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Author Topic: PC409: The Husband Stitch  (Read 3262 times)
hrj
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« Reply #20 on: April 07, 2016, 10:16:39 PM »

I think this is the first time I've commented on a story. (I often don't listen promptly enough to comment in a timely manner.)

I had very mixed feelings on this story. On the one hand, the prose is masterful, and I admired the conceit of interjecting "performance notes" as part of the story. But on the other hand, given that I'm listening to it on a fantasy podcast, I felt cheated by the extremely weak and tenuous nature of the fantastic content. The cues given by the repeated use of urban legends set us up for assuming some sort of twist having to do with the ribbon, but we aren't necessarily set up for a fantastic one. So the brief twist, when it comes, doesn't feel like a payoff for the hour I spent waiting for it to come. And given that I'm not really into explicit sexual material in stories, I felt like I'd gotten a bait and switch: promised fantasy and given erotica instead. (Yes, I know it had an R rating. And I wouldn't have minded if I'd gotten a solid fantasy along with the sex.)

I agree with other commenters that the intact state of her ribbon is an allegory for issues of consent, bodily autonomy, and independent self-hood. I'd tend to put more emphasis, not so much on "consent" as it's usually understood, but on one's right to have some part of oneself that isn't shared. Some part where you have a right to say, "No, this is mine. Leave it alone." and have that respected. As the episode with her desire for the model shows, she didn't believe she had the right not to share. And, in the end, that unbelief was why she felt she had to capitulate to the literal self-negation of her husband's demand.

But when it comes down to it, there's no subtlety about this allegory, nor is there much subtlety about how the presence of this forbidden item becomes the Bluebeard’s Room of the story. The woman’s husband is drawn again and again to torment her with the threat of forcibly untying the ribbon, simply because it is the one aspect of her life to which he has not been granted access. And whether the forbidden object is Bluebeard's Room or the green ribbon, somehow it's always the woman who gets the short end of the stick.
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EFBQ
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« Reply #21 on: April 10, 2016, 09:18:52 AM »

OK, I seem to be in the minority in my interpretation in the story.   Let me ask this then -

How is the essential boundary here, and the way it's communicated, different than the boundary established and transgressed in the classic Bluebeard story.

In both cases the message conveyed is "It's mine, do not touch".   It's a command, not a communication.   


Edited to add:  I admit that I only listened to the story once, but in my memory the first time he asked about taking off the ribbon she said something like "you will some time, but not today".  That has very much influenced my interpretation of the story. 


« Last Edit: April 10, 2016, 09:46:27 AM by EFBQ » Logged
adrianh
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« Reply #22 on: April 10, 2016, 11:42:48 AM »

How is the essential boundary here, and the way it's communicated, different than the boundary established and transgressed in the classic Bluebeard story.

From my POV in both Bluebeard & Stitch:

  • There is a boundary
  • Crossing that boundary causes the death of the boundary setter.

So yes — I guess — at a very abstract level the "same thing" is happening.

However…

  • In Bluebeard the boundary is external to the owner — the key and the room. In Stitch the narrator strongly identifies the ribbon as part of her ("It’s my ribbon", "My son touches my ribbon, but never in a way that makes me afraid. He thinks of it as a part of me, and he treats it no differently than he would an ear or finger.", etc.)
  • In Bluebeard the wife is given one warning. In Stitch the husband is told multiple times, in multiple contexts, including the wife physically fighting him off when he attempts to cross that boundary.
  • In Bluebeard the boundary owner is in the dominant position, and the boundary breaker is in the weaker position. In Stitch the position is reversed.
  • In Bluebeard the boundary owner is a serial killer. In Stitch the boundary owner is an innocent.
  • In Bluebeard the boundary breaker is an innocent. In Stitch the boundary breaker is (at the very least) an asshat who repeatedly tries to do things to the narrator that the narrator does not consent to during sex, asks for the "husband stitch", etc.
  • In Bluebeard breaking the boundary saved the innocent, who would otherwise have died. In Stitch it kills the innocent, who would otherwise have lived.
  • The consequences of crossing the boundary are known to Bluebeard. In Stitch it's ambiguous whether the narrator knows the impact of the ribbon's removal.
  • In Bluebeard the boundary owner dies because his past actions and evil intent have been revealed — the unlocking of the door in of itself didn't cause his death. In Stitch the removal of the ribbon is the direct cause of the narrator's death.
  • Bluebeard is a 17th century tale where marriage is more about alliance, money & power than love, which sets different expectations from Stitch's more contemporaneous marriage setting.

Which all add up to quite a different tale from my perspective.

Edited to add:  I admit that I only listened to the story once, but in my memory the first time he asked about taking off the ribbon she said something like "you will some time, but not today".  That has very much influenced my interpretation of the story.

You have misremembered ;-)

First instance:

He reaches out his hand, and I seize it and push it away. You shouldn’t touch it, I say. You can’t touch it.

then later…

There is nothing to tell. It’s my ribbon. May I touch it?
"No."


then later…

I want to touch it, he says.
"No."


then later…

There are two rules: he cannot finish inside of me, and he cannot touch my green ribbon"

then later…

He startles me, then, by running his hand around my throat. I put up my hands to stop him but he uses his strength, grabbing my wrists with one hand as he touches the ribbon with the other. He presses the silky length with his thumb. He touches the bow delicately, as if he is massaging my sex. Please, I say. Please don’t.

then later…

I don’t realize that his hand is sliding down the back of my neck until he is trying to loop his fingers through the ribbon. I gasp and pull away quickly, falling back and frantically checking my bow.

then later…

A wife, he says, should have no secrets from her husband.
I don’t have any secrets, I tell him.
The ribbon.
The ribbon is not a secret, it’s just mine.


then later…

Why do you want to hide it from me?
I am not hiding it. It is not yours.


then later

When I wake up, my husband is kissing the back of my neck, probing the ribbon with his tongue. My body rebels wildly, still throbbing with the memories of pleasure but bucking hard against betrayal. I say his name, and he does not respond. I say it again, and he holds me against him and continues. I wedge my elbows in his side, and when he loosens from me in surprise, I sit up and face him.

… and then, after all the above, the wife bows to the husbands demands. To my ears the consent issue is pretty darn clear. YMMV.
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ThatOldCreep
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« Reply #23 on: April 10, 2016, 03:36:14 PM »

Gas lighting, manipulation, entitlement, ownership, and boundaries being crossed.  From the beginning, female characters were persuaded to accept someone else's interpretation of reality instead of trusting their own senses and memories.  This happens in relationships all the damn time.  I enjoyed how the writer wove in classic scary stories and urban legends, but told them with a twist that emphasized how the female characters were manipulated, ignored, or harmed themselves to avoid angering an abuser. 

AND NOW SEX STUFF...

So many things in this story resonated with me and reminded me too much of previous relationships with people who wanted me to do things that didn't feel good or when i wasn't in the mood to, obsessed over parts of my body that i didn't even like or want, and insisted that i send them pictures of certain body parts when i never truly felt comfortable doing so. 

My feelings about sex are probably different from most peoples' because i am trans and spent years struggling to maintain desire for the people i was with, wondering why most acts didn't feel good, trying to make them feel good, and being told i had some mental "hang up" about sex.  This was before i fully came to understand my identity.  Doctors still don't know why i barely feel any sensation in other than pain or discomfort in a certain area. 

Since we generally view stories through the filter of our own experiences, i wondered if the protagonist was trying to convince herself she was feeling something that she didn't, at least not all the time.  It is difficult for me to understand the long-term desire she claims to feel for her husband, especially when i picked up on his possessiveness and entitlement straight away. 

I interpreted the ribbons in a few ways.  If we are relating this story to the real world, they could represent something private, a burden, or the one thing or idea that keeps a person able to hold themselves together...literally in this story.  Since only the female characters had them, i see them also as a symbol of subjugation that females often experience. 

I related the ribbon around the protagonist's neck to the secret i told one of the people who was getting really fed up with my inability to enjoy sex.  It was my secret sexual fetish, which might relate to my transness...i have a few hypotheses as to why i have had it all of my life.  The person did not condemn me for it, but there was this time when they asked if i had engaged in it recently, and i reluctantly told them that i had.  They were angry and asked why i didn't call them if i wanted something like that, completely not understanding that when i was ~horny~ for the fetish activity, i was not horny for a person.  Sex with a person would not do the same thing for me as engaging in the fetish, and it is not something i do with another person.  They didn't understand its function in my life.  That was my ribbon, and I took it off to mollify them.  This also ties back to the protagonist's reluctantly professed attraction to the woman in her art class, which her husband...sort of exploits for his own pleasure. 

The ending reminds me of my ex coming to my apartment to pick up something they left there and raping me two days after i broke up with them.  They insisted that i had given them a disease, which i didn't have by the way, and that having sex now would give them the semblance of a choice as to whether or not they were exposed to it.  I repeatedly told them i didn't want to, but they kept bullying.  I am not seeking pity for this, only explaining how i can relate my experiences to this story.  I was afraid of what would happen if i refused.  This was one of the people who insisted on sex during times i was in pain and accused me of having a shitty attitude about it. 

The last line, while anti-climactic, speaks so loudly to me.  "I feel as lonely as i have ever been."  I remember feeling lonely in relationships, lonely during sex, lonely for someone who really understood and would respect me.  She set a boundary, but he just had to keep pushing and pushing, to have all that is her, possibly to her own destruction. 
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Tango Alpha Delta
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« Reply #24 on: April 12, 2016, 09:37:04 PM »


The last line, while anti-climactic, speaks so loudly to me.  "I feel as lonely as i have ever been."  I remember feeling lonely in relationships, lonely during sex, lonely for someone who really understood and would respect me.  She set a boundary, but he just had to keep pushing and pushing, to have all that is her, possibly to her own destruction. 


I'm glad you made it through to the other side - assuming that you have.

At least, I'm confident that I can say, "I'm glad no one has made your head fall off," and be reasonably sure that is the case. At least literally.

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Devoted135
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« Reply #25 on: April 16, 2016, 10:12:07 PM »

A blandly stated "Rated R" didn't come close to covering it for me. This was one of the most deeply uncomfortable stories I've listened to in quite a while. It was masterfully crafted and of course beautifully read, but I come here for the fantasy which was minimal to the extreme. I didn't doubt for a second that the ribbon was holding her head on, but really, 99% of this story was a disturbing tale of the boundary line between consent and abuse, and altogether too real. I'm feeling a bit queasy just thinking about it again.
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bounceswoosh
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« Reply #26 on: April 19, 2016, 12:40:05 PM »

@ThatOldCreep - I am so very sorry for the physical and emotional pain you've been put through. I can see how this story would resonate strongly for you. Even if you had had that disease, it still wouldn't be an excuse for rape. But you know that.


The two are not unrelated.  I agree that much of it is about communication, but also to a large extent about consent. 

She opened herself to him in a variety of ways, sexually at least (if not generally emotionally, although I think she had feelings for him she also kept many of her emotions locked up from him).  But she drew the line at that one thing--he could do whatever else he wanted to do and she never complained, but that one thing she drew a clear line about.  And he picked at that boundary.  And picked at that boundary.  And he pressured her about it, tried to cross that boundary while she was sleeping or otherwise distracted, kept picking at it for years and years and years and years, even though she drew a crystal clear boundary across this one thing that she wanted to keep for herself.  And in the end she finally gave in, but at that point was it really consent, if she only gave in because she was constantly wearied by his picking and picking and picking and picking?  It was more of a surrender out of weariness than an agreement, IMO.  Maybe the difference isn't always easy to discern, but here since she had made it very very clear time and time again that this was a line she didn't care to cross and he kept poking at it, that this was surrender rather than agreement.  And that's all taken out of the context of the rest of his treatment toward her, which was more real-life and horrifying in most ways (I don't know anyone who actually has a ribbon holding their head on that draws the line there, but the "husband stitch" is a real thing and a horrible one).

This was the first time I'd heard of "the husband stitch".  Seriously, WTF is wrong with people.




Thank you, this is exactly how I saw the story, except I totally did see it as an issue of consent, not communication. And I remember a relationship where my partner was always pushing, pushing, pushing for more, and yes, sometimes I gave in out of weariness. And yes, I thought generally he was a good guy. And I'm not even looking up the husband stitch; I didn't even think about the name of the story as I was listening, and without looking it up, I have a pretty good guess what it's about. I wrote a paper on female genital mutilation in high school. *shudder* Horrific word: infibulation

This story also resonates with some podcasts I've been listening to recently about a new book about young women and sex. Apparently young women typically prioritize their partners' needs over their own, ie, "If he has an orgasm, then it was good."

Sorry, scattered thoughts because I'm at home with a massive cold that makes it hard for me to think.
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Tango Alpha Delta
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« Reply #27 on: April 20, 2016, 08:24:39 PM »



Sorry, scattered thoughts because I'm at home with a massive cold that makes it hard for me to think.

Ugh - I had one of those; I refer to it as "2008"...
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irishlazz
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« Reply #28 on: May 02, 2016, 09:42:39 AM »

Wow - a lot of discussion from many angles.  I myself am of a mixed opinion, but only want to share one thought:

"My son touches my ribbon, but never in a way that makes me afraid. He thinks of it as a part of me, and he treats it no differently than he would an ear or finger."

Ever hold a child?  They don't just touch, they grab & yank, pull things toward their mouths as part of their learning exploration.  That woman wouldn't have lived past her son's second birthday.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #29 on: May 03, 2016, 09:21:31 AM »

Wow - a lot of discussion from many angles.  I myself am of a mixed opinion, but only want to share one thought:

"My son touches my ribbon, but never in a way that makes me afraid. He thinks of it as a part of me, and he treats it no differently than he would an ear or finger."

Ever hold a child?  They don't just touch, they grab & yank, pull things toward their mouths as part of their learning exploration.  That woman wouldn't have lived past her son's second birthday.

You are right. 

But, I took it as part of the metaphor.  The intent matters.  An infant doesn't have the same intent as an adult, even when they hurt someone they do not intend it in the same way an adult would intend even with the same action.  I got the impression that her ribbon was secure from the hands of any very young child because they lack the intent that her husband had.  Does that make sense?  I figured it as part of the magic of the ribbon--the ribbon in itself isn't plausible to hold a head on, so it has to be magical/metaphorical, and so I think it's internally consistent for it to have other magical/metaphorical properties like this.

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Obleo21
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« Reply #30 on: January 19, 2017, 09:14:35 PM »

I am way behind in catching up with stories from the beginning of last year (I skipped ahead to current ones and make up previous when I can). I have to say I'm surprised that no one seemed to notice that the main story, and all the stories within the story, come from "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark". I loved those books when I was a kid.  I really liked how the author spun them up for an adult audience.
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shanehalbach
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« Reply #31 on: April 18, 2017, 04:18:03 PM »

Holy hell this story. Wow. I don't even know what to say about it, other than I can't stop thinking about it.

As a dedicated Pseudopod listener, I enjoy a story that makes me squirm, but I understand that not everybody does. I actually forgot this was a PodCastle episode and thought I was listening to Pseudopod. So I certainly don't fault anybody for not enjoying this, especially if they were blindsided a bit by it. We all want different things out of our fiction.

I have been a bit of an urban legend scholar in a past life, so of course I recognized all of the stories-within-the-story. Of course I knew that head was coming off. But the slow build worked perfectly with this absolutely unflinching look at consent and sort of gray-area relationships. It's like being the guy in Clockwork Orange with your eyeballs held open...you want desperately to look away but you just can't. You're tied to the tracks and you know the train is going to run you over and you see it coming and you hope someone's going to swoop in and save you, but they don't. They just don't.

Really sorry it took me a year to get to this one (man I am behind).
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