Pushing Feminista Jones’ buttons: A book review

Feminista Jones has written a new book, a piece of erotica called “Push The Button.”

“It is better to be audacious than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly.”
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

“Rommel, you magnificent bastard! I read your book!”
General George S. Patton, Jr.

Readers of yours truly’s adventures will remember well my first encounter with one Ms. Feminista Jones, the NYC-based (and Philly-educated) Amazonian “sex-positive” Sista-feminist who was behind last summer’s #YouOKSis Twitter campaign. Toward the end of my recounting of me and Ms. Jones’ tête-à-tête, I made specific mention that I would be keeping an eye on her, as I felt that she would be someone to watch in the new year ahead.

Imagine then, my delight in getting wind of the announcement of her first foray into erotica, with “Push the Button” a little while back – and just in time for the big rollout of the film adaptation of the runaway bestseller “Fifty Shades of Grey” no less! I’ve been keeping mum on the whole thing until I could obtain a hard (ahem) copy of her book, and now that I’ve read it, your correspondent has the following book report:

Festooned in purple, the volume lives up to the hype in its equally purple prose of the sort that is par for the course in breathy fare.

Part instructional on the BDSM lifestyle and part romance novel, “Push the Button” centers on the life and love of Nicole/”Star” the pretty sub (who just happens to “top from the bottom,” don’t you know), and David, her Alpha Male Dom (who gets initiated into “the life” by Nicole – heh), and how Bougie Black folks “in the life” really do it – and contains all of the usual conceits of the genre: young, conventionally attractive, urban (read: Black) professionals (note the utter lack of everyday Black folk that is the reality of Black American existence), who squeeze in torrid, kinky sex/love scenes in between taking over the world, and whose otherwise idyllic existence is threatened by an outside force, of course, in the form of another hot guy from the female protagonist’s past (“Marcus”, the 6’5″, ripped and chiseled, Richard Sherman doppleganger – riiight – that she just so happens to conveniently leave out with regard to her current D/s thang with Dave), and where she is now caught up in a love triangle for the ages. After all, what woman doesn’t fantasize about two hot guys playing out a game of “let’s you and him fight” right? The climactic “mini-brawl” between Dave and Macus that winds up with Nicole/Star being in hospital drives home the point and adds spice to the story.

Oh, drama.

It’s easy and tempting to accuse “Push The Button” of being a Negro knockoff of the aforementioned Fifty Shades of Grey – after all, the timing of both does raise an eyebrow – but like I said, that’s too easy a leap to make. I for one don’t think this was an attempt on Ms. Jones’ part to capitalize on a clear and present trend in erotica these days, but rather, an attempt to deal with some of her own very deep and very personal stuff along these lines. In her guise as an advocate for women, Black ones in particular, and their right to explore their sexuality sans recriminations, largely from Black men, I for one think she makes a point, albeit a florid one. I think she would be better served in merely presenting her side of the story, and leave all the hyperbolic squawking out of it.

As for the book itself, it reads easily enough – Ms. Jones is an able, though not terribly inventive writer; indeed, the whole exercise comes off as a mashup between Barbara Cartland, Pauline Reage and Teri Woods – and at 124 pages in deadwood format, is hardly of the stock Sidney Sheldon thumb-turners are renowned for.

Feminista’s huge selling point of the book is that it is a look into “the lifestyle” of and for Black folks – a notion that even Black women themselves find a bit old hat, if not downright passe’. After all, their underwhelmed reaction to “Fifty Shades” was more than just a supposed disappointment at the lack of racial or ethnic diversity or relevance; I’ve personally had quite a few Sistas tell me that there was nothing “shocking” or scandalous in the least about the kink on display between its pages, race matters aside – and, not to kiss and tell, but let’s just say that if yours truly’s experiences out on the bricks are anything to go by, they ain’t saying nothin’ but a word. Black women do not lack for anything in the freaky department – a fact that all manner of evidence, from the empirical to the anecdotal to the freely admitted on their own part, backs that thing up.

So, the idea that Ms. Jones is somehow pulling back the covers on an aspect or element of the sexual lives of the Black and uppity that can only be whispered when one is sure of their company, borders on the silly, in a time when a pop queen like Rihanna can literally sell millions of records drenched in BDSM imagery, and when, a generation earlier, one of LL Cool J’s biggest hits openly discusses how his lover likes him to, and I quote:

“I’m gonna call you Big Daddy and scream your name
Matter fact I can’t wait for your candy rain”

And

“Mmm… daddy slow down your flow
Put it on me like G baby nice and slow
I need a rough neck nigga Mandingo in a sec
Who ain’t afraid to pull my hair and spank me from the back”

Ahem.

Nor is this a “recent” development in Black American society; one of its most storied and legendary troubadours, the great Marvin Gaye, clearly had a taste for the kink. His stormy relationship with his two wives, the much older Anna Gordy Gaye, sister to Motown founding father Berry Gordy, and his much younger muse, Janis Hunter Gaye, is quite rich in this regard, and is overwhelmingly well documented. As Michael Eric Dyson makes clear in his own good read, “Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves & Demons of Marvin Gaye,” Marvin was very much the masochist, who both lived and sang about his kink throughout his long career. There are many more examples, both in and outside of the Motown canon (to wit: Prince. Do you honestly think he don’t get down like that? “Star” certainly does – she’s got him bumping in the ride on the way to see “Sir”).

Indeed, for the mass public at this point, large swaths of the BDSM lifestyle/orientation/identity have very much become a part of the mainstream, evidenced by the pop culture works of Madonna, Lady Gaga, the “Matrix” and “Hellraiser” series of films and the independent James Spader/Maggie Gyllenhaal sleeper hit “Secretary,” just to name a paltry few. Today, it ain’t nothing to see ladies out and about wearing various iterations of collars and corsets, latex and leather; other staples of BDSM-inspired clothing, for men and women alike, are quite common; terms like “fetish wear” are household words; and the kinds of accoutrements that accompany the lifestyle, like crops, whips and certain kinds of bespoke furniture that used to be obtained only via mail order on the quiet, are now easily and openly purchased in sex shops that dot popular thoroughfares like Philly’s South St.

Putting this together with the fact that what we know today as BDSM has existed in one form or another throughout the world’s cultures and has been documented by among others the Greeks, Romans and of course, ancient Indians in the immortal classic the Kama Sutra, and it’s a real head-scratcher to see what’s got Feminista all hot and bothered about.

I guess that brings us to what’s eating me about Ms. Jones’ tale (pardon the pun) – it ain’t that I’m a stick in the mud here. Indeed, one of my favorite pastimes is reading erotica, for a whole host of reasons, among them knowing and understanding how the female mating mind works and why – nor am I pooh-poohing what anyone with one good eye can see is a burgeoning business aimed at (Black) ladies fiendin’ for their daily erotic fix for some tawdry fiction.

But, what gets to me is this sense among “enlightened” Black folk, who dabble and peddle in stuff that is largely off the mark for the vast majority of Black folks on matters where it matters. As I said to Feminista during our first encounter, Black folk don’t need “help” in learning 1,001 extra ways they can do the Rumpy Bumpy – indeed, if anything, it can be argued that a goodly deal of our problems come directly from our overdoing it in this area, as “Push the Button” itself aptly demonstrates – but rather, they desperately need actionable, reasoned and most of all evidence-based, information and insight into how to get along outside the bedroom or wherever else the action is taking place.

Indeed, this was the focus of another Sista a quarter of a century ago, when Ms. Jones wasn’t even a teenager: one Ms. Shahrazad Ali. Her book, “The Blackman’s Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman” created a huge firestorm of interest and controversy, at a time when social media, Amazon or the Internet for that matter, didn’t even exist. Sister Ali can be rightly credited for having a marked impact on the Black book business – a legacy that Feminista builds on, whether she likes, believes, or even knows it or not.

In marked contrast to Ms. Jones, Sis. Ali really did break new ground, by discussing topics and issues never before written about in print, and openly discussed from the dais – the inner workings and overall state of relationships between Black men and Black women in contemporary America – one that brings a critical lens to the actions, behaviors, psychology and role that Black women themselves play in the grand drama. To be sure, the detractors and out-and-out haters came out in full force and took their digs; but 25 years on, Ali’s book has not only stood the test of time, it has been uncannily prescient in its description of the factors and forces that continue to be at work in the active undermining of Black America itself. Even more to the point, there has been no book written by a Black woman, that superceedes, or even matches, Sister Ali’s pathfinding work – both a gift for her, and a curse for the rest of us.

At this juncture it is easy to simply write my missive off here as taking yet another dig at the lady, but nothing could be further from the truth – I did buy the book, after all (the O-Man will always, whenever possible, supports Black business).

In point of fact, I actually think that this is a very positive turn of events for Ms. Jones. Clearly, this is where her strength lies – in the world of make believe, fantasy and what “ought to be” – not the world as it is – and as such, I applaud her entry into the romance/erotica genre. Given her rather tepid grasp of hard-headed, clear-eyed observational truths and empirical evidence come what may, this is definitely her lane. And if she puts out another hot-n-heavy tome (word on the wires is that there is a “PTB 2” in the works), I’ll be the first one to buy it!

In my parting shot the last time around, I suggested that chess wasn’t Feminista’s game, and that she would do well to consider another more suited to her talents and abilities. I’m very pleased to see that with “Push the Button,” she has taken my advice.

Further suggested kinky reading: “The BDSM Origins Of “Yes Means Yes

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