Friday, July 6, 2012

Romance and Rape Culture

I made a decision last month that I am not happy with. It is the right decision, but I wish I didn't have to make it.

I will no longer be buying, or reading, books from my favorite romance author, Nora Roberts.

I have been a fan of Ms Roberts since I was in high school. Her characters are well developed, her worlds interesting, and her plots well written, if often unoriginal (hey, it's romance, there is only so much you can do). But there has been part of Ms Roberts' stories that I have been increasingly uncomfortable with.

Man and woman, in a romantic setting. Both are clearly attracted to the other. The man kisses the woman. She responds, hesitantly. He begins to fondle her. She pulls away, tells him to stop. He tells her that she wants him, that if she'll just accept and admit her feelings, everything will be perfect. She is hesitant, is attracted, but still wants him to stop. He kisses her again, fondling her breasts, and overwhelming her with sensation. She melts in his arms, and they have passionate mind-breaking sex.

Does any one else see the problem here?

I don't blame you if you don't. When I first heard the term 'rape culture' I thought it was ridiculous. A bunch of people making mountains out of molehills. It's a little thing, right? Just a scene in a romance novel. What's the big deal?

Here's the big deal: she said no, he didn't stop, and this is being presented as the way romance is supposed to be.

Things that are wrong and bad and shouldn't happen in real life show up in fiction all the time. And you know what? 99% of the time, it's presented as something that is wrong and bad and shouldn't happen in real life. Harry Potter's Aunt and Uncle are abusive. The way they treat him is wrong. And JK Rowling showed us that.

Ms Roberts' heroes don't listen when her heroines say no - and that's good! Because if they stopped when they were told no the women would never accept their sexuality and live happily ever after. So women, it's okay when a man doesn't stop - he's doing it for your own good.

Personally, I'd have told the shithead to go to hell.

But it gets worse.

Just because a woman is attracted to a man doesn't mean that she will want to have sex with him. Just because she wants to have sex with them, doesn't mean she may not have good reasons to not to have sex with him anyway.

So here's the next fuckedup part of our scene.

Woman knows XYZ and knows that because of XYZ she should not get involved with man. Man does not take no for an answer, and overwhelms her with sensation, causing her to melt in his arms. They have passionate mind breaking sex. Later, man learns about XYZ. Man is angry with woman for having sex with him even though XYZ. Woman feels shame and guilt for deceiving/lying to/leading man on when she knew about XYZ.

So, man ignores woman saying no, because she is clearly attracted to him so it's okay to ignore her not wanting to have sex. Then finds out the reason woman didn't want to have sex, and both of them blame the woman for 'betraying' the man who refused to take no for an answer.

Are you seeing the levels of wrong here?

Now, to be fair, these kinds of things don't happen in all of Ms Roberts' books. She has some very strong heroines, and I love Eve Dallas (that woman knows how to kick ass). But these kinds of scenes do happen far to often. Sometimes they happen with the genders reversed which is just as bad.

This is rape culture. And I'm not naive enough to believe that scenes like this aren't being written by almost every romance writer out there. But I'm done reading them. I'm done borrowing them from the library. I'm just done.

But Being Overpowered is Sexy! (Or what Consent Culture looks like)
This kind of thing usually justified by the idea that woman want to be overpowered, want a man to force them to admit their feelings. That women want a man to overwhelm them and take away their ability to choose.

You know what? That does happen. There are women (and men, and non-gender binary folks) who like being overpowered, overwhelmed, taken, or however you want to phrase it. There is nothing wrong with that.

Over 15 years ago, I read a book that book that belonged to my father, a mix of corporate thriller and romance that involved the heiress to a huge corporation and a horse trainer. It was called 'The Gift', and if anyone can tell me where to find it or who the author was, I will be thoroughly grateful.

The first time they have sex, before they even kiss, he ask hers what she wants. She tells him that she wants him to take control, wants him to overpower her. He does. They have passionate, mind blowing sex.

Now that is sexy. And that's consent culture.

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