TRIGGER WARNING Sexual Abuse, Sexual Exploitation

Reviews||

Ordeal by Linda Lovelace

16th Jan 2014

★★★★
Ordeal by Linda Lovelace
By now most feminists are familiar with the sorry life story of Linda Lovelace. Forced into prostitution and pornography by her abusive husband Chuck Traynor, Lovelace would find herself famous (for which you may read “internationally notorious”) as the lead character of infamous porn film 'Deep Throat'.

In the years that followed, Linda Lovelace seemed to make the most of her status as star of the world’s first theatrically released porn film, only to perform a complete volte face and campaign vociferously against pornography in all its forms.

Ordeal is Linda’s third autobiography, a tell-all about the abuse she had suffered while in the sex industry, was first published at this time. It directly contradicts much stated in her previous two.

It’s likely that this is because much of Ordeal concentrates on the abusive nature of Lovelace’s marriage to Chuck Traynor, a known abuser whom she was with when the first two books hit the shops.

Before “helping” his wife find “stardom” in Deep Throat, Traynor was fond of using acts of physical violence, rape and forced prostitution in order to persuade her to do what he wanted.

At one point he filmed her engaging in sexual acts with a German Shepherd, which he then marketed widely apparently accruing a small fortune. Though she had been drugged then forced to take part in that particular taboo too, Lovelace’s massive sense of shame over it meant that for most of her life she refused to acknowledge that she was the woman shown on camera. And so, unlike most of the acts mentioned, it is not discussed in Ordeal.

The conversational tone used by Lovelace and her co-writer Mike McGrady throughout the memoir does little to lessen the brutality of the details Lovelace does disclose. It is, frankly, a horrible story and will likely be no less horrifying for those readers who know what to expect before opening this memoir’s pages.The conversational tone used by Linda Lovelace and her co-writer Mike McGrady throughout the memoir does little to lessen the brutality of the details Lovelace does disclose.

It is, frankly, a horrible story and will likely be no less horrifying for those readers who know what to expect before opening this memoir’s pages. Anyone who is at risk of finding themself triggered by themes of sexual abuse and brutality might do well to stay away from it and the Amanda Seyfried film it’s been reprinted to coincide with.

Which is not to say it’s a bad read. It is, in fact, an excellent one. The book brings a very human, inevitably tragic face to the type of sexually abusive circumstances that can lead a person to a life in the sex trade.

In an era where many feminists feel pressurised to be “sex positive” it is important to take on board the testimony of a woman who was – as feminists such as Andrea Dworkin, Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolf have suggested – a victim of exploitation. Steinem, incidentally, became a close friend of Lovelace’s after this book was published.

Her former husband on the other hand tried to use the same argument that many sex positive feminists will when asked to discuss the role of exploitation in pornography.

Linda Lovelace, he claimed, was empowered enough to make the choice to take part in porn, and further empowered by it. This book, not to mention the evidence given by multiple sources who knew the couple at the time, suggests the truth was very different indeed.

Granted, Lovelace’s own actions do not help the credibility of her narrative. As mentioned, she had already published two books that made out her out to be a wholly willing sexpot and would years later complain that anti-pornography campaigners had “made a few bucks off of” her.

She would also state that if Deep Throat had helped positively transform the sex lives of many American couples then it was “OK” before taking up modelling lingerie in later life.

Yet, when faced with the testimony contained in Ordeal it’s hard to doubt the veracity of it. Linda Lovelace did her best in difficult circumstances and, upon overcoming them, wrote this book to try and help others. At times it’s a difficult read but still, like the woman herself, wholly worthwhile.

Comments

  • Anon says:

    “Her former husband on the other hand tried to use the same argument that many sex positive feminists will when asked to discuss the role of exploitation in pornography.”

    Really? You’re conflating an abusive, bullying rapist with feminists who support sex workers or pornography? Do you know how utterly offensive that is? Sex positive feminists may support porn or sex work but they don’t support trafficking or abuse, and they don’t deny that those things take place either. Really disappointed in this review.

    • Alisande Fitzsimons says:

      The very next paragraph reads “Linda Lovelace, he claimed, was empowered enough to make the choice to take part in porn, and further empowered by it. This book, not to mention the evidence given by multiple sources who knew the couple at the time, suggests the truth was very different indeed.” which hardly implies support for Chuck Traynor or his argument.

    • stephanie says:

      @Anon,

      I think what the point that was being made here was that Lovelace’s former husband attempted to co-opt the arguments of sex positive feminists regarding pornography, as a mechanism to absolve himself of any responsibility for exploiting Lovelace in porn rather than implying that sex positive feminists are somehow in favour of abuse and coercion. It states clearly that “he claimed” she was empowered by it when it’s obvious now that this wasn’t the case at all.

    • Jane Bradley says:

      Thanks for the comment Anon; in no way does this review specifically or For Books’ Sake in general intend to conflate abusers, bullies and rapists with sex-positive feminists.

      The majority of the editorial board (myself as FBS Founding Ed included) identify as sex-positive feminists ourselves, so this is definitely not our intention, and we’re sorry if that’s the way it was read.

      Like Stephanie and Alisande both mention, I believe the point here was to highlight how problematic and damaging it can be when abusers appropriate and distort sex-positive ideas, arguments and language for their own ends.

    • Scott says:

      If you are a woman Anon then there is a more depressing point that feminists are constantly attacking one another within their splintered factions. If we are to ever get to a point where we no longer need feminism because women are treated equally, even to the point where the in built prejudices are non existent, then women and men have to start supporting one another to further that cause.
      If you watch any interview of Billy Jean King and she makes the point perfectly, stop saying the first thing that comes into your mind, think and support one another. It behooves us to work together and achieve a gestalt power.

      Your disappointment being invoked by this point is unfounded I feel, at no point is there any conflating, consarn it.
      The fact is that her husband appropriated the idea from pro-sex feminists as a smokescreen to cover himself.
      The point is that in no way did he believe it but he, like many other men, used the argument and then said “well this is what feminists argue so how can I be a bully or rapist?”
      What he did was a cowardly, self-serving act but the article is simply stating the fact that he appropriated the argument of sex-positive feminists.
      It was a total lie and only intended to diminish his responsibility. That is shown by your comment that sex positive feminists don’t support abuse or trafficking, you’re right and that proves the article is right in its assertion that he was appropriating this feminist idea.
      Because of his deceitful use of it he harmed the movement.
      Perhaps another line could have been added to make the point that you do, which clearly everyone on this site agrees with, that it was disingenuous but I feel from the article that it was clear anyway and thankfully Jane and others have made that point. The last thing anyone wants is people to be offended and turned away.

      The disgust here should really be with her husband.

      Sorry for the length of this, just got going but didn’t want to have a go at Anon who I think has just misjudged the authors position. The criticism is decidedly of the husband.

      • Ayana says:

        Feminists do not always agree with one another and nor should they. It is important that feminists feel safe to raise concerns and criticisms that matter to them without being accused of ‘constantly attacking one another.’

        • Beulah Devaney says:

          I agree that it’s important that feminists are allowed to have differences of opinion and to vocalize them but Anon did seem to go off half-cocked on this one.

  • Alisande Fitzsimons says:

    The review does not conflate sex positivism with rapists or sex traffickers. The point of including Traynor’s use of that argument was to demonstrate how adept at manipulation and twisting Linda Lovelace’s words and the acts he forced to commit years after their relationship ended. As a sex positive feminist I am very aware of the arguments you mentioned.

  • Craig says:

    Anon, the review couldn’t make it more plain that Traynor was a repugnant rapist scumbag of the lowest order. There are at least three paragraphs in the review condemning him in fairly forceful terms. How on earth has the reviewer ‘conflated’ Chuck Traynor with feminists of any stripe? Your post has unfortunate echoes of the great cartoon character Millie Tant, who spent her life looking for things to be ‘utterly offended’ by – semantic nit-picking of people’s sentences to imply a patriarchal/misogynistic intent that simply wasn’t there, etc