Hey y’all! I just love this blog called ROMANCE NOVELS FOR FEMINISTS. Have you ever checked it out? I love intelligent writing, and people who don’t take for granted that Romance is just shallow fluff of no value. Jackie C. Horne raises some really interesting (sometimes problematic) discussions of great romance novels in relationship to feminism.
So this was her latest post: THE PROTECTIVE HERO OR WHAT ARE ROMANCE READERS REALLY SO AFRAID OF?
And I’m responding to it below. First she talks about women ceding control in romance novels–especially BDSM romance novels. Is this a metaphoric cry/protest against inequalities on the home front when so many women come home from their day job to a second shift of domestic work? Then she wonders why women are so gaga for the protective hero when (I’m assuming here) we live in such a safe, affluent country where most women in suburbia are usually not needing a body guard.
While I don’t necessarily AGREE with Jackie–
(Who’s safe? I think it really depends on your socio-economic class and neighborhood–but as someone who calls the police on a Saturday night every time I’ve heard gunshots in my neighborhood, I think Jackie’s making some pretty big assumptions here.)
–I certainly respect the points that she’s making. Since I’ve thought a lot about these issues, I had something to say that highlights my own observations and experiences with women and with the value of romances.
Here’s my response to Jackie’s blog post:
Regarding the second shift — I don’t think it’s a form of protest on the part of women to cede control, I think women who respond to this trope are overwhelmed by all the responsibility and want a small break from it, at an economic price point they can easily afford.
That said — as you put it: why aren’t they rebelling then and demanding social justice and more equality? On the home front I think the problem is one of power: of women liking the power so much. They like being the ultimate one their child goes to automatically–that’s power. The buck stops at Mommy. Friends talk to me about bedtime and say “It’s like I’m the director of the bedtime play.” and they enjoy that feeling of directing the family activities. “You’re not going to dress her like that, are you?” they say to their husbands, who has to turn around and go change the child–Although this undermines his feelings of competence and engagement as he fathers, or at least undermines his feelings of authority in the family–women get a power rush from that too.
I see their ceding power with romances exactly the same as powerful white men in authority cede power to a dominatrix for a lunchtime hour to set aside the burden of responsibility for a while. Only romances are a lot cheaper. That’s not to say ultimately women wouldn’t be better off with more domestic equality–it’s just to say here’s an addictive component that gives them something for staying in this cycle.
And finally, I don’t morally judge these behaviors — I just note them as part of the machinery we’ve built in our society. I think of romances as little happiness machines, providing a sense of fulfillment, entertainment, and easy emotional catharsis to the masses. Plato would surely disapprove, but having seen too many emergency waiting rooms in my teens, I felt like one woman pulled me through — Georgette Heyer. So I can’t easily dismiss the power of good romances can do, given how much sh** the fates can deal out to women in life, –and in ways that have nothing to do with female equality.
Regarding protectiveness: I’m fascinated by this. Have you read Zero Empathy by Simon Baron Cohen (cousin of the comedian Sasha Baron Cohen?) He talks about the Warrior Gene that they’ve found in studies — a gene that men have which allows them to feel empathy for a small circle of people and zero empathy for “the other” i.e. enemies. These men make exceptional soldiers who can kill people without feeling trauma, but can also come home and be a husband, raise their children with tenderness and empathy, etc.
I wonder if there is a corresponding gene in women that seeks this Warrior Guy out? (Just wildly speculating here) I mean, evolutionarily speaking, he’d be perfect, right? Providing protection from enemies, but safe with the children. And I wonder if we’re tapping into that evolutionary thing when we get all hot n bothered by the protective hero.
The other response I have to your post is that while so many women in America aren’t facing abduction and forced incarceration (though which women are we talking about? There are problems with sex trafficking in America just like there are across the world–but these women aren’t in affluent and suburban areas perhaps) for the majority of women in America there is a predominant culture of rape to deal with. What is it? 1 out of 4 women have faced some kind of situation that left them traumatized afterwards? Certainly that’s a lot of women in our culture, and I can see why a protective male hero would appeal to them. Maybe when our rape culture changes that trope will fall out of favor.
Okay, it’s back to work for me. (No rest for the wicked.)
It’s 5:30 in the morning. I had too much sugar and excitement so I’m hyper like a seven year old and sitting around trying to decide what was the most fun about the Washington Romance Writers Readers & Bloggers luncheon yesterday.
ROAD TRIP! I traveled up to the luncheon in Bethesda, MD with Joanna Bourne, Sue London, and Adriana Anders. This week I’ve been writing furiously writing on my WIP, we had out of town guests–which if you’re like me requires some pretty intensive house cleaning, not to mention yard work, and several other things were going on as well.
By the time I picked up Adriana to head to our rendezvous point I was so deep in absent-minded writer head I could barely figure out the gas pump at the station, requiring not only Adriana’s helpful pointers but some random man’s input as well. Made it to rendezvous point late and scrambled into Sue London’s car. Along the way we sang 80’s songs while I simultaneously tried to put on make-up, and tie together chocolate truffles and bookmarks with ribbons. Which is how I left a big gash of mascara on Sue’s immaculate car ceiling.
Sue was incredibly calm and gracious about the whole thing, even after I followed this up by spilling hot tea all over her car/my crotch. Doh.
WE’RE ALL CHARACTERS FROM A ROMANCE NOVEL: At this point Adriana Anders, who was keeping up a funny running commentary the whole way, offered to help me out with the bookmarks and chocolate. She and Jo Bourne were in the backseat trying to get ribbons through tiny holes in the bookmarks and getting carsick in the process.
Sue pointed out that we were behaving like characters out of a romance novel. So true—with me as a hapless, high-energy friend that everyone had to help out of a jam. Adriana said she didn’t mind being the side-kick as long as she got to have a potty mouth and be the slutty one (!) Eventually the bookmarks were all prepared, I stopped defacing Sue’s car, and we all arrived at the Italian restaurant just as Kimberly Kincaid, romance author & event organizer, arrived with her posse, including her partner in romance crime, Avery Flynn.
BINGO! When readers arrived, we played a bingo game – where readers matched up authors with clues about the author or her books. The clue for me was “writes about Sexsomnia”. Okay – whoever thought of this (I’m looking at you Kimberly Kincaid) it was crazy brilliant. Soon we were all chatting with readers about our books, and some were even sharing smutty #fridaymanwars photos on their phones. I met Nerd Girl from NerdGirlOfficial who seemed very cool and very interested in my book. Yaaaaaaaaay!
LUNCHA-MUNCHA Then we all sat down to eat. I was at Avery Flynn’s table where I met three of her super-fans: Rheanna, Shawna, and Tina.
I got great romance recommendations from the gals and Shauwna was so excited to read the anthology. I also met Valerie Halfin who has a very funny sense of humor. She’s pictured here with her new boyfriend, aka Robin Covington’s book cover.
TABLE GIFT BAGS: Geri Kertow was also at our table and told readers heartfelt stories about her military husband. She brought our readers these huge mega-cute Halloween-y baskets full of chocolate, cozy socks and some of her Harlequin romantic suspense books, along with other fun stuff. Avery Flynn’s bags had champagne and lavender aromatherapy masks, along with books and chocolate.
Elizabeth Lane, who blogs at CookingUpRomance.com was at our table too. I didn’t get to talk to her nearly as much as I would have liked, but she was looking gorgeous in a retro green dress—and she even brought me two books we’d talked about on fb. (You’re so frickin’ sweet, Elisabeth!)
GIFT BASKET GIVEAWAY: Dessert came with a gift basket give away – and I must say the twenty or so baskets looked a-mazing. Elizabeth Lane won a basket from Hope Ramsay, queen of crafty. This year she made a Christmas themed basket, that included a felt star shaped ornament decorated with beads and stitching–and Hope actually made it herself! (Why does no one take pictures of these things????) I bow down before her tasteful way of putting out thoughtful goodness to readers. Whatever she does it always has the same kind of simplicity and sterling character of her small town books.
MINGLE-SCHMINGLE Then after dessert we were done—but tell that to a bunch of women having a great time. Of course we stayed and mingled some more. I got to see one of my bestest romance buddies ever: Wendy La Capra! She was canoodling with some of her major fans ladies from the SOSAloha blog and a few other ladies who came down from New York and New Jersey just for the luncheon. Lurv you Wendy!
I also got to hang with Shari Slade who was wearing an adorable black dress with a tiny white heart print and shoulder cut outs. Shari is who you would have wanted as your cool older sister when you were in high school. She is wise to the ways of pink hair dye and always brings just the right sort of hip fun into my romance world. I just love her books too.
I got to say ‘hi’ to a reader that I met last year named Donna who was there again. Oh, and the Reading in Pajamas blogger Donna (a different Donna) was there as well, and she was just the sweetest woman.
HOME, JAMES I managed not to spill or deface Sue’s car all the way home. We were super chatty as we talked about diets and scarfed McDonald’s food. (Yes, I get the irony.) I arrived back home to a clean, quiet house. Our guests were gone, and I tweeted my head off until ten-thirty then fell into a coma on our bed with an alls-right-with-the-world feeling. Sigh. See you all next year. :)
At Lady Smut today we had a guest post by Jill Sorenson which focused on sex workers as heroines in romance fiction. My mind is exploding with responses to this fascinating topic.
First of all, someone in the comments sections said: don’t sex workers deserve an HEA too?
*Of course* they do! Yet as Clint Eastwood said in UNFORGIVEN: “It ain’t about deserving.”
A great romance is about more than just a happy ending. THEORY: a great romance is about the specialness that a couple (or threesome) finds in each other, and the intimate connections they discover and build upon, until their love is strong and enduring.
Years ago, I got a final ‘no’ from a big publisher after getting close to a ‘yes’ with the editor. Those crushing moments are always really motivating for me. I realized I didn’t know what the f*** I was doing when it came to writing erom. My husband suggested get my heiny down to a bookstore and start doing research. I ended up getting an armful of erotic romances and THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO WRITING EROTIC ROMANCE. Here was the first thing I learned:
A) Reader’s don’t like promiscuous heroines.
B) It’s okay if a heroine has been sleeping around BEFORE she meets the hero, as long as she’s miserable. But AFTER she meets him no more nookie with other men.
And–the same rules apply with the hero (or heroes as the case may be).
At first I was huffing with disapproval. It seemed an un-feminist attitude at the least. And they didn’t discuss WHY — they just said, ‘hey readers don’t like it, so boom!’
Not everybody read this book, of course. You can find TONS of erotic romances out there that breaks these rules. Yet I soon learned that when a book breaks this rule and has a promiscuous heroine I don’t like her.
I’m not talking erotica, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. I’m talking romance.
On the other hand, I don’t like promiscuous heroes either. If anything, I’ve been jonesing lately on Charlotte Stein’s sexually repressed heroes. She paints a portrait of the nice guy who needs the dirty talking girl to strip the nice off of him, and let his inner, filthy, lustful desires come whiffling out. A virgin guy, a near virgin guy, a nice guy–I like ’em all!
The man-whore who sleeps all around and up and down? Him? Not so much.
Yet in the end I think it has little to do with a lack of feminism, little to do with ‘well, that’s just people’s preference, what can you do?’ and much more to do with the building blocks of romance.
It goes back to that special and intimate ideal.
A woman happily sleeping with a lot of guys and then after she’s met the hero sleeping with a lot more? Where’s the special in that?
There’s a word scientists use — fungible. That means exchangeable. Replaceable. When the heroine is sleeping around–it doesn’t mean she’s a slut. Maybe she’s a free spirit, ya? But it probably means the hero is fungible to her.
But we don’t like being considered fungible as humans. We want to believe we’re unique and irreplaceable.
On the other hand, if a hero or a heroine has slept around trying to scratch that itch, whether physically or mentally –but no one does it for them? Then suddenly THE ONE comes along–THAT’S special. THAT works. That person is giving them what no one else could, and it makes that person unique.
Same goes with intimacy. When I read a book where the hero and heroine have boinked, you know, the whole world, or had five spouses between them, etc, it’s hard for the author to establish intimacy through sex. Why? Well, they’ve been there, done that. What are they saying that they haven’t said before?
Okay, so what’s an author to do about this? I say what if the hero or heroine was still sleeping around, but there was some OTHER way in which H/h were special to each other? Some other form of intimacy that they bonded over?
You could show it in other ways. Soldiering together could do it. Hurting/caring for each other is a stable trope in fan fic, and it’s divine. I think that would work. Whatever — just as long as the erotic romance authors who violate the promiscuity ‘rule’ makes sure to nail down that special and intimate thing between the two of them in some other way.
These ‘friends’ are learning to view each other as unique. They are having special intimate moments no one else can share. They are building a powerful bond–even without sex.
THAT’s what romance is all about, in my book.
There was this great moment in the movie HER where the main character is in love with an A.I. (an artificial intelligence operating system) named Samantha. They can’t have sex, they can’t physically be together, but it’s okay ’cause they’re in love, and they’re emotionally intimate with each other. Until…
*SPOILER ALERT* Samantha reveals that she’s in love with, oh, 641 other people as well as him. Ptank goes his heart. Not so special or unique is he? They’re intimate–but she’s intimate with many, many, many others as well. He’s not so special after all.
SO. Bring on your sex worker heroines. If she’s forced to do it (like in some Skye Warren books) then it de-facto makes all the men she’s sleeping with un-special and all the sex not intimate. So that’s not really promiscuity, is it? It satisfies the miserable with others rule.
If she is gonna boink others cause that’s how she makes bank — then sex isn’t special to her and they’ll have something else they do with just the two of them together, in private. Something that matters to them both. Something that makes them very close to each other – so close that they’ll never be able go back to just being lovers or just friends.
Then you’ve got a romance cooking, mah friends, and I’d read that puppy, no problem.
I wince a little, because you may not have an erotic romance at this point — unless the sex they have together is radically different and special (or so satisfyingly kinky) compared to the sex she has with other people.
But I mean, it’d have to be different to the point where the sex she’s having with others doesn’t even seem like sex by comparison, like it might as well be fly fishing or something.
Yet I think it can work. In the same way we like the repressed male stripped of his repressive covering, we like the shut-down-miserable-worm heroine who has numbed herself out and removed her mind elsewhere to feel herself suddenly respond, suddenly come alive. We want to see her helplessly reveal herself–her passions, her intimate desires to someone. You CAN do it, I believe, but you just have to do it the right way.