Talking About the R Word

Yeah, that’s right. Rape. I can’t believe this blog has existed so long without us taking a long, hard (huh huh, long and hard) look at the presence of rape in romance.

First of all, I’d like to state

two

three things up front:

1. Rapist heroes are a big part of the reason why I disliked romance novels as long as I did. Heroes were rewarded for being assholes of the first order, and oftentimes their behavior to the heroine was completely indistinguishable from a villain’s, except romance novel villains tend to be jaw-droppingly ugly. From bad teeth to ugly noses to hunched backs, romance novel villains are dead easy to spot, which is in keeping with many fairy tale tropes that equate outer with inner beauty—but that’s an entirely different topic.

2. I still think romances with rapist heroes have a place in the genre. They’re not romantic to me, but legions of women found them romantic, and legions of women still do.

3. Rapist heroes are not nearly as common as they used to be. Between 1972 and about 1988, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a rapist hero in the face. Starting in about the mid-80s, though, the tides started turning, and by the mid-90s, rapist heroes were mostly a thing of the past, although forced seductions still popped their heads up here and there. (There are readers who maintain there’s no difference between forced seduction and rape, of course.) Despite the recent dearth of rapes in romance, some romances with rapist heroes are still considered classics of the genre, and seem to be experiencing healthy sales. For example, Whitney, My Love and The Flame and the Flower have been continuously in print since their first release (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, though) and are generally reviewed positively by genre romance critics.

Why is rape, one of the most profound and traumatic violations anyone can experience, so prevalent for the first several years in romance novels? And why was it presented as something heroes were allowed to do and get away with, oftentimes without so much as an apology?

Assorted explanations have been floated around. One of them deals with sexual mores. The Flame and the Flower, which kick-started the historical romance genre as we know it, was published in 1972, which in terms of sexual mores had more in common with 1952 than 1992. Several people have suggested that the fictional rape scenario allowed the heroines to enjoy sexual pleasure while still maintaining their moral purity. Nice girls don’t seek sexual pleasure. But if the sexual pleasure was forced on them…well, that’s a different matter, isn’t it?

There’s a kernel of truth in that, but I think there’s more to it.

There’s the fact that domination fantasies in general, and rape fantasies in particular, can be very potent, and these books seem to tap into something primal for a lot of women. Check out this post, for example. But keep in mind that not all women are as conflicted about their domination fantasies as this woman appears to be, and not all women with domination fantasies came from repressive or abusive households. The seeds of turn-ons, kinks and fetishes are oftentimes buried deeply, and the roots can be tangled.

So, OK, so this explanation could be classified as an instance of “This turns them on for whatever reason. More power to them. Fantasize away, just make sure to play safe.”

I still think there’s more to it than that. In my opinion, there are at least three other powerful fantasies at work here other than those of domination:

The first is the fantasy of taming the brutal man. On one hand, EWWWWW HE RAPED HER, how can she want him if she’s even close to being sane?

Darlings, this is fiction. In the fiction, the impossible happens. The classic heroic rapist, unlike a real-life rapist, is tamed by the love of a good woman, and is ecstatic at the very idea of spending forever with the heroine in happily-wedded bliss by the end of the book. He’s completely reformed, and even if most of the classic heroes don’t grovel, their asshole behavior is at least held in abeyance for the last five pages of the book as they explain in tiresome detail to the heroines what was really going through their minds at assorted points in the book and the exact moment they fell in love with them.

(By the way, it’s really important, the Exact Moment. If you don’t get to hear about it from the horse’s mouth, then you get to watch the Dawning of the Realization of Lurve. It’s one of those ridiculous romance novel things that you go along with.)

The temporary cessation of cockheaded behavior holds the promise of future behavior that, while not completely bereft of shitmonkey moments, is at least a reasonable approximation of what a decent human being should act like.

The heroic rapist also rapes for reasons entirely different from the usual real-life rapist, which brings me to the second fantasy: The heroine represents the ideal of the irresistible woman. Many of the rapist heroes in romance novels do what they do because they simply can’t help themselves, I mean, look, the heroine is sooooo beautiful and radiant and desirable and WHOOPS, impaled her unwilling body on his chubby pickle once again. Poor hero. His mind was addled by her blazing beauty.

OK, you can see that I’m less than enamored with this particular fantasy. Frankly, it’s far too similar to the “but she was asking for it, she was wearing a short skirt!” defense for my comfort. But regardless, I can see how this fantasy can hold powerful appeal. This woman, her love sauce is something powerful. Men want her, and women want to be her—that is, unless she’s the sexually-liberated former mistress of the hero, in which case it’s a good bet that she’ll give Courtney Love a run for the money in the “insane, homicidal crack whore” department.

In keeping with the irresistible woman fantasy, the rapist hero is often an obsessed hero. He can’t function with his formerly delicious mistress. No whore can do. He can slake his lust on one, and only one model of female pulchritude. And the most embarrassing thing is, she often makes him spooge prematurely, even though all she does is move her body with shy, clumsy inexperience in a dance as old as time. If she runs away, he will hunt her down to the ends of the earth. He becomes insanely and irrationally jealous when other men pay attention to her.

OK, I’ve just described just about every romance novel hero in existence. What makes the rapist hero different is how the very fact that she makes him lose control, he, a man who has bedded women without count, makes him lose control even more. He desires her, and hates her for desiring her, and he punishes her accordingly. By the end of the book, though, he has submitted to the fact that he doesn’t just want her, he needs her, the way Ozzy Osborne needs Vicodin and red wine.

The more unkind critic would note that his dick has made judgment, and his dick apparently knows better than any other organ of his when he’s found his soulmate.

The less unkind critic would point out that many women secretly want to drive a handsome man crazy for love of their irresistible little selves, even though such behavior in real life would probably result in panicked calls to the police and restraining orders.

The heroine being mistreated also taps into our martyr fantasies. You know: “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m going to the garden to eat wormmmmms.” Self-pity feels good, y’all, and so is the knowledge that HA HA THEY’LL BE SO SORRY WHEN THEY FIND OUT HOW WRONGFULLY MISTREATED I’VE BEEN. The heroine is misunderstood and treated unjustly, sometimes to brutal extremes, but we, the readers, know that she’s pure and angelic and all that is wonderful about womanhood. She martyrs herself and either refuses to defend herself because dammit, her innocence and inherent goodness is evident to all, or she cocks up the explanation so badly that she creates another big old mess, which is good for at least another 150 pages of conflict in the book.

(That sort of heroine, more often than not, makes me want to hit somebody. Preferably the heroine. Or the hero. Or tie the both of them, dump ‘em in a sack and drown them like unwanted kittens—except I’d never drown kittens, but I feel no such restraint with annoying heroines.)

What gets to me is when the heroine is martyred over and over and over again, mistreated and abused by the hero, but there’s no pay-off. No grovel, no apology, no nothing. For many people, though, the hero finally sorting out the assorted misunderstandings is reward enough, even if he doesn’t fall down on his knees, sobbing out apologies incoherently while offering to castrate himself. At least he now realizes how totally awesome the heroine is and how many worms she’s had to eat: long slim slimy ones, short fat fuzzy ones, and yes, even the dreaded ooey gooey ooey ones.

And moving away from fantasy-land, there’s the fact that many women hold on to relatively rigid views of what should constitute ideal male and female behavior. I’ve read lamentations on assorted romance reading boards about how heroines nowadays are far too mannish, and how heroes are impotent weaklings. These readers invariably long for old-fashioned romances, when the men were men. This attitude was summed up by a reader on some board somewhere who pointed out that there’s no point to the rapist hero apologizing or groveling for his behavior—doing so would make him a pussy.

To be honest, this worldview is so different from mine that it irks me, because I think it takes a real pair of balls to look over bad behavior unflinchingly, apologize sincerely and hold fast to the resolution to not repeat the mistake. The assumption that the ability to apologize for mistakes = pussywhipped drives me nuts, as do assorted stereotypical views of what’s gender-appropriate. But I can definitely see how someone who takes the opposite view would eat rapist heroes up with a spoon.

Hey, want to know something scary? Despite how long this article already is (1,589 words and counting!), I’ve only covered rapist heroes. I haven’t even begun to dissect the implications of other types of rape in romance novels. As Robin said in an e-mail to me:

(…) [W]hat does it mean when the heroine is vulnerable to rape by someone other than the hero?  What about a book like Brenda Joyce’s The Conqueror, where the hero (if he must be called that) marries the heroine off to another man and then comes and rapes her on her wedding night, after having sent the groom away?  Or what about rapes that are really meant to be angry expressions of power, like what Geoffrey did to Anne in To Love and To Cherish (or even what Sebastien did to Rachel in [To Have and to Hold], although I think it was more complicated there).  Like I said, I have NEVER seen so much rape as there is in Romance.

Yup. Damn straight. For a genre that’s supposedly escapist fiction by women for women—how often have you heard the refrain “If I wanted realism/blood/death/unhappiness, I’ll turn on the news, not read a romance novel”?—rape is writ large on the genre’s landscape.

What does that say about the books, and about us? Hell if I know. Feel free to hash it out in the comments.

 

Categorized:

Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Daria says:

    ” But actually, that scene was written from the hero’s POV.  So… clearly some people identify with the POV character, and some with the hero when he’s not the POV character or with the heroine when she’s not the POV character.”

    This might be a topic for a whole new discussion. I have a friend who says she loves reading romance written from the make POV, in order to get into the heads of the men. She is just not really interested in the female protagonist. She’d love to have category romance all written in the male POV.

    I noticed that in romance, I always identify with the heroine, no matter what the POV is. Although if it is a book in another genre with the male protagonist, I easily identify with him. I suppose, it’s not a question of gender relation, but that for me romance is the heroine’s story. The hero is just a plot function…
    LOL, it was originally said about female in pulp fiction. That a woman in pulp fiction is just a plot function, not a character. Sexist little me.
    (Although it needs to be said, I rarely read ‘straight’ romance. I read women’s fiction where there is a big external plot which has nothing to do with romance. So perhaps, I’m so used to the idea of romance as a secondary plot, that the romantic interest of the heroine becomes a plot function just because of that. Because it’s not the main focus.)

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    It is such a good thing I am sitting down when I read the comments that arrived over night. Welcome and thanks for your very insightful comments, Ms. McNaught! Especially this one:

    In the struggle for equality with men, we are our own worst enemy.  No, I
    think we are our ONLY real remaining enemy.

    AMEN!

  3. 3
    runswithscissors says:

    Hi – I’m new here (and praising the fairy godmother who directed me to this site on the very day I had foresworn romance-novel-related-websites forever.  Coincidence – a great plot device that also happens in real lifeâ„¢) but I hope it’s okay if I humbly add my thoughts to the discussion. 

    A book that sticks out in my mind because of the rape scene (or scenes depending on your point of view) is Gypsy Lady by Shirley Busbee.  A bodice ripper with a capital bod that I read at a very young and impressionable age, which is why, despite my mother confiscating it, I still remember all the details.  The hero rapes the heroine, believing her to be a gypsy wench = fair game.  When he realises she’s a virgin, he decides to run off with her to Paris to make amends.  Discovering that she’s actually as aristocratic as he is (though she was raised by gypsies) he has to marry her.  There are many, many misunderstandings, but they are well on their way to the happy ending when the hero’s mortal enemy kidnaps the heroine and rapes her.  The author makes it very clear that this is a Very Bad Thing, and though the hero kills the villain, the heroine remains traumatised = won’t have sex with her husband.  Eventually her husband forcibly seduces her and they have their big happy ending.

    The underlying message seems to be that though the hero forced himself on the heroine it was okay because he thought she was a gypsy and hey, isn’t that what a testosteroney alpha male in breeches would do?  Whereas the villain raping the heroine is wrong because he knows that she’s a lay-dee.  I don’t know if this was Busbee’s way of addressing the issue of rape in romances, or if she was just trying to give the men in the book ‘authentic’ attitudes towards sex. 

    I think the ‘raping the wench’ angle has been a way for some writers to fit sex into the plot, given a general assumption that sex was a no-no for nice unmarried girls in the past.  So sometimes the hero mistakes the heroine for a gypsy, a maid, or a prostitute and ravishes her – but he’s not a bad person because a) easy mistake to make and b) everyone was doing it, so why not me?  In other words the writer’s telling us not to judge the hero by our 21st century standards because the rape is ‘historically accurate’. 

    Just a (long) thought.  And having got it off my chest, I can go back to work …

  4. 4
    Lynn M says:

    As I’ve grown older and questionably wiser, I’ve also come to be highly cynical about the premise of love’s ability to change a person completely. It’s why I have such a hard time with stories featuring a rake hero. No matter how sexy and fantabulous the heroine, if he was a skirt chaser his whole life, how can I believe that switch just gets turned off.

    My other grown up issue is the speed in which romance novel heroes and heroines manage to fall in love. They meet cute on Sunday, have sex by Monday night, and are engaged or married by Friday. In my experiences, relationships that follow that course usually wind up with anullment papers being filed by the end of the month.

    But in order to enjoy romance novels, I have to shut down that part of my brain that knows reality doesn’t work that way. I have to suspend disbelief, just as I have to accept for the duration of 300 some pages that time travel is possible, vampires are dang hot, and all men are impossibly buff, virile lovers. It’s all part of losing yourself in the entertainment.

    As that pertains to this discussion, when it comes to accepting any form of rape in a fictional work, I think it’s a matter of knowing where your own personal line of suspension lies. For some, it hits way too close to reality to be acceptable. For others, we are able to take it as simply another twisting of what is real into what is fantasy.

  5. 5
    SB Sarah says:

    Further ruminating the topic, it’s a curious intersection, the idea of women’s competitiveness for one another, and the idea of romance and women’s fiction allowing women to identify in a positive manner with one another.

    Not to run the “Romance Shall Heal the World’s Ills!” flag up the pole (har) but women, in my very humble opinion, are never taught to compete appropriately with one another. It’s not a skill that socially we learn without some direct effort on our part. Perhaps with the advent of youth sports leagues, girls now will learn to play fair and leave the battle on the field, so to speak, but as many people have pointed out, women are our own worst enemies as we cut each other back and constantly seek to one-up each other.

    Yet being given the opportunity to identify with another woman in the romance genre circumvents a lot of that competition, and rarely do I feel that urge to “squish the other woman” when I’m reading, though I do encounter the feeling when I’m reading a magazine profile of another woman sometimes.

    And that’s a good look into my messed up psyche. I need more coffee, clearly!

  6. 6
    Candy says:

    Well, slap me silly and call me Susan—Judith McNaught actually posted on our forum.

    *faints dead away*

    I never thought I’d ever get to “meet” the author who wrote the first romance novel I ever loved.

    (I don’t cuss because of shock value—OK, maybe a little bit because of it—but because my inner child is a 13-year-old boy who thinks cusswords are funny.)

    I agree with that, Stef2.  And the similarity to the thought processes of women in abusive relationships, thinking they can change these men, really worries me.

    But for me personally, the premise still works if the author shows early on that the hero wants to change, or has a strong internal conflict because part of him wants to change.  I don’t believe a woman can change a man, but I believe a man can change himself, if he is sufficiently motivated.

    Beautifully said, LFL. That’s the crux of believable character change for me, too, and it’s why Sebastian’s redemption in To Have and To Hold is so convincing to me; Sebastian desperately wants to change for the better, and Rachel is a catalyst, not the sole cause and purpose.

    People DO successfully change and redeem themselves. Drug addicts quit, homophobes open their eyes and stop hating, self-destructive sluts (there are many varieties and reasons to slut) stop slutting, etc. They’re a lot rarer than fiction leads us to think—the vast majority of fiction deals with character arcs, which implies character change and transformation over time—but it happens.

    It’s okay if he did it out of love? It’s okay if he is sorry? We should forgive and accept?

    Authors aren’t afraid to tackle those controversial themes, but the way they solve the issue seems to be most controversial. Nowhere else in fiction you’ll have the victim so forviging, so accepting. No where else you can have a victim of rape and abuse founding a stable marriage with the rapist and abuser (I don’t mean all kinds of forced sediction here, but the extreme cases. What is done to women in romance… by their “heroes”… for the sake of love… in any other genre, it would have been a basis for a thriller plot). Nowhere else the violent behehaviour is being so justified—by being ultimately not an obstacle in the character’s way to happiness. You meet heroes so vile, a rare protagonist in another genre can measure up—and still they get ‘fixed’ and get their happy ever after. Romance is the only genre where you can see a man kidnapping and raping a woman, then living with her happily.

    Daria, you have hit precisely why rapist heroes in romance make me so deeply uncomfortable.

    And yes, the fantasy of redemption is a very strong one. Think about it: “Nobody else could change the reprobate, but he changed for me.” Again, that’s some powerful love sauce, and we women, we love thinking we have powerful love sauce.

  7. 7
    Candy says:

    Oooh, also:

    “Thanks again for a very informative and enjoyable experience here, and for letting me participate as an uninvited guest.”

    There’s no such thing as an uninvited guest here. It’s an open forum, and the people who post here are generally courteous (which sometimes shocks me, given the behavior I’ve seen on other Internet forums, and given my predilection to poke at sleeping tigers) and so smart, they scare me.

    So feel free to drop by with your two cents any time, Judith. I’m very glad you enjoyed the experience here.

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    Good point Candy – everyone’s welcome. Unless you like throbby hearts.

    And, dude, your Native American name would totally be She-Who-Pokes-at-Sleeping-Tigers.

    I think at this point I am She-Who-Is-Round-Like-the-Moon.

  9. 9
    anu439 says:

    Why there isn’t a single cheerful one, with healthy self-esteem? They are all brooding… see themselves as bastards, and not in a jolly way. If they are demonic, they are grimly demonic—not one of them is playful, or has some kind of joie de vie.

    Certainly, there are nice, well-adjusted heroes—as much as I can’t stand most of Coulter’s stuff, she does have nice guys like Burke Drummond (Night Fire), his best friend (Night Storm), and a couple of others I’m still fond of. Jo Goodman has some of the best nice-in-a-totally-sexy-way heroes I’ve read.

    But the nice guys are probably a minority (though I bet a sizable one) because as has been stated before in this thread, one of the fundamental storylines in romance is that of the heroine taming the rogue. It’s one of the most powerful. If the guy’s already a loves-his-mother, high-fives-the-butler, gives-to-charity type, then a major way to demonstrate/express the heroine’s power is gone. Or she has to find her power in other ways, like the heroines who find her sexuality/identity after years of abuse from her elderly, dominateing dead husband thanks to the nice-guy hero.

    The nice guys are usually the ones who rehabilitate traumatized heroines.Otherwise, they have to die to make room for the grim, dominating hero. Hey, even Jack Dawson had to bite it in Titanic.

    The comments about identification with both the h/h are really interesting. For me, my reading habits have changed since I began reading romance maybe 15 years ago. The wild-and-free hero POV has been a given in the genre for decades, so I rarely give it more than a passing thought (unless it’s someone like Shannon McKenna whose sex scenes are worth reading not just because they are HOT HOT HOT, but cuz they actually speak to the characters’, uh, character.)

    These days, I am a whore for heroines. I expect a great deal more in their characterization than I used to in terms of complexity and intelligence. I want more than a story about finding her sexuality in the arms of a bastard-type story. I LOVE stories in which two strong people go at each other, give in to each other. Which explains why I am reading much less romance.

    Also I agree with everything LFL says about loving the asshole who wants to change for himself, with the heroine as a motivation/inspiration, not the reason.

    OT: LFL, have you read anything good lately? I need recs, and we generally have the same taste. Last things I read were Jo Goodman’s Season to be Sinful (LOVED IT) and Lisa Valdez’s Passion (very satisfying).

  10. 10
    Maili says:

    The hero rapes the heroine, believing her to be a gypsy wench = fair game.  When he realises she’s a virgin, he decides to run off with her to Paris to make amends.  Discovering that she’s actually as aristocratic as he is (though she was raised by gypsies) he has to marry her.

    *This* topic deserves a column of its own. I never really liked and understood this popular form of snobbery that appears in almost all sub-genres of the romance genre, including futuristic romances. Whenever I come across this in a romance, my heart breaks. Melodramatic, granted, but it’s how I truly feel. I just don’t understand why this is accepted with little fuss.

  11. 11

    This discussion just gets better. Loads of insightful comments and a lot of food for thought. And serious respect to Judith McNaught stepping up to the plate – she is one classy lady.

    Something that’s been touched on, but which seems worth noting is that it’s always alpha heroes who perpetuate sexual violence. I’ve used a blanket term for a range of behaviour to make the point that everything on this continuum from rape to “punishing kisses” is a manifestion of the alpha male personality. It connects to his physical strength, but also with his inability to express any powerful emotion apart from anger, often to the extent that he isn’t aware of feeling anything else. And this anger often expresses itself as violence towards the heroine.

    Candy mentioned that the rape device or sexual violence is sometimes used as a crude shorthand to characterise the hero as alpha. I wanted to expand on this because I think it also connects with the way romantic fiction (especially the more traditional kind) deals with gender archetypes. The archetypes are firmly rooted in sexuality, and the consequence of this is that sexual violence is used in some books to reinforce these roles. What disturbs me about such cases beyond the deed itself is that the sexual violence is often cast as punishment, particularly when the heroine transgresses the boundaries by taking on some of the “male” values like arrogance, aggression or sexual choice.

    There is a lot of security to be had in retaining these roles (at the cost of freedom), but their boundaries tend to crumble in the real world, no matter what era you happen to live in. Hence the need for the distance created by exotic or historical settings. This may in part account for the “fairytale” or fantasy aspect of many romances. But I wonder whether the darker settings of many modern romances are just another side of this coin. Yes, the distance created can allow devices like rape to represent other struggles and conflicts, but like Robin I don’t think it’s always successful, and I suspect this may be part of the reason why.

  12. 12

    Oh, and hope I didn’t come across as snobbish about alpha heroes and such. I absolutely love a lot of these books, but find it interesting how I’ve fallen out of love with certain types of novel over time, and why some books have a visceral appeal that seems completely at odds with a lot of my more rational viewpoints.

  13. 13
    Stef2 says:

    So what does this say?  That the use of rape or forced seduction is the lazy writer’s way of establishing an alpha male?  Could be, but I’m not so sure that’s accurate.  The novels that have been discussed were written by women I consider incredibly talented, who weave complex plots and draw unique, identifiable characters.  I don’t think they’d resort to using rape as a plot device, merely to point out an alpha male.  I’ve seen a lot of alpha males portrayed who didn’t resort to violent sex with the heroine.  They may be gruff, rude, even crude – but not violent.

    No, I believe the rape/forced seduction thing is more about buying into the fantasy of the heroine having the ability to alter the hero’s character, to redeem him from the beast he is in the beginning.  It’s real sweet – but to me, it’s total bullshit.

    Don’t get me wrong – I love a bad boy as much as the next girl.  But there’s a distinct line between a bad boy and a sexual abuser.  Of late, I am becoming even more nitpicky, and find a distinct line between a bad boy and an asshole.  Talking down to the heroine, dismissing her opinions, treating her as inconsequential, all of which is rewarded by her ‘love’?  Yeah, I don’t get it.  Maybe that’s because I’m a feminist mother of college-aged daughters first and a romance reader second.

  14. 14
    Candy says:

    The underlying message seems to be that though the hero forced himself on the heroine it was okay because he thought she was a gypsy and hey, isn’t that what a testosteroney alpha male in breeches would do?

    Maili was right, this issue deserves its own column. On one hand, a guy raping/fucking a girl and not giving it a second thought because he thinks she’s a prostitute/servant/gypsy/other form of Wenchableâ„¢, then doing a 180° turn when he finds out she’s a lady (woh woh woh) is a somewhat authentic attitude for a guy of that period to have.

    My question is: how far are we willing to take historically accurate attitudes and cast them as heroic?

    Here’s an example:

    Would you be willing to read a book with a slave-owning plantation owner hero who rapes his female slaves, and never does anything to discourage his overseers from doing the same? Hey, it’s not as if he was raping a human, right? Because that, arguably, is also an authentic attitude to have.

    People who know more about history can feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the whole notion of loving-monogamy-within-the-bounds-of-marriage very much a MODERN notion in the first place? Which would mean that pretty much all historical romance novels are anachronistic in that sense already.

    I also don’t see why there’s a need to cast distasteful behavior as historically authentic when it’s just as historically authentic for men NOT to engage in these behaviors.

  15. 15

    I turn my back for twelve hours of heaving, and look what happens! LOL

    Serious props to Judith McNaught for being classy. *lifts glass*

    However… um, I don’t think the battle’s over yet. In a society where it’s still hard for rape victims to get true justice, where the federal government says domestic-violence restraining orders don’t “necessarily” need to be enforced, and where women still make seventy-odd cents on the dollar a man makes for the same work, not to mention a world where motherhood is economically penalized, I don’t think women are the only enemies who remain.

    I think the feminist cause has slowed a little, both because of infighting among different feminist ideaologies and because of female conservatives (Condi Rice and Ann Coulter spring to mind). The most dangerous thing right now, I think, is believing we’ve won the battle. In a country where a husband can still batter a wife to death, (and don’t give me that “she must have deserved/wanted it because she stayed” crap, we all know that plenty of women can’t afford to leave abusive relationships on a purely economic level) and motherhood is still unpaid scut work, I don’t think the fight is over at all. It’s much better than it was, because of the sacrifices and battles of the women of McNaught’s generation, but the war isn’t over yet, ladies. Not even close.

    I just went on a rampage through my books trying to find out if I’d ever written a rape scene. I don’t think I have (even in the unpublished novels) but I have noticed that my heroes tend to do a bit of bruising, usually when they’re trying to hold a heroine still and explain something. Do you think one is a milder version of the other? Either way it’s a character with physical strength overpowering another character who may not have that same strength. It seems to be, again, about power.

  16. 16
    Robin says:

    “Striking Distance sounds like an interesting book; I just put it on my list of books to buy.  Truth to tell, I think sometimes dysfunctional worlds, characters and relationships can make for very compelling reading.  If they are well written, that is.  If their dysfunctionality (is that a word?) is explored.  And if, in the case of romances, the characters move to a healthier place in a believable way.”

    I’ll be anxious to see your response to SD, LFL, because for me it was one fascinating book.  NOT romantic, but compelling and challenging in interesting ways.  The fact that it’s a single title Silhouette surprised me a little, and I can tell you that the writing is not the most polished, but it’s so worth reading, in part because the heroine is actually much more interesting than the hero, IMO.  The way we watch her get sucked in, and the ambiguity of the ending, and the self-consciousness she has in some ways but not in others made that book a fascinating experience for me.  If you can’t find it, I’ll lend you my copy.

    “No where else you can have a victim of rape and abuse founding a stable marriage with the rapist and abuser (I don’t mean all kinds of forced sediction here, but the extreme cases.”

    Have you read Eileen Dreyer’s older RWR article “Rape is not Romance,” Daria?  I found it on the internet a couple of years ago, and it’s really, really interesting.  As a trauma room nurse and Romance writer (she also writes as Kathleen Korbel), she is also very ambivalent about the way domestic violence and rape are portrayed in Romance, especially in situations where the hero treats the heroine like crap for the whole book and then tells her he loves her on the last page.  She especially rails against the argument that it’s historically accurate to portray rape in earlier times.

    “The hero rapes the heroine, believing her to be a gypsy wench = fair game.  When he realises she’s a virgin, he decides to run off with her to Paris to make amends.”

    This plot line reminds me a lot of Lisa Kleypas’ first book, Where Passion Leads, which traumatized me quite a bit the first time I read it.

    And speaking of traumatic books, anyone read Sandra Brown’s Hawk O’Toole’s Hostage?  Not only did that book employ the rape/violence against women theme, but also the Native American as savage rapist theme, which, I have to say, upped the ante considerably.  I would need about 400 pages to detail all the offenses committed by that book, but after making this guy the most brutal and disgusting and racially stereotyped “hero,” Brown completely infantalizes him at the end by having him suckle at the heroine’s breast after she’s just fed their new son.  See, my lips are curling even at the memory.  Not to mention my disgust at the “woman as healer, nurturer, domesticator, earth mother” thing (how much can’t I stand many of SEP’s Romances for just this reason!).  And am I the only one totally icked out by these heroes who want to suck milk from the heroines?  Or how about the hero of Coulter’s Rosehaven who DEMANDS that the heroine let him watch her breastfeed their child? Is that common in Romance?

  17. 17
    Robin says:

    “If the guy’s already a loves-his-mother, high-fives-the-butler, gives-to-charity type, then a major way to demonstrate/express the heroine’s power is gone. Or she has to find her power in other ways, like the heroines who find her sexuality/identity after years of abuse from her elderly, dominateing dead husband thanks to the nice-guy hero.”

    And power is a critical element here, isn’t it?  It’s interesting to me how women seem to shy away from certain notions of power, but we still yearn and seek out others, unwilling sometimes to see it as power we’re looking for.  Sure it may not be the power to leap tall buidings in a single-bound, but it’s power just the same.  And IMO it all goes back to the notion that power is conferred on the woman when a man loves her.  And if she has to fight hard for that, it’s even more powerful.  If she has to tame him from virtual savagery, it’s even more powerful.  And yet, it’s still conferred by the male.

    As to your mention of Shannon McKenna’s books, her first, Behind Closed Doors, is still my very favorite, because Seth was an a**hole hero who “talked” in the story, both verbally and through his internal dialogue, which, IMO, McKenna did a fabulous job representing.  And it really did make me love him. Generally in these sorts of stories, if I buy the redemption I’m happy for the heroine but not in love with the hero.  Seth and Sebastian from THATH, though, I loved by the end.  But my most favorite anti-hero turned hero?  Sheridan from Kinsale’s Seize the Fire.  Now there was one a**hole hero who did the most terrible things to the heroine and still won my everlasting love.

    “Well, I didn’t mean it that way, I just meant I wish you would write 100,000 words sometime because I’d be happy to read it. I’m always looking to see what you have to say about these things.”

    I know, Fair, and I really do appreciate it.  I may be nearing that 100K mark on this thread, though.  If not, there’s always my dissertation on captivity narratives, but I don’t know how many words that is, and besides, you’d probably find it boring.  It obviously didn’t inspire me to turn it into a book, so that’s probably not a good sign.

  18. 18
    Tonda says:

    “I’ve also come to be highly cynical about the premise of love’s ability to change a person completely. It’s why I have such a hard time with stories featuring a rake hero.”

    Jo Beverley gave a kickass workshop in Reno called something like “Cliché or Real Love” that was all about the biological things that happen in animals brains that cause bonding (aka love for us). Her take on how this worked into the reformed rake was fascinating and made total sense to me. I’m going to butcher it, but here goes: Some animals (and let us not forget that we are animals!) have fewer, or some specific, receptors for the biological chemicals that result in bonding in their brains. When these creatures DO find a mate that triggers the bond, they are more likely to be jealous, devoted, obsessive, etc. They bond (fall in love) with a vengeance. So, if you view the rake as one of these types of animals, then when he does manage to find the woman who triggers the bonding process, he’s likely to be first confused and amazed, and eventually strongly committed.

    “My other grown up issue is the speed in which romance novel heroes and heroines manage to fall in love. “

    I’m with you that sometimes it does seem too fast, but I have to remind myself that this happens in real life. My grandparents got married after knowing each other only two weeks (and were happily married and in love for 50+ years, until my grandfather died). My best friend told me she “knew” on her second date that her now husband was “the one”. I’ve been crazy in love twice in my life, and both times, I KNEW it was love, and mutual, almost immediately. As my friends and I say, “He just smelled right.”

  19. 19

    Would you be willing to read a book with a slave-owning plantation owner
    hero who rapes his female slaves, and never does anything to discourage his
    overseers from doing the same? Hey, it’s not as if he was raping a human,
    right? Because that, arguably, is also an authentic attitude to have.

    People who know more about history can feel free to correct me if I’m
    wrong, but isn’t the whole notion of
    loving-monogamy-within-the-bounds-of-marriage very much a MODERN notion in
    the first place? Which would mean that pretty much all historical romance
    novels are anachronistic in that sense already.

    Actually, our modern idea of marrying for “love” inside romance novels is extremely anachronistic. “Marrying for love” wasn’t around until the mid-to-latter half of the 1900s, I believe. Before that, women married for security, for policy (if they were of a certain class) and for economic protection, not for love. Even what we consider to be the birth of romances, the Provencal troubadours singing about knights and their ladies, never held it as a good thing that the love should be consummated. That’s very much a modern thang.

    And monogamy within marriage is very much a modern invention for men. As I’ve expressed before, chastity before marriage and nonadultery are held to be female social duties, b/c of property laws (a man wants to make sure the son who inherits his property is his and his alone; women wer eonly seen as incubators, if that.) Men were largely free to whore where they willed, since that was what a man did. (Don’t believe me? Read a few seventeenth-century plays.)

    It is also a fairly recent invention to allow women any sexual freedom at all, ie the idea that they have a right to dispose of their bodies how they will and a right to seek sexual gratification. The historical idea of women (I’m talking Middle-Ages Europe, and hell, even Classic Greek, the Lysistrata is a comedy b/c nobody dreamed women could restrain themselves or understand politics) is that women were barely human, weak-willed filthy little maniacs who didn’t have the brains to keep themselves out of whoredom if they were once introduced to the Big Male Pokey, and consequently had to be both repressed for their own sake and chained for society’s sake, but also “protected” since they were developmentally disabled and didn’t have the wits to Make Any Decisions. Seriously, that’s the largely underlying assumption in most historical eras that we’re going to see romances in. There were exceptions- but the exceptions don’t concern us here.

    Which makes me wonder if maybe we’re turning the tables by taking that wound in the female psyche from so many centuries of disdain and repression and turning the heroes into slaves to the Luuuuurve(tm) Juice.

  20. 20
    Daria says:

    “Daria, you have hit precisely why rapist heroes in romance make me so deeply
    uncomfortable.

    And yes, the fantasy of redemption is a very strong one. Think about it:
    “Nobody else could change the reprobate, but he changed for me.”
    Again, that’s some powerful love sauce, and we women, we love thinking we
    have powerful love sauce.”

    I guess I’m a pessimist :) I have spent my tender years reading every Agatha Christie’s mystery I could find, and her serial heroine, a harmless-looking, sweet-mannered old lady, used to say, “people never change. If he killed his first two wives, we can say with absolute certainty he is going to murder his third wife, too.” I tend to agree. Yes, people undergo ‘some’ changes, people see the error of their way… but the basic personality doesn’t change. It’s like a stormy sea—on the surface, it is boiling, but the closer you get to the bottom, the calmer it is. I’ve been down there while waves rushed over out heads, and at the very bottom, the sea plants are barely moved, it’s so calm. Same with human psyche, the changes are mostly on the surface. The most basic, inherent, deeply ingrained personality traces stay the same from cradle to grave. IMHO, of course!

    “But there’s a distinct line between a bad boy and a sexual abuser.”

    Totally. It’s been said here that forced seduction is one of the ways to establish an alpha male, but there are other ways too. I remember a hero who, well, admittedly he kissed the heroine forcefully a couple of times, and after that (she melted, of course, each time) she said angrily, “well, go on, rape me” (with quite a lot of provocative come-on in her manner), but he always said smugly that he would never go further than a kiss, because he doesn’t need to—soon there will be a day when she comes to him begging him to take her because she can’t wait a day longer for the pleasures of his bed. Extreme smugness, but I liked it :) Of course, he ended up being the one to do the begging.

  21. 21
    Tonda says:

    ” . . . but isn’t the whole notion of loving-monogamy-within-the-bounds-of-marriage very much a MODERN notion in the first place? Which would mean that pretty much all historical romance novels are anachronistic in that sense already.”

    Depends on what you mean by MODERN . . .

    The notion of marrying for love (among the upper-class) really begins to make headway in the 18th century (see THE RISE OF THE EGALITARIAN FAMILY for a great view on this). If you didn’t marry for love, then the idea that monogamy (on the man’s part) would be expected or practiced is harder to understand (it was pretty much always expected of the woman). This is not to say that people did not marry for love before the 18th century, just that it wasn’t until then that it was considered as a REASON to marry.

    The notion of MALE monogamy within a marriage is still not the norm for many cultures.  I had a long discussion with a male friend just last year about how he’s “allowed” to step out on his wife so long as he pays the bills, treats her well, is a good father to their children, etc. He’s Ecuadorian, and claims that this is the norm for all the men he knows. I told him he’s a pig, but he stands by his view of the world (just as I stand by mine). He’d never leave his wife, but he also doesn’t love her (in the big I LOVE YOU way). He married her because his mother picked her out, she was from the “right” sort of family, etc. It freaks me out sometimes when he and I have these talks. I just can’t get my head around his view how his marriage works.

    So, I don’t think that a loving, monogamous marriage in an historical romance is anachronistic. But the idea of marring BECAUSE you were in love was not the norm for a large stretch of history.

  22. 22
    Candy says:

    In a society where it’s still hard for rape victims to get true justice, where the federal government says domestic-violence restraining orders don’t “necessarily” need to be enforced, and where women still make seventy-odd cents on the dollar a man makes for the same work, not to mention a world where motherhood is economically penalized, I don’t think women are the only enemies who remain.

    Good points, Lilith. In fact, not only is it difficult to push a rape conviction, but rapists don’t get all that much jailtime compared to other crimes which I think are less of a big deal (e.g. mandatory minimums for drug possession), and rape is probably THE most under-reported crime. All these point to how we have quite a ways to go.

    IMO it all goes back to the notion that power is conferred on the woman when a man loves her.  And if she has to fight hard for that, it’s even more powerful.  If she has to tame him from virtual savagery, it’s even more powerful.  And yet, it’s still conferred by the male.

    Interesting points, Robin. I’m not sure I have a whole lot of coherent thoughts about this, but I just wanted to highlight a point I found particularly interesting.

    Have you read Eileen Dreyer’s older RWR article “Rape is not Romance,” Daria? (…) She especially rails against the argument that it’s historically accurate to portray rape in earlier times.

    I haven’t been able to find this article on-line. And now that I find she addresses one of my biggest pet peeves when people try to defend romance novel rapists, I want to read it more than ever, wah! Any chance of an executive summary from you, Robin? Pretty please? With throbbing animated hearts on top?

    But my most favorite anti-hero turned hero?  Sheridan from Kinsale’s Seize the Fire.  Now there was one a**hole hero who did the most terrible things to the heroine and still won my everlasting love.

    Oh yes, I love Sheridan too. Love love love. Interestingly enough, when my husband read the book, Sheridan made him cringe and cringe. I do think part of what makes Sheridan so charming and ultimately redeemable is how in many ways he’s self-aware, and he knows he’s a jerk. We watch him go from “I’m a jackass, and I’m just fine with that” to “I’m a jackass, I’ve hurt someone I loved, and I need to change.” Quite rare in a lot of anti-heroes. Watching him do the right thing on occasion, almost despite himself, is funny but powerful at the same time. I also don’t think I’ve ever cried as much at the ending of a book as much as I did for Seize the Fire.

    But the nice guys are probably a minority (though I bet a sizable one) because as has been stated before in this thread, one of the fundamental storylines in romance is that of the heroine taming the rogue. (…) The nice guys are usually the ones who rehabilitate traumatized heroines.

    God, I love nice guy heroes. I wish there were more of them. Christy of To Love and to Cherish is the quintessential nice guy hero, and one of my all-time favorites.

    I think there’s more than the redemption fantasy going on, although that’s certainly a large part of why there are so many angsty alphas in romance. I think a lot of women still believe in their heart of hearts that nice guy behavior is pussy behavior, and they don’t want pussies for romance novel heroes.

    Romances are, in many ways, a highly stylized form of fiction. And I think the alpha hero, especially one who’s a rapist, is one of the best demonstrations of this fact.

  23. 23
    runswithscissors says:

    “My question is: how far are we willing to take historically accurate attitudes and cast them as heroic?”

    After I wrote about ‘historically accurate’ rape plots, I started thinking about the irony of me, person who likes her romances to be historically accurate, hating rape-the-wench scenes because they’re TOO accurate.  Then I started to think, well maybe if the book was written in, say, the 18th century, I could go along with the concept of a guy who rapes someone still being the hero, because the writer was reflecting the attitudes of the day.  But the only books I can remember written before 1900 which involved rape/forced seduction of maids/wenches/gypsies are Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Pamela – and in both cases the author makes it very clear that the rapists are bad, bad men.

    I think the biggest problem is that the hero-as-rapist creates a conflict … you can either have men behaving badly-but-historically-accurately (now there’s a name for a sitcom) or you can have them behaving like heroes-to-modern-standards, but try to combine the two and you create bad hero soup.  Bleeuch.

  24. 24
    Robin says:

    “But I wonder whether the darker settings of many modern romances are just another side of this coin. Yes, the distance created can allow devices like rape to represent other struggles and conflicts. . .”

    I’m actually one of those people who feel that contemporary Romances often have MORE sexual politics and identity conflicts than historicals do.  For one thing, I think when women are writing about their own society (or at least some fascimile of such) there’s more consciousness about certain attitudes and mores, but also more personal, sometimes unconscious ambivalence toward them. 

    Your point about the alpha hero is so interesting, because it makes me wonder whether it’s always the alphas who abuse in real life, or whether it’s sometimes those passive aggressive, appear to be beta types who take out their otherwise barely suppressed rage at the world on their partner.  Any thoughts?

    “However… um, I don’t think the battle’s over yet. In a society where it’s still hard for rape victims to get true justice, where the federal government says domestic-violence restraining orders don’t “necessarily” need to be enforced . . .”

    You know, Lilith, I totally agree with you, and your comment reminds me of something we talked about in my criminal law class last semester.  In the past ten years or so (at least in CA), there’s been a big shift in the treatment of domestic abuse cases to the point where even if the woman doesn’t want to pursue the case the DA’s office MUST do so on her behalf (it’s called a “no drop” policy).  Apparently some women’s groups are actually against this policy because they believe it simply shifts the patriarchal control over the victim from the husband/boyfriend/parnter to the state, which then acts in the “best interest” of the woman.  At first you might scoff at this idea, but when you think about it, if you change the content and make it that the state ensures that a woman isn’t allowed to go out after dark alone because she might get attacked, the implications seem a little darker. 

    Or how about in battered women’s syndrome defense cases—some women’s groups have actually resisted the use of the syndrome in cases where women have killed their attacker, since the defense depends on a notion that the woman is passive and helpless against the violent attacker, but she ends up needing the defense because she’s finally taken active steps to end the situation.

    I’m not in any way suggesting that either the no drop policy or the BWS should be banned or are anti-feminist or whatever.  I’m just saying that there are so many layers to this notion of gender roles and power and who has power when that it’s not so easy to just make us our own worst enemy outside a much larger social context in which gender still does matter.  I do, though, think that women have some pretty mixed expectations for men, and that maybe we need to pay a little more attention to what we expect from and of them (like, we want them to be sensitive but still “manly”—to do the icky stuff around the house but not be chauvanistic, etc.).  Because I really do think we have a huge advantage in that society expects us to be open about our emotions and our insecurities, whereas society still, IMO, sends mixed messages about masculinity and simultaneously discourages men from publicly working to resolve those conlficting roles.

  25. 25
    Daria says:

    >Why there isn’t a single cheerful one, with healthy self-esteem?”
    “Certainly, there are nice, well-adjusted heroes—as much as I can’t stand
    most of Coulter’s stuff, she does have nice guys like Burke Drummond (Night
    Fire), his best friend (Night Storm), and a couple of others I’m still fond
    of. Jo Goodman has some of the best nice-in-a-totally-sexy-way heroes I’ve
    read. “

    Not nice guys, I meant. The bad boys, the assholes, the alpha heroes—why are all of them brooding and unhappy and self-deprecating and world-weary? A man can be a bad boy and totally pleased with himself and well-adjusted in his own way.

  26. 26
    sherryfair says:

    I’ve found that author’s efforts at psychological insight and characterization and the subtlety of the interactions they portray really, really affect how acceptable the scenes are to me. To put it bluntly, better writes handle this subject better. Aromance really lives or dies by its characterization. (Do I care about these people? Am I willing to follow them and understand them?) And characterization in romance is an interplay between archetypes and more individualized, idiosynchratic observations of people. The authors that interest me less and who write more crudely about interactions seem to lean really, really heavily on the archetype, without doing much shading, without much gray, without much exploration.

    When I think about these forced seduction/rape/power displays, here is a handful of scenes (and their players) where I really feel the author’s worked out the relationship, the meaning of the transaction, and the motivations of the heroes and heroines involved. Which is key for whether it’s acceptable to me, whether I can read on, still believing in the “truth” of what the author is depicting:

    Judith Ivory, Stewart and Emma in “Untie My Heart”
    Patricia Gaffney, Sebastian and Rachel, “To Have and to Hold”
    Laura Kinsale, Allegreto and Elena, “Shadow Heart”

    It’s interesting to me that the more “iffy” and loaded sexual transaction in almost every instance is the first one (Allegreto/Elena being the acception, and wow, what an exception, their second interactioN!), that the book spends a lot of time showing how the relationship develops and changes, in subsequent interactions, as the heroine not only consents, but initiates and even, in some cases, dominates later on, until the balance of power is more equal.

    Also, the other thing I noticed, is that the writers whom I’ve listed don’t resort to rape/forced seduction very often. But also, they have smaller bodies of work, so maybe it’s not fair to compare them with, say, Catherine Coulter.

  27. 27

    “So what does this say?  That the use of rape or forced seduction is the lazy writer’s way of establishing an alpha male?  Could be, but I’m not so sure that’s accurate.”

    I’m with you on this most of the way stef2, and certainly wouldn’t want to denigrate many of my favorite writers as well. So apologies if I offended you or anyone else.

    But yes, there are examples in books where sexual violence doesn’t seem to be used in a very sophisticated way, although they tend to be so forgettable that they haven’t come up in this discussion. So again, apologies if that came across as a blanket judgement, it certainly wasn’t intended as such.

    In my comment I was trying to use Candy’s statement as a basis for examining the undeniable connection between the alpha male hero and sexual violence. I think that people would be uncomfortable with this sort of behaviour from a beta-type hero.

    Romantic fiction is littered with examples of heroines being “kissed punishingly”, “grabbed roughly” and so on. And I think that any discussion of rape in romance, needs to take this into account as well, and look at the causes of this behaviour. After all, if it’s encountered in real life, most women would see it as a danger sign in big red neon letters.

    I wanted to link this to one possible reason why the co-opting of power as described by Robin can be unsuccessful. Because this is taking place in the context of an act that reinforces gender archetypes. It’s a deed which is believable when performed by an alpha male, and it strikes at the very core of how many women would define themselves.

    Yes, sexual violence is a continuum. Obviously, in fantasy everyone has different places where they draw the line, but why do they exist, even today? And whay so many alpha males? And I’m asking this as someone who really enjoys many of these books.

  28. 28
    Robin says:

    “As I’ve expressed before, chastity before marriage and nonadultery are held to be female social duties, b/c of property laws (a man wants to make sure the son who inherits his property is his and his alone; women wer eonly seen as incubators, if that.)”

    I wonder if this is highly contextualized.  In Puritan New England, for example, women could be pregnant before marriage; in fact, it was important to make sure the woman COULD conceive, and couples who didn’t marry after a certain amount of time (usually after the woman started to show) were fined to encourage them to marry.  HOWEVER, in many of the more remote areas, where you didn’t have a magistrate, for example, men and women lived together much in the same way they do today and changed partners after a relationship had run its course. 

    Oh, and for those of you thinking about Roe in the wake of the Roberts hearings?  From what I understand, abortion isn’t in the Constitution because it was practiced widely in the colonies and no one even thought about it being in danger.  As long as the fetus was aborted (herbally) in the first trimester (before the “quickening” as they called it), it wasn’t frowned upon.  What’s significant to me about this little story, though, is that it was midwives who did this sort of doctoring, and once doctors (that is, men doctors) grew as a profession and a professional society, they didn’t want midwives doing so much anymore, and abortion moved into a whole new social category (this movement was combined with the “safety” concerns that physicians touted, as well).  Don’t know what that’s apropos of, except that gender still matters, IMO.

  29. 29
    Candy says:

    Then I started to think, well maybe if the book was written in, say, the 18th century, I could go along with the concept of a guy who rapes someone still being the hero, because the writer was reflecting the attitudes of the day.  But the only books I can remember written before 1900 which involved rape/forced seduction of maids/wenches/gypsies are Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Pamela – and in both cases the author makes it very clear that the rapists are bad, bad men.

    See—that’s the point I’ve been trying to make forever. Rape was not the norm. Rape has been criminalized for a long time, and if not criminalized, then viewed as not something someone of good character does. These mores are reflected in the literature of the time. Here’s another example for you: Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. The rakehells come to a sticky end.

    In fact, it’s not until you get to historical romances written in the modern times that we see seducers and rapists overwhelmingly being portrayed in a POSITIVE light.

    It drives me apeshit.

    I think the biggest problem is that the hero-as-rapist creates a conflict … you can either have men behaving badly-but-historically-accurately (now there’s a name for a sitcom) or you can have them behaving like heroes-to-modern-standards, but try to combine the two and you create bad hero soup.  Bleeuch.

    WHY do heroes behaving badly have to rape? Why can’t they show their bad behavior in other ways that are equally accurate but don’t step over the rape line, like, say, gambling, or being an alcoholic, or just being kind of a jackass in general? It drives me crazy that thanks to a certain type of romance novel, bad boy behavior in Merrye Olde Englande = rape.

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: it’s just as historically accurate for a hero to NOT rape, as it is for a hero to rape.

  30. 30
    LFL says:

    In regards to the changing social mores, I think that maybe the increase in sexualized violence on TV and in mysteries or thrillers might have something to do with why we’re seeing less rape in romances. I recently read an article about sexualized violence toward women on crime shows, and while the violence against is being portrayed more often and more graphically, more women are watching these shows. Similarly, a lot of women I know (my mother, for example) who used to read romance novels, now read grisly crime novels.

    I think that we live in a society where violence (in entertainment, certainly) is seen as less offensive than overt sexuality. As a result, the mass market entertainment, which always wants to combine sex and violence for the most punch, has moved from violent sex into sexualized violence. Does that make any sense?

    It makes perfect sense, Mar.  But it is disturbing, because it shows that our culture has a certain fascination with sexual violence toward women.  Still, I can understand it.  Sex crimes are like a bogeyman.  I know that for me, fear of them was instilled in childhood, when my mom taught me not to talk to strangers.  And my fear of rape has never gone away, especially since a couple of people near and dear to me have survived sex crimes and I have seen up close just how devastating those can be.  Since we fear sex crimes so much, perhaps it is inevitable that they pervade our entertainment, where heroines can overcome that danger, either by the villain’s imprisonment or by his redemption.

    It is interesting how, in romantic suspense, it is often the hero who catches the serial killer / rapist.  And the hero is often extra-motivated to do so because he’s falling in love with the heroine, who is next on the villain’s list.  So in the end it’s still true love that overcomes the danger to the heroine.
     
    The underlying message seems to be that though the hero forced himself on the heroine it was okay because he thought she was a gypsy and hey, isn’t that what a testosteroney alpha male in breeches would do?  Whereas the villain raping the heroine is wrong because he knows that she’s a lay-dee.  I don’t know if this was Busbee’s way of addressing the issue of rape in romances, or if she was just trying to give the men in the book ‘authentic’ attitudes towards sex. 

    I remember that book!  What you say is interesting, runwithscissors.  I think that premise was in Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower also.  The hero mistook the heroine for a prostitute and raped her, then married her when he realized his error.  Since that book was a huge bestseller, perhaps that plot device became part of the blueprint for other authors.

    When I read the book in my early teens, I thought that was cheesy, but I also thought that the villain’s rape was so much more traumatic for the heroine because he was the villain.  The hero’s rape of her led to a HEA, while the villain’s rape of her got in the way of a HEA.  I think that in those days I was able to tune out the darkness of a lot of hero-heroine rapes because they led to a HEA.  I had a much harder time when the heroine was raped by someone other than the hero.

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