When “I Can’t” Becomes “No One Should”

jerseyshoreI hate Jersey Shore. I saw it just one time, when my daughter was watching the first episode and I happened to be in the room. I found the people horrifying, and the very idea that I was watching them filled me with despair. The only reason I would ever read Snooki’s book is if I was locked in a padded cell, and it was the only available reading material (in which case I’d read anything, up to and including all sixty zillion volumes of the annoying Magic Treehouse series, Cassie Edwards’ exclamation point filled backlist, and my husband’s tax accounting books). Clearly, Snooki and friends are not for me. Two of my colleagues, on the other hand, just can’t get enough of the Guidos and Guidettes. They eagerly await each new season and frequently discuss what’s happening. To them, it’s a guilty pleasure. Are they just idiots? Is MTV irresponsible for producing Jersey Shore? It’s not exactly high brow, after all. What if people start thinking they should be drunk all the time and show up late for work (because Snooki does that – or at least she did in the episode I saw)?

Those seem like silly questions, but last week’s heated discussion about rape and forced seduction made me think about how we get caught up in similar debates about romance novels all the time. Over the years I’ve seen it take many incarnations. Sometimes it’s that an author is stupid, or her writing is terrible, and anyone who reads and enjoys her books must be a moron. Sometimes something about the book is irresponsible – the way they handle a social issue or illness. The sexual behavior of the hero and heroine. Irresponsible and stupid lead to “bad,” and sometimes, to “dangerous.”

It’s hard when the discussion strikes a nerve, and when topic is sensitive, it’s easy for that to happen. Rape is a hot button issue if there ever was one. Some have survived rape or attempted rape. Others have beloved family members with those experiences. It’s personal, and out reactions to rape in literature are equally personal. Some of us just can’t go there, whether that means they can’t read about a violent sexual assault by the villain in a romantic suspense novel, or they can’t tolerate a forced seduction or rape fantasy in a romance. Sometimes every bone in your body just screams “NO”!

I see nothing wrong with avoiding plots and situations that make you miserable or take you to a dark place. I also think it’s a completely normal response to wonder why others find them attractive, interesting, or enjoyable. My imagination does, in fact, fail me when I try to understand why Lisa and Barbi like Jersey Shore when it makes me want to weep for humanity. But sometimes we take it further than that, and I find that a pretty slippery slope.  Nearly all of us at one time or another has had to defend our choice in reading material simply because we read romance novels. Plenty of people think the entire genre is dangerous either to our intellect or our morals.  We’re either slutting it up or failing to feed our rapidly atrophying housewife brains. Having been subjected to that, I think we need to think twice before making general pronouncements about the dangers of a plotline – before we take our personal “I can’ts” and make them into “no one shoulds.”

When we review books here, we usually try to be conscious that plot devices and premises aren’t really empirically “bad.” We may dislike the Big Mis or hyper-possessive paranormal lifemates.  And though we try to avoid those books that push our hot buttons, sometimes they sneak in on us. We don’t try to be completely objective; we’d only fail, and our reviews would be less interesting. We all bring our baggage (good and bad) along for the ride. And though sometimes we cross the line (we’re human too), we try to criticize the book – not the author’s fans. We try to explain why it didn’t work for us in a way that will let you know whether it works for you.

When I first started reading romance, I was young, naive, and fairly easy to shock. Really, I wish someone had been filming me the time I opened a Susan Johnson book and was so shocked that I dropped it on the floor, because I’d attach the clip here and we could all have a good laugh about it. I jumped in with both feet and became not just a romance fan but perhaps a fanatic (if the number of hours devoted to AAR over the years is any indication).  But it took me years before I felt comfortable reading erotica, let alone talking about it  - even online. Is rape fantasy or forced seduction my thing? Not really. But that’s my journey, and yours may be different. There’s room for all of us at the table, and I’d rather not make sweeping pronouncements about the suitability – or the danger – of the food that’s served.

- Blythe Barnhill

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45 Responses to “When “I Can’t” Becomes “No One Should””

  1. Corinna says:

    I totally agree with you, Blythe. Tastes are so different, and I don’t believe anyone is qualified to make sweeping decisions about what is worthwhile reading and what is not. While my book-choosing relies heavily on the reviews I find here, there are times when a reviewer absolutely hates a book I loved–indeed, there are a couple of reviewers I watch just because I know if they claim a book really stinks, I’ll know it is actually wonderful, and I’ll buy it immediately!

    And don’t we find the same thing in movies, tv, or any other entertainment, for that matter? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been left shaking my head in bewilderment at the movies that win Oscars, and at the ones that are snubbed. It’s all a matter of taste, and like it or not, usually the critics aren’t any more qualified than the rest of us to decide what is great and what isn’t.

    I’m with you on the whole Jersey Shore thing, btw. I can’t imagine not being able to find something better to do than watching that “show”–like scrubbing the toilet, for instance. Yet I have a couple of friends who enjoy watching it, and that’s fine.

  2. bungluna says:

    Bravo! Excellent article.

    I have suffered years of disparagement for my preferred reading material and have learn to ignore critics, but it still amazes me the number of people who fall into the trap of wanting freedom for themselves while bitterly attacking those who enjoy what displeases them. There are severla tropes that I will avoid at all cost, but I’ll defend anybody’s right to enjoy them to my last breath.

  3. Mo says:

    Very well said.

  4. maggie b. says:

    I totally agree. While I hate much of reality TV and wonder about people’s interest in it, I would never speak of censoring it. The same is true for romance novels. We should all have the freedom to read what we please, determinign for ourselves what crosses our personal boundaries.

  5. Amber Lin says:

    Thank you for this post. I agree completely, though I couldn’t have written it quite so nicely. If anyone should know what it’s like to be shamed for what we read, it’s romance readers, so it’s extra painful when I face the same finger-wagging from them.

  6. DabneyAAR says:

    “Is MTV irresponsible for producing Jersey Shore? It’s not exactly high brow, after all. What if people start thinking they should be drunk all the time and show up late for work (because Snooki does that – or at least she did in the episode I saw)?”

    The point you make here is, to me, so key. My daughter watched JS last year and I made fun of the show constantly. I also talked to her about the danger of stereotyping–that show must be so hard for sane people from the Shore! She and I talked about it and, honestly, I did try and talk her out of watching it. (No luck.) I didn’t forbid her from watching it because I think she’s smart enough to see it for what it is. And I feel MTV has every right to show the show.

    I can choose not to watch it. I can choose to, when shown it, say, “I think this is too stupid for me.” I can choose to talk to my daughter about its flaws.

    I’m a big fan of choice–what you read, watch, and listen to is your choice. I’m never watching “Jersey Shore” but I will defend vociferously your right to do so.

  7. farmwifetwo says:

    If I don’t like a book based on the “buttons”, and I dnf it…. it doesn’t make my goodreads list. I simply delete it. The opinions on it, the reason’s for quitting are 100% personal and maybe one day I’ll try it again and in some cases have.

    If the writing is poor. If the plot device is over done. If the whining (woe is me, I’m sooooo hard done by) gets out of control. If there are some unrealistic happenings… like standing on a broken ankle with pins in it, 2 days after you’ve broken it, making dinner for 40…. If there are some definate “buttons”… I’ll say so.

    I have recommended books before that I have hated because it’s 100% based on personal opinion not the writing and their “buttons” were not mine.

  8. Leigh says:

    Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
    Watch your words, for they become actions.
    Watch your actions, for they become habits.
    Watch your habits, for they become character.
    Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

    I love this saying and No, I don’t believe watching J.S. or reading a book with forced seduction will make you act like Snookie or that you condone rape. However, our views are shaped by what we are exposed to. There is no getting around that. And as our views change so do our actions and sometimes what we accept as normal.

    I am sorry that my article came across as censorship, because honestly that wasn’t my intention. I believe that people should have a choice. But also I think that we need to pay attention to what we are reading.

    I probably be criticized for this analogy – because some people will say that the struggle for race equality is different from the perception of women- but it is the only thing that comes to mind with only one cup of coffee – there used to be black face comedy shows that “contributed to the proliferation of stereotypes such as the “happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation” (from Wikipedia) It is a distortion. And rape and forced seduction are a distortion too of what women want. Another example would be gay characters- like only being interested in designing clothes. Look how everyone enjoyed Julie James breaking that stereotype – A gay character as a sport writer.

    I work in the medical field and I deal with people dying. The more exposure to it, the more I try to become desensitized to it. To do my job I have to be in a way. Still it has changed me – I don’t read sad stories, or watch sad movies. Since I have this experience, I also believe that exposure to other things . . . like showing dead bodies on television or reading rape scenes can change us and even desensitize us to the seriousness of the issues.

    I believe that these types of fantasies can be incorporated in a way as not to desensitize readers. And just for the record, I don’t believe that people should be ashamed of their fantasies either.

    I not sure any of us can say, Oh, I read this but it doesn’t affect how I view this subject. And I am not just talking about romance. Just think of the tons of studies about children’s exposure to violence and then how they act.

    People have the right to read what every they want- but sometimes we need to take a step back and think ask ourselves if what we are reading affects public perception in a harmful way.

    • Tee says:

      Leigh: However, our views are shaped by what we are exposed to.There is no getting around that.And as our views change so do our actions and sometimes what we accept as normal.

      I not sure any of us can say, Oh, I read this but it doesn’t affect how I view this subject.And I am not just talking about romance. Just think of the tons of studies about children’s exposure to violence and then how they act. People have the right to read what every they want- but sometimes we need to take a step back and think ask ourselves ifwhat we are reading affects public perception in a harmful way.

      I happen to agree with you on this. And those changes in the way we think come on slowly, almost as though we don’t have to think about it. This is not a judgment call, because they can be both positive and negative changes. Think about our mind changing in racial issues compared to earlier times—that’s for the good. Think about that first cigarette you smoked (and probably hacked your lungs out too). When did the habit overcome me, rather than my keeping a handle on it? (BTW, haven’t smoked for 30+ years.) Habits and thinking evolve over time and I know that’s what you’re talking about when you discuss the consequences of our viewing and reading materials. Sometimes we’re not even sure when the shift actually took place—it was so subtle. But to unequivocally say that our reading and viewing habits don’t affect us at all is denying how the healthy human mind is not a stagnant part of us, but always evolving and adapting to circumstances.

  9. Blythe says:

    I should add that before anyone thinks all I watch is Masterpiece Theater, I watch both America’s Next Top Model and Survivor. The former is a big time guilty pleasure.

    @Leigh – we just don’t see eye to eye on this one. I feel like you are implying that people can’t judge the effects of their reading materials for themselves. I don’t even necessarily agree with the quote. I particularly enjoy working out to LMFAO’s song “Shots.”. But I don’t think I am in danger of letting some guy in a club get me drunk so I can perform oral sex in gratitude (as the song implies). I feel comfortable letting grown adults decide for themselves what they want to read about, watch, or listen to.

  10. AAR Sandy says:

    Blythe, your point of view is well taken. We have to trust adults in what they read, see, and hear.

    Still, in a perfect world I wish we didn’t have forced seduction in romance novels anymore. I was fed a diet of romance novels from teenage hood onward and I have to think that I let myself get in situations when I was younger that I wouldn’t today. And I have to think that a steady diet of “no means yes” in romance novels made me question myself and my reactions. It is what it is.

    I am sorry that this erupted into a display of rancour we haven’t seen at AAR in some time, complete with vilification of Leigh and myself elsewhere online. I wish we could disagree without the rancour.

    But I am a liberal and a liberal I remain and that certainly includes free speech. So, no censorship.

    • Ridley says:

      AAR Sandy: I am sorry that this erupted into a display of rancour we haven’t seen at AAR in some time, complete with vilification of Leigh and myself elsewhere online.I wish we could disagree with the rancour.

      I find it interesting that you called a perfectly civil discussion “rancour.” Many of us strongly objected to the insinuation that women have some responsibility for being raped and posted arguments explaining why that was. No one got called any nasty names. I didn’t even swear.

      I’d wager that the only discussions you find civil are the ones where everyone agrees with you.

      • DabneyAAR says:

        Ridley:
        I find it interesting that you called a perfectly civil discussion “rancour.” Many of us strongly objected to the insinuation that women have some responsibility for being raped and posted arguments explaining why that was. No one got called any nasty names. I didn’t even swear.I’d wager that the only discussions you find civil are the ones where everyone agrees with you.

        I have to say, you’d lose that wager. I have disagreed with Sandy before and it’s been civil.

        • AAR Sandy says:

          DabneyAAR:
          I have to say, you’d lose that wager. I have disagreed with Sandy before and it’s been civil.

          Thank you, Dabney. I am not going to get into it with you, Ridley, but your tone frequently leaves much to be desired. I am not going to pull out quotes from the previous thread because that would just be giving your comments more air time, but read your remarks again and take a look again in the cold light of day. And, if you’ll read closely, you will see that I said we were vilified elsewhere online — not at AAR.

          • Ridley says:

            AAR Sandy:
            Thank you, Dabney.I am not going to get into it with you, Ridley, but your tone frequently leaves much to be desired.

            My “tone” is objectionable, but other posters’ slut shaming and victim blaming isn’t.

            That tells me something.

  11. Leigh says:

    Advertising and Propaganda prove that what we are exposed to does affect our opinions. Of course there a hundred different variables and I would never say that everything affects each person the same way. We all have free will- there is no doubt about that.

    I like the saying not so much for any negative connotation but more for the good – like motivation to get through adversity – because attitude does make such a difference – I see that every day as parents have to accept that their child will not live a “normal life” . It is a platitude I know -however it works for me rather than saying everything happens for a reason. I am a strong believer that perception of a situation makes a world of difference. And I stand in awe of some of the parent’s families that I deal with – they are true inspirations. However I am realistic too- Some people have more resiliency and part of it is due to brain chemistry. But that is off subject.

    By your saying : ” I feel comfortable letting grown adults decide for themselves what they wat to read about, watch or listen to – I suspect that my article and anything that I say is coming across as advocating censorship. It is like banging my head agains the wall – saying I am not talking about that – so I won’t say anymore.

  12. Corinna says:

    I agree that what we watch and read does have an affect on how sensitive or desensitized we become to certain issues. I worry about the violence my kids see in the movies and on the 6:00 news, for that matter. It’s like saying there’s no harm in eating junk food; we all know better.

    But here’s the thing: who decides what is right and wrong and therefore unworthy of being printed in a book or broadcast on tv or shown in theaters? Blythe? Leigh? Me? The President? Who? Who gets to be Big Brother? Who gets to be the Gestapo? I don’t think I’m exaggerating here. Because that way lies a very slippery slope, my friends.

    • maggie b. says:

      Corinna: But here’s the thing: who decides what is right and wrong and therefore unworthy of being printed in a book or broadcast on tv or shown in theaters?Blythe? Leigh?Me?The President?Who?Who gets to be Big Brother?Who gets to be the Gestapo?I don’t think I’m exaggerating here.Because that way lies a very slippery slope, my friends.

      This is my big thing as well. The darkness that censorship leads to is far darker than what freedome of media leads to. And for all that people think TV./books/vidoe games/movies are responsible for evil, we are a less violent society today, then we were in the times of ancient Rome.

      Having read Nancy Friday and others who have spoken to the debate I can say that the rape fantasy is a complex one. Right now, the fantasy speaks to many women. I don’t think it fair to ask them to give up a sexual fantasy that speaks to them to protect some stranger who might interpret it the wrong way.

    • Tee says:

      Corinna:Who gets to be Big Brother?Who gets to be the Gestapo?I don’t think I’m exaggerating here.Because that way lies a very slippery slope, my friends.

      Well, first of all, Leigh said she wasn’t advocating censorship—IMO, she was just trying to make us all aware by recognizing that the things we read and see daily are indeed influential. Just by being mindful, personal attitudes can be checked to look for any changes in your thinking. Maybe the changes are needed—but maybe they’re not. But to say we are not affected is really not accurate.

      I remember the first movie I saw in the theaters years ago where a woman bared her breasts. Most everyone gasped and it was a story about the German war camps. Now think about the stuff we’re able to view on our own TVs and in the movies today. In order to titillate or shock, the pictures and/or text needed to become more graphic and did so slowly. The old no longer satisfies. We adapted, for good or for bad; but we adapted.

      If viewing and reading materials didn’t sway people, then advertisers and public relations personnel would never have jobs. They know the way to a person’s mind and heart and how to influence them. It’s oral and visual messages seen over and over again which gradually take hold. And it works. So, no general censorship—but, yes to realizing that what we read and view does have effects on us. It’s definitely possible to control those influences, but denying the pull is the first step downhill.

  13. Leigh says:

    Women’s issues are very close to my heart – probably more so than anything else so I am very aware of how women are portrayed in books, movies, television. So I do use my dollars to say no -not buying books, or music even with a great beat if it reflects negatively about woman. I am sure not out drumming up signatures for censorship.

    Some people are very conscious of gay rights – even knowing which corporations give to charities that don’t support gays and they don’t eat there.

    Neither means that the person is wrong in their beliefs- But then again, if more people did boycot establishments than maybe change would happen faster.

    Awareness is power. Especially the awareness of words and attitudes. That is all that I am saying. There doesn’t need to be censorship police for adults.

  14. Leigh says:

    Some people are very conscious of gay rights – even knowing which corporations give to charities that don’t support gays and they don’t eat there.

    Neither means that the person is wrong in their beliefs- But then again, if more people did boycot establishments than maybe change would happen faster.

    This iis a confusing statement- just to clarify. Some people are very pro -gay but it doesn’t bother them to do business with corporations that are not. They have an attitude of live and let live. Who this corporation supports doesn’t have anything to do with their product.

    Some people feel the same way about women’s roles in the media. If other people want to read it then it is fine.

    Neither attitude is wrong. But neither attitude is conducive to great change. I guess it depends on your passion, your preceptions of wrongs, and your vision for the future.

  15. DabneyAAR says:

    Many women do fantasize about forced seduction. Many women enjoy reading about forced seduction. This does not mean they would like to experience forced seduction in reality. Some women find the idea of forced seduction freeing in that, by imagining having no responsibility for their sexual actions, they then feel less inhibited. They enjoy the fantasy and can and do understand it’s not reality. When asked, they would say there is nothing sexy about real rape which is a non-fantasy crime of violence and pain.

    Generally, women’s sexual fantasies function to enhance their libido and their enjoyment of sex. There are studies that show that fantasizing actually can increase dopamine and testosterone–chemicals that raise a woman’s interest in sex. Sex makes women happy–medical and psychological studies have backed this up countless times. If you are married and have above-average sexual satisfaction in your marriage, you are 10 to 13 times more likely to describe your marriage as “very happy,” compared with those who reported below average sexual satisfaction.

    So, while it’s true I agree completely with Corinna and MaggieB about the importance of intellectual freedom, I also would argue that sexual happiness is of tremendous value to women. If fantasizing about being forced makes many women more likely to enjoy sex, than I’m all for it. For me, this is a case where on many levels, the pluses of supporting those who enjoy forced seduction, whether in their books or in their heads, outweighs the possible negatives.

  16. Blythe says:

    I think the conflict we are having is not just about censorship. Leigh, you may not be outright advocating censorship, but seem to be stating that those who enjoy forced seduction in a romance should not be enjoying it. That refusing to read those plots would be elevating their minds and taking the high road.

    I don’t really see it as the same issue as personally boycotting Chick-Fil-A (which, as you know, I do). I boycott Chick-Fil-A because their practices conflict with my personal values. But though I will state my opinion on the matter when Chick-Fil-A comes up in conversation, I don’t tell people hat that they should boycott them too. That’s their call.

    • Corinna says:

      Blythe: I think the conflict we are having is not just about censorship. Leigh, you may not be outright advocating censorship, but seem to be stating that those who enjoy forced seduction in a romance should not be enjoying it. That refusing to read those plots would be elevating their minds and taking the high road.

      Yes. This.

      I understand where Leigh is coming from, and I don’t believe she is trying to push censorship, and I even share some of her concerns—but I can’t help but be reminded of my grandmother when she objected to us kids being allowed to watch the family dog birth her puppies. Was it something young children should be allowed to see? You’d find varying opinions on that. (You’d also probably be relieved to know that I didn’t grow up to have my own children on the garage floor in front of a big audience, nor do I think anyone should. ;) )

      I’d like to bring up one aspect that I don’t think has been mentioned (and if I missed it somewhere, please forgive me for repeating) and that is the issue of historical accuracy. We all realize that forced seduction and rape were, sadly, very much a part of life for many women in prior centuries. So how can we squawk about putting modern phrases in 17th century mouths, or giving 19th century heroines 21st century ideals and then say we should leave out the parts of historical morals and ideals that don’t appeal to our modern minds?

      Schindler’s List contained some horrible, horrible visions of mankind. Does that mean that everyone who believes in the evil of genocide should NOT have shelled out money to see it? If that is so, would we not also have missed out on the message of hope and goodness that was mixed in with all the stuff we despise?

  17. AAR Sandy says:

    That’s me, all right. Victim-blamer and slut-shamer.

    • Ridley says:

      AAR Sandy: That’s me, all right.Victim-blamer and slut-shamer.

      Well, if you don’t disagree with dick’s “dress implies invitation” comments, and/or agree that women encourage rapists/abusers by enjoying rape fantasy, then yes, that’s you, all right.

  18. DabneyAAR says:

    So, back to our regularly scheduled programming…..

    @Blythe–I am OK with saying to someone, hey, Chik-Fil-A is evil (with, of course a smile). I think if you think something’s wrong you have the right to say so. But, I don’t have the expectation that others will share my opinion nor do I only support people who think like me. I think Leigh has the right to say she thinks the portrayal of forced seduction in romance could be a bad thing. I don’t agree with her, but, I certainly think she has the right to air her thoughts. I would hope I could disagree with her in a way that didn’t make her feel ashamed of those thoughts. I believe it is possible to say, nope, I don’t think that’s the right call without –here’s the dreaded word–shaming anyone. For me, I know I’m NOT coming across the way I want to if I feel as though I am morally superior.

  19. AAR Sandy says:

    I do not agree with dick’s opinion, nor do I think that enjoying rape fantasy encourages rapists. I had dropped out by that time.

    Frankly, I was so discouraged by your posts to dick, I’d had enough.

    Do I think that dick has a right to his opinion? Yes, I do.

    • Ridley says:

      AAR Sandy: Do I think that dick has a right to his opinion? Yes, I do.

      I never said he didn’t have a right to his opinion. He’s more than welcome to it. He just can’t hold to it and claim he’s not a rape apologist.

  20. maggie b. says:

    Here’s the thing: I think many of us are aware of what we are reading. In fact, in some cases it may be that we chose the book specifically because it had the objectional material in it. So when I read about a culture of werewolves where the males are dominant and the females fiercly protected, I have sought that story line. It didn’t just magically appear and me shrug it off.

    One thing with this story line is that it is already set in fantasy. The guy is a were of some kind or a vampire or some other supernatural being. It has been completely removed from present day reality. How then does it translate to a story about how real life romance should go? The example used in the original blog, from the book Eclipse, highlights this fact perfectly. Bella is in an isolated community where the crowd she hangs with are all paranormal. She no more has a normal dating reality than the Jersey Shore gang represents the average American.

    I have yet to read a rape fantasy that took place within a setting that looks like a normal relationship. That makes it difficult for me to understand how a jump is being made from these books to real life tolerance of a culture that abuses women.

    To address the issue of advertising influencing us, it does so on a very basic level. It equates a product with soemthing we want. Want fun? Have a coke and a smile. And yet even though that add has been around a long time, even though you could use that slogan as a trivia question in a game it has such dominance in our culture, how many of us actually expect to smile when having a coke? We are less influenced by advertising, I think, than some might believe.

  21. Janet W says:

    So, while it’s true I agree completely with Corinna and MaggieB about the importance of intellectual freedom, I also would argue that sexual happiness is of tremendous value to women. If fantasizing about being forced makes many women more likely to enjoy sex, than I’m all for it. For me, this is a case where on many levels, the pluses of supporting those who enjoy forced seduction, whether in their books or in their heads, outweighs the possible negatives. Dabney

    My reading has, shall we say, really evolved since I first found AAR and then the other rom websites. Don’t think there’s a book out there I won’t at least consider and check out the first chapter. I have a soft soft for non-con romances that are well-written and believable (and all are not). My newest find is The Price of Innocence by Susan Sizemore (thx Dabney) and probably my oldest favourite in that vein is To Have and To Hold by Patricia Gaffney. I am very uncomfortable with hearing or sensing “shoulds” in how others regard what I read. Especially since discovering romance, I’ve had to put up with some of that reader-shaming in my real life — I sure as heck don’t want to deal with it inside romland. I like to think I’m an aware intelligent reader — some books work for me and others don’t.

    • DabneyAAR says:

      Janet W: So, while it’s true I agree completely with Corinna and MaggieB about the importance of intellectual freedom, I also would argue that sexual happiness is of tremendous value to women. If fantasizing about being forced makes many women more likely to enjoy sex, than I’m all for it. For me, this is a case where on many levels, the pluses of supporting those who enjoy forced seduction, whether in their books or in their heads, outweighs the possible negatives. DabneyMy reading has, shall we say, really evolved since I first found AAR and then the other rom websites. Don’t think there’s a book out there I won’t at least consider and check out the first chapter. I have a soft soft for non-con romances that are well-written and believable (and all are not). My newest find is The Price of Innocence by Susan Sizemore (thx Dabney) and probably my oldest favourite in that vein is To Have and To Hold by Patricia Gaffney. I am very uncomfortable with hearing or sensing “shoulds” in how others regard what I read. Especially since discovering romance, I’ve had to put up with some of that reader-shaming in my real life — I sure as heck don’t want to deal with it inside romland. I like to think I’m an aware intelligent reader — some books work for me and others don’t.

      Thanks Janet. As you know, I love both of those books as well.

  22. Leigh says:

    The whole reason for the blog was to bring attention to sexual assault. About Victims
    •44% of victims are under age 18
    •80% are under age 30

    Learn more victim statistics

    Sexual Assault Numbers
    •Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted
    •There is an average of 207,754 victims (age 12 or older) of sexual assault each year

    Reporting to Police
    •54% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police
    •97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail

    About Rapists
    •Approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim
    •38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance

    • DabneyAAR says:

      Leigh: The whole reason for the blog was to bring attention to sexual assault. About Victims•44% of victims are under age 18•80% are under age 30Learn more victim statisticsSexual Assault Numbers•Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted•There is an average of 207,754 victims (age 12 or older) of sexual assault each year
      Reporting to Police•54% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police•97% of rapists will never spend a day in jailAbout Rapists•Approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim•38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance

      That was the reason for your piece. I don’t think that was the reason for this piece.

  23. Leigh says:

    Approximately 2/3 of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim
    73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.
    38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.
    28% are an intimate.
    More than 50% of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occured within 1 mile of their home or at their home.2
    •4 in 10 take place at the victim’s home.
    •2 in 10 take place at the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative.
    •1 in 12 take place in a parking garage.

    43% of rapes occur between 6:00pm and midnight.2
    •24% occur between midnight and 6:00am.
    •The other 33% take place between 6:00am and 6:00pm.

  24. Leigh says:

    If you haven’t done your spring cleaning this year – then think about donating to women’s shelters – most women leave everything behind. Plus here in my state the women’s shelter works hand in hand with rape crisis so what benefits one is shared with the other.

  25. Carrie says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading both of the recent “heated” discussions. I hope we can have more like this on AAR. People need a place to sharpen their thinking skills. We tend to get into lazy habits and don’t think through our own opinions deeply enough. Having someone challenge those opinions is a good discipline. We learn to articulate our thoughts more clearly and succinctly. Sometimes we even realize we don’t hold our opinions as closely as we originally thought. We grow and change.

    Discussions can get heated, but that’s okay. Keeping them civil, though, is a goal worth working for. We gain from a spectrum of opinions, not from only listening to the people who agree with us.

    Thanks for the discussions.

  26. erika says:

    A while ago there was a thread about tropes which should end. That was disturbing to me as I believe authors should write what they want. That doesn’t mean I’ll buy it tho. Just like I can’t stand Bill Maher but would not deny others of the ability to watch him.

  27. Eliza says:

    “But that’s my journey, and yours may be different. There’s room for all of us at the table, and I’d rather not make sweeping pronouncements about the suitability – or the danger – of the food that’s served.”

    Very well said, Blythe. I wouldn’t change a word and I couldn’t agree more.

    I don’t see any good coming from rancorous, name-calling sessions, so when I saw that start to happen, I stopped reading. To me it’s analogous to shouting at someone who speaks a foreign language, as if the volume and intensity will MAKE him understand. It’s a definite failure to communicate effectively.

  28. alissa says:

    Leigh,
    Thanks so much for your post that started this whole discussion. It was a great comfort to hear someone else say some of the things I have been thinking. I don’t advocate censorship. I know that I am unusually sensitized to women being pushed around and controlled. That’s my issue, and it makes me perceive things differently. Yes, all sorts of stories should be available, so all sorts of readers can be satisfied, but sometimes when I’ve put down four books in a row with heroes who make me angry and nervous, not charmed, I get a bit frustrated. Sometimes I wish I could find more books that thrill me, rather than chill me. I wish I didn’t feel so out of step with what my fellow romance readers seem to enjoy. I wish I could tell my fellow romance readers this without being considered a killjoy. So thanks again for your blog. It made me feel more at home here.

  29. desiderata says:

    I didn’t interpret Leigh’s article as advocating censorship but as expressing her disagreement with nonconsensual sex being portrayed as anything but as horrific as it is. She expressed her concern over the cultural attitude and concluded ” … 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.”

    I agree that popular culture influences attitudes and beliefs over time but I’m not sure forced seduction scenes in romance novels effectively perpetuate this particular myth. The point is Leigh believes it and she wrote a piece to generate discussion and awareness of this issue. She didn’t ask to become queen, or Big Sister, and didn’t suggest that forced seduction be banned.

    Even if Leigh had said forced seduction shouldn’t be allowed, so what? Is the fear that people will feel badly and change their reading choices? I can’t see that happening. If readers don’t think being raped is ok because they read rape fantasies they’re not going to change their reading habits because someone believes it’s harmful.

    I really don’t think Leigh’s piece deserved the rancour – yes, rancour – it generated. Leigh is not blaming the victim for suggesting that girls be warned of date rape and Dick is not being a rape apologist for suggesting women take precautions. No, men should not rape. Yes, boys and men should be told to respect women and not to rape. Will those ideals change the fact that some men will rape women? No, but with that reasoning I should defiantly walk up to the darkest, most secluded ATM in the worst neighborhood at midnight, because dammit people shouldn’t rob people. Or, maybe I should leave my purse lying unattended in the middle of a club and if my purse is stolen and someone tells me I was careless I will scream that they are a theft apologist. What about crime alerts warning people to be extra careful when there have been residential burglaries in a neighborhood? Are those offensive victim blamers as well?

    I’m more concerned with my daughter’s safety than ideological theory. I’m a prosecutor and I’ve prosecuted many sexual assault cases. I’ve seen the victims’ pain and humiliation as they relive the rape at trial, in front of the guy who did it. It’s horrific and enraging and no, it absolutely should not happen — but it does and it has since the dawn of time. Telling women how to be careful and to take steps to protect themselves is not blaming the victim or being a rape apologist. It’s common sense.

  30. Eliza says:

    Extremely well said, desiderata, and very well balanced IMHO. All of it.

    I particularly appreciated your summation: “It’s horrific and enraging and no, it absolutely should not happen — but it does and it has since the dawn of time. Telling women how to be careful and to take steps to protect themselves is not blaming the victim or being a rape apologist. It’s common sense.”

    I also think your thought that “I’m more concerned with my daughter’s safety than ideological theory” is exactly the right focus too, again IMHO, especially in light of this country’s current climate of ratcheted-up ideological battlegrounds, where words are thrown like hand grenades instead of being used as a means to understand one another.

    Thank you.

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  32. Tee says:

    All that you said, desiderata, makes so much sense. Sometimes, because we want to exercise our rights to be able to do things our way, we lose track of common sense. It is what it is out there and we need to take the measures to ensure our safety. Common sense. Like taking the throw rugs from Grandma’s house because she’s always tripping on them, even though she fights to keep them. Making sure she uses her walker to get up and sit down, but you know she doesn’t when you’re not there and then the disastrous fall comes and the consequences. We’re living it right now.

    I too felt that the name calling and hatred that came through some of the posts on the other thread were totally unnecessary. I think the behavior on TV shows where five people try to talk simultaneously and the loudest one wins is eeking over into everyday discussions.

  33. Eliza says:

    The evils of TV have been blamed for many different things too since “Leave It to Beaver” and “Ozzie and Harriet” were first on-air, much as we now also discuss the problems of online social media.

    I don’t think there is any one simple problem or any one simple answer out there; human society is just more complex than that. I see books, tv, or whatever as reflections of a culture rather than as the single causes of any behaviors. Incivility and lack of respect, and likely peoples’ fears need to be addressed at heart but across a wide spectrum.

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