Recently I have started volunteering as an advocate for Sexual Assault Crisis Response group in my community. Since I believe the more information and training I have the more effective I can be, I dragged myself out of bed this week on my day off to attend police training on sexual violence – The Dynamics and Cultural Myths, and Improving Sexual Assault Investigations. Thanks to Jen Carson of the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Mike Hammons of the Fayetteville Police Department for allowing me to use their material in writing this article.
Let me just say upfront that back in the 80’s I was right there with most of the romance reader population in reading and enjoying the so-called “bodice ripper” novels written by authors such as Shirlee Busbee, Rosemary Rogers,and Kathleen Woodiwiss. And I am not knocking these authors now. That was the culture and the fantasy of that time. Just read the joke that John McCain told in 1986:
“Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, “Where is that marvelous ape?”
Rather offensive now, isn’t it? As is the thought of a hero raping a heroine. The media did help by bringing the subject of rape out of the closet and of course they coined the phrase date rape. Publishers’ and authors’ awareness has also changed over time. The obvious rape scenes have largely changed. We now have stories where the hero is overcome with need for the heroine. Sometimes he has to fight his animal instincts or his overpowering need for this one woman.
Read this excerpt from a very popular novel:
“His lips crushed mine, stopping my protest. He kissed me angrily, roughly, his other hand gripping right around the back of my neck, making escape impossible. I shoved against his chest with all my strength, but he didn’t even seem to notice. His mouth was soft, despite the anger, his lips molding to mine in a warm, unfamiliar way.
I grabbed at his face, trying to push it away, failing again. He seemed to notice this time, though and it aggravated him. His lips forced mine open and I could feel his hot breath in my mouth. Acting on instinct, I let my hand drop to my side, and shut down. I opened my eyes and didn’t fight and didn’t feel . . . just waited for him to stop.”
One message to us is that this man is so filled with a craving for the heroine that his control is now non-existent. Plus only the heroine creates this need and desire. In a way, this is pretty heady stuff. Who doesn’t want to feel that our attractiveness and uniqueness has the ability to drive a man wild with lust? Talk about a woman having power – she can bring this man to his knees. But wait, read it again and this time imagine you are a juror at a rape trial and the survivor is on the stand, telling what happened the night of her rape. The words are there. Just check out the words in bold, reading them with a different mindset. Who has the power now?
I would never minimize any type of rape because all are horrifying and traumatic. However, with date or acquaintance rape, the woman often blames herself more. She let this person into her life, and may even have had feelings for him. Now she questions her judgment in men. Plus, those who have been through this type of assault have to deal with societal beliefs that they played a part in what happened to them by using poor judgment, being victimized all over again. Here is what Bill O’Reilly said in 2004 when talking about the rape and murder of 18 year-old Jennifer Moore during his nationally syndicated radio show on August 2, 2004:
“She was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, wearing a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff. Now, again, there you go. So every predator in the world is gonna pick that up at two in the morning.”
Instead of focusing on the horror of the crime, O’Reilly hints that the victim somehow brought it on herself by the way she dressed. By the way, predators are only approximately six percent of the population. And clothing and alcohol don’t create a rapist. The most statically significant thing that increases your chance of being raped is being born a woman. But these ideas are all part of our cultural climate and however much we hate to admit it, 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.
It’s not only novels, though. Here are some other examples that Jen Carson used to illustrate our cultural climate – many of these actually appear on t-shirts:
Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker
Can’t rape the willing
It is not rape if she blinks twice for yes
You know she is playing hard to get, when you’re chasing her down an alleyway.
The popular book excerpt I discussed above, which by the way is from Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer, and the other examples listed show a willingness to ignore women’s basic right to consent- some by blaming the victim, others by making a joke of consent and still others by perpetuating the myth that a woman says one thing but deep down she wants to have sex. What hit home the most to me, though, is when Jen Carson gave an example of a party scenario. Before the advent of M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), bystanders didn’t think anything about letting an inebriated friend drive home after a party. Now most of us would have no problem taking her car keys way, explaining that she is too drunk to drive. And it is because of our current cultural mindset. With regard to sexual assault, ACASA has listed twenty things that all of us can do to end sexual assault and number two on the list is ” Speak out against attitudes and behaviors that contribute to a culture where violence against women is condoned and often encouraged.”
I am not talking here about censorship or bad mouthing rough sex, sexual domination or sexually submissive behavior because those can be(and are) played out as fantasies which are consensual by nature because the woman is participating and nothing is happening against her will. I am talking about coercion. In our romance books, you don’t generally see the hero take advantage of the heroine by getting her drunk, or giving her drugs to relax in order to get sex. He acts the perfect gentleman, usually saying, “I can’t take advantage of you when you are in this condition”. So why are strong-arming, treating the heroine with a “no means yes” attitude, or other forms of pressure acceptable? Maybe the better choice would be the couple playing out these fantasies with clear cut consent in place. Personally I think there needs to be a change.
So what are your thoughts? Do you think romances play a part in our cultural mindset about what is acceptable in a relationship? How have you seen male/female relationships changed over time? If you don’t think books play any part, then what is your explanation of changes in story arcs – such as no longer having the hero rape the heroine?
I read this this morning and was struck by how likely it is we would have this same discussion all over again.
Great post. from which popular book is this horrific chapter taken please?
It’s the third book in the Twilight series.
Oh My God!! Thank you.
You’re welcome. I still feel about this exactly the same way!
Yet another issue is that video gaming became one of the all-time largest forms of excitement for people of every age group. Kids have fun with video games, plus adults do, too. Your XBox 360 is probably the favorite video games systems for many who love to have hundreds of activities available to them, in addition to who like to play live with others all over the world. Many thanks for sharing your notions.
Ugh. If only there were an edit key! I know this thread has died a slow death and everyone has picked up their toys and gone home, but I meant to type *necessary* instead of *unnecessary*.
That is all..
So true, bavarian. Unfortunately, there are some related topics that, when discussed here (and elsewhere I’m sure), the posts inevitably turn in this direction. No matter whether one agrees or disagrees with dick (and a few others) on their statements, it never calls for the type of name-calling they receive. There will never be true consensus on such a heated topic, but getting down and dirty doesn’t work either.
Leigh, right on. Continue to do the wonderful work you’re doing and attempting to learn more about how to educate girls.
So revictimizing women who have been raped by implying that decisions they have made – clothing choice, taste in romance novels – led a rapist to assault them is okay, but pointing out someone’s argument as blatant rape apology isn’t.
I never thought to read such a heated and hateful discussion, with so strong believes and so full of self-righteousness on this board. So much thinking totally in black and white.
It’s like a pendulum: First we had the excuses for rapists dominating “”culture””, now we have the other extreme: Zero tolerance of even the slightest shade of grey.
Some reactions to dick’s (rather slight) provocations are so over the top I find it disturbing. Ridley even brings her hostility against dick to another board and a totally different topic calling him even there a rape apologist.
That is why I find it unnecessary to contribute nothing. I just discovered this last night and it’s the same old, same old from posters who love the fray. It could be interesting, but turns hateful. Nobody learns anything that way.
@Sunita: Not only ad hominem but presumptuous…unless, of course, you’ve been elected the new Emily Post of the internet?
Emily Post is a rape apologist? Wow. The more you know.
Clarifying – obviously I don’t think Post or Sunita are the rape apologists. Nor do I think either are presumptuous. I do feel dick is advocating a pro rape position that either stems from advanced trollery or a deep seated belief that women are to blame for the criminal actions of men.
“”She deserved it”” never gets old, does it?
Rapists rape for their own reasons, from their own choices, on their own accord. If you are raped, it is not your fault. If you are abused, it is not your fault. If you choose, as a community, to accept someone one telling you otherwise then you need to examine your own internalized misogyny & that’s your own problem.
I respect anyone willing to look a rape apologist in the face and call them out on it, but I also respect a person’s right to choose. Your internet relationships sre your own. Let me ask you this – If someone, anyone, tells you that rape is something you can cause to happen, can deserve, can bring on – why is that person in your life?
And thus the flounce. See you in another decade, AAR.
This program aired on CBC Radio’s Under the Influence, which is a program about marketing and advertising, today. If we want to know why rape culture and the objectification of women persists, this pretty much sums it up.
dick – I think that your comments are not only offensive to women, but also to a vast majority of men (at least the men I know and associate with) who would find them as repugnant as I do.
@Ridley: You’re right. Males are usually the rapists. They’re bigger, stronger, more aggressive. That’s exactly why all women of good sense should take precautions.
Your unchecked male privilege is as blinding as your ignorance. Your attitude is why Slut Walk is needed.
Educate yourself before you dig yourself any deeper.
No one is disagreeing that reasonable precautions are sensible, we’re disagreeing on what those precautions should be and what qualifies as good sense. I have absolutely no expectation, based on a decade of watching your behavior online, that you will pay any attention to this, but for the sake of the women reading, I’ll say it anyway:
Men rape women wearing miniskirts. Men rape women wearing hijabs. Men rape women wearing cargo pants. Men rape pre-pubescent girls. Men rape women on streets. Men rape women in locked houses.
Men rape. It’s not about the women, it’s about the men, as Ridley so eloquently put it.
That’s why the Edmonton police force’s slogan is not “”Don’t be that woman.””
It’s “”Don’t Be That Guy.””
Translation: “”Boys will be boys.””
Ridley, I think I love you :)
Bravo Ridley! You said exactly what I have been thinking throughout this whole debate. Thank you.
As much as I’m enjoying Laura and Sunita fencing each other with rolled up Ph.D paper tubes, whether or not fiction influences real life wasn’t really the part of the post that caught my attention. You guys can argue that one back and forth ad infinitum. It’s a chicken-or-the-egg issue, and the debate over violence in video games has shown us that nobody can produce any real data to prove that argument one way or the other.
What caught my eye and made me break out the finger-snaps and the “”oh no you did not just say that”” was the leap from arguing that life imitates art to arguing that women are responsible for being raped and/or abused. Just typing that sentence makes me stabby. You guys (excepting dick) are women, for heaven’s sake. How can you blame women for the acts of men?
You see, men don’t read romance novels. Even if they did, forced seduction and/or alphole behavior isn’t a common or universal theme in romance. If they’re not reading romance and forced seduction isn’t even a universal theme, then men and boys aren’t learning their dismissive attitude towards rape from romance. So when you muse about how rape themes in romance contribute to rape culture, I wonder what you could possibly mean by that other than to say women accept abuse and rape into their lives after reading romance novels. That women’s attitudes invite violation.
Then when dick could make that ignorant, slut shaming comment without you taking him to task, it only became clearer to me that you’re engaging in victim-blaming. You pay lip service to not blaming a woman for dressing a certain way, but you either don’t really understand what that means or you don’t believe that women are never at fault for their own rapes. This quote of yours further feeds my point:
Why sit down with girls? They’re not the ones doing the violating. Why is it a girl’s/woman’s burden to act to avoid getting raped? Shouldn’t we sit down with boys and tell them not to rape? That only yes means yes? Tell boys that women aren’t conquests to be pressured until they explicitly say no. Tell men that nothing mitigates or excuses rape. Not what she’s wearing, not what she’s had to drink and not where she was walking. There’s no mixed signals. If she doesn’t say yes, back the f off.
And stop blaming women. Women are not responsible for their rapists’ transgressions.
I spent way to much time on this yesterday so I only going to post once. I didn’t go back and read everything that I posted. However, in the piece I clearly stated that FSF, domination, submissiveness don’t have to be eliminated. I would never call for censorship – which is how I think many people took this piece. From the view articles that I read- which I admit hasn’t been that many, some woman fantasize about having the power to break a man’s control, where he must have her. They don’t dream of violent, beat me up, put me in the hospital rape. And as far as the fantasy, the woman controls it. In our books, let this happen. My suggestion is that the FSF be part of roleplaying during sex or a fantasy became in it we are not making light of women being forced. She still has control because she is part of it. Not an unwilling victim.
There is some insinuation that I was trying to shame people for having fantasies of rape or dark secrets. If that came across I apologize. I thought my article was clear on that.
Attitudes are shaped by our society and that is influenced by media- books, television, experts, peers. Just think of the change in car seats. Think of the outroar when Britany Spears drove her two sons without using carseats. A dramatic change from 25 years ago. Hero raping the heroine was very common in the 80’s. Now it is not. That has to do with the public’s perception of how a hero should act. There is not censorship – no law says that someone can’t write this type of book unless it is the publishers saying it doesn’t sell. Fantasy of rape and the actual thing are two completely different things.
But books are already fantasy. They’re not morality tales reflecting how people should act, at least most aren’t. You’re saying that FSF should be twice removed – the fantasy people fantasizing. That’s too complicated for me.
You clearly took that implication, but it never would have occurred to me. The emotional effect something has on you is distinct from your perception of what it is, what role it fills in your life, etc. etc. One of the points of defending the FS fantasy is precisely that it has an effect, in this case a positive effect. If you admit positive effects, you have to allow for the possibility of negative effects as well. But those effects, I would argue (and your examples bear this out) are personal to each individual and a product of the interaction of the individual with the text (or whatever is causing the effect).
And therefore it is not necessarily something to be regulated as a danger, unless you can demonstrate it has a consistent and widespread negative effect across lots and lots of readers (and thus gives cover to the men who date-rape them). No one has demonstrated that here, and the results of the larger scholarly research are, to put it charitably, mixed.
And yes, I was referring to the OP and other commenters in my reference to woman-shaming, not to your comment specifically.
Dick, wrong verb. You’re not buying into rape culture (no quotes needed, it’s a legitimate area of study), you’re giving to it. Your argument, in the aggregate, is precisely what keeps rape culture flourishing.
Oh, I’m sorry. Did I call you delikit? No. The original post did that. I am saying you and most other women are able to deal with the texts you either choose to read or (unfortunately) get ambushed by.
I object to the call to eradicate such texts on the basis that it’s BAD. If that’s what you’re arguing for on whatever basis, personal or academic or philosophical, then okay. I disagree with you.
I’ve not made any such call.
Right. And that’s what I was trying to argue.
Again, I agree, because it’s obvious that the same book can evoke very different responses in different readers. Both the positive and the negative effects are personal to each individual.
It appeared (at least to me) that you were posting in support of the original piece, which calls for FSF to be removed from romance fiction. While positioning it as not being a call for censorship, Leigh also says there needs to be a change because romance upholds the myth of women not meaning no. I disagree with that position.
I see dick is giving up on the what she wore myth when we pry it from his cold dead hands, may I suggest you read Persepolis 2 for an example of the what she wore myth taken to it’s logical conclusion?
I can’t speak for others but what I’ve said, repeatedly, is that (a) I’ve been harmed by some of the (non-romance) fiction I’ve read and (b) some of the romances I’ve read have harmed me by making me feel shamed (not due to forced seduction scenes). Rape scenes, in romance, have on occasion made me feel really miserable for days. I do my best to avoid them, but it’s not always possible to know in advance when a book contains one. Does that make me a “”delikit”” woman? Maybe.
But do you feel that those books shouldn’t exist or shouldn’t be allowed because of the way they affected you?
Intelligent women can also differentiate nuances between the fact-fiction divide and the “”implication”” that fiction is affecting and emotionally manipulative.
There’s some serious stretching here to paint romance (sorry, the romance with tropes some people don’t like) as harmful to us delikit wimminz. And the sad part is it’s coming from people who are a) women and b) claim to like romance.
Of course fiction is affective and manipulative. That’s why people like it.
I think using good sense is always good, whether that good sense violates some idea that to do so violates one’s freedom to dress as one pleases.
That does not mean that I condone rape regardless of why or where it occurs, nor that I buy into the “”rape culture.””
Sorry, that last paragraph is my own and shouldn’t have appeared in blockquotes at all.
Laura, I agree completely with your general point about the power of fiction. I doubt there is a person reading this post and thread who hasn’t been powerfully affected by a book she’s read.
But you used Wood’s study to provide evidence for the power of “”romantic stories,”” which is never defined by Wood, so to assume that you and she mean the same thing is a leap.
does not constitute evidence that the subjects read romance, let alone that they were influenced in the way you are talking about. Is that influence possible? Of course. Does Wood’s study show it? Not that we can tell without inferring more than I as a social scientist am comfortable with, given what she tells us about how the study was theorized and carried out.
Considering how freighted this conversation is with the responsibilities that women are supposed to assume for their own safety and the role cultural expectations and cultural products play, I think the supporting evidence that academics provide in this conversation should be direct and compelling.
Here’s an example of how in one major city, the people responsible for arresting and prosecuting the men who commit sexual assaults on women allocate responsibility in a far more productive and less woman-blaming way:
As you know, I’m not a social scientist. I quoted from the report about Wood’s study because it seemed to me to provide some evidence that people do not always remain uninfluenced by the narratives (of various kinds) with which we come into contact. It also resonates with Modleski’s account of how romance novels reinforced attitudes expressed in her home and with Sternberg’s theory that each individual’s ideas about relationship are formed in the context of existing narratives (in many different media) about relationships.
Does Wood’s study provide proof that there’s a causal relationship between reading romance and staying in an abusive relationship? Of course not. Sternberg doesn’t provide any either. But it resonates with my own experience that I have been negatively influenced by fiction.
I’m not sure what you mean by “”less woman-blaming,”” since I wasn’t blaming any women, and neither, as far as I can tell, were Modleski or Wood. Perhaps you were directing your comments at the OP, who has been discussing fiction and also non-fictional responses to rape? As for me, though, I’ve only been discussing fiction because, although you
Sorry, I forgot to say that the essay I quoted by Modleski appeared in Paradoxa 3.1-2 (1997).
Just to throw another cat in the bag.
I think it is also important to recognize the white aspect of this conversation. When we talk about Romance we largely discuss works dealing with a white hero and a white female. If you are going to argue (incorrectly IMO) that exposure to FSF normalizes date rape, contributes to rape culture or desensitizes women to rape in a domestic setting. You must acknowledge that you are referencing an ethnically narrow subset of women.
The prevelance of FSF and the work from the 1970’s forward are dominated by white and hetero centric views and culture. Yet date rape is not confined to white culture. For the FSF to be a contributory factor in the societal acceptance / prevelance of date rape you would expect a correlation in sexual assault data.
Further, when we discuss the appeal of FSF it would be disingenuous to ignore that American society places very different messages about sexuality on women depending on their skin color. Does FSF maintain it’s popularity with non hetero readers? Or non white readers? Does the judgement that FSF is an unsafe narrative lie in the same societal underpinnings that make FSF an enduring standard of the white hetero female Romance?
When we say “”women”” in this context we should be clear what we mean.
Dabney, Sarah Franzen, Moriah Jovan, Meoksop and some others: hear, hear!
And Remittances Girl: I am so thrilled to see you here. Your novella Gaijin was one of the the greatest reading treasures of the last year. To me you prove the point that it’s all in the writing (to everybody else here: I very strongly recommend only this is not romance). If a forced seduction or rape is written by a talented writer, then I am there for that book.
I read Gaijin three times in a row and even after a year it is still haunting me.
I haven’t been to AAR in about 12 years but this thread has enough buzz I had to look. First of all, what Sarah Frantz said. Secondly, what Ridley said. Thirdly, I’ve had this discussion in various forms for over 20 years. The authors intentions are good but like many before her she is working from a place of feelings, not facts. Since those feelings are deeply held, facts won’t matter. If facts mattered, the ‘dressing to invite rape’ baloney would’ve been binned ages ago.
I have been raped.
I have been a victim of domestic violence.
I did not consent to either and built a life free of both.
Romance helped me understand relationships and gain a healthy one for myself. I did not want a Beatrice Small life, I wanted an Edith Layton one. Romance has never and would never make me amenable to date rape. Suggesting it does infantalizes women and excuses rapists.
The vast majority of women I know in abusive or damaging relationships do not read romance.
Forced Seduction Fiction doesn’t rape or abuse. Low self esteem does, on both sides. I’m exhausted to think this conversation will endure another twenty years.
There is a great danger in equating real rape with rape fantasy or a penchant for rape-like behaviour in erotic fiction, Or assuming much association at all.
An excellent study by Jenny Bivona and Joseph Critelli compiles two decades of study done of the subject of rape fantasy: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2372/is_1_45/ai_n24383385/ in The Journal of Sex Research.
My sense is that force in fiction and fantasy plays a very complex and empowering role for women. Because, of course, they are the authors of their ‘rape’ and the creators of their ‘rapist’. I think it’s a very complex and unconscious sort of re-appropriation.
Sorry, I wrote something incorrectly in my comment. The sample of women was not a statistically random sample, nor was it a properly chosen experimental sample. Therefore, even if the results Wood obtained hold true for this sample of 20 women, they cannot be generalized, that is, they cannot tell us anything about other women.
Just thought to ad this article here.
But my precise point is that *at the age of 12* I used books showing very unhealthy relationships *by your standards* to build extremely healthy expectations about what a good romantic relationship entailed. So how do we deal with that? How does that fit into your paradigm?
I have no idea what this means.
My only point is: Women aren’t idiots who need to be protected from romance novels and/or their personal fantasies.
If you think they’re so bad for a woman’s delicate psyche, stop reading them.
“”Dress is also a matter of cultural values and some dress does seem to imply invitation. No one, of course, has to accept the invitation, but in my opinion, it is common sense not to offer it, to not count on someone else’s control.””
When I was in Catholic high school, we girls went on a joint media education week with the boys’ high school. Towards the end of the week, the priest/educator took us girls aside, and solemnly told us, in almost exactly the same words, “”it is common sense not to offer it, to not count on someone else’s control.”” It was my first encounter with the official patriarchal promulgation of ‘rape culture’ – sadly not my last.
Perhaps dick and other commenters might like to peruse the links in Jim Hine’s post here:
In particular the one which says “”Today a female member of the military is more likely to be raped than to be killed by enemy fire. She is twice as likely to become a victim of sexual assault as a service-member than as a civilian.””
If we can’t ‘depend’ on highly trained and disciplined soldiers to exercise ‘control’, when can we?
I would also draw attention to Hine’s post on the assault on reporter Lara Logan in Egypt:
An emphasis on what women *wear* or how we *look* as the ’cause’ of rape (rather than, say, the rapist’s own twisted desires) leads to the absurd situation where you have extremist Muslim clerics telling women in burkha that covering 99.9% of their bodies isn’t enough to stop them tempting men into sin – they must stop making up their eyes or even just having attractive eyes! (That kind of blame laid on women for male impulses is also behind things like honor killings, but also the horrifically shameful low rape conviction rates in America and the UK.)
Men are not beasts. We are entitled to expect them not to rape us just for wearing a short skirt. I’m surprised that any man would argue that his gender is so inferior that we can’t.
Moriah Jovan – How is it different? You tell women that they are judged by more than than looks but magazines, television, society (not all) give a different message.
Woman are told that healthy relationship respect their boundaries, and some romance novels show otherwise.
@Laura (sorry, quoting does not seem to work with my browser)
Romance fiction might well be one of MANY MANY cultural places where people find narratives that they use to make sense of their lives. But to say that some women *in abusive relationships* use “”romance”” language to explain/justify their relationship does not mean reading romance causes them to be in that kind of relationship. Many more romance readers, I’d bet, are not. Just as some kids who play violent video games commit violent crimes, but many, many more do not. So I pretty much think that if you believe rape is wrong and women don’t ask for it, then reading forced seduction in romance is never going to change your mind.
Because I believe that readers read in various ways, I’m willing to believe that in some cases, those ways might be harmful. But I find it hard to believe that romance is the PRIMARY reason anyone thinks these things. Where do I think girls get the idea that an abusive relationship is OK or that they should give in to a boy to keep him? From being told, in myriad ways, that they are only worthwhile if a man loves them, and from seeing abusive relationships around them.
I think that’s what Wood’s arguing.
And that’s what I was saying: having had experience of a novel which influenced the way I felt about myself, I’m prepared to believe that there might be some other readers out there who could similarly be influenced by a novel. It might not be the only influence (in fact, I’d think it’s extremely unlikely to be), but I think it’s possible it might be an influence.
Laura, I just read the article you linked to. There is nothing in that article that suggests that the women Wood interviewed had ever read a romance novel. When Wood refers to the “”romance narrative”” and “”Prince Charming”” she’s talking about what she calls “”western cultural narratives”” that structure romantic relationships. She doesn’t ask the respondents any questions about their reading habits or about the sources of their narratives. She constructs narrative archetypes (with no discussion of how she does this) and then codes the answers based on whether she thinks they fit into her schema of the western cultural narrative or not.
And that’s apart from the methodological and theoretical weaknesses that are apparent even on a first read. A non-random, non-experimental sample of 20 women, chosen for their isolation from support groups and therapeutic interventions. It’s an odd, unconvincing study.
Sunita: Laura, I just read the article you linked to. There is nothing in that article that suggests that the women Wood interviewed had ever read a romance novel. When Wood refers to the “romance narrative” and “Prince Charming” she’s talking about what she calls “western cultural narratives” that structure romantic relationships. There’s mention of the possibility that they could have got some support/reinforcement of these ideas from “”paperback books”” and my point was a general one about the power of fiction. For the record, the book which had such an effect on me was not a romance novel. Since I know I’ve been affected by fiction in book form, I find it plausible that someone else might be affected by fiction in book form. The idea that we form our ideas about love and relationships in the context of the stories which surround us is also one proposed by Robert Sternberg: We are often told we have to be realistic – to separate the stories we tell ourselves from what’s actually going on, to distinguish fact from fiction. […] But a clean separation of fact from fiction simply isn’t possible in the context of personal relationships, because we shape the facts of a relationship to conform to our personal fictions. In many ways, we are a composite of our stories. As Immanuel Kant pointed out in The Critique of Pure Reason, if there is an objective reality, it is unknowable. All we can know is the reality we construct. That reality takes the form of a story. Love really is a story, then – only we, rather than William Shakespeare or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Erich Segal or Barbara Cartland, are the authors. […] We relate better to love stories – whether in novels, plays, soap operas, or elsewhere – than we do to the self-help books or magazine articles containing lists of generic steps we are supposed to take to understand and improve our relationships. (Love is a Story: A New Theory of Relationships. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. page 5 Tania Modleski wrote a very personal account of her relationship with romance novels, as part of her attempt “”to understand my own addiction to romances which I developed as a very young girl”” (15). It’s very long, so I can’t quote all of it, but I think it provides some support for both Wood and Sternberg’s idea that fictions (including novels), can influence readers’ ideas about romantic relationships. Of course, Modleski’s reading took place in a very specific context and that affected her too. But that doesn’t invalidate the idea that, for her, romance reading sustained particular damaging ideas about relationships: If I kiss you, I won’t be answerable for the consequences. This is the line (I’ve read it a thousand times in romances) that Germaine Greer singles out to mock in her witty denunciation of romances in The Female Eunuch. But Greer never actually looks at the literal meaning of the words, which, removed from their context, are chilling. The myth that men are unable to control their sexual drive beyond a certain point and that women lead men on – and so deserve what they get – by accepting romantic or sexual overtures from them is a myth that has all too often proved lethal to women. […] One of the main points of my analysis of romances is that the novels take the actual situation of women in our society, a situation in which the rape of women is a distressingly common if not routine event, and put it into a context that is soothing and flattering to women, allowing female readers to interpret instances of male brutality, even rape, not as expressions of rage and hostility, but of overwhelming desire and love. But the line has special resonance for me given my family history. My mother’s relation to my father was an abject one. […] I grew up in a household in which the man was never held to be “”answerable for the consequences”” of his erratic behavior. Rather, we children (and my mother) were forced to assume responsibility. […] Eventually feminism came along and I believe literally saved many of us by telling us that we were not “”answerable”” for the problems of the world. […] But by then my fantasy life was irrevocably shaped, and the Harlequin romance was at its core. (16-18) She ends her essay “”by repudiating the kinds of analyses that make romances largely “”answerable”” for, rather… Read more »
Leigh, you are talking about an entirely different subject than romance novels.
You’re talking about the work you’re doing, which is wonderful. But your argument is a complete non sequitur to the subject of romance novels.
So, I’m still thinking about this because it pushed so many of my buttons.
Let’s assume for a moment that bodice rippers with their rapes and forced seductions really do inform women across the board that this behavior from men is okay, and that this is true love, and that this is the way love works.
I can make the argument that romance novels *as a genre* inform women that there is always a happily ever after, that relationships don’t require work, that the relationship will continue after the book as lovely as it ended. That everything is white picket fences and babies and always available lovemaking opportunities.
I could (and will) argue that the unrealistic expectations of the level of happiness after the HEA is attained is far more damaging to impressionable young women than any bodice ripping. The HEA is an insidious thing because it SEEMS possible as it worms its way into the Cinderella dreams of young girls, whereas the rape/forced seduction trope is a bit more over-the-top and easily cast off as soap-operaish.
But the lure of being forever in love…
Not so easy to shake.
These girls had to get their ideas about relationships from somewhere.
Are you saying it comes from romance novels? And not from, say, TV? Or music? Or their friends at school whose mothers have the fashion sense of an oversexed moose?
You would think I would know how to quote. . but I don’t
I can’t say that it comes specifically from romance novels just as you can’t say that it doesn’t. If anything, I challenge each of you to just talk with your local rape crisis center and ask them why they think young girls and woman accept this type of relationship as normal. My opinion it is all part of cultural climate. Jokes, television,books, peers, blaming the victim, and sadly the victim blaming themselves for maybe drinking too much or going to unfamilar bar or trusting her husband’s friend enough to let him into the house.
I want these survivors to have society’s support no matter what the circumstances and personally I think that giving support and then excusing behavior because it only fiction sends conflicting messages especially when it held up as the picture of love. It is like telling women that they are so much more than a body, but then the messages in our culture tell them otherwise.
I challenge each of you, if you have daughters, sisters, nieces, to just sit down with them and discuss the subject of date rape and if they have ever been in a situation where someone didn’t want to accept their no’s and possessive, jealous boyfriends.
Thanks everyone for your contributions.
No personal insults intended.
Let’s keep the personal insults out of this, okay?
I would hope that we could have a civil discussion. If we can’t, then i will start deleting posts.
Leigh, has it occurred to you that some rape survivors may choose to read fiction in which the hero rapes? I know of at least two. Take a look at this post and at this one.
When I discovered the on-line romance reading community a few years ago, I was over-joyed to “”meet”” all these smart readers discussing their thoughtful responses to romance.
I think the idea that reading romances with forced seduction will make us more accepting of real-life rape dismisses all that intelligence. Readers respond in various and complicated ways to what we read. We aren’t passive consumers of culture. Some readers, like Leigh, will say “”I can’t read forced seduction; because of my work with victims (or for whatever other reason) I can only read this as real rape and it doesn’t work for me.”” I respect that. (In fact, that’s more of less my feeling about it, though the right book can make me feel different). And I think she should feel free to say that that’s her response. But. Not everyone will read it the same way. And they deserve to be respected, too, not shamed.
Lots of readers can enjoy this fantasy because they DO NOT READ IT LITERALLY. For example, when forced seduction appears in the context of a romance novel, we know that this guy is the “”hero”” and that the heroine will be okay in the end, happy, loved, unshamed. Often, the hero (unlike a real guy) DOES know what she wants better than she does. Because this is FICTION. Romance fiction can be a “”safe space”” for writers and readers to explore issues of consent, control, power, dominance, submission. Just as the fantasies in our own minds can be. Women who have rape fantasies don’t want to be raped. Readers who enjoy forced seduction don’t either. I fantasize about plenty of things I will never do and don’t want to do in real life, sexual and otherwise. I trust other women to do the same, and to make their own choices about what they want to read and why.
Finally, like Ridley, I’m appalled that on a board mostly populated by women, anyone would agree with dick’s ignorant comment. Rape is about power, not sex. Real life rapists do not rape because they are overcome with lust (unlike romance heroes–there’s one way fiction often differs from reality). Wearing a miniskirt is not an invitation, nor is it a reason rapists rape. If a man is not a rapist, my outfit is not going to turn him into one. Is it smart for women not to walk alone late at night? Sadly, yes. Do they deserve to be raped if they do? No. This should not even have to be said. It’s hard to say without a lot of swearwords.
I think that fiction, because of how we respond to it emotionally, can affect us on an emotional level which can be quite separate from our intellectual response. Certainly I’ve had the experience of reading one novel which had a very deep emotional effect on how I thought about myself even though, intellectually, I didn’t accept the cultural ideas being expressed by the novel.
Given that we live in a culture where many people (including Dick, above), can suggest that a woman may be partially responsible for her own rape, it doesn’t seem totally impossible to me that for some readers some romances might contribute to/reinforce such attitudes. Julia Wood’s 2001 study of women who had been in violent relationships was based on quite a small number of women but:
To a woman, each participant said she initially perceived her partner as “”Prince Charming”” and the relationship as “”a fairy tale romance.”” “”He made me the center of his universe,”” they said, and “”I was swept off my feet.”” Wood said “”every single one of them used those phrases.”” That’s what led her to connect tolerating abuse with paperback books, TV and the silver screen. […]
The women in Wood’s study also referenced romantic stories in “”efforts to defend their partners from others’ knowledge and criticism in order to shore up their own view of the relationship as a fairy tale romance,”” as well as their belief that they deserved or provoked the violence or it was to be expected. Seventeen of the 20 said things like “”All of them (men) have bad spells — that’s what mama called them — and sometimes you just have to overlook those.””
Often, Wood writes, a batterer follows an attack with remorseful behavior and courtship that convinces the partner her knight in shining armor is back, sweeping her off her feet. Identification with these stories makes it hard for her to do what would appear logical to the observer and refuse to reconcile, Wood said, “”because it’s not just giving up the man, it’s giving up the dream, the whole image and belief of how it’s supposed to be — especially if you don’t have another dream to go to.””
Julia was my advisor in graduate school. I can’t wait to send her this thread!
Are you saying it comes from romance novels? And not from, say, TV? Or music? Or their friends at school whose mothers have the fashion sense of an oversexed moose?
She told him if she said no, then she didn’t mean it and for him not to stop. The problem with this scene is the lack of safe words. I probably could have clarified it more. Thanks Willaful.
That’s a really weird interpretation of the scene in It Had to Be You. The heroine was not asking to participate in a rape fantasy– the hero thought she was, but he was very, very wrong.
THAT, ladies, is rape culture. Barking up the forced seduction tree while saying nothing to a regular AAR poster who’s perpetuating real-life blame-the-victim values makes you look foolish. THAT’s where rape comes from. It’s not from girls reading about sex with dubious consent, it’s from girls and boys being told that a woman who openly likes sex is fair game for rapists.
Honestly, I didn’t address that because it wasn’t the focus of my blog. And it has been rehashed here within the last two years. My focus today was on romance books.
However, do women put themselves in situation that make it more probable that they will become a victim? Yes. Do they deserve it. No
Do clothes make a non-rapist turn into a rapist. . No. Approximately six percent of the population rape and most have 14 victims and most are not violent rapes.
Women are taught how to avoid violent rapes. Be safe, park under a light. Check your car, etc. But how do they avoid dating a rapist? By being aware of the danger signs. By teaching about healthy relationships. By talking with your daughters and sisters and saying that jealousy, possessiveness, not respecting boundaries, not listening to no isn’t a healthy relationship.
SEP in It Had to Be You had a fantasy scene. The heroine tells the hero not to accept her no. So he doesn’t. But the two people consented to that game. Is that not a rape fantasy scene?
Approximately one in five high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.
Dating violence among their peers is reported by 54% of high school students.
One in three teens report knowing a friend or peer who has been physically hurt by his or her partner through violent actions which included hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, and/or choking.
6.Eighty percent of teens believe verbal abuse is a serious issue for their age group.
Nearly 80% of girls who have been victims of physical abuse in their dating relationships continue to date the abuser.
Nearly 20% of teen girls who have been in a relationship said that their boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm in the event of a break-up.
Nearly 70% of young women who have been raped knew their rapist; the perpetrator was or had been a boyfriend, friend, or casual acquaintance.
10.The majority of teen dating abuse occurs in the home of one of the partners.
These girls had to get their ideas about relationships from somewhere. I doubt that any mothers would say. . . oh I told my daughter this was a healthy relationship. So our culture . . the messages on television, in our books are not helping these young woman to say, I deserve not to be treated like this, until it is too late.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’re much older than I am and are not well-versed in internet, because that response was chock full of earnest cluelessness I haven’t seen since my husband’s grandmother tried describing World of Warcraft.
It’s hard to have an argument with someone who doesn’t understand her own position, but I’ll try to boil it down for you.
You’re alleging that rape themes in romance novels contribute to rape culture. I’m pointing out that rape themes in romance are a reaction to rape culture. You allege that romances teach women to date bad men. I’m pointing out that rape culture’s blame-the-victim mentality, evidenced in comments by your own posters, placing the onus on women to not get raped is the problem.
What I’m trying to say, in a nutshell, is that you’re way off the mark if you think women are victimizing themselves by reading what they like. You’re displaying a level of internalized patriarchy that I find breathtaking.
@ Leigh Actually, I’m pretty sure that Dan REFUSED Phoebe’s request. He did NOT want to play dubious consent games with her. He made it clear that if she said “”no”” or “”stop”” he would take her at her word. Dan played a rape fantasy scenario with who he thought was his ex-wife early in the book but in a case of mistaken identity it was actually Phoebe and Dan felt so awful about the whole thing it led to him breaking off the relationship with his ex and also played a part in his later decision not to go along with Phoebe’s “”just ignore me if I say no”” request.
As for the rest, I agree with Liz Mc2, Sarah Frantz, Moriah Jovan, Janine Ballard and Ridley et al. I think they said it better than I could. But, I will say that I don’t have any trouble at all distinguishing fiction from reality and I credit most readers with the same ability.
Reverend Shaw Moore: I think it’s Heyden, a chamber piece.
Ariel: And that kind of music’s ok?
Reverend Shaw Moore: It doesn’t confuse people’s minds and bodies.
Oh, the wisdom in Footloose!
I don’t know where to start. I didn’t think ignorance on this level still existed.
Dick’s slut shaming might take the cake, though: “”some dress does seem to imply invitation. No one, of course, has to accept the invitation, but in my opinion, it is common sense not to offer it, to not count on someone else’s control.””
THAT, ladies, is rape culture. Barking up the forced seduction tree while saying nothing to a regular AAR poster who’s perpetuating real-life blame-the-victim values makes you look foolish. THAT’s where rape comes from. It’s not from girls reading about sex with dubious consent, it’s from girls and boys being told that a woman who openly likes sex is fair game for rapists.
The rape culture you guys are clutching your pearls over is why dubious/non-consent remains such a powerful fantasy for women. Women still can’t be overtly sexual beings without being judged for it. Rape themes in romance continue to be a way to work with and around this.
Here’s a heretical thought: How many men, the possible rapists, do read romance?
Socialized to romance in the bodice ripper era I wasn’t shocked by the Campbell book. But I clearly remember that reading romances in the 70’s and 80’s I often was very angry with the heroines because of how they tolerated to be treated so badly and misogynistly (does the word exist?) by the hero. So I think it wasn’t all about culture of that time. The first bodice rippers were successfull and other authors followed suit. Don’t we see similar fashions in today’s writing?
To maggie b and dick: As I’m older I still was raised by my mother to dress properly to not attract unwelcome advances. So perhaps I’m also inclined to follow dick’s arguments. On the other hand maggie b is quite right with her reasoning. But I think her arguments are the fine (and accepted) theory but in practical life I would recommend to a daughter not to dress like the victim in the example when beeing alone out during the night. You may encounter a man just at the brink and you may provoke him unnecessarily. And there are men – perhaps not of our own culture – who may see a woman dressed like this as fair game.
But back to romance: Even the big numbers of copies of some best selling romances don’t come up to the number of people watching stupid and very often very sexist TV shows. And: remember my first sentence: What we need to change is the way of thinking of many men. Women living in our culture by now should know their rights.
This is my last post about this.
Here’s the advice–in the real world–I give my four kids (two in high school, two in college) about sex. Try to never do anything that you or the person you are with will regret in the morning. In my real life and, I hope, in that of my kids, unwanted sex of any kind (and I am just as concerned about those who say yes but wish they were saying no), is to be avoided.
But, in my literary world and in the long list of things I find hot (I really like my husband’s new glasses.), I am willing to think about things I’d probably never want to actually do.
The ability to distinguish between an act and a fantasy is an essentially human one. All of us, no matter what turns us on, should indeed treat others with respect. And, all of us, no matter how dark, should be able to have the secret thoughts we do.
Some of us have to work all day and miss interesting discussions!
I had to pop in and say I agree with Dabney completely on this. On the whole, forced seduction romances don’t work for me. But taking the leap from “”that isn’t my fantasy”” to “”they are harmful”” isn’t something I’d do.
When I was very new at AAR (we’re talking almost 14 years ago) I reviewed The Flame and the Flower. I found it dated and ridiculous in most ways. In my review, I included rape as one of the dated conventions I was glad not to see anymore. Obviously, it didn’t work for me. But even at the time, I wouldn’t have taken the leap that people who did like The Flame and the Flower thought rape was okay. They saw something in the book I didn’t. It worked for them. It didn’t mean they were condoning the fictional Brandon’s actions if they enjoyed reading about them.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, “”I personally just can’t read books with rape or forced seduction.”” I don’t think those feelings need to be generalized to everyone. Enjoying forced seduction in a romance novel is not the same as condoning rape in real life.
They’re still there. They’re disguised as paranormals and fated-mates.
If so many woman have rape fantasies then why don’t we have the bodice rippers of the 1980’s? Why did that go away? Because we as women became aware that rape is not something to make light of.
It disturbs me that having a rape fantasy or reading a bodice ripper is being equated with making light of real life rape. Women don’t choose their fantasies and if shaming could change those fantasies then the percentage of women who had them would be much lower.