Today I will risk the daggers and arrows as I pluck out the feather from the featherbed of lies by looking at how this country demeans women in the way they look at romance.
Several years ago, my family faced serious economic problems. I thought that I could make some reasonable money writing romance novels and get the family through. Come with me over the fold as I tell you about my excursion into romance novel writing.
So I decided to research the writing of romance novels. I mean, really, how hard could it be to write one? They all seemed to be from a formula, and once I had that formula down, I should be able to crank them out with sufficient regularity to pay the bills. So I went out and bought a few random Romance Novels from the local grocery store. I was right – they are written to a formula that one could easily master and crank them out. But there was something else about them that prevented me from ever writing one.
Romance writing is good money. 55% of all books sold in 2004 were Romance Novels, and there are 2000 new titles published every year. It is a half a billion a year industry. As I read the books, I found that I could almost make a database of names, places, events etc. and have the database write the novel by randomly selecting names from the name category, places from the places category and tailoring events from the event category. Easy money, right? Well, except one thing. I had a serious problem with what passed as romantic events.
At the time, I was volunteering with homeless children and with a battered women’s shelter. To work at the shelter, we had training about what constituted an abuser. I noticed that the grand climax of every one of these novels was a situation that would have been prosecuted as domestic violence. In other words, the most “romantic” part of the novel was abuse. In one case, he slapped her, she slapped him back, he grabbed her arm and had his way with her. For some reason halfway through she quit struggling and they had a fantastic night of sex. Excuse me? In another, it was alcohol. The one that bugged me most was one where a woman was being nanny to a widower’s daughter in the outback. Nobody around for miles. When she finally got too frustrated for words, she tried to leave on foot. He somehow found her and LASSOED her! Then his horse kept her on the ground while he ran over to her and … well, you know the rest. Whenever she would try to get up and get the rope off and run the horse would jerk her down. This is not romantic. This is violence.
Then as I read more, I realized that before these romantic climaxes, the relationships were toxic all around. He (the main character was always a woman) would flirt with an ex to make her jealous. She would say ugly things to hurt his feelings. He would say ugly things to hurt his feelings. She would be sensitive. He would be insulting. She would be vengeful … and on and on. This is how they discovered their deep love for each other?
Finally, I saw how women were portrayed. While it seemed that she was strong, she was really weak and helpless. Needy. Dependent. Unworthy of respect. He was strong. He seemed cold on the outside but it hid a wall of passion. Stereotypes from the 50s, and never really true stereotypes at that.
Then I would visit my women at the shelter. One told me that her husband beat her up for talking with an old schooldays friend who happened to be male. “He just couldn’t help himself, he gets so jealous,” she said. Where did I see those words? In the denouement of almost all of these romance novels. He would explain his behavior by “I couldn’t help myself. I love you so much and I got jealous.” Love? Love does not wish to harm. Love does not take advantage of the incapacitated. Love does not tie someone up and take advantage. Love trusts the person loved. Where there is no trust there is no love.
Another woman told me, “I thought if I loved him enough he would change.” Like they do in romance novels. But not in real life. You don’t change other people. Either they change themselves or they remain the same.
So 55% of all books bought in this country are this genre? Half a billion dollars worth? Enough to support 2000 titles a year? Tell me that our 12 year old girls aren’t reading these and thinking this is what love and romance are all about. Tell me some don’t fall into the hands of boys wondering what girls are looking for. Tell me that the HUGE numbers of mothers reading them aren’t at least unconsciously passing these notions on to their children.
Remember what that senator said about rape victims? That when it is inevitable, she should lie back and enjoy it? The women in these books not only do that, they participate. That is the message. The other message is that it is not rape if it is an acquaintance. Rape only happens when the man is a stranger and ugly. Even when a stranger, if he isn’t ugly, she secretly wanted it. Ken Buck, who ran in Colorado for Senate this year declined to prosecute a case a few years ago. A young woman had attended a party for football recruits. She was raped. The players admitted she had said no. But Ken insisted it was a case of “buyer’s remorse.” Not rape.
What bothers me most is that these are novels by women for women. The biggest readers of these novels are women who are alone and lonely and vulnerable. Women are pushing these dangerous notions to other women. They are depicting toxic and dangerous relationships as romantic. The women who read them are then out looking for this as indicators of love. By the time they realize that love should not hurt so much, it is too late. They are in one of those relationships that is hard to get out of alive.
The feather I am pulling out here is the one that says that these novels are light-hearted, romantic fun. They are not. They are pushing a dangerous notion of love and romance into our society. These attitudes have been there for generations, but these novels make it harder to counter, to get the neanderthal ideas about women removed from our society. The writers of these novels are making a lot of money telling girls that love hurts. They undermine respect for women. This is another lump for our featherbed of lies.