The Price of Salt

Patricia Highsmith published The Price of Salt (or Carol) in 1952 during a period of popularity for lesbian pulp fiction novels. Because the characters were lesbians and the plots followed love connections between women, it was most common for the story to end with one of the women committing suicide, being murdered, or going insane. During this time in history homosexuality was not accepted, so the unfortunate endings seemed to be the only option for lesbian fiction. Patricia Highsmith changed that patterned with The Price of Salt. Because this novel pushed the boundaries of lesbian fiction, Patricia Highsmith used a pseudonym when the novel was first published. The Price of Salt was one of the first lesbian pulp fiction novels that depicted lesbians in a positive new light and gave them the opportunity for a happy ending.

The novel opens with Therese working seasonally at Frankenberg’s, a department store in Manhattan. Therese is a young struggling artist trying to make it in New York (sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?). She is juggling her job, set designing, and her boyfriend, Richard, when she meets Carol at Frankenberg’s. Carol is an elegant, classy married woman who catches Therese’s attention the second she steps onto Therese’s vision. Therese cannot get Carol out of her mind, so she sends her a Christmas card without knowing what to expect in return. Carol finds the card endearing and decides to meet with Therese. The two women spend the next few weeks spending time together and getting to know one another. As Therese becomes closer with Carol, she loses interest in her relationship with Richard, and he struggles with the growing bond between Therese and Carol, eventually ending the relationship. When Therese visits Carol’s home she learns that Carol is going through a terrible divorce and custody battle. As Carol waits for her dates in court, she decides to take a road trip and asks Therese to go with her. They head west, away from the drama that they have been facing at home. It is not until they get to Chicago when their relationship goes to the next level and they spend their first night together, as lovers. As their blissful travels continue, Carol’s best friend (and former lover) calls to inform Carol that her husband hired a detective to follow Carol and Therese on their trip. The mood of the novel immediately shifts to panic and the women’s paranoia is translated through the pages. Therese and Carol cannot lose the detective, so Carol decides to return home to face her divorce and custody battle. While Therese waits patiently for Carol’s return, she receives a letter from Carol informing her that she has lost custody of her daughter due to her relationships with Abby and Therese. In order to see her daughter, Carol must not see Therese anymore. The tragic news sends Therese on an emotional downward spiral and eventually, she heads back to New York. The lovers decide to meet one last time. When Carol invites Therese to move in with her, Therese refuses only to realize hours later that she cannot picture living her life with anyone but Carol. The anticipation of a happy ending builds through the last few pages ending with Therese walking towards Carol with an open heart ready for a new beginning.

The main conflict of the novel, Carol’s custody battle, shows the harsh stigmas that were placed upon homosexuals at the time, the stigmas that may have caused Patricia Highsmith to use a pseudonym. The only factor that played into the court’s decision in Carol’s custody battle was her sexuality. She was forced to choose between her daughter and her lover. Her husband’s violation of privacy and spying proved to the court that Carol was a lesbian, and therefore an unfit mother. During this time period, if one parent was queer, custody was automatically given the to straight parent, regardless of parenting capability or attentiveness to the child. Carol’s pain was felt by many at the time.

Today, courts are not allowed to make custody decisions based on a parent’s sexual orientation. Rightfully, courts are making decisions based on what is best for the child. Feminist advocates helped make this change in our judicial system. These decisions that directly affect people’s lives should not be based on bias like they have in the past. Since The Price of Salt was written, the familial structure has reformed to incorporate the diversity of people. Marriage equality, adoption rights, and custody battles are evolving. This shift in “where to draw the line,” as Gayle Rubin says, is part of the reason these situations are changing. The idea that lesbians were not fit mothers has crossed the line and is now on the side along with all other acceptable things. Non-normative family structures are becoming common and accepted; therefore, if Carol was going through her custody battle today, it probably would have had a different outcome.

The Price of Salt is a beautifully written novel that explores sexuality and makes readers think about the evolution that has occurred since the novel was written. Catch it in theaters starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara soon!

Appropriate Behavior

Appropriate Behavior is a film written by, directed by, and starring Desiree Akhavan. The film tells the tale of Shirin, a bisexual Iranian American women in her twenties, finding her way after breaking up with her first girlfriend, Maxine. Trying to bounce back from the broken relationship, Shirin attempts to move on with her life by finding a new job, exploring new sexual experiences, and finally buying a bra. Deciding whether or not to come out to a strict and traditional family contributes to Shirin’s daily struggle of moving on and finding happiness. The film jumps from present moment to flashback every few minutes it seems, but the catch up you play as scenes change put you in the same jumbled mindset Shirin is in. The flashbacks also make you feel as if you are going through the break up with Shirin. The opening scene show the lover’s separation, then as the movie goes along, Shirin remembers the good times she and Maxine had together: the first time they met, Maxine meeting Shirin’s parents, attending a Persian New Years party. And then the bad memories come flooding back: Maxine pressuring Shirin to come out to her parents, Shirin catching Maxine making out with a man at a bar, and actually breaking up. We see that Shirin has finally moved on when she tosses the strap-on dildo (the only item remaining from the relationship) away and can now handle seeing Maxine.

Desiree has been continuously compared to Shirin. They are both bisexual Iranian American women in their twenties/thirties raised by Iranian immigrant parents.  When Desiree wrote this screenplay she had just gone through a horrible break up and had just come out to her parents, two events that Shirin goes through in the film. It is easy to claim that Appropriate Behavior is autobiographical, but as Desiree points out in this interview, there is a difference between Shirin and herself.

“I think Shirin is all of my most absurd impulses explored, a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure. It felt like a heightened, absurd version of everything you would hope to do, but definitely know better than.”

Shirin represents Desiree’s id. Shirin is everything that Desiree would choose to do if it wasn’t for her superego telling her not to. Throughout the movie you can see that Shirin is the girl that does whatever she wants without worrying about the consequences. She asks a woman out right in front of her ex-girlfriend, randomly meets up with men from okcupid, and makes a movie about farts starring kindergarteners. While Desiree claims to be very shy and reserved. Desiree’s film id is Shirin, so Desiree’s film superego is Shirin’s brother, Ali. According to their parents, Ali has done everything right. He became a doctor, found a beautiful Persian doctor girlfriend, and is planning his wedding. In the article mentioned above, Desiree explained that she feels as if she does not belong in the groups she is a part of, yet she is still a part of them. The depiction of Shirin and Ali as the id and superego place Desiree as the place in the middle, the ego.

The sex scenes in Appropriate behavior help tell the story. You see Shirin in a variety of sexual encounters and Desiree’s goal was to show realistic and honest sex in her film. The match cut between Shirin and the okcupid man and Shirin and Maxine directly compares Shirin’s emotions and feelings in each different sexual experience. Shirin is obviously more into sex with Maxine and feels a stronger connection with her. Shirin’s emotional involvement is also visible in the threesome scene. When Shirin is with Marie they feel connected and enjoy each other, but with Ted, Shirin loses her interest and backs off. The sex scenes show Shirin’s desires (id) and her interest in embracing her sexuality. Through these scenes, we also see how Shirin connects with people and the relationships she has with them.

This film is thought-provoking and full of life. The deadpan humor is continuous throughout the entire film. The hilarious one-liners will stick with you. The storyline is relatable and keeps you hanging on to see the outcome of Shirin’s adventures. Desiree Akhavan tells this story beautifully and she is surely an artist to watch out for.

Sex and the City

Sex and the City, created by Darren Star, revolves around four women: Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda. Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is a sex columnist searching for herself and love. Charlotte, played by Kristin Davis, dreams of living the perfect Upper East Side lifestyle with the perfect husband and family. Miranda, played by Cynthia Nixon, is a hard working lawyer striving for success. Samantha, played by Kim Cattrall, is a strong independent woman who flaunts her sexuality every 425.satc.cast.051408second of every day. These four women are on the hunt to find their soulmates and success in New York City. Friends, lovers, men, women, fashion trends, and apartments come and go throughout the series, but the women always have each other.
This HBO show, which aired between 1998 and 2004, became so popular because the women were so relatable. Maybe their lifestyles were a bit extravagant, but their issues adhere to women everywhere.

One of the most relatable parts of Sex and the City is the friendship between Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha. Women want to be these women and have the same friendship they have. While all these women identify as straight, there are moments throughout the series that show gender and sexuality are on a spectrum. Samantha’s first significant relationship during the series is with a woman named Maria which helps Sam realize sex is noKristin Davist just an animalistic act. Charlotte befriends a group of lesbians and learns that her life should not revolve around men and sex. Carrie dates a bisexual man and has her first sexual encounter with a woman. Miranda plays with normative gender roles through her work and relationships and eventually realizes that she does not fit into the gendered version of woman, wife, or mother. Charlotte dresses in drag for art and finds the self-confidence within herself she had been lacking.

 

All of these experiences queer the gendered role of “woman”. These moments show the audience that gender and sexuality are not black and white concepts, but that there are shades of gray in between and we all fall somewhere along that scale. Because Sex and the City is a show that millions of women relate to, seeing the characters sliding around this spectrum helps viewers to understand and accept their own gender and sexuality, whatever it may be.

The experiences these women have with each other all fall along the lesbian continuum created by Adrienne Rich. Rich states, “I mean the term lesbian continuum to include a range – through each woman’s life and throughout history – of woman-identified experience, not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman.” The continuum ranges from friendship to sex. Adrienne Rich describes “the bonding against the male tyranny” as part of the lesbian continuum, which pretty much sums up the friendship between the four women. Two of the most famous quotes from Sex and the City are:

“Don’t laugh at me, but maybe we could be each other’s soulmates? And then we could let men be just these great nice guys to have fun with?”

  

“We made a deal ages ago. Men, babies, it doesn’t matter. We’re soulmates.”

They realize that men come and go and that it is their relationship with each other that truly matters; no matter what happens to any of them, as long as they have the bonds with each other, they are fine. Some other events from Sex and the City that Adrienne Rich would consider to fall along the lesbian continuum include: holding hasex-and-the-citynds, going on a honeymoon together, discussing who of the four of them they would have a threesome with, Samantha helping Carrie retrieve her diaphragm, watching porn together, shopping for lingerie together, and Carrie helping Miranda give birth. The love for each other is so powerful. These experiences that lie between friendship and sex fall somewhere along Rich’s Lesbian Continuum.

 

 

Although Sex and the City is almost 20 years old, it plays on tv every single day. This show is still relevant decades later, not because of the relationships between the women and men, but because of the friendships and relationships the women have with each other. These bonds and connections leave a much longer lasting impression. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte push the boundaries of what it means to be a “woman” and help viewers realize that you do not have to fall into one category or the other, you just have to be yourself.