Political Incorrectnes is the new Political Correctness

I was reminded of why I avoid visiting the AAR messageboards yesterday. They’re a wonderful avenue of lively discussion, but OY, they’re such a time suck—and not only that, they sometimes contain some of the most jaw-dropping sentiments. Not only do I disagree with them, but I think they’re quite astoundingly silly.

For example, from this message on the AAR Reviews board (the thread started out as a discussion about Lisa Valdez’s The Passion):

Political correctness is diluting and changing our language, and in its name, there are many traditional behaviors that are no longer PC. Classic romance is all about “When men were men and women were women.” Today, the heroines have an edge—they banter with the men, they are as aggressive as the men—they might as well BE men. And the heros are drawn to them because they are “different” and “more exciting and stimulating” from the usual women they meet? What rubbish! Who wants a wise-cracking, sarcastic virago who doesn’t need a guy for anything because she can handle it all herself? With these tougher heroines, there is nothing much left for the men to be, except “gentler,” more “sensitive,” and the heroine’s “best friend.” More rubbish! I like your descr1ption: “A contemporary romance set in 1812.” I live in 2005 and I read historicals to get AWAY from contemporary life.

I wrote a reply, as did someone named Lisa. Go read ‘em if you like. Myself, I’m staying far, far away since I’ve said all I wanted to say on that board. There was, however, an issue that was brought up in this post that I didn’t address in my reply, and that’s the issue of political correctness.

Robin, one of our regular visitors, has mentioned in one of her comments that political correctness has come to mean something bad, but “something is only ‘PC’ based on your own subjective standards of conduct.” She hit the nail on the head. Nowadays, when a powerful figure makes a blatantly racist, sexist or otherwise repugnant statement, any attempts to point out the shitfulness of said statement are immediately labelled attempts to be PC, therefore wrong or suppressive or unrealistic. Shit, ifeminist.org has labelled The Vagina Monologues as PC, and while I do think that parts of it are disturbingly anti-male (something other friends of mine picked up on as well), a play in which a roomful of women are encouraged to scream out “Cunt! Cunt! CUUUUNT!” with almost orgasmic fervor could hardly qualify as politically correct without twisting around the definition of PC quite a bit.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible for political correctness to go too far. People squealing when someone uses the word “niggardly,” for example. That’s not just PC going too far, it’s just plain ignorant. See that dictionary? Learn to fucking use it. The etymological portion of the definition might be of especial interest. I might even start up a society: The Association for the Preservation and Appropriate Use of the word “Niggardly.”

But back to historical romances. Blaming the departure of old-skool romances featuring alpha assholes and simpering ninnies on modern political correctness is grossly inaccurate. First of all, I think the answer is as simple as this: The market changed. I read those old-skool romances as a young child, before I’d even HEARD of the term “political correctness”—hell, this was before the PC movement gained steam—and before I learned what feminism was. The stories still bothered me. All I knew was, I really didn’t like the way the heroes were rewarded for being mean. I’m going to guess that a great number of women felt much the same way, and started glomming romances that featured heroes who were actually, y’know, NICE once in a while, and publishers, who are in it for profit, after all, perked up and took notice.

Look, if old-skool type romances were still overwhelmingly popular, d’you honestly think publishers wouldn’t be pumping out new titles the way they are vampire romances and chick lit? I’m not going to be simplistic and claim that publishers sell exactly what all the readers want, all the time, but they do generally respond to market pressure. Hey, I wish there were more medieval romances and romances featuring heavily-tattooed atheist heroines; you won’t catch me blaming this lack on political correctness, though.

Second of all: Why in the everloving fuck are some people so eager to label strong, capable, independent women with a sense of humor as mannish and undesirable? Hey, I’m not especially fond of unrealistic superheroines who are capable of taking over Daddy’s floundering company before she’s out of leading strings, either, but honestly, I encounter far more heroines of the exact opposite kind in romance fiction: heroines who fuck up consistently and require the hero to save their fucktarded little asses. And even then, I don’t think of the unrealistic heroines as being unfeminine. Frankly, romance doesn’t have a problem with masculinizing its heroines. It does have a problem with feminizing and idealizing the heroes, but this happened even in old-skool romances. What, you think any self-respecting guy, much less a tough-ass captain and rapist extraordinaire, would say some of the absolutely mortifying things the hero does in The Flame and the Flower?

And third: lamenting the departure of alpha asshole heroes in historicals because they’re no longer PC somehow assumes that some of the things these jerkwads did (such as repeated, unremorseful rape of women) was condoned in ye olden tymes and somehow some sort of historical fact. The idea that these types of heroes are somehow more convincing for their time period makes me want to bang my head against the desk. The idea that these types of heroes are real men while the heroes who refrain from doling out physical, verbal and emotional abuse are watered-down pussies makes me want to bang my head even harder. I guess having a Y chromosome and a set of cock and balls is not enough to make someone a real man. Ye have to RRRRRAPE the wee lassies, mon!

Political correctness, while occasionally verging on silly, has made people think about the language they use and re-evaluate cultural attitudes, and that’s always a good thing. No, I don’t believe that changing the language will change societal attitudes—witness what’s happened to the word “special” once people started using it to describe retarded kids instead of calling them, well, retarded. And “retardation” and “retarded” were (still are) bona fide medical terms before being co-opted by assholes everywhere (including me) as an especially pejorative synonym for “idiot.” But in terms of effecting greater cultural change, thinking about the language we use, the attitudes we carry and why we say things the way we do is a decent first step. Yes, some people go off the deep end, but them’s the breaks. In my opinion, someone who uses PC as some sort of all-purpose whipping post is engaging in lazy thinking. It usually stands in for “my opinion is unpopular, and it’s not unpopular because it’s wrong, or because the majority of people just simply hold opinions different from mine—it’s because of POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.”

 

p.s.: Blame Sybil for providing the initial link to the discussion.

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Ranty McRant

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  1. 1

    “Who wants a wise-cracking, sarcastic virago who doesn’t need a guy for anything because she can handle it all herself?”

    Um, my husband? For over 32 years now?  Though I have to admit, when the dog brought a dead mole into the house and laid it on my rug as a trophy, I told him 35 years of feminist ideals was flying out the window and The Male could dispose of the animal carcass.

    *sigh*  I read an op-ed piece today where a college student (at a school that was 100% male until 1948) said she’s not a feminist and she things feminists are just unfair to all those women who want to stay home and raise children.

    Hello?  Who do you think made it possible for you to go to that major university? Who do you think these women were who in ‘48 had to put up with infantile male underclassmen doing the “library shuffle” (scuffing their feet back and forth to make annoying noise) when women started studying in their hallowed domains?

    I didn’t mean to go off on a rant, but between that AAR posting and the op-ed piece, it hasn’t been a good day for me to look at this younger generation and feel the future’s in good hands.

    And I defy that AAR poster to read _Pride and Prejudice_ and tell me that it’s not about two people who are attracted to each other for those very reasons she says are such a turn off:  Elizabeth doesn’t need Darcy and he can see this, and appreciates her being willing to stand up for herself and not cling to him like sweaty undies.

    Jeez, what a world.

  2. 2
    Candy says:

    Didn’t you know? Darcy isn’t a real man, and Austen is a PC Nazi who knows shit-all about 19th-century attitudes of men towards women.

    Actually, I can’t think of a single hero from actual historical novels who behave in any way, shape or form similar to the heroes in old-skool romances. “When men were men” indeed. GAH.

    On to other infuriating topics….

    I was doing some reading about Sumner’s boneheaded remarks about how women are inherently inferior in maths and hard sciences when I came across these paragraphs from an article in the LA Times:

    When the private all-girls Catholic high school Lewis attended did not offer a calculus-based physics course, the Caltech chemical engineering major took it at a nearby boys’ school, showing up in her plaid-skirt uniform and knee socks.

    I wonder how many other students in that all-girls’ school might’ve gone on to study similar subjects if they’d offered a calculus-based physics course as an option?

  3. 3
    bookseller chick says:

    Elizabeth Bennett is an excellent example (even if I can’t spell her last name correctly) of a character who is happy with her thoughts, herself, and her place, and Darcy is attracted to that.  I think that my biggest problem with Passion (the book and the character) is that the female protagonist didn’t (at some point) realize that she could make her own happiness (not to mention call the male protagonist on some of his more asshole tendencies), which, Austen showed us, wasn’t an impossible task during that time period.  Not to mention that there were women in unusual forms of power long before the 21st century (just go read Sex with Kings, a wonderful book on the king/mistress relationships throughout history).

    And don’t even get me started on this skewed (sp?) view of feminism that so many people seem to have these days.  Feminism has always meant choice to me: I have the choice to go to college or not, I have the choice of whether or not to have an abortion, I have the choice to be dominant or submissive.  I’m not locked into any role or position because someone has made the rules for me.  I’m free to choose. 

    Golly gee, that sounds so radical, doesn’t it?  The ability to be whatever I want to be: mother, CEO, bride, dominatrix, or all of the above.  Craaaaaazy.

    Yeah, I’m sure I would be against that too.

  4. 4
    Sarah says:

    Oh, God, is there anything worse than question-voiced girls (you know? the kind who talk? Like they’re asking a question?) starting a diatribe against whatever cause by saying, “I’m not a feminist, but…”?

    It makes me want to tear my hair out. Why the hell not be a feminist? Because those who are against the feminist movement and were scared by the idea that shaved-head lesbians in combat boots were going to take their precious daughters away and thus denigrated the meaning of the word to reveal a negative? I wish women would take the word back, like the word “queer,” and use it to redefine themselves. Sadly, it’s UN-PC to be a feminist, so women? Have to distance themselves? from the idea? that they might be for equal opportunity? for men and women?

    What absolutely kills me right now, in my own subset of PC-angst, is the stay at home mom vs. work out of home mom debate, which I’ve mentioned before. I want to shake both sides in ways I shouldn’t shake a baby and scream at them that they each OWE the OTHER for their right to choose their life. SAHMs get to stay home because they can. WOHMs get to work because they CAN. No one is cheating or damaging the other’s progress.

    Ok. Time for me to take deep breaths.

  5. 5
    Lisa says:

    I think these comments are spot on. I am very, very tired of the weird justification for romance sexism as “historical accuracy,” because it often has very little to do with history, or with accuracy. Most romance historical universes are essentially fantastical. If people want to read those kind of characters, fine – but those who want a wider range of characters aren’t looking for contemporary-historicals, they’re looking for a wider lens on historical settings, and enjoying subversions of gender roles. Personally, I want to see more working class lives, and if I’m going to read yet more aristocracy, etc, I want to read about the people who were innovative, revolutionary or subversive for their time, and I hardly find them in most romances I pick up, nor do I find strong women in most contemps, let alone historicals.

    Furthermore, men (at least the kind I like to imagine as *heroes*) find many competent, strong women attractive. For that matter, hetero relationships can involve even deliberate subversion of gender roles.

    “Historical accuracy” is just not an excuse for simpering, weak heroines and rapist heroes. If that’s what people like, fine, but the high horse of history is not well suited by holding up Kathleen Woodiwiss as the finest example of truth in history.

    Anyway, love this place! :)

  6. 6
    fiveandfour says:

    Well, I have to say this discussion has inspired a lot of thought for me today. 

    As I was eating my sandwich for lunch I was ruminating on Alexis de Tocqueville, the modern state of marriage, political correctness as an ever-present part of all cultures (just under different terminologies or guises), Joseph Campbell, the current political climate in the United States, an HBO stand up routine of Bill Maher’s I saw a couple of years ago, etymology, religion, and a recent bit on The Daily Show about bullying.

    Whew!  Time to get back to work so I can stop thinking so hard. :).

    I think we would have a major case of hi-jacking a blog (punishable by forced use of a typewriter for all correspondence along with required use of paper encyclopedias for purposes of all research queries – oh the humanity!) if I gave full rein to iterating all of my thoughts on this subject.

  7. 7
    AngieW says:

    Uh, Sarah, you need to stop hanging out on baby boards. Because those PC arguements that center around parenting only get uglier- wait until the baby comes and you get the “mainstream” versus “attachment parenting” arguement going. There is nothing uglier. Discussing parenting styles and choices seems to bring out the absolute worst and most defensive in people. It’s PC at it’s worst.

    And Candy, as soon as I saw your comment on AAR, I was counting down to how long it took you to write an entry over here. I knew that had your knickers twisted big time and I thought your reply was lovely! I wanted to stand up and cheer. But since only the cats and the baby are here to witness it, I felt a little silly.

  8. 8
    Arethusa says:

    Oh my gawd I love this blog. I’ve had the SAME issue about the way “PC” is being hijacked so that those with truly offensive, incorrent, unsupportable and unsubstantiated positions can present themselves as fucking martyrs because they’re “railing against the status quo”; taking pride in the fact that they’re “Un-PC” and being PC makes you a toadying conformist.

    *bangs head on the wall along with you*

  9. 9
    Gabriele says:

    Want a stupid piece of German PC?

    Well, the German language distinguishes between male and female endings. We have Lehrer (teacher) and Lehrerin (Lehrerinnen in plural), Studenten and Studentinnen etc. In written documents addressing both genders, the male form was used until some time in the late 70ies, some women demanded not to be lumped in with the men and that it should be something in the way of Studenten und Studentinnen all over the place. That one really took over, it was Professoren und Professorinnen, Ärzte und Ärztinnen (doctors), Anwohner und Anwohnerinnen (inhabitants) ….  :gulp:

    In the 80ies it was subsequently shortened to Studenten/Studentinnen and in the 90ies to StudentInnen (with a capital I). At which point a lot of women had their fill and said they won’t define themselves by the “capital I”. But it never went back to the old male form only use.

    Though we got rid of an even more ridiculous PC. English one as in “one should vote in the next election” in German is rendered by man which alas, looks suspiciously close to the noun Mann (as English “man”) despite the grammatical history is different. The result? Documents had to be man/frau sollte …. And when I jokingly suggested it should at least be the correct Mann/Frau I almost got lynched back in the 80ies. But this one has more or less disappeared.

    Be glad your chauvinistic English has only male forms.  :-)

  10. 10
    Mai says:

    I am very, very tired of the weird justification for romance sexism as “historical accuracy,” because it often has very little to do with history, or with accuracy.

    Amen, Lisa! I almost wept with happiness when I read your post at AAR. You’ve said everything that I tried to say but failed [sometimes colourfully, unfortunately]. Thank you.

  11. 11

    Here’s a different take on today’s post.

    Maybe the AAR poster’s comments can be viewed as a lament, because she has lost her safe outlet for submissive fantasies—the “old skool” romance novel.

    Ain’t nothing wrong with having fantasies of submission, even the good old forced seduction fantasy. But as women we should be self-aware enough to find a safe place to play them out, and not try to turn the world, or the romance genre, into that safe place.

    I think someone should direct the poster to some sensible, safe and sane BDSM fiction. Seriously.

  12. 12
    Robyn says:

    A-freakin-men, Angie. Sarah, avoid parenting boards at all costs. I had a hormonal problem and could not breast feed. As in I had no milk. Outraged La Leche moms still told me I could do it if I “really tried.”

    Ever notice in the bodice rippers the violence was only sexual? If you’re going to be historically accurate, why not also include the spankings (read: beatings) some women endured if they were disobedient or disrespectful to their husbands? Guess that’s not as exciting to read about.

    I saw an excellent documentary last year about the suffrage movement, and I think it should be required viewing for high schoolers, male or female. I vote in every single election, partly out of civic duty but also as a tribute to those women who assured my right to do so.

  13. 13

    Robyn—Diana Gabaldon got a boatload of grief over having her 18thC hero thrash his wife (the heroine) in OUTLANDER.  It was historically accurate, but a lot of readers couldn’t deal with it.  It made perfect sense though for this character to respond in that fashion, and Gabaldon offers no apologies for writing the scene as she did.  But then she’s also maintained from day 1 that she doesn’t write romance, but instead writes SF.

  14. 14
    Gabriele says:

    The Historicals I’ve read were too formulaic and badly researched, thus I haven’t gone near them for a long time now. So, if you can recommend some not clichéd ones where the author did his homework …  :)

    Julius Pollienus, my baddie in The Charioteer treats the woman to whom he’s married with respect, despite the fact it’s an arranged marriage. And while Julia has a crush on the MC Ciaran, she isn’t exactly unhappy in her marriage; Pollienus allows her quite some freedom. It’s one of his redeeming qualities – I don’t want pitch black baddies.

    Morait from Storm over Hadrian’s Wall confronts the chief of her tribe about the way he treats the captive Roman officer, and not because she loves Horatius (she doesn’t). She’s a strong woman and fun to write. Talorcan, the chief, doesn’t take it out on her, he accepts her right to have a meaning of her own.

    And Kazimiera from my first attempt at novel writing makes Lady de Winter look nice, but she’s a bit cliché. I really have to rewrite that one. Thoroughly.

    The rape scene I have is between two men. How’s that for not clichéd?  ;-)

  15. 15
    Gabriele says:

    Lol, I had no problems with that scene in Gabaldon’s book. It fitted the time.

  16. 16
    Maili says:

    Diana Gabaldon got a boatload of grief over having her 18thC hero thrash his wife (the heroine) in OUTLANDER.  It was historically accurate, but a lot of readers couldn’t deal with it.

    No, that scene has nothing to do with historical accuracy. It has everything to do with the human nature.

    Men used violence on women 1,000 years ago, men use violence on women today, and men will use violence women in 1,000 years’ time. 

    I don’t see anything wrong with Gabaldon’s decision to have that scene at all. It’s her novel, but I do have an issue with readers to deem it “historically accurate”.  It just doesn’t make sense.

  17. 17
    Sybil says:

    I knew you were over here talking about me!

    sort of…

    I just tried to bring a lil joy and happiness into your life ;)

    I do have to say I agree you can get away with an asshole alpha in a historical more than you can in a contemp though.  Just because the rights women had at the time were less, uh none.  Does that make the lad raping his lassies ok or pc or whatever letters, no but it happened.  Not to say it doesn’t still happen but that is another post…

  18. 18
    Monica says:

    Oh lawd, are y’all going to make me go over and check the AAR boards?  It’s as scary over there as a small town in Missisippi after sundown.

    I’ll sneak over.  Quietly.  I won’t dare speak.  But if I did woud y’all save me from the ensuing lynch mob? 

    That’s what I want to know.

  19. 19
    AngieW says:

    No Monica, because clearly you know better . Now, if you were some poor, unsuspecting innocent about to embark upon a perilous journey and in danger of being attacked… that might be different. Of course, we’d have to weigh our options carefully as we wouldn’t want to be accused of being politically incorrect.

  20. 20
    Karen Scott says:

    We’re all entitled to our own views, but shit, some people are just stupid beyond belief.

  21. 21
    Candy says:

    I do have to say I agree you can get away with an asshole alpha in a historical more than you can in a contemp though.

    I agree, too, but I don’t think it’s really a matter of convincing historical attitudes so much as the distance history affords us and how we idealize and create a highly fictionalized world based on the past. We do the same thing with paranormals, too. Norms of behavior we’d find unacceptable in realistic contemporary settings would be OK, though sometimes with reservations, in historicals and paranormals.

  22. 22
    Gabriele says:

    Maili said No, that scene has nothing to do with historical accuracy. It has everything to do with the human nature.

    But it isn’t historically wrong either. Do you think Claire would ever have accpted such a thing from Frank (fact aside that it would not have been in his character)? She can come to terms with it because she understands that things were different in Jamie’s world.

  23. 23
    Sonja says:

    Spot on! Bravo. And I just have to say that this line made me laugh so hard I almost peed in my pants:

    I guess having a Y chromosome and a set of cock and balls is not enough to make someone a real man. Ye have to RRRRRAPE the wee lassies, mon!

    My husband didn’t appreciate the humor. Of course, it WAS a bit out of context.

  24. 24
    Monica says:

    **sniff**

    Hmmm, I’m about as nonpolitically uncorrect as they come.  I shall continue to give AAR wide shrift, never fear. 

    I can’t get into historicals because of what seems to me the laughable historical inaccuracy and sameness of most of them.

    PC is turning into the new pejorative, sort of like *liberal* did.

    I made a horribly unPC statement about how historical romances are an antifeminist’s wet dream (pretty dresses, castles, rescues, alpha men, shrieking and much feisty hair-flinging and foot-stamping).  Aren’t you happy I deleted it? 

    And aren’t paranormals clearly completely made up stuff (I hope so, because if I ever came face to face with a vampire, no matter how fine, hard and randy—I’d pee my pants) unlike historicals. . . which are supposed to be, um, historical’n’sh*t, right?

  25. 25
    Candy says:

    I made a horribly unPC statement about how historical romances are an antifeminist’s wet dream (pretty dresses, castles, rescues, alpha men, shrieking and much feisty hair-flinging and foot-stamping).  Aren’t you happy I deleted it?

    Well, yeah, because then I’d have to go into long and tiresome detail about loads of historicals don’t feature alpha men, or feisty hair-flinging and foot-stamping :lol: . I have to admit to the lure of pretty dresses though, but that’s just me.

    And aren’t paranormals clearly completely made up stuff (I hope so, because if I ever came face to face with a vampire, no matter how fine, hard and randy—I’d pee my pants) unlike historicals. . . which are supposed to be, um, historical’n’sh*t, right?

    Depends on who you talk to. There seem to be two distinct camps in the historicals camp: those who don’t give a shit about historical accuracy because “it’s all a fantasy and I read it to escape reality,” and those who want everything correct down to the minute details. Regardless, historical novels have pretty much presented an idealized and not-particularly-accurate look at the past, and historical romance authors are hardly the only ones guilty of this crime; take a look at Ivanhoe, for example. I don’t see anyone raking Walter Scott over the coals nowadays for his inaccuracies and his notorious misspelling of “Cedric” (the correct form is Cerdic).

  26. 26
    katyli says:

    Oohh, speaking as a female mechanical engineer, that stuff from the Harvard Prez was really infuriating!

    Plus I had to deal with professors either making passes at me or treating me like an infant. My roommate (another female engineering student) went to one of our professors about a B she got on an exam (she was a straight-A genius).
    His response? “Don’t worry your head about it, you know you’re lucky, cuz they kill baby girls in China?” ????

    Yeah, it’s a fucking “genetic inferiority”, my ass. Sheesh.

  27. 27
    Susan K says:

    Marcus Brigstocke had a column in the Guardian on 24 May titled “PC exists to balance out the bigots” that deals with this.  “Britain is obsessed with the idea that PC is a conspiracy, a hurricane of embittered, lefty oppression….Accusations of politically correct thought control have become a pathetic and transparent excuse for lazy racists, sexists, and Islamophobes the land over….[PC] is exploitable as any other progressive ideal, but its aim is to stifle the incessant noise of those who flap their careless lips without a thought about those they might offend and why that might be important.  PC exists to balance out the loudest voices, who assume that the things they are used to are somehow sacred or (God forbid) traditional, just because no one’s had the sense or the balls to change them.”  The comments are just as appropriate on the American side of the Atlantic, and he said it better than I could.

  28. 28
    Candy says:

    Ooooh, another non-romance author who played fast and loose with history with very, very fun results: R.L. Stevenson with The Black Arrow.

    I need to get my hands on that book because I remember really, really loving it as a child.

  29. 29
    Candy says:

    Plus I had to deal with professors either making passes at me or treating me like an infant.

    But didn’t you hear? Discrimination is the LEAST of the factors when it comes to the drastic under-representation of women in math, the sciences and engineering. It’s probably due to your innate inadequacies that they were treating you like an infant.

    How hard is this for your puny female mind to grasp?

    “PC exists to balance out the loudest voices, who assume that the things they are used to are somehow sacred or (God forbid) traditional, just because no one’s had the sense or the balls to change them.”

    That, if you’ll pardon my French, is motherfucking beautifully said.

  30. 30
    katyli says:

    *snorts*

    Yes, I am innately inadequate…

    It’s sad, but I finally gave up on engineering. I stay at home now with my babies and read tons of romance novels, and I can’t remember how to solve a complex differential. *sighs*

    Oh, well. Laura Kinsale RULES! :)

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