positive" is obviously there as foreshadowing as well as being humorous.
She forced herself into her biggest, beaming you-can-trust-me smile. "I'll be very careful. And I really would like to see that thesis?"
>> She's being manipulative here, of course. She really does want to see the thesis, though - even though it's probably talking about snuff films and hardcore porn and such-like (from a feminist perspective, naturally) and not the sort of thing most mothers would want their early-teenage daughter to be reading unfiltered. Sheila, though, is pleased that Willow is taking the matter seriously and agreeing to do the research first.
Sheila looked at her daughter consideringly, then nodded and turned to her husband. He in turn fixed Willow with a scowl, and said, "I can't have you running up the telephone bill at all hours of the day and night. You'll be allowed one hour per day, no more, understand?" Willow pouted, and he reluctantly added, "Three hours on Sundays or public holidays." Then without a further word he picked up his copy of the newspaper and turned to the Foreign News section. The matter, in his eyes, was settled.
>> I was a little concerned that the only real role played in this story by Ira Rosenberg - someone we know to be a strictly observant Jew - is to complain about how much money Willow is spending. That could be considered unpleasant stereotyping. I hasten to add that it only struck me it might be problematic after I'd written the story, rather than it being planned that way; and I think the husband-wife dynamic I've depicted here is a universal trope in any case.
>> I did, however, edit my original text to "Sundays" instead of "Weekends", as I originally put it. I don't know if Ira is strict enough to forbid Willow from using a computer at all on the Sabbath - I somehow doubt it, given the various other things we see her doing on Saturdays in canon. Even so, by taking out the mention I leave the option open for readers to fill in as they choose. Also, I originally wrote "school holidays", then wondered if Americans call them that, then decided that it was too much anyway and changed it to "public holidays" only.
"Willow, your father and I are trusting you by treating you as an adult. Please don't let us down."
"No, Mom. Thanks, Mom." She bent down to pick up her book. "Please may I be excused?"
>> Is it common for children to need to ask permission to leave the table in America? (Buffy does it in 'Ted'). Well, I did say this is a formal meal.
At her mother's nod she clutched the book and fled out of the room, thundering up the stairs to the sanctuary of her bedroom.
>> She's a teenager, hence incapable of going upstairs quietly.
It was only when she got there that she realised what her parents might be assuming she was going to do there... and she almost went back downstairs again.
But only almost.
>> You're free to decide what she did next according to your own interpretation of the story. :-)