Having watched a bunch of (old, crochety) men trying to silence one of my friends yesterday when her opinions didn’t match theirs, I decided it was time for another post on feminism.
I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, since I had a conversation with book reviewer Sarah Dunn about romance novels. She was reading some sort of sci-fi thing at the time that perpetuated everything that is horrific about the genre. The only thing that I think is good about the recent sci-fi/paranormal/romance fusion emergence is that *sometimes* you get kick-ass female characters, which are sadly lacking everywhere else. However, they’re usually personified as pent-up and bitchy and just waiting for the right man to come along and make ’em melt – and, of course, overtly sexualised.
I had the time of my life looking for images for this article, I gotta say. Like, I’m laughing, but I’m also choking, and then I kind of wanted to cry, before I started laughing again at the sheer ridiculousness of it. Did you know, there’s actually an entire website/database for romance novel covers? Most of it is pornographic, racially appropriative, and unfortunately I do have to also say trigger warning for rape. In fact, TW for this entire post.
Check this out, though. What is actually going on here? I was hooting for a while before I realised um… actually, there is so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to start.
And check this out – nightmares, indeed!
This is the only one I found that was vaguely accurate, and of course it comes from a parody site.
I have a horrid confession to make: I was addicted to Mills and Boon as a teen. Probably because we only had dial-up on an old PC in the living room so it was the only way I could get away with reading about sex. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise until much later how much it was fucking me up.
Not only did I think it was normal for women to want to submit to hulking, non-communicative, physically abusive men – I thought that was hot. Oh, don’t worry, she might start off being angry, but eventual her “body takes over” and she wants it. Wait, what?
I thought it was perfectly acceptable for men to dominate women in all, but mostly sexual, situations, until the women, who are usually portrayed as “fiery,” give in. I thought most men never wanted to marry or have any sort of committed relationship, and would only relent if this was what the woman demanded. As a teen, I looked for men that behaved like they hated me, because the books told me that’s how men behave when they’re in love. I dreamed of a prince who would grab me, drag me up against them, and “force their hard lips over mine.”
Oh. My. God. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning rough sex – if it’s safe, and consensual from the very start.
Don’t even get me started on romance novel sex. The only dominance a woman was ever allowed is, she might get on top once a while. God forbid she should “shyly initiate a kiss.” I thought it was usual for women to orgasm from approximately two minutes of penetration, and that good sex could only be determined by whether the couple came simultaneously. No wonder I was terrified to lose my virginity, and then spent years wondering – is this all there is?
Which brings me to the new revolution in the romance genre -‘ 50 Shades of Grey’. Ho-ly fuck. If I was influenced so much by 1990s Mills and Boon (which, frankly, is soft in comparison) – how much will girls now think that the sort of abusive relationship portrayed in these books – and since 50 Shades came out there’s been a massive increase in “darkly erotic stories” – is OK?
Again, not condemning rough sex, or BDSM relationships, or women exploring their sexual boundaries. What I am saying is that 50 Shades takes the line between ‘non-consensual until she breaks’ to the next freaking level. It’s Blurred Lines in a book. It’s misogynistic, rape-glorifying, and to put it plainly, dangerous. If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t tell her she couldn’t read it. But I’d be having a very strong discussion about what constitutes a healthy adult relationship.
So where is the place for girls to learn about happy, consensual relationships and sex? There’s a massive void between clinical sex education in schools (which is also seriously lacking), and male-dominated porn. Which makes me ask – where’s the feminist erotica?
I’m not talking about soft-focus pics and gentle awakening stories. I’m not talking about simple gender swaps. I’m not talking about lesbians (though sure, definitely a part of it). I’m talking about a space that’s away from the man’s world of porn altogether. Away from the man’s eye that so clearly casts an angle on every pornographic lens.
I want something that appeals to who I am as a woman. I want something I’d be happy for my teenager daughter to read. I want something that empowers us, not dominates and distorts us.
If it already exists, by all means, point me in that direction. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this. A more accurate, modern representation of most of the men I know.