Thanks to Arethusa, I read this humdinger of an article from the Guardian featuring two writers, Daisy Cummins and Julie Bindel, squaring off from their respective positions on the relative quality and contribution of Mills & Boon novels.
Daisy, who writes them, says that “The women who populate these books come from as disparate and wide-ranging economic situations as the women who read them. To say they are all mindless romantic illiterates yearning to be saved is lazy ignorance.”
Well, yes, sweeping generalizations about all women are not wise. One or more of us will beg to differ – especially those of us who (a) read romance and (b) bristle at the idea that we’re mindless illiterates. It is a lazy generalization that I’ve seen too much of, personally speaking.
Meanwhile, Bindel, who isn’t mad at the readers or the writers of the novels (who then is she so fired up about? The publisher? Mr. Mills and Mr. Boon who thought up the great business venture?) counters that, “My loathing of M&B novels has nothing to do with snobbery. I could not care less if the books are trashy, formulaic or pulp fiction – Martina Cole novels, which I love, are also formulaic. But I do care about the type of propaganda perpetuated by M&B. I would go so far as to say it is misogynistic hate speech.”
Bindel then delivers the final blow that made me wheeze and roll my eyes at the same time: “This is what heterosexual romantic fiction promotes – the sexual submission of women to men. M&B novels are full of patriarchal propaganda. I can say it no better than the late, great Andrea Dworkin. This classic depiction of romance is simply “rape embellished with meaningful looks”.
Oh, please. Can we all just take a deep breath? I’m the first to defend the genre and my deep abiding love of it, but we are talking about romance novels here. Are they a primary factor contributing to the continuation of the subjugation of women? Do women get raped because they read romance? Are they asking for it if their copy of “The Flame and the Flower” peeks out of their handbag? Is Roe v. Wade in the US teetering on the edge of being overturned because someone read “The Boardroom Sheik’s Remodeled Kitchen With a Virgin on the Corian Counter?” Hardly! Sweet weeping Moses in a steaming shit sidecar.
As Candy stated in her review of Dark Lover, the patterns of Othering and depictions of fertility are fascinating and revealing in romance novels, and certainly the genre as a whole is ripe for literature folks to uncover unstudied areas of narrative portrayal. But what does “The Roman Sword Master’s Giant Sword Of Mighty Wang” reveal about the reader and the writer of very alpha-male romantic fiction? Yes, it’s not fiction to my personal tastes, and I do find it hilarious that many writers and readers would really rather not have dinner with the buttnoid alpha bonehead hero they enjoy, but is it the end of the known world for all women that some women enjoy reading that particular storyline? Nice of Brindel to throw that caveat in there that she doesn’t blame the writers or the readers (Thanks!) but is the existence of romance fiction Keeping The Womyn Down?
Please. Women harshing on the freedom of other women to read and wank off to whatever fantasy they want is what’s Keepin’ the Womyn Down.