Female Suffering: From Lady Chatterley To Me

Words: Faith Thurnwald
Photography: Lara De Koster
Model: Faith thurnwald
D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a controversial love story, or it was when it was first published. In 1928 Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in Italy, then France, then subsequently banned (pretty much every where else). It is one of the most scandalous books of the 20th century, following the love affair of an upper-class woman with a lower-class man. However Lady Chatterley’s Lover is not remembered as a story of class segregation or stratification, but for its ‘pornographic’ sex scenes and the use of four letter words, yes; the ones you wouldn’t say at the dinner table. The sex scenes in Lady Chatterley’s Lover were considered obscene and overtly phallocentric: why lesbians don’t love it, but I DO. However the sex and the cunt and all the rest, wasn’t what grabbed my attention. For me it was the main character, Lady Chatterley herself, or Connie. The depiction of female suffering, personified through Connie, felt like a mirror; held up to a pain I’d known and felt.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a great love story. The romance is real, so real it’s almost unconvincing; begging the question, do they even like each other? This is something I can get behind, the whole notion of love at first sight – or orgasm at first fuck – I find utterly uninspiring. Life ain’t all peaches and cream, and it certainly isn’t THAT kind to women. Maybe he was nervous, maybe he drank too much (maybe you did too), maybe half way through you realized he’s actually kind of ugly, and maybe he was just shit in bed: boys please, enough jackhammering. No matter the circumstance, love at first sight (or first sex) simply doesn’t happen – my apologies to four year-old Faith, who is now crying in the corner; Prince Charming isn’t coming and neither are you.

I found the portrayal of heterosexual sex refreshing. I’d grown tired of scenes of women shaking and moaning as a man’s fingertips merely grazed their navel. I’m sorry but unless it’s the clit he’s touching and tantalizing, I’m not really sold…
Connie doesn’t fall for Mellors straight away. She doesn’t even know if she’s into fucking him. She dissociates during sex. She sleeps with him because she can; she’s bored and restless. For one of the greatest love stories of the 20th century, this is quite remarkable. Eventually the sex becomes mutually beneficial and essentially Mellors fucks the depression right out of her:

It cost her an effort to let him have his way and his will of her. She had to be a passive, consenting thing, like a slave, a physical slave. Yet the passion licked round her, consuming, and when the sensual flame of it pressed through her bowels and breast, she really thought she was dying: yet a poignant, marvellous death.’

Damn, now that’s some good sex. This is why you get yourself a working-class man, you know what they say; tradies get the ladies.

Although this was refreshing to see in a novel from 1928, and all the sex was decidedly yummy, this wasn’t what truly captivated me; rather it was Lawrence’s portrayal of Connie. Never have I felt so seen by a man, as I did in the words of D.H. Lawrence. The story just short of a century old, and yet I felt Connie captured something in me. How is it, I thought, that a hundred years later D.H Lawrence perfectly captured my feelings as I sit in bed, alone on a Wednesday night?

Connie is the personification of female suffering and feminist dissatisfaction, – albeit embarrassingly – I found myself relating to her. I say embarrassingly as there is no reason I should relate; nothing in our worlds – fictional or otherwise – align. She’s a bit shit. However the character that Connie represents, is alive and well, and probably dissociating.

Connie gets depressed. She is in an unfulfilling marriage with an invalid, and even cheating on him with some pompous playwright (before she meets Mellors) can’t quench her undeniable thirst. She is stuck: physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually. She enters into a catatonic state, she loses weight, grows pale etc. etc., and yet, when Connie was in this state I found her to be the most raw, the most relatable. ‘To Connie, everything in her world and life seemed worn out, and her dissatisfaction was older than the hills.’ She spoke to a yearning I’ve felt as long as I can remember, always wanting more, but never knowing of what. A deep undeniable dissatisfaction; a restlessness that was palpable.

In Connie’s depression she isolates in her room, or she goes for long mental health walks and cries in the rain. ‘Vaguely she knew herself that she was going to pieces in some way. Vaguely she knew she was out of connection: she had lost touch with the substantial and vital world’. Connie’s restlessness, her boredom, her dissatisfaction, her complete and utter nebulous detachment is the perfect personification of a whole subculture of women that exist today. Emmeline Clein in ‘The Smartest Women I Know Are All Dissociating’, coins the term ‘dissociation feminism’. Dissociation feminism caters to women who, like Connie have the privilege to give up; ‘They are white, attractive, have a certain amount of class privilege, and are intelligent and witty’. It is nihilistic white feminism, stemming from rage and disappointment – I’ve certainly felt it.

We are the women you find staring out the window on the train, perhaps it’s raining. We are reading in bars. We are ghosting you. Dissociation feminism speaks to the suffering beauty trope. Woman can be depressed, can suffer, can want to die – if they’re beautiful: if their pain can be fetishized. Sadness and suffering makes you interesting. Just look to Lena Dunham’s Girls, where Hannah calls her friend ‘a little unstimulating’ simply because she isn’t mentally ill.

It is the dichotomy between the cool girl and the psycho bitch. Female pain is either fetishized or considered hyperbolic. When you’re only given two options you have to choose one, and growing up I (subconsciously?) chose the cool girl. When women show an ounce of emotion, even if slightly irrational they get labeled the psycho bitch. I rejected that. I’d rather walk around detached and void than be called desperate. It’s the rejection of the wounded woman trope, instead embracing hyper independence and liberal feminism. Not allowing yourself to feel pain in order to be taken seriously. As Leslie Jamison says in ‘Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain’, ‘feeling sorry for ourselves has become a secret crime—​a kind of shameful masturbation’.

However growing up I noticed a change, a rejection of the detached cool girl and I made a decision, instead to be bat shit, balls to the walls crazy; enter the unhinged woman who says ‘fuck you’ to the erasure of female pain. We are taught to suffer in silence, and associate womanhood with pain, all the while to feel lucky for it and smile through it. Happy as we embrace the undeniable motif; woman is a pain that never goes away.

In memes and tweets the unhinged woman has been making a name for herself. To me she’s a divorcee going through menopause and a flirtation with white-wine alcoholism. She is the love child of the cool girl and the psycho bitch, simultaneously detached, yet feeling everything. She wants to fuck to feel something, then feels too much or nothing at all. She’s screaming her tits out driving to work. She’s tweeting into the void. She’s a whole subculture of girls online who are on the brink of a complete breakdown. She’s the 2014 tumblr girl whose grown into a mentally ill young woman, She’s satirically tweeting; ‘the feminine urge to give up on my dreams and die’. She’s me and maybe she’s YOU (?).

Ladies I leave you now safe in the knowledge that it is your choice. Nay, your right to go absolutely off the fucking rails (if you so choose). If you are sick of Intellectualizing your suffering to the point of oblivion, then just get out there, slash his tires, and fuck his dad.

While on this whirlwind rampage, think of Connie discarding wealth, class and stature for some good dicking, (ok, probably love). Feel your pain and do what you want with it, just remember you have to look hot while doing it.