Romance and Cultural Expectations

saamribbon Recently I have started volunteering as an advocate for Sexual Assault Crisis Response group in my community. Since I believe the more information and training I have the more effective I can be, I dragged myself out of bed this week on my day off to attend police training on sexual violence – The Dynamics and Cultural Myths, and Improving Sexual Assault Investigations. Thanks to Jen Carson of the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Mike Hammons of the Fayetteville Police Department for allowing me to use their material in writing this article.

Let me just say upfront that back in the 80’s I was right there with most of the romance reader population in reading and enjoying the so-called “bodice ripper” novels written by authors such as Shirlee Busbee, Rosemary Rogers,and Kathleen Woodiwiss. And I am not knocking these authors now. That was the culture and the fantasy of that time. Just read the joke that John McCain told in 1986:
“Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, “Where is that marvelous ape?”

Rather offensive now, isn’t it? As is the thought of a hero raping a heroine. The media did help by bringing the subject of rape out of the closet and of course they coined the phrase date rape. Publishers’ and authors’ awareness has also changed over time. The obvious rape scenes have largely changed. We now have stories where the hero is overcome with need for the heroine. Sometimes he has to fight his animal instincts or his overpowering need for this one woman.

Read this excerpt from a very popular novel:
“His lips crushed mine, stopping my protest. He kissed me angrily, roughly, his other hand gripping right around the back of my neck, making escape impossible. I shoved against his chest with all my strength, but he didn’t even seem to notice. His mouth was soft, despite the anger, his lips molding to mine in a warm, unfamiliar way.
I grabbed at his face, trying to push it away, failing again. He seemed to notice this time, though and it aggravated him. His lips forced mine open and I could feel his hot breath in my mouth.
Acting on instinct, I let my hand drop to my side, and shut down. I opened my eyes and didn’t fight and didn’t feel . . . just waited for him to stop.”

One message to us is that this man is so filled with a craving for the heroine that his control is now non-existent. Plus only the heroine creates this need and desire. In a way, this is pretty heady stuff. Who doesn’t want to feel that our attractiveness and uniqueness has the ability to drive a man wild with lust? Talk about a woman having power – she can bring this man to his knees. But wait, read it again and this time imagine you are a juror at a rape trial and the survivor is on the stand, telling what happened the night of her rape. The words are there. Just check out the words in bold, reading them with a different mindset. Who has the power now?

I would never minimize any type of rape because all are horrifying and traumatic. However, with date or acquaintance rape, the woman often blames herself more. She let this person into her life, and may even have had feelings for him. Now she questions her judgment in men. Plus, those who have been through this type of assault have to deal with societal beliefs that they played a part in what happened to them by using poor judgment, being victimized all over again. Here is what Bill O’Reilly said in 2004 when talking about the rape and murder of 18 year-old Jennifer Moore during his nationally syndicated radio show on August 2, 2004:
“She was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, wearing a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff. Now, again, there you go. So every predator in the world is gonna pick that up at two in the morning.”

Instead of focusing on the horror of the crime, O’Reilly hints that the victim somehow brought it on herself by the way she dressed. By the way, predators are only approximately six percent of the population. And clothing and alcohol don’t create a rapist. The most statically significant thing that increases your chance of being raped is being born a woman. But these ideas are all part of our cultural climate and however much we hate to admit it, romance books do play a part in that because sometimes they can perpetuate the myth that women don’t mean no when they refuse someone.

It’s not only novels, though. Here are some other examples that Jen Carson used to illustrate our cultural climate – many of these actually appear on t-shirts:
Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker
Can’t rape the willing
It is not rape if she blinks twice for yes
You know she is playing hard to get, when you’re chasing her down an alleyway.

The popular book excerpt I discussed above, which by the way is from Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer, and the other examples listed show a willingness to ignore women’s basic right to consent- some by blaming the victim, others by making a joke of consent and still others by perpetuating the myth that a woman says one thing but deep down she wants to have sex. What hit home the most to me, though, is when Jen Carson gave an example of a party scenario. Before the advent of M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), bystanders didn’t think anything about letting an inebriated friend drive home after a party. Now most of us would have no problem taking her car keys way, explaining that she is too drunk to drive. And it is because of our current cultural mindset. With regard to sexual assault, ACASA has listed twenty things that all of us can do to end sexual assault and number two on the list is ” Speak out against attitudes and behaviors that contribute to a culture where violence against women is condoned and often encouraged.”

I am not talking here about censorship or badmouthing rough sex, sexual domination or sexually submissive behavior because those can be(and are) played out as fantasies which are consensual by nature because the woman is participating and nothing is happening against her will. I am talking about coercion. In our romance books, you don’t generally see the hero take advantage of the heroine by getting her drunk, or giving her drugs to relax in order to get sex. He acts the perfect gentleman, usually saying, “I can’t take advantage of you when you are in this condition”. So why are strong-arming, treating the heroine with a “no means yes” attitude, or other forms of pressure acceptable? Maybe the better choice would be the couple playing out these fantasies with clear cut consent in place. Personally I think there needs to be a change.

So what are your thoughts? Do you think romances play a part in our cultural mindset about what is acceptable in a relationship? How have you seen male/female relationships changed over time? If you don’t think books play any part, then what is your explanation of changes in story arcs – such as no longer having the hero rape the heroine?

– Leigh Davis

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118 Responses to “Romance and Cultural Expectations”

  1. Lori says:

    Hi Leigh,
    It is wonderful that you are volunteering your time for such a great cause.
    I think you are correct that as the message changes in our culture, people become more aware of the problem. I remember years ago at a local campus, students mocking a date-rape education campaign. I don’t think that anything overt like that would happen now thankfully.
    I do think with the prevalence of date-rape drugs has created a sometimes more dangerous environment, but this is not something glorified in pop-culture as romantic. Some of the risks facing young women now also come from tech – there was a documentary called Sext Up Kids that I watched recently that was very interesting.
    We do need to speak out when we see or hear something offensive, and educate our children in the process.

  2. DabneyAAR says:

    I think there’s a huge difference between our collective “cultural mindset” and one’s own person mindset. I speak out all the time, especially to all the teens in my life, about the violence I see perpetuated against women in movies and on the television. I refuse to read the misogynistic books that dominate our “thriller” best seller list. But, I don’t think that sexual coercion in romance is necessarily a part of that.

    Just as in real sexual relationship, where a woman can give her consent to be dominated or “forced”, I think the reader can consent to reading about coercive sex in a way that doesn’t encourage her to see the sex as rape.

    Romance is full of books where, in the beginning, the man forces sexuality on the woman and, as the novel progresses, she and he have changed. She’s a avid partner and he sees her as able to make her own sexual choices. Many women and men enjoy these books–they don’t see the initial coercion as rape but rather as an introduction into a world the heroine is unable to step into on her own. Here again, what matters is how the reader defines the relationship.

    • maggie b. says:

      DabneyAAR: I refuse to read the misogynistic books that dominate our “thriller” best seller list.

      Just curious but could you give an example of the books you are thinking of?

      • DabneyAAR says:

        maggie b.: Just curious but could you give an example of the books you are thinking of?

        James Pattterson, Stuart Woods, Val McDermid, Stieg Larsson all have rape/torture scenes in their books.

        • maggie b. says:

          DabneyAAR:
          James Pattterson, Stuart Woods, Val McDermid, Stieg Larsson all have rape/torture scenes in their books.

          OK, I don’t read them either but my decision was a lot less thought out than yours – I just didn’t like them.

  3. maggie b. says:

    I hope romances don’t play a part in our cultural mindset about what is acceptable in anything, much less a relationship. To use your own example, in the Stephanie Meyer books Bella goes into a complete shutdown when her boyfriend breaks up with her. She barely eats, doesn’t talk to friend and walks around like a zombie until she gets a new boyfriend. My daughter? This behavior would have led to a visit to a shrink, family counseling and a whole host of other therapies. It would not have been tolerated. And a new boyfriend? Not until we dealt with her psychosis. She had a lot of issues that should have been addressed long before she got to the kissing scene in Eclipse.

    YA Novels are also “host” to a whole gob of other bad parenting/adult behavior. The teachers at Hogwarts, who seemed to do little to prevent those kids from being nearly killed. Both Katniss’ mom and Artemis Fowl’s mom, who checked out when their husbands died and left the children to fend for themselves. I could go on for a long time about bad behavior in books.

    What I keep coming back to is freedom of choice and respect for the decisions of your citizenry. We have to believe that our fellow Americans can separate appropriate behavior from fiction. Otherwise we need to pull Jersey Shore off the air right now. Ban the word Kardashian from our language.

    There is so much more here to talk about. Historical novels such as Huck Finn which display their periods acurately but contain offensive material. Ivanhoe which does the same. The Merchant of Venice.

  4. maggie b. says:

    Ack- wasn’t finished. To conclude, I think it is important to separate reality from fiction. When we encounter people who can’t do this, we are not dealing with a problem with the book. We are dealing with a problem with a person.

  5. Leigh AAR says:

    Dabney, I hope you don’t think I am picking on you, and I really appreciate you stating how you feel because it opens the dialog:

    you said: I think the reader can consent to reading about coercive sex in a way that doesn’t encourage her to see the sex as rape. .

    This is the same type of mindset that we as reader had in the 80′s. Oh it is okay that the hero raped the heroine because she loves him and forgives him.

    Now that is unacceptable, but it today in our mind it is okay for the “hero” to force sexuality on the woman.

    We can say that it is fiction but doesn’t fiction, like jokes reflect our cultural values? People today rarely tell wife beating jokes, ethnic jokes, or rape jokes etc.

    Just recently Belvedere Vodka posted an ad on Facebook and Twitter showing a man groping a woman with the tag line “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly” The outcry was pretty immediate, but passages like above are not seen as offensive?

    • DabneyAAR says:

      Leigh AAR: Dabney, I hope you don’t think I am picking on you, and I really appreciate you stating how you feel because it opens the dialog:you said:I think the reader can consent to reading about coercive sex in a way that doesn’t encourage her to see the sex as rape. .This is the same type of mindset that we as reader had in the 80’s.Oh it is okay that the hero raped the heroine because she loves him and forgives him.Now that is unacceptable, but it today in our mind it is okay for the “hero” to force sexuality on the woman.We can say that it is fiction but doesn’t fiction, like jokes reflect our cultural values? People today rarely tell wife beating jokes, ethnic jokes, or rape jokes etc.Just recently Belvedere Vodka posted an ad on Facebook and Twitter showing a man groping a woman with the tag line “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly”The outcry was pretty immediate, but passages like above are not seen as offensive?

      I’m respectfully disagree. I trust readers to use fiction in positive ways. Many women have lots of guilt around sexual pleasure and, for them, fantasies of rape and forced seduction are really about finding a way to fantasize about pleasure without responsibility.

      I’ve had friends that have been raped and have done peer counseling for students with sexual concerns. I believe my country is over-enthralled with violence. To me, however, the enjoyment that many get from reading books with forced seduction is a good thing. If reading such books gives readers joy and even stirs their libido for consensual sex of their own, I’m all for it.

      I will also say, I see this as a much larger issue and I suspect I am on the opposite side of it than many. Our investment in Political Correctness (and please remember I am a liberal!) is wreaking havoc in all sorts of ways. I am a supporter of first amendment rights which are so often trampled in the name of better cultural values. Today, we are sure we are right when we say, “that’s not a good way to think–one should think about the issue THIS way.” I’ve studied too much of human history to put my faith in that argument.

  6. AAR Sandy says:

    I am with you, Leigh. I don’t like ever reading about forced sex — rape — in romance novels. Read it again and again and suddenly it begins to seem okay. She really wanted it and he knew it. That’s a slippery slope — especially for young women reading romance novels.

    I still remain outraged that Avon published a rape book in the 21st century — and, okay, I’ll name it — Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell in which the hero raped the heroine who only after the rape began to convince herself that she loved him. Stockholm Syndrome is what I called it in the review and it’s what I still call it today.

    Maggie, I don’t think that this issue is on a par with the Kardashians. How am I ever going to become a Kardashian? And Jersey Shore? I don’t even pretend to understand what makes this show attractive to watch other than the train wreck factor. But, quite honestly, I am addicted to all of the Real Housewives shows and have yet to have my boobs done. Reading seems more personal and, as I said, reading it over and over again will eventually make it acceptable.

    • DabneyAAR says:

      AAR Sandy: I still remain outraged that Avon published a rape book in the 21st century — and, okay, I’ll name it — Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell in which the hero raped the heroine who only after the rape began to convince herself that she loved him.Stockholm Syndrome is what I called it in the review and it’s what I still call it today.

      That’s a tough book, and one that I liked. I also liked Suzan Sizemore’s The Price of Innocence>. I love –I believe that it is equally true that Sebastian forces Rachel and that his actions are, in the context of her life, viable. I like the scene in Black Ice where Bastien pretty much forces himself on Chloe. I would argue that if I, as the reader, decide to see those encounters as something that, ultimately, the heroines value, than I the reader have the right to enjoy those scenes.

      There are books that I think are awful, where rape is rape, and it’s clear it’s never going to be something, in retrospect, the heroine will see as a positive part of her life. I trust myself and other readers to see the difference.

    • maggie b. says:

      AAR Sandy: .Maggie, I don’t think that this issue is on a par with the Kardashians.How am I ever going to become a Kardashian?And Jersey Shore?I don’t even pretend to understand what makes this show attractive to watch other than the train wreck factor.But, quite honestly, I am addicted to all of the Real Housewives shows and have yet to have my boobs done.Reading seems more personal and, as I said, reading it over and over again will eventually make it acceptable.

      Sandy,

      If you don’t know how to be a Kardashian have no fear – they wrote a book about it. It gives all kinds of tips about girl power, hair and makeup, boys, and being your personal best. That last one is the most frightening – the Kardashians display a personal best. You’ll be glad to know it was a New York Times bestseller.

      Dateline/ or 20/20 did a special on how reality TV affects our society and how many people do emulate what they see, complete with getting boob jobs. Given that many, many more people watch reality TV than read romances, I think the effect may be more significant than many people realize. But does that mean I think we should censor it? No.

      • DabneyAAR says:

        maggie b.:
        Sandy,
        If you don’t know how to be a Kardashian have no fear – they wrote a book about it.It gives all kinds of tips about girl power, hair and makeup, boys, and being your personal best. That last one is the most frightening – the Kardashians display a personal best. You’ll be glad to know it was a New York Times bestseller.
        Dateline/ or 20/20 did a special on how reality TV affects our society and how many people do emulate what they see, complete with getting boob jobs. Given that many, many more people watch reality TV than read romances, I think the effect may be more significant than many people realize. But does that mean I think we should censor it? No.

        It’s certainly true plastic surgery procedures continue to rise. Here are the stats for 2011:

        Cosmetic surgical procedures increased 2 percent, with nearly 1.6 million procedures in 2011. The top five surgical procedures were:
        • Breast augmentation (307,000 procedures, up 4 percent)
        • Nose reshaping (244,000 procedures, down 3 percent)
        • Liposuction (205,000 procedures, up 1 percent)
        • Eyelid surgery (196,000 procedures, down 6 percent)
        • Facelift (119,000 procedures, up 5 percent)

        We, in the industry (my husband is a plastic surgeon and I help run his office), attribute part of that, however, to aggressive marketing and a bias in many professional industries against looking “old.” In our practice, most women who get implants are married, in their early to mid thirties and have been considering this surgery for years. Many women aren’t happy with the changes having children made to their breasts. Almost all of them say, they just feel better about their bodies when they’re naked.

        Plastic surgery facts for the day!

        • maggie b. says:

          DabneyAAR:
          In our practice, most women who get implants are married, in their early to mid thirties and have been considering this surgery for years. Many women aren’t happy with the changes having children made to their breasts. Almost all of them say, they just feel better about their bodies when they’re naked.Plastic surgery facts for the day!

          I think this must be dependent on location. I know several young girls who have gotten graduation gifts of plastic surgery. At first I thought it must just be our area (had a panicked moment for a second there) but ABC did a special on it.

          http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=875821

          • DabneyAAR says:

            maggie b.:
            I think this must be dependent on location. I know several young girls who have gotten graduation gifts of plastic surgery. At first I thought it must just be our area (had a panicked moment for a second there) but ABC did a special on it.
            http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=875821

            My info all comes from the medical association of Plastic surgeons. I think the media tends to show the extremes of plastic surgery. Our patients, and all the patients my husband saw at Duke (where he also did craniofacial and reconstructive surgery) are pretty normal and are almost all over 25–most are in the 40′s and up.

  7. LeeB. says:

    Good for you for volunteering Leigh!

  8. Leigh AAR says:

    Maggie you said: I hope romances don’t play a part in our cultural mindset about what is acceptable in anything, much less a relationship

    But they do. In your example the parents aren’t held up as “good parents” but hero has it own connotations. The designation of hero means that everything he does is forgivable usually in the name of love – he is a hero. He gets a pass for bad behavior. Of course I don’t watch Jersey Shores – but I have read about it, and none of those characters get a pass for their stupid behavior. Years ago a husband got a pass for beating or raping his wife. Today he doesn’t.

    Twenty five years ago a hero got a pass for raping the heroine. Today he doesn’t. We need to take it a step further where we are saying it is not okay for woman to put up with this type of coercion.

    For me it like saying it is okay for a man to treat a woman this way. She should forgive him because it is not a big deal. But it is. Every woman has a right to no and for that to be respected.

    • maggie b. says:

      Leigh AAR: Maggie you said: I hope romances don’t play a part in our cultural mindset about what is acceptable in anything, much less a relationshipBut they do.In your example the parents aren’t held up as “good parents” but hero has it own connotations. The designation of hero means that everything he does is forgivable usually in the name of love – he is a hero. He gets a pass for bad behavior. Of course I don’t watch Jersey Shores – but I have read about it, and none of those characters get a pass for their stupid behavior. Years ago a husband got a pass for beating or raping his wife.Today he doesn’t.Twenty five years ago a hero got a pass for raping the heroine.Today he doesn’t.We need to take it a step further where we are saying it is not okay for woman to put up with this type of coercion.For me it like saying it is okay for a man to treat a woman this way.She should forgive him because it is not a big deal.But it is.Every woman has a right to no and for that to be respected.

      Leigh,

      The parents are considered good parents. In fact, Charlies awesomeness is extolled throughout much of book four. And Bella’s being boy dependent and needing to get help is never brought up in the context of the book That one forced kiss between Bella and Jake is apparently more important to people than the fact that she a) punched him afterward and b) he drove her home as asked immediately after, in no way forcing anything else upon her. It just stuns me that a one page scene is made much of when the entire sickness that took up an entire book (New Moon) is shrugged aside. I love the books – but I wouldn’t let my teenager read them without a serious conversation – and I probably wouldn’t bother to cover the kiss, just the other stuff.

  9. Leigh AAR says:

    Dabney, you said: To me, however, the enjoyment that many get from reading books with forced seduction is a good thing. If reading such books gives readers joy and even stirs their libido for consensual sex of their own, I’m all for it.

    Using your same argument then it would be okay for romance books to show sex with a child. But this doesn’t happen because readers would be outraged. It is not right. But essentially it is okay to indicate that rape or date rape is?

    I am not talking about censorship. I clearly stated that fantasies are fine as long as the woman is a willing participant. I am talking about readers becoming aware of what they are reading, and what they are accepting as “okay” or acceptable behavior.

    • DabneyAAR says:

      Leigh AAR:
      Using your same argument then it would be okay for romance books to show sex with a child. But this doesn’t happen because readers would be outraged. It is not right.But essentially it is okay to indicate that rape or date rape is?

      I would argue you have made my point for me: readers would be outraged. Readers don’t see that as sexually permissible or arousing. Clearly, given that many are comfortable with forced seduction, says to me there is a way readers interpret forced seduction in a way that isn’t damaging to them or to society.

      • AAR Sandy says:

        DabneyAAR:
        I would argue you have made my point for me: readers would be outraged. Readers don’t see that as sexually permissible or arousing. Clearly, given that many are comfortable with forced seduction, says to me there is a way readers interpret forced seduction in a way that isn’t damaging to them or to society.

        Dabney, you’ve made my point here, I’d argue. It’s dangerous for readers to be comfortable with forced seduction. Or date rape.

        • DabneyAAR says:

          AAR Sandy:
          Dabney, you’ve made my point here, I’d argue.It’s dangerous for readers to be comfortable with forced seduction.Or date rape.

          I guess I’m willingly living dangerously as are millions of other readers who see the issue differently.

          • AAR Sandy says:

            DabneyAAR: I guess I’m willingly living dangerously as are millions of other readers who see the issue differently.

            Well, millions is a bit of hyperbole, don’t you think? And I’d argue that a number of those readers haven’t thought about the issue. But if they did, they might see it differently. As women, we are at the mercy of men who are almost always bigger and stronger. I had the bejesus scared out of me in college by a man who didn’t understand the rules the way I did. Thank god, I was able to get away.

            • DabneyAAR says:

              AAR Sandy:
              Well, millions is a bit of hyperbole, don’t you think?And I’d argue that a number of those readers haven’t thought about the issue.But if they did, they might see it differently.As women, we are at the mercy of men who are almost always bigger and stronger.I had the bejesus scared out of me in college by a man who didn’t understand the rules the way I did.Thank god, I was able to get away.

              Pretty sure it is millions. Check out this week’s Newsweek:
              http://magazine-directory.com/Newsweek.htm

    • maggie b. says:

      Leigh AAR
      I am not talking about censorship.I clearly stated that fantasies are fine as long as the woman is a willing participant.I am talking about readers becoming aware of what they are reading, and what they are accepting as “okay” or acceptable behavior.

      I don’t see how we could fail to be aware of it. Janice Radway pointed it out in the 70/80′s in her book Reading the Romance. Tanya Modelski followed up with Loving with a Vengeance. There have been many newspaper articles, magazine articles and blogs about the issue. I think that is why it has become a bit of a hot button issue for me. It comes back p on such a regular basis I almost get tired of discussing it :-)

      There are some good books on the rape fantasy too. Endless Ratpureby Helen Hazen takes a the best look at it in terms of romance noveels that I have ever seen. Nancy Friday covered it in several of her books.

      I’m going to move on now. Busy day and your fascinating blog is eating into far too much of it :-) . (plus I am hogging the boards. I think I’ve done 8 of the 18 posts. Sheesh!)

  10. Leigh AAR says:

    Dabney you said:

    Readers don’t see that as sexually permissible or arousing. Clearly, given that many are comfortable with forced seduction, says to me there is a way readers interpret forced seduction in a way that isn’t damaging to them or to society.

    Some people do. It isn’t in the mainstream because our mainstream consciousness says it is unacceptable. Why does a child’s no carry more weight than a women’s? No is no. I don’t want to have sex. Are women second class citizens? So pitiful that we don’t know our own mind? Why don’t we get the same respect?

    It is our society that says, oh you should forgive this behavior because he loves you. And romance books contribute to this type of thinking. No is no. Fantasy of saying no, Fantasy of rape is a whole different thing. When the heroine says no then it should be respected. She shouldn’t be treated like, oh, you don’t know what you really want. You know you really want it, baby. Let me give it to you.

  11. dick says:

    I don’t know whether reading “forced seductions” in romance fiction makes one accepting of rape, although I think most readers would answer no to such a question, because it’s fiction. I also don’t think O’Reilly’s point about dress is completely wrong. Dress is also a matter of cultural values and some dress does seem to imply invitation. No one, of course, has to accept the invitation, but in my opinion, it is common sense not to offer it, to not count on someone else’s control.

    • maggie b. says:

      dick: I don’t know whether reading “forced seductions” in romance fiction makes one accepting of rape, although I think most readers would answer no to such a question, because it’s fiction.

      Yes, it’s fiction. It reminds me of novles like Grisham’s Ruanaway Jury where a couple makes a mockery of our legal system in their quest for vengeance. Or really of any of the revenge novels (or tv shows). Do we condone these things in real life? Nah. But a book is a nice catharsis.

    • maggie b. says:

      dick: I also don’t think O’Reilly’s point about dress is completely wrong.Dress is also a matter of cultural values and some dress does seem to imply invitation. No one, of course, has to accept the invitation, but in my opinion, it is common sense not to offer it, to not count on someone else’s control.

      I have to disagree with this. I think we would like to think she would have been less likely to be raped wearing robes and a hood but it is just not true. Crime happens because of the criminal, not the victime. Lots of research has been done on this and while sometimes a bad decision (turning down the wrong street, giving the wrong person a ride home) can lead to the problem the responsibility always lies with the perpetrator. It’s nice to think doing the right thing would keep us safe but life just isn’t that fair.

      And now I really leave. Thanks for the fascinating discussion all.

  12. AAR Sandy says:

    But we’re not talking about consensual BDSM. At least I wasn’t.

    • DabneyAAR says:

      AAR Sandy: But we’re not talking about consensual BDSM.At least I wasn’t.

      The article says:

      “An analysis of 20 studies published in Psychology Today estimates that between 31 percent and 57 percent of women entertain fantasies where they are forced to have sex.”

      I feel sure that these women do not want to actually be raped. I think what we are talking about here is the validity of seeing forced sex as an acceptable FANTASY.

  13. Jane AAR says:

    I wrote a blog similar to this about a year ago, about the double standard in romance novels regarding gender roles and sexual agression (http://www.likesbooks.com/blog/?p=6508).

    I once had a man say to me, once I made it clear sex was not on the agenda for the evening, “You must be attracted to respectful guys– Just about anyone would have torn your clothes off by now, no matter what you said.” (this comment was obviously a red flag in our budding relationship) What do I say to that? Thank you for not raping me? Should I be flattered that I am apparently so attractive men cannot control themselves around me? It’s like being assaulted is a compliment, and I think romance novels tend to perpetuate this idea. They, well, romanticize the idea that a man losing control over his libido is a good thing, a sign of his overwhelming attraction to the heroine.

    Rape is not about physical desire; it’s about power. The idea that lust is the prompter of assault is a problematic one, that continues to perpetuate the idea that women who dress provocatively are “asking for it,” that wearing a low-cut shirt and mini-skirt and having a few drinks are equivalent to consent. It’s not.

  14. AAR Sandy says:

    Well said, Jane.

    Dabney, it is not my fantasy. I hope that those women never have to experience the reality.

  15. farmwifetwo says:

    There are other stereotypes that are also ignored:

    1. Many cry “rape” when it was consentual or non-existant and proving otherwise from the male POV is nearly impossible.

    2. Woman abuse men and many women have killed the other partner.

    Unfortunately, we don’t look for the truth is these situations, only the stereotypes which are perpetuated in books and in the media.

    We’ve also created a society where there are no consequences – starting in kindergarten – and no discussion – starting in the playground where every little comment can be construed (and is) of bullying. Our newspaper today speaks of an increase in domestic violence not just across my municipality but across the Province.

    Books don’t have a role in this IMO. Truth is very few people read books. Even less those “bodice rippers” to account for these increases.

    But, IMO the lack of consequences, the extreme politically correct world we live in, facebook, twitter, the news media etc…. play a huge role. Nobody takes responsibility for anyone anymore… and as a letter to the editor also in that same newspaper says…. it isn’t the teenagers either, it’s the adults. If you’ve never been taught limits, never had to take responsibility for anything, never heard the word “NO”…. it’s just going to get worse.

  16. Leigh AAR says:

    Romance novels are fiction – I completely agree. However when I start the book I have the expectation of “this is what love is”. . . this is how people in love act. If you don’t believe that then how do believe in the genre? The power of love changes and enriches our lives. The genre of general fiction, erotica, mystery have their own expectations.
    I am willing to follow the author down many paths but violence against woman – date rape, belittling, verbal abuse have nothing to do with love. That is not the face of love, and I would hate for anyone to think that it is.

    .

    • MaryK says:

      I have a couple of thoughts. Hopefully I can get the quote thingy to work.

      Leigh AAR: when I start the book I have the expectation of “this is what love is”. . . this is how people in love act.

      I don’t expect every romance novel to truly reflect true love. I expect each one to tell the story of a particular couple’s romantic relationship – what if a person like this fell in love with a person like that. I don’t always find the relationships convincing, and even when they are I don’t always find them appealing. If I did expect “this is what love is” from each book and believe what each told me, then I suppose I might find them unduly influencing. Readers have a responsibility to themselves to read with discernment. There are themes and topics I know I can’t read about, and it’s up to me to avoid those.

  17. Moriah Jovan says:

    I’m kind of having a real problem with the idea that someone feels the need to instruct me one what I should and shouldn’t find arousing, and how dangerous it is for me to think a certain way.

    • AAR Sandy says:

      Moriah Jovan: I’m kind of having a real problem with the idea that someone feels the need to instruct me one what I should and shouldn’t find arousing, and how dangerous it is for me to think a certain way.

      That’s kind of a conversation killer, Moriah. We are simply discussing whether forced seduction in books is a form of date rape. To me, it is. To you, it may not be.

  18. Moriah, I agree. I think most readers are smart enough to know that fiction is fiction, and that one of the purposes of fiction is to take us places we wouldn’t be comfortable going in real life.

  19. Moriah Jovan says:

    That’s kind of a conversation killer, Moriah.

    No, the conversation killer is when you start out with the premise that X is wrong and if you don’t think X is wrong, then you’re wrong.

  20. Leigh AAR says:

    I have no problem with fiction taking me placing I wouldn’t be comfortable going in real life. But there are degrees of acceptable behavior in our heroes.
    Romance authors don’t write about the hero smacking the crap out of a child, and then the mother forgiving the hero with oh, I know you really love him. Hero sleeping with a 13 year old girl is not acceptable. Hero sleeping with another women while involved with the heroine in a love relationship is usually not done. Hero beating the heroine then begging forgiveness, going to counseling, getting religion etc. That happens in real life. All of these scenarios are uncomfortable. . . but for the most part unforgivable in our mind.

    Why is rape or date rape forgivable? Because of the message that love cancelled out all bad behavior? Then it should cancel out all the others. But we rarely read about them. And if we do, it is not called a romance.

    • DabneyAAR says:

      Leigh AAR: I have no problem with fiction taking me placing I wouldn’t be comfortable going in real life.But there are degrees of acceptable behavior in our heroes.
      Romance authors don’t write about the hero smacking the crap out of a child, and then the mother forgiving the hero with oh, I know you really love him.Hero sleeping with a 13 year old girl is not acceptable.Hero sleeping with another women while involved with the heroine in a love relationship is usually not done.Hero beating the heroine then begging forgiveness, going to counseling, getting religion etc. That happens in real life. All of these scenarios are uncomfortable. . . but for the most part unforgivable in our mind.Why is rape or date rape forgivable?Because of the message that love cancelled out all bad behavior?Then it should cancel out all the others.But we rarely read about them.And if we do, it is not called a romance.

      I think there is a distinction between rape–a real world concept–and forced seduction–a fictional construct. I can fantasize about the latter while decrying the former.

    • Leigh AAR: I have no problem with fiction taking me placing I wouldn’t be comfortable going in real life.But there are degrees of acceptable behavior in our heroes.
      Romance authors don’t write about the hero smacking the crap out of a child, and then the mother forgiving the hero with oh, I know you really love him.Hero sleeping with a 13 year old girl is not acceptable.Hero sleeping with another women while involved with the heroine in a love relationship is usually not done.Hero beating the heroine then begging forgiveness, going to counseling, getting religion etc. That happens in real life. All of these scenarios are uncomfortable. . . but for the most part unforgivable in our mind.Why is rape or date rape forgivable?Because of the message that love cancelled out all bad behavior?Then it should cancel out all the others.But we rarely read about them.And if we do, it is not called a romance.

      Leigh, if these things aren’t commonly found in romances it’s because most readers don’t want to read about them in a romance. Don’t you think readers should be allowed to decide for themselves what they want to read about?

  21. Moriah Jovan says:

    Let me clarify. In my worldview, there are a lot deeper principles going on here than romance novels and forced seduction. I’ve distilled it to what *I* believe is the essence of it.

    This post isn’t about romance novels. It’s about rape, date rape, and the things that go on in real life. Fiction isn’t real life. To conflate the two in such a way as to say, “And this is what our young women are reading? Egads! We must eradicate it!” is to cheat young women of finding their own way through fiction.

    I was 11 when I started reading forced seduction and rape and May-December relationships. I developed a taste for those things. In fiction. My husband is about as beta as it comes because I knew I didn’t want to marry anyone like a romance novel hero. I wouldn’t want to marry the heroes I WRITE.

    Why? Because I’m an intelligent, thinking woman, and I assume that the vast majority of readers are just like me: intelligent and thinking.

  22. Sarah Frantz says:

    I started reading romance when I was 12. I started reading the most extreme of M&B Presents with the ultra-domineer man who wanted to “put him mark” on the woman and basically coerces her into sex. I graduated from there to Johanna Lindsay. O.o

    And what they taught me for when I started going out with my husband when I was 16 is to stand up for myself, to communicate, to ask for what I want, to say no when I mean and expect to be listened to. They taught me everything good about relationships and made me extremely sex-positive, counteracting all the slut shaming that goes on in our culture.

    Can we PLEASE stop with the “think of the poor impressionable children” argument?! My 11 year old was old enough to read Harry Potter — all of them — when he was 7. Including the death of Cedric and Dumbledore, all by himself. He was ALSO old enough at 10 to decide that he WASN’T old enough to read the sequel to DIVERGENT and the HUNGER GAMES. He only read the latter last month, once HE decided that he could handle it.

    I think non-con and dub-con sex in romance obviously has some hold over women, because it doesn’t go away. And we don’t tend to read stuff that’s grinds us back into submissive little nothings who can’t think for ourselves. I think, rather than supporting sexual violence culture, romance allows us to work through it. The psychological work it does for us is to show us that we can get through sexual violence, still be healthy, still enjoy sex, and still have a happy ending. That ending is unlikely to be with our rapist, thank god, but the fact that we HAVE a happy ending is a Very Good Thing. Please trust readers, no matter their age, to understand the difference between fantasy and reality, to trust that we know what we’re reading and how to employ it in our own lives to positive purposes.

    None of Ann Weale’s heroes made me think I had to submit to anything, thank you very much. But they did teach me that I deserved the best, that I deserved a man who adored me. In a non-creepy way.

  23. Sarah Frantz says:

    Sigh. I should proofread before I post. Sorry.

  24. Moriah Jovan says:

    But there are degrees of acceptable behavior in our heroes.

    TO YOU. That is my entire point, right there in a nutshell.

    Your kink is not my kink.

    Hero sleeping with a 13 year old girl is not acceptable.

    It would be if a majority of readers found it to be so.

  25. Moriah Jovan says:

    The fact is, the number of women who have rape fantasies is statistically significant. That’s not going to go away. What WILL go away under enough pressure is people who’ll admit to having them.

    How this relates to real life at all, I don’t know.

  26. Leigh AAR says:

    If so many woman have rape fantasies then why don’t we have the bodice rippers of the 1980′s? Why did that go away? Because we as women became aware that rape is not something to make light of.

    • Leigh AAR: If so many woman have rape fantasies then why don’t we have the bodice rippers of the 1980’s?Why did that go away?Because we as women became aware that rape is not something to make light of.

      It disturbs me that having a rape fantasy or reading a bodice ripper is being equated with making light of real life rape. Women don’t choose their fantasies and if shaming could change those fantasies then the percentage of women who had them would be much lower.

  27. Moriah Jovan says:

    They’re still there. They’re disguised as paranormals and fated-mates.

  28. DabneyAAR says:

    This is my last post about this.

    Here’s the advice–in the real world–I give my four kids (two in high school, two in college) about sex. Try to never do anything that you or the person you are with will regret in the morning. In my real life and, I hope, in that of my kids, unwanted sex of any kind (and I am just as concerned about those who say yes but wish they were saying no), is to be avoided.

    But, in my literary world and in the long list of things I find hot (I really like my husband’s new glasses.), I am willing to think about things I’d probably never want to actually do.

    The ability to distinguish between an act and a fantasy is an essentially human one. All of us, no matter what turns us on, should indeed treat others with respect. And, all of us, no matter how dark, should be able to have the secret thoughts we do.

    • Blythe says:

      DabneyAAR: This is my last post about this.
      Here’s the advice–in the real world–I give my four kids (two in high school, two in college) about sex. Try to never do anything that you or the person you are with will regret in the morning. In my real life and, I hope, in that of my kids, unwanted sex of any kind (and I am just as concerned about those who say yes but wish they were saying no), is to be avoided.But, in my literary world and in the long list of things I find hot (I really like my husband’s new glasses.), I am willing to think about things I’d probably never want to actually do.
      The ability to distinguish between an act and a fantasy is an essentially human one. All of us, no matter what turns us on, should indeed treat others with respect. And, all of us, no matter how dark, should be able to have the secret thoughts we do.

      Some of us have to work all day and miss interesting discussions!

      I had to pop in and say I agree with Dabney completely on this. On the whole, forced seduction romances don’t work for me. But taking the leap from “that isn’t my fantasy” to “they are harmful” isn’t something I’d do.

      When I was very new at AAR (we’re talking almost 14 years ago) I reviewed The Flame and the Flower. I found it dated and ridiculous in most ways. In my review, I included rape as one of the dated conventions I was glad not to see anymore. Obviously, it didn’t work for me. But even at the time, I wouldn’t have taken the leap that people who did like The Flame and the Flower thought rape was okay. They saw something in the book I didn’t. It worked for them. It didn’t mean they were condoning the fictional Brandon’s actions if they enjoyed reading about them.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, “I personally just can’t read books with rape or forced seduction.” I don’t think those feelings need to be generalized to everyone. Enjoying forced seduction in a romance novel is not the same as condoning rape in real life.

  29. bavarian says:

    Here’s a heretical thought: How many men, the possible rapists, do read romance?

    Socialized to romance in the bodice ripper era I wasn’t shocked by the Campbell book. But I clearly remember that reading romances in the 70′s and 80′s I often was very angry with the heroines because of how they tolerated to be treated so badly and misogynistly (does the word exist?) by the hero. So I think it wasn’t all about culture of that time. The first bodice rippers were successfull and other authors followed suit. Don’t we see similar fashions in today’s writing?

    To maggie b and dick: As I’m older I still was raised by my mother to dress properly to not attract unwelcome advances. So perhaps I’m also inclined to follow dick’s arguments. On the other hand maggie b is quite right with her reasoning. But I think her arguments are the fine (and accepted) theory but in practical life I would recommend to a daughter not to dress like the victim in the example when beeing alone out during the night. You may encounter a man just at the brink and you may provoke him unnecessarily. And there are men – perhaps not of our own culture – who may see a woman dressed like this as fair game.

    But back to romance: Even the big numbers of copies of some best selling romances don’t come up to the number of people watching stupid and very often very sexist TV shows. And: remember my first sentence: What we need to change is the way of thinking of many men. Women living in our culture by now should know their rights.

  30. Ridley says:

    I don’t know where to start. I didn’t think ignorance on this level still existed.

    Dick’s slut shaming might take the cake, though: “some dress does seem to imply invitation. No one, of course, has to accept the invitation, but in my opinion, it is common sense not to offer it, to not count on someone else’s control.”

    THAT, ladies, is rape culture. Barking up the forced seduction tree while saying nothing to a regular AAR poster who’s perpetuating real-life blame-the-victim values makes you look foolish. THAT’s where rape comes from. It’s not from girls reading about sex with dubious consent, it’s from girls and boys being told that a woman who openly likes sex is fair game for rapists.

    The rape culture you guys are clutching your pearls over is why dubious/non-consent remains such a powerful fantasy for women. Women still can’t be overtly sexual beings without being judged for it. Rape themes in romance continue to be a way to work with and around this.

  31. Melissa says:


    Reverend Shaw Moore: I think it’s Heyden, a chamber piece.
    Ariel: And that kind of music’s ok?
    Reverend Shaw Moore: It doesn’t confuse people’s minds and bodies.

    Oh, the wisdom in Footloose!

  32. Leigh AAR says:

    THAT, ladies, is rape culture. Barking up the forced seduction tree while saying nothing to a regular AAR poster who’s perpetuating real-life blame-the-victim values makes you look foolish. THAT’s where rape comes from. It’s not from girls reading about sex with dubious consent, it’s from girls and boys being told that a woman who openly likes sex is fair game for rapists.

    Honestly, I didn’t address that because it wasn’t the focus of my blog. And it has been rehashed here within the last two years. My focus today was on romance books.

    However, do women put themselves in situation that make it more probable that they will become a victim? Yes. Do they deserve it. No

    Do clothes make a non-rapist turn into a rapist. . No. Approximately six percent of the population rape and most have 14 victims and most are not violent rapes.

    Women are taught how to avoid violent rapes. Be safe, park under a light. Check your car, etc. But how do they avoid dating a rapist? By being aware of the danger signs. By teaching about healthy relationships. By talking with your daughters and sisters and saying that jealousy, possessiveness, not respecting boundaries, not listening to no isn’t a healthy relationship.

    SEP in It Had to Be You had a fantasy scene. The heroine tells the hero not to accept her no. So he doesn’t. But the two people consented to that game. Is that not a rape fantasy scene?

    Approximately one in five high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.
    Dating violence among their peers is reported by 54% of high school students.
    One in three teens report knowing a friend or peer who has been physically hurt by his or her partner through violent actions which included hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, and/or choking.
    6.Eighty percent of teens believe verbal abuse is a serious issue for their age group.
    Nearly 80% of girls who have been victims of physical abuse in their dating relationships continue to date the abuser.
    Nearly 20% of teen girls who have been in a relationship said that their boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm in the event of a break-up.
    Nearly 70% of young women who have been raped knew their rapist; the perpetrator was or had been a boyfriend, friend, or casual acquaintance.
    10.The majority of teen dating abuse occurs in the home of one of the partners.

    These girls had to get their ideas about relationships from somewhere. I doubt that any mothers would say. . . oh I told my daughter this was a healthy relationship. So our culture . . the messages on television, in our books are not helping these young woman to say, I deserve not to be treated like this, until it is too late.

    • Ridley says:

      Leigh AAR: blah blah blah tl:dr it’s a woman’s job to avoid being raped blah blah blah

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’re much older than I am and are not well-versed in internet, because that response was chock full of earnest cluelessness I haven’t seen since my husband’s grandmother tried describing World of Warcraft.

      It’s hard to have an argument with someone who doesn’t understand her own position, but I’ll try to boil it down for you.

      You’re alleging that rape themes in romance novels contribute to rape culture. I’m pointing out that rape themes in romance are a reaction to rape culture. You allege that romances teach women to date bad men. I’m pointing out that rape culture’s blame-the-victim mentality, evidenced in comments by your own posters, placing the onus on women to not get raped is the problem.

      What I’m trying to say, in a nutshell, is that you’re way off the mark if you think women are victimizing themselves by reading what they like. You’re displaying a level of internalized patriarchy that I find breathtaking.

    • Kaetrin says:

      Leigh AAR: SEP in It Had to Be You had a fantasy scene.The heroine tells the hero not to accept her no.So he doesn’t.But the two people consented to that game.Is that not a rape fantasy scene?

      @ Leigh Actually, I’m pretty sure that Dan REFUSED Phoebe’s request. He did NOT want to play dubious consent games with her. He made it clear that if she said “no” or “stop” he would take her at her word. Dan played a rape fantasy scenario with who he thought was his ex-wife early in the book but in a case of mistaken identity it was actually Phoebe and Dan felt so awful about the whole thing it led to him breaking off the relationship with his ex and also played a part in his later decision not to go along with Phoebe’s “just ignore me if I say no” request.

      As for the rest, I agree with Liz Mc2, Sarah Frantz, Moriah Jovan, Janine Ballard and Ridley et al. I think they said it better than I could. But, I will say that I don’t have any trouble at all distinguishing fiction from reality and I credit most readers with the same ability.

  33. willaful says:

    That’s a really weird interpretation of the scene in It Had to Be You. The heroine was not asking to participate in a rape fantasy– the hero thought she was, but he was very, very wrong.

  34. Leigh AAR says:

    She told him if she said no, then she didn’t mean it and for him not to stop. The problem with this scene is the lack of safe words. I probably could have clarified it more. Thanks Willaful.

  35. Moriah Jovan says:

    These girls had to get their ideas about relationships from somewhere.

    Are you saying it comes from romance novels? And not from, say, TV? Or music? Or their friends at school whose mothers have the fashion sense of an oversexed moose?

  36. Liz Mc2 says:

    When I discovered the on-line romance reading community a few years ago, I was over-joyed to “meet” all these smart readers discussing their thoughtful responses to romance.

    I think the idea that reading romances with forced seduction will make us more accepting of real-life rape dismisses all that intelligence. Readers respond in various and complicated ways to what we read. We aren’t passive consumers of culture. Some readers, like Leigh, will say “I can’t read forced seduction; because of my work with victims (or for whatever other reason) I can only read this as real rape and it doesn’t work for me.” I respect that. (In fact, that’s more of less my feeling about it, though the right book can make me feel different). And I think she should feel free to say that that’s her response. But. Not everyone will read it the same way. And they deserve to be respected, too, not shamed.

    Lots of readers can enjoy this fantasy because they DO NOT READ IT LITERALLY. For example, when forced seduction appears in the context of a romance novel, we know that this guy is the “hero” and that the heroine will be okay in the end, happy, loved, unshamed. Often, the hero (unlike a real guy) DOES know what she wants better than she does. Because this is FICTION. Romance fiction can be a “safe space” for writers and readers to explore issues of consent, control, power, dominance, submission. Just as the fantasies in our own minds can be. Women who have rape fantasies don’t want to be raped. Readers who enjoy forced seduction don’t either. I fantasize about plenty of things I will never do and don’t want to do in real life, sexual and otherwise. I trust other women to do the same, and to make their own choices about what they want to read and why.

    Finally, like Ridley, I’m appalled that on a board mostly populated by women, anyone would agree with dick’s ignorant comment. Rape is about power, not sex. Real life rapists do not rape because they are overcome with lust (unlike romance heroes–there’s one way fiction often differs from reality). Wearing a miniskirt is not an invitation, nor is it a reason rapists rape. If a man is not a rapist, my outfit is not going to turn him into one. Is it smart for women not to walk alone late at night? Sadly, yes. Do they deserve to be raped if they do? No. This should not even have to be said. It’s hard to say without a lot of swearwords.

    • Liz Mc2: I think the idea that reading romances with forced seduction will make us more accepting of real-life rape dismisses all that intelligence.

      I think that fiction, because of how we respond to it emotionally, can affect us on an emotional level which can be quite separate from our intellectual response. Certainly I’ve had the experience of reading one novel which had a very deep emotional effect on how I thought about myself even though, intellectually, I didn’t accept the cultural ideas being expressed by the novel.

      Given that we live in a culture where many people (including Dick, above), can suggest that a woman may be partially responsible for her own rape, it doesn’t seem totally impossible to me that for some readers some romances might contribute to/reinforce such attitudes. Julia Wood’s 2001 study of women who had been in violent relationships was based on quite a small number of women but:

      To a woman, each participant said she initially perceived her partner as “Prince Charming” and the relationship as “a fairy tale romance.” “He made me the center of his universe,” they said, and “I was swept off my feet.” Wood said “every single one of them used those phrases.” That’s what led her to connect tolerating abuse with paperback books, TV and the silver screen. [...]

      The women in Wood’s study also referenced romantic stories in “efforts to defend their partners from others’ knowledge and criticism in order to shore up their own view of the relationship as a fairy tale romance,” as well as their belief that they deserved or provoked the violence or it was to be expected. Seventeen of the 20 said things like “All of them (men) have bad spells — that’s what mama called them — and sometimes you just have to overlook those.”

      Often, Wood writes, a batterer follows an attack with remorseful behavior and courtship that convinces the partner her knight in shining armor is back, sweeping her off her feet. Identification with these stories makes it hard for her to do what would appear logical to the observer and refuse to reconcile, Wood said, “because it’s not just giving up the man, it’s giving up the dream, the whole image and belief of how it’s supposed to be — especially if you don’t have another dream to go to.”

      • DabneyAAR says:

        Laura Vivanco:
        href=”http://www.unc.edu/news/archives/jul01/rom072301.htm” rel=”nofollow”>Julia Wood’s 2001 study of women who had been in violent relationships was based on quite a small number of women but:To a woman, each participant said she initially perceived her partner as “Prince Charming” and the relationship as “a fairy tale romance.” “He made me the center of his universe,” they said, and “I was swept off my feet.” Wood said “every single one of them used those phrases.” That’s what led her to connect tolerating abuse with paperback books, TV and the silver screen. [...]
        The women in Wood’s study also referenced romantic stories in “efforts to defend their partners from others’ knowledge and criticism in order to shore up their own view of the relationship as a fairy tale romance,” as well as their belief that they deserved or provoked the violence or it was to be expected. Seventeen of the 20 said things like “All of them (men) have bad spells — that’s what mama called them — and sometimes you just have to overlook those.”Often, Wood writes, a batterer follows an attack with remorseful behavior and courtship that convinces the partner her knight in shining armor is back, sweeping her off her feet. Identification with these stories makes it hard for her to do what would appear logical to the observer and refuse to reconcile, Wood said, “because it’s not just giving up the man, it’s giving up the dream, the whole image and belief of how it’s supposed to be — especially if you don’t have another dream to go to.”

        Julia was my advisor in graduate school. I can’t wait to send her this thread!

  37. Leigh, has it occurred to you that some rape survivors may choose to read fiction in which the hero rapes? I know of at least two. Take a look at this post and at this one.

  38. AAR Sandy says:

    Let’s keep the personal insults out of this, okay?

    I would hope that we could have a civil discussion. If we can’t, then i will start deleting posts.

  39. No personal insults intended.

  40. Leigh AAR says:

    These girls had to get their ideas about relationships from somewhere.

    Are you saying it comes from romance novels? And not from, say, TV? Or music? Or their friends at school whose mothers have the fashion sense of an oversexed moose?

    You would think I would know how to quote. . but I don’t

    I can’t say that it comes specifically from romance novels just as you can’t say that it doesn’t. If anything, I challenge each of you to just talk with your local rape crisis center and ask them why they think young girls and woman accept this type of relationship as normal. My opinion it is all part of cultural climate. Jokes, television,books, peers, blaming the victim, and sadly the victim blaming themselves for maybe drinking too much or going to unfamilar bar or trusting her husband’s friend enough to let him into the house.

    I want these survivors to have society’s support no matter what the circumstances and personally I think that giving support and then excusing behavior because it only fiction sends conflicting messages especially when it held up as the picture of love. It is like telling women that they are so much more than a body, but then the messages in our culture tell them otherwise.

    I challenge each of you, if you have daughters, sisters, nieces, to just sit down with them and discuss the subject of date rape and if they have ever been in a situation where someone didn’t want to accept their no’s and possessive, jealous boyfriends.

    Thanks everyone for your contributions.

  41. Moriah Jovan says:

    So, I’m still thinking about this because it pushed so many of my buttons.

    Let’s assume for a moment that bodice rippers with their rapes and forced seductions really do inform women across the board that this behavior from men is okay, and that this is true love, and that this is the way love works.

    I can make the argument that romance novels *as a genre* inform women that there is always a happily ever after, that relationships don’t require work, that the relationship will continue after the book as lovely as it ended. That everything is white picket fences and babies and always available lovemaking opportunities.

    I could (and will) argue that the unrealistic expectations of the level of happiness after the HEA is attained is far more damaging to impressionable young women than any bodice ripping. The HEA is an insidious thing because it SEEMS possible as it worms its way into the Cinderella dreams of young girls, whereas the rape/forced seduction trope is a bit more over-the-top and easily cast off as soap-operaish.

    But the lure of being forever in love…

    Not so easy to shake.

  42. Moriah Jovan says:

    I want these survivors to have society’s support no matter what the circumstances and personally I think that giving support and then excusing behavior because it only fiction sends conflicting messages especially when it held up as the picture of love. It is like telling women that they are so much more than a body, but then the messages in our culture tell them otherwise.

    Leigh, you are talking about an entirely different subject than romance novels.

    You’re talking about the work you’re doing, which is wonderful. But your argument is a complete non sequitur to the subject of romance novels.

  43. Liz Mc2 says:

    @Laura (sorry, quoting does not seem to work with my browser)

    Romance fiction might well be one of MANY MANY cultural places where people find narratives that they use to make sense of their lives. But to say that some women *in abusive relationships* use “romance” language to explain/justify their relationship does not mean reading romance causes them to be in that kind of relationship. Many more romance readers, I’d bet, are not. Just as some kids who play violent video games commit violent crimes, but many, many more do not. So I pretty much think that if you believe rape is wrong and women don’t ask for it, then reading forced seduction in romance is never going to change your mind.

    Because I believe that readers read in various ways, I’m willing to believe that in some cases, those ways might be harmful. But I find it hard to believe that romance is the PRIMARY reason anyone thinks these things. Where do I think girls get the idea that an abusive relationship is OK or that they should give in to a boy to keep him? From being told, in myriad ways, that they are only worthwhile if a man loves them, and from seeing abusive relationships around them.

    • Liz Mc2: @Laura [...] Romance fiction might well be one of MANY MANY cultural places where people find narratives that they use to make sense of their lives.

      I think that’s what Wood’s arguing.

      Because I believe that readers read in various ways, I’m willing to believe that in some cases, those ways might be harmful.

      And that’s what I was saying: having had experience of a novel which influenced the way I felt about myself, I’m prepared to believe that there might be some other readers out there who could similarly be influenced by a novel. It might not be the only influence (in fact, I’d think it’s extremely unlikely to be), but I think it’s possible it might be an influence.

      • Sunita says:

        Laura Vivanco:
        I think that’s what Wood’s arguing.
        And that’s what I was saying: having had experience of a novel which influenced the way I felt about myself, I’m prepared to believe that there might be some other readers out there who could similarly be influenced by a novel. It might not be the only influence (in fact, I’d think it’s extremely unlikely to be), but I think it’s possible it might be an influence.

        Laura, I just read the article you linked to. There is nothing in that article that suggests that the women Wood interviewed had ever read a romance novel. When Wood refers to the “romance narrative” and “Prince Charming” she’s talking about what she calls “western cultural narratives” that structure romantic relationships. She doesn’t ask the respondents any questions about their reading habits or about the sources of their narratives. She constructs narrative archetypes (with no discussion of how she does this) and then codes the answers based on whether she thinks they fit into her schema of the western cultural narrative or not.

        And that’s apart from the methodological and theoretical weaknesses that are apparent even on a first read. A non-random, non-experimental sample of 20 women, chosen for their isolation from support groups and therapeutic interventions. It’s an odd, unconvincing study.

        • Sunita: Laura, I just read the article you linked to. There is nothing in that article that suggests that the women Wood interviewed had ever read a romance novel. When Wood refers to the “romance narrative” and “Prince Charming” she’s talking about what she calls “western cultural narratives” that structure romantic relationships.

          There’s mention of the possibility that they could have got some support/reinforcement of these ideas from “paperback books” and my point was a general one about the power of fiction. For the record, the book which had such an effect on me was not a romance novel. Since I know I’ve been affected by fiction in book form, I find it plausible that someone else might be affected by fiction in book form.

          The idea that we form our ideas about love and relationships in the context of the stories which surround us is also one proposed by Robert Sternberg:

          We are often told we have to be realistic – to separate the stories we tell ourselves from what’s actually going on, to distinguish fact from fiction. [...] But a clean separation of fact from fiction simply isn’t possible in the context of personal relationships, because we shape the facts of a relationship to conform to our personal fictions. In many ways, we are a composite of our stories. As Immanuel Kant pointed out in The Critique of Pure Reason, if there is an objective reality, it is unknowable. All we can know is the reality we construct. That reality takes the form of a story.
          Love really is a story, then – only we, rather than William Shakespeare or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Erich Segal or Barbara Cartland, are the authors. [...] We relate better to love stories – whether in novels, plays, soap operas, or elsewhere – than we do to the self-help books or magazine articles containing lists of generic steps we are supposed to take to understand and improve our relationships. (Love is a Story: A New Theory of Relationships. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. page 5

          Tania Modleski wrote a very personal account of her relationship with romance novels, as part of her attempt “to understand my own addiction to romances which I developed as a very young girl” (15). It’s very long, so I can’t quote all of it, but I think it provides some support for both Wood and Sternberg’s idea that fictions (including novels), can influence readers’ ideas about romantic relationships. Of course, Modleski’s reading took place in a very specific context and that affected her too. But that doesn’t invalidate the idea that, for her, romance reading sustained particular damaging ideas about relationships:

          If I kiss you, I won’t be answerable for the consequences.

          This is the line (I’ve read it a thousand times in romances) that Germaine Greer singles out to mock in her witty denunciation of romances in The Female Eunuch. But Greer never actually looks at the literal meaning of the words, which, removed from their context, are chilling. The myth that men are unable to control their sexual drive beyond a certain point and that women lead men on – and so deserve what they get – by accepting romantic or sexual overtures from them is a myth that has all too often proved lethal to women. [...] One of the main points of my analysis of romances is that the novels take the actual situation of women in our society, a situation in which the rape of women is a distressingly common if not routine event, and put it into a context that is soothing and flattering to women, allowing female readers to interpret instances of male brutality, even rape, not as expressions of rage and hostility, but of overwhelming desire and love.

          But the line has special resonance for me given my family history. My mother’s relation to my father was an abject one. [...] I grew up in a household in which the man was never held to be “answerable for the consequences” of his erratic behavior. Rather, we children (and my mother) were forced to assume responsibility. [...] Eventually feminism came along and I believe literally saved many of us by telling us that we were not “answerable” for the problems of the world. [...] But by then my fantasy life was irrevocably shaped, and the Harlequin romance was at its core. (16-18)

          She ends her essay “by repudiating the kinds of analyses that make romances largely “answerable” for, rather than the consequence of (and response to), an unjust world” (28). I think that fits with what Wood and Sternberg say too: we come into contact with many fictions, and those fictions (along with other aspects of our social context) may shape our views of romantic relationships even as they, in turn, come into being in a social context.

          I just don’t think one can utterly separate fiction from reality and claim that fiction has never has any negative effects on anyone.

  44. Leigh AAR says:

    Moriah Jovan – How is it different? You tell women that they are judged by more than than looks but magazines, television, society (not all) give a different message.

    Woman are told that healthy relationship respect their boundaries, and some romance novels show otherwise.

  45. “Dress is also a matter of cultural values and some dress does seem to imply invitation. No one, of course, has to accept the invitation, but in my opinion, it is common sense not to offer it, to not count on someone else’s control.”

    When I was in Catholic high school, we girls went on a joint media education week with the boys’ high school. Towards the end of the week, the priest/educator took us girls aside, and solemnly told us, in almost exactly the same words, “it is common sense not to offer it, to not count on someone else’s control.” It was my first encounter with the official patriarchal promulgation of ‘rape culture’ – sadly not my last.

    Perhaps dick and other commenters might like to peruse the links in Jim Hine’s post here:
    http://jimhines.livejournal.com/569514.html

    In particular the one which says “Today a female member of the military is more likely to be raped than to be killed by enemy fire. She is twice as likely to become a victim of sexual assault as a service-member than as a civilian.”

    If we can’t ‘depend’ on highly trained and disciplined soldiers to exercise ‘control’, when can we?

    I would also draw attention to Hine’s post on the assault on reporter Lara Logan in Egypt:

    http://jimhines.livejournal.com/554982.html

    An emphasis on what women *wear* or how we *look* as the ’cause’ of rape (rather than, say, the rapist’s own twisted desires) leads to the absurd situation where you have extremist Muslim clerics telling women in burkha that covering 99.9% of their bodies isn’t enough to stop them tempting men into sin – they must stop making up their eyes or even just having attractive eyes! (That kind of blame laid on women for male impulses is also behind things like honor killings, but also the horrifically shameful low rape conviction rates in America and the UK.)

    Men are not beasts. We are entitled to expect them not to rape us just for wearing a short skirt. I’m surprised that any man would argue that his gender is so inferior that we can’t.

  46. Moriah Jovan says:

    Moriah Jovan – How is it different? You tell women that they are judged by more than than looks but magazines, television, society (not all) give a different message.

    Woman are told that healthy relationship respect their boundaries, and some romance novels show otherwise.

    I have no idea what this means.

    My only point is: Women aren’t idiots who need to be protected from romance novels and/or their personal fantasies.

    If you think they’re so bad for a woman’s delicate psyche, stop reading them.

  47. Sarah Frantz says:

    Woman are told that healthy relationship respect their boundaries, and some romance novels show otherwise.

    But my precise point is that *at the age of 12* I used books showing very unhealthy relationships *by your standards* to build extremely healthy expectations about what a good romantic relationship entailed. So how do we deal with that? How does that fit into your paradigm?

  48. Sunita says:

    Sorry, I wrote something incorrectly in my comment. The sample of women was not a statistically random sample, nor was it a properly chosen experimental sample. Therefore, even if the results Wood obtained hold true for this sample of 20 women, they cannot be generalized, that is, they cannot tell us anything about other women.

  49. There is a great danger in equating real rape with rape fantasy or a penchant for rape-like behaviour in erotic fiction, Or assuming much association at all.

    An excellent study by Jenny Bivona and Joseph Critelli compiles two decades of study done of the subject of rape fantasy: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2372/is_1_45/ai_n24383385/ in The Journal of Sex Research.

    My sense is that force in fiction and fantasy plays a very complex and empowering role for women. Because, of course, they are the authors of their ‘rape’ and the creators of their ‘rapist’. I think it’s a very complex and unconscious sort of re-appropriation.

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