More Readers Rif on Political Correctness

Return to Issue #32 of Laurie's News & Views
Readers Rif on Political Correctness

Rana W. :
I enjoyed your Laurie Likes Books Column from The Romance Reader. Now I will enjoy your column on All About Romance. There should not be rape scenes in romances, even in historical romance books, because they are romance books.

Authors who write rape scenes in their books condone rape. Forced seduction scenes are all right if they are done right, and if they are done for the right reasons.

Joan :
I had to weigh in on the PC topics raised in your last few columns. I am really annoyed by modern sensibilities appearing in historical romances. Was I the only viewer who hated Costner's Robin Hood because the character seemed to have the political agenda of a New York Democrat? I really don't think that open mindedness works in a mideavel, for example. One of the things that made Ivanhoe work is the fact that anti-Semitism is used and recognized for what it was as part of the plot, and an important part, too. Some of Garwood's work is just too touchy-feely to be historically accurate. Ditto Devereux's recent works. Now, I don't really require everything to be absolutely correct, but many inaccurate historical details are so jarring, as to be distracting. Elliott's The Warlord was a great read, but I couldn't get past the fact that the characters were eating corn and potatoes in the 14th Century. Likewise Joyce's The Conqueror. Then there are the books that have the sun rising over the Pacific in California. I know this makes me sound like a pedantic idiot, but I guess I've grown to expect learning a little something in every historic romance I read.

Now that I've gotten my subjects mixed up, I guess my point is this: We know basically what life was probably like before running water and toilets and food distribution networks. We know that women were not allowed to hold property and were indeed chattel themselves. Indeed, a single woman belonged to her father or brother or guardian until she married and then she belonged to her husband. When she was a widow she had a small amount of independence, but her adult son could marry her off then too. This is why women came with doweries, so she had a place to go when her husband died... This is why in many states the minimum amount a husband can leave his wife in his will is one-third of his propery (or in New York, the interest income from one-third). One of the attractions of historicals is learning how people coped with their hardships from wars, crusades, prejudice, etc., etc. (Which is why I love English Elizabeth Chadwick so much.)

Now I suppose I'd like to address something else which you raised recently in your column - rape and seduction. Why do more and more authors present this subject in such an outrageous fashion? I have read two romances recently in which the "hero" has forcible sex with the virginial heroine and uses some cream in order to "ease" her. After doing this, he insists that he did not rape her because he used cream. By the end of the book, she is nuts about him and they LHEA. Am I missing something here? I could go into the legal definition of rape, but suffice it to say that when a woman is forced into sexual intercourse, it is rape. If it is her intent not to have sex at the beginning of intercourse, it is rape. I must admit, though that I have never come across a woman who changed her mind in the middle of the act. Now, when we are talking fiction, I suppose in the right circumstance I could see that because of some sexual attraction she could change her mind.

It all boils down to one truism concerning romance fiction: fiction. We read it to escape, to relax, and to enjoy a few moments of quiet. Don't we?

Lynnmarie K. : I'm going to indulge my penchant for speaking in clichés here, despite the fact that, in the romance novelist's world, they are publication suicide.

"History repeats itself."

There, I've said it! A truism that has played itself out over and over through the ages. Perhaps we could add to that "and will, until mankind learns from historical mistakes."

Yet, how are we to learn from these mistakes unless we fully expose ourselves to the realities of the past? Whether it be racial discrimination, wife beating, forced seduction and rape or any of the multitudinous intolerant behaviors of our predecessors, it remains a painful journey to awareness. Political correctness doesn't right the wrongs. Instead, it sedates the mind into believing that the pain doesn't exist, and perhaps never did.

Political correctness is boring. It's safe. It insinuates nothing, offends no one, and satisfies everyone. Political correctness means no one gets sued, no one loses money or face, and there's a happy ending for all. It dulls our emotions and allows society to believe that all is well with the world. Under the guise of "awareness", being politically correct in any forum today has become the panacea.

Granted, awareness is a good thing. But, haven't we gone a little overboard? What we say and how we say it has been laundered to the point of sanitization. Without life, without color, without emotion. Being politically correct has positioned the world in the ultimate catch-22. Ever see the movie Schindler's List? It's an apocalyptic epic about an atrocious time in world history. The director, Steven Spielberg, breathed life into a story about a very small segment of the six million Jews (among others) who were persecuted, demeaned and ultimately destroyed during WWII. He forced us to view these people as real human beings with lives, loves, joys and sorrows. Their dehumanization was exposed, raw and ugly, for all to see. He didn't hide behind rules of political correctness. If he had, we would have watched a sweet little tale about a hero who gave a small bunch of unfortunate Jews jobs during the war. Instead, he took risks, and forced us, in those thousands of darkened theatres, to become those people; to live through the cold winter in the ghetto, to feel the knawing hunger of an empty belly, to smell the stench of unwashed bodies in a too-full ghetto apartment, and, ultimately, to experience the paralyzing fear of discovery by German soldiers. Discovery that meant certain death.

Spielberg humanized the experience, and to his credit, moved the hearts of millions. Aficionados of supreme political correctness worried that Spielberg's movie might offend the perfectly respectable German citizens living in that country today. Instead, it brought forth an outpouring of recrimination and a determination that this should never happen again. It allowed for forgiveness, and sensitized today's world to the grim reality of man's inhumanity to man, and to hell with the cost. Can you imagine the aghast look on the face of an editor, had these horrors been a part of a romance novel submitted for review? The mailman's hands would burn with the speed at which the rejection notice was sent winging its way back to the offending author! I brought my children to see Schindler's List three times. Their ages were 14, 12 and 10, and, being upper middle class Roman Catholics, they'd no awareness of this time period in history, or any reason to relate to the plight of an ethnic group so far removed from their own.

The first time, the movie was well along before I began to cry. My children saw not only the stark reality of the war, but my reaction to it. The second time we saw it, my tears began with the opening credits, and my children were so moved, there was complete silence in the car on the way home. The third time, I remember sitting in the theatre, and just the anticipation rendered me speechless. My whole body trembled, knowing I once again was going to grieve and feel despair. Afterwards, we finally were able to speak of it. My children were full of questions.

Coming from a world of political correctness, they expressed horror and disbelief and tears of their own, especially over the little girl in the red coat. Encased in a gossmer web of protection from all things ugly and cruel, they found it incomprehensible that a sweet-faced innocent, not much younger than themselves, could have been so brutally hunted down and murdered. And only because she was unfortunate enough to be born at the wrong time and of the wrong blood. All three came away from the experience not only more aware, but grateful to live in a time and a country where such persecution could never happen. Or could it? Political correctness is nothing more than an excuse, in my humble opinion. I'd rather see authors and screen-writers and movie-makers expose our past, in all its glory and gore, so that we may better purge our society of its historical ills. Yes, it means possibly offending the listener, the viewer, the reader. But, if we continue along this trendy "bury your head in the sand" course, then our eyes, our hearts and our souls will forever remain closed to change. And then, we are surely doomed to do it all over again. So, as both an avid reader and writer of romantic fiction, I say, surprise me!! Break the barriers that have kept realism and grit out of romance for so long.

Give me a hero who fulfills the definition of manliness in his own time, not some auto-claved version of a nineties male who is sensitive, loves dogs and children, considers his wife's vehement "no" to mean any coercion on his part is the equivalency of marital rape, and would enjoy leaving Mars for a lifetime on Venus! If he lived during the time of the Prince Regent, then, by God, allow him to act like the man he's supposed to be. So what if he's a snob or a womanizer? Let that become part of the conflict, for it will make his ultimate change of heart, bequeathed by true love, that much sweeter. I am proud to be a romance novelist. I admire the women who are breaking the traditional genre guidelines to expose the realities of yesterday and today in their books. The happy ending is still there, as it should be, but only after much strife and conflict that forces our heroes, heroines and society as a whole, to change and evolve into something better.

Books that take risks are the ones I race through, and when finished, leave me shaken and more aware. I still experience the 'escapism' we all look for in a good read, and I still have my happy ending. But, I have changed somehow, and, hopefully, become a better person for it. After all, we do write about love. And, in a book that switches tracks and crosses the line into political in-correctness, isn't the ultimate love-conquers-all goal that much sweeter and more real?

Holly:
I'm a little irritated by the rifs crying, "Censorship!" I am one of the readers who disliked what I consider to be a rape scene in A Well Pleasured Lady.

Now some readers who disagree claim that we are attempting censorship. Baloney! I didn't like that scene. That doesn't mean I think AWPL, or books like it, should be banned. Obviously the book worked for some readers, and that's fine with me. I choose not to knowingly read books like this, but I have no objection to other people's reading and enjoying them. I don't want publishers to stop or censor what they print. I do want to express my opinion of what I've read in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Discussing a book is not the same as attempting censorship. I read the posts of those who liked the book (like Laurie) with great interest, and while I didn't change my opinion, I appreciated reading the opinions of those who did.

And isn't negating another's opinion a form of censorship? Some of these self-appointed censorship guardians demonstrate the very behavior they decry.

As for historical accuracy, child labor, plagues, mass murder and starvation are all historical realities, and I choose not to read about those topice in my leisure time, either -- but this is another topic.

Marina R. :
I don't think Political Correctness belongs in any type of fiction. Nada. Zero. And I can't imagine why anyone who reads historical romances would expect to find modern day politeness/PC or whatever you want to call it, in her reading material. Why read a historical if you're going to change history to fit your modern day sensibilities? Hello! That's why it's called a "historical," or am I missing something here?

I haven't reached the rape scene in AWPL yet. I'm guessing that I probably won't like it, and I'm speaking purely in artistic terms here. I'll probably wonder why the author decided to put this scene in her book. But, she is the author and if that's what she felt was supposed to happen, then so be it. It's her book.

As an aspiring historical romance writer, I can't imagine following a PC rule book on writing a historical novel. Readers certainly have every right to not like or enjoy a book, but they don't have the right to dictate what and how an author should write a book.

Joan T. :
I'm one of those people who subscribe the to adage that a Hero never rapes anyone and that's why Whitney, My Love will never be a 4 or 5-heart read for me. For a long time, I've read many favorite lists submitted to RT, TRR and All About Romance which list this book as someone's all-time favorite. I don't get it. I remember reading an interview with Jude Devereux in which she noted that when she started writing, many publishers required a rape scene, but she refused to write one. Indeed, if anyone reads an old Rosemary Rogers or Kathleen Woodiwiss she will notice that these books are full of rape. What were we thinking? In any event, WML seems to have been written at the end of the period in which such scenes were required writing. In fact, the scene is entirely out of character with the rest of the book (and in fact with the rest of McNaught's books). Because of this scene, WML has always bothered me and it is not on my keeper list, shelf or whatever. Your thoughts?

LLB responds: WML has never been my favorite McNaught. In fact, it ranks as number four on my list of McNaught's, after Kingdom of Dreams, Once & Always, and Something Wonderful.

One thing Judith does generally is writes a heinous scene for one of the two leads which then sets the stage for an intense redemption/forgiveness scene. It worked very well in Kingdom, and in Something Wonderful. I think that's what she was going for in Whitney, but, for the same reason you gave, it didn't work for me nearly as well as the other redemption/forgiveness scenes did. This is truly one book that I've never understood why others love so much.

Mary D. :
Regarding Issue #31, I agree with a lot of what everyone had to say. In the case of forced seduction, or rape, is this something that society can control? No. Not totally. Is this something a writer can control? Yes. But does the writer not write about society?

No matter the time period, this happens daily. And I'm sure this did happen more in the times, such as medieval times, when marriages were forced. If a marriage is forced, why would sex not be forced? I try to keep an open mind when reading a book, although I do think less of the hero in such a case, and would prefer to read a story where the hero is as likeable as the heroine. And, no, I would not think a marriage would be a happy one to the end if the hero loses his temper or loses control and does such a thing. But, of course, we would like to believe that love can conquer all.

I do not wish to sound so unconcerned about the issue of rape. I believe the writer must choose the circumstance of the stories they write. We may not agree with every book we read, and every love story is different, no matter the time period or the circumstances. A story may seem more a reality to some than a fantasy, but it all boils down to a story.

Readers Rif on Political Correctness
Issue #32 of Laurie's News & Views
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