Candy’s column on forced sex between heroes and heroines made me think of two males in romances I’ve read, and why the unwilling sex depicted within didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.
My secret love of Coulter’s Midsummer Magic knows no limit, nor shame. I love the heroine, mostly because in the end, she wins. But I also never come close to hating the hero, even though his behavior on the surface would and could logically lead to some seething anger on behalf of the heroine.
The hero, Hawk, has to marry Frances or one of her sisters, and because she disguises her fiery personality (because you can’t be Scottish if you don’t have (a) red hair and (b) a fiery personality to match, och och och) behind a wonderfully awful dowdy costume, he marries her. His life won’t have to change much – he’ll dump her dumpy ass in the country, head on back to London, boink his mistress, go to parties, and head north every so often so that he can head north up her passage and beget an heir.
This is where the oft-discussed “cream” to ease that passage north comes in. He forces Frances several times despite her clear refusal, and has to use cream to smooth his way. And, you know, it’s a tough call for me to declare that he’s 100% wrong because they’re married, and in historical context, sex was part of the marital deal. While spousal rape is a crime in a lot of countries now, it sure as shit wasn’t then.
Yes, no means no and it sucks that she’s in that position, but hey, he doesn’t want to be married to her any more than she wants to be wedded to him. And yeah, yeah, he couldn’t see through her disguise to see the hawt sexy fiery redheaded Scottish vixen of awesomeness that she is, and eventually Frances wins him over with her true self. Likewise Frances rested purely on her initial reaction to Hawk and discovered later that they have a great deal in common, not the least of which is a big stormcloud of sexual attraction. But is he wrong to expect sexual intercourse now that they’re married? Is he absolutely in the wrong because she said no and he went ahead anyway?
Consider Sophia Nash’s A Dangerous Beauty. In the very beginning of the story, the heroine, Rosamunde, is ruined and marries a horrible, beastly slimy man who emotionally abuses her and treats her with lifelong recriminations for ruining herself. I won’t go into the full resolution because that would spoil the ending, but my biggest problem was the depiction of the first husband as the slimiest, most awful bastard known to earth rested at its apex on the fact that… he wanted sex from his wife.
When Rosamunde finally reveals how horrible her husband was – and he was a right slimeball, no mistake about it – I was with her in deepest empathy all through the parts where he controlled her, punished her, emotionally abused her and made her feel like crap every day of her life with him. But when Rosamunde related the details of his footsteps pausing outside his door, knowing that he was going to come into her room for conjugal relations, I had to say, “Ok, but….”
In historical romance, somehow in my brain there’s a forced sex loophole within the marriage of the characters. Yes, it sucks when your slimeball of a husband wants to boink you, and it’s even worse that he takes enjoyment out of the fact that you clearly, clearly hate it, but those are the historical facts of the time – there was an understood expectation of conjugal rights. Even now, spousal rape isn’t a crime in a whole list of countries. Even in the US, 33 of 50 states regard spousal rape as a lesser crime. So yeah, it sucks, and I’m horribly sorry for the heroine and I appreciate the trauma that results from having a wanking bastard of a husband force sex purely because he knows she hates it. But that’s unfortunately the deal. Rosamunde had a lot more ground to stand on when listing the details of her awful first husband when she related his emotional abuse.
A lot of the defining moments of creating the alpha hero, particularly in historical romances, rest on his attitude and approach to sex, most certainly with the heroine. Alpha heroes most frequently think with their little alphas, and the degree to which they do so often determines how redeemable they are by the ending – if there is a fully happy ending. As Candy pointed out, sometimes these alphas are such complete idiots that they really don’t reach restoration by the end.
But when the alpha hero – or even the abusive villain, in the case of Nash’s book – is demanding or forcing sex within a marriage to a heroine, I have a harder time categorically dismissing him as Teh Most Ebil Alpha Ever. It’s not entirely historically inaccurate, and because of that fact I have room to empathize with the hero in that situation, even if only a little bit. And for me, that tiny bit of empathy keeps that particular alpha from being unredeemable.