Conjugal Enemies vs. Loving Adversaries

My friend Ben (of LOLPorn fame) came up with the phrase “conjugal enemies” during a conversation in which I attempted to describe old-skool romance novels to him—I think I was talking about Catherine Coulter’s ouevre in particular, especially the WTF factor of “he uses cream to ease the way of the rape, so it MUST be lurve!” However, I can’t be certain; at the time, I’d shotgunned five old-skool romances in a row as part of research for The Book, and my brain had been addled by all the punishing kisses, cynical smirks, pointless misunderstandings and non-consensual fuckin’.

Anyway: conjugal enemies? Hell yes. The protagonists in these old-skool novels couldn’t stand each other. The heroine’s loathing for the hero was writ large every few pages (at least, until the first orgasm, and then the loathing transferred to her own body as well), but they still couldn’t stop conjugatin’ all over the piece. This lack of control over their passions—even if it was passionate hatred—was often transformed into passionate love through a mysterious alchemical means I’m not entirely sure I’ve figured out yet. At some point in the book, the heroine suddenly sees the hero’s lack of control and little signs of tenderness (not raping her until she bleeds, not forcing her to meet his former mistress, allowing her the freedom to indulge in some unconventional-for-the-time activity like sailing or running a business or communing with the whales or whatever the fuck) as signs of affection, and she re-interprets her actions and reactions as being signs of True Luuuurrrrve as well. I don’t find these transformations convincing, but I know many other people do, and the different reading and interpretation process is fascinating to me.

This isn’t to say that adversarial relationships aren’t fun to read about, or that they can’t be used as convincing indicators of two people who resist falling in love with everything they have. When these relationships are more balanced, I tend to think of them as “loving adversaries”—circumstances or their own personalities don’t allow them to act on their attraction, so they spar and snipe as a way to act out some of their tensions in ways other than bonin’ each other six ways to Sunday. I recently watched His Girl Friday, and that was the term that immediately came to mind. Underneath the constant quipping and sparring and attempts to one-up each other between Walter and Hildy was a sense of attraction and true affection.

But there was more to it, too. I think what made it an adversarial relationship as opposed to one based on enmity was the way the two of them were portrayed as equals. Walter would try to pull a fast one on Hildy, but oftentimes, she’d be just one step ahead of the game and have blocked his move before he could complete it. Hildy, at least until the end, is a strong woman with enough power and experience to make her choices and moves count.

And that’s not something you can say about the old-skool heroine. Most old-skool novels make a point of systematically stripping power from the heroine—she’s young, she’s alone in the world, and most of the meaningful choices over when, how and to whom she wants to express her sexuality is denied her. The only true power she has is her hold over the hero, but she’s unaware of this until a significant part of the book is over; her constant expressions of hatred were a way for her to deny the hero his emotional hold over her. The power imbalance results in a much more virulent hatred instead of a more playful sparring, and it’s this hostility that raises my hackles and makes it difficult for me to accept the transformation from conjugal enemy to lover. Adversarial relationships, on the other hand, are not necessarily based on enmity, and I find the resulting clashes much more satisfying and believable to write about.

Interestingly enough, the old-skool romance and His Girl Friday end in much the same way: the heroine capitulates to the hero, and the resolution feels a bit limp as a consequence. Hildy’s transformation at the end of His Girl Friday is less than convincing for me because the writer made her pliant—almost wide-eyed and confused. It’s disappointing because Hildy has real power that she seems to cede over to Walter once she acknowledges that she still loves him. The old-skool heroine’s often abrupt about-face, while startling, is at least consistent with the worldview of the book—she gains power once she stops struggling against the hero and accepts him.

Not all romance novels end this way. One of the reasons why I love Midsummer Moon by Laura Kinsale so much, for example, is how Merlin and Ransom are locked in an adversarial relationship throughout much of the book, but you never lose sight of how much affection and love the two of them feel for each other. Ransom finally makes a significant power-grab when he takes what Merlin loves away from her (those of you who’ve read the book know what I’m talking about), but in the end, the power balance equalizes when he learns to love and live with Merlin as she is, not as he wants her to be.

Not all romance novels use the conjugal enemies/loving adversaries model; Patricia Gaffney’s best work, for example, as well as Barbara Samuel’s, don’t set up their conflicts that way. But it’s a fun way to set up a story, and like the Energizer Bunny, it’s easy to allow the conflict to go on and on and on. I also know that many people view the adversarial relationships between hero and heroine in old-skool romances than I do. What do you think about power structures and loving adversaries vs. conjugal enemies?

Categorized:

Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    snarkhunter says:

    I have never read one of the old-skool rape romances, and when a couple came into my hands (one was, admittedly, a Connie Mason novel), both left the house unread as soon as I figured out that there was not so much consent going on. So the conjugal enemies concept is not one that I’m totally familiar with—except Midsummer Moon. And I was a little uncomfortable with the power dynamics of that book, but it was so strange, b/c Merlin really didn’t seem to care one way or another about her own power—just that thing she loves.

    I will probably never read the romance “classics.” Rape as a plot device between the hero and heroine makes me physically ill. Even knowing all the justifications for it in the old-skool writing, I personally find it reprehensible to portray a woman falling in love with her rapist. (I know it’s been done well, and I think certain historical settings might enable it better, but I don’t come to romance for realism. Rape by the hero takes away the possiblity of an HEA for me.)  I can’t see true hatred so easily becoming love, and it seems like it really is hatred in some of these books.

  2. 2
    Holly says:

    I’m about to send the first three chapters of a manuscript to Barbara Samuel for her to critique.  (I won an auction).

    I’m just a wee bit petrified.

  3. 3
    GrowlyCub says:

    I’ve read the old skool stuff back in the day (the cream one was the first one I ever read actually, besides the Heyers which I don’t count as old skool) and I’ve read what you call loving adversaries and neither concept does anything for me.  Matter of fact, I close the book when I see that the story line is based on people who can’t stand each other.

    Just doesn’t work for me anymore.  I’ve read romance for over 25 years and found that I’m a lot less tolerant and a lot narrower in my tastes since my return to reading romance full-time last year than I used to be when I first started.

    I tried to read Merlin’s story and couldn’t stand the slapstick quality of the story line, I really disliked The Last Hellion, but I read other books by both authors which I loved.  I find internal conflict that’s not predicated on distaste for the purported partner so much more convincing and enjoyable to read.

  4. 4
    Eunice says:

    The power imbalance results in a much more virulent hatred instead of a more playful sparring, and it’s this hostility that raises my hackles and makes it difficult for me to accept the transformation from conjugal enemy to lover.

    Bingo! My feelings exactly.

    To me, in those old movie loving adversaries relationships, the couple may quip like mad and drive each other crazy, but there tends to be a line. One wouldn’t kick the other when they’re down. This understanding, and the fact that both quipping participants need intelligence, wit, and charm to pull the whole thing off, are the things that give these relationships more of an equal feel. 

    But the “hero” half of a “conjugal enemy” has no lines. Won’t just kick the heroine when she’s down, but kidnap her, give her some punishing kisses, call her a slut, was the one who knocked her down, kick her, rape her, and then tell her it’s her own fault. While the walking door mat of a “herione” sits there in a crying heap wondering about the sensations her body felt when she was being attacked. The hostility and hatred that radiates off these kinds of stories? Gag me.

  5. 5
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    Well, the only “old skool” rape-fantasy romance I’ve ever read is REALLY old skool – E.M. Hull’s The Sheikh, circa 1919 or 1920.  Hull was a competent wordsmith, but she couldn’t convince me that a woman could fall in love with her rapist, not without some major pathology going on.  I didn’t buy it then, and I don’t buy it now.
    As for the “conjugal adversaries” schtick, it always felt forced and artificial to me.  If two people loathe each other this much, why the hell do they bother to associate with one another?  And if some cynical, world-weary rake decided to punish me with his burning kisses and cynical smirks, I’d get a damn restraining order.  I mean, gimme a break!
    On the other hand, I do love me some good snarky repartee, provided there is a genuine sense of respect and affection behind it.  Mean-spirited, angry, and misognystic are off the menu.

  6. 6
    Suze says:

    I was just around puberty when I started reading romances, and this type of book was HUGE (late 70’s).  Woodiwiss’ The Hawk & The Dove stands out in my memory as one of the earlier books I read, and I devoured the Coulters.

    Keeping in mind that I was VERY YOUNG, I totally dug the use of the cream. To me, it signified that hero was Doing It Wrong, and that he had to change and be more considerate of his bride, which he eventually did.  (Did I mention I was young?)  Also keeping in mind that, while the feminist movement was still relatively young, as far as I was concerned, it had always been around, and women had always had choices and the protection of the law.

    I’d read these historicals, and put myself into the story, and try to imagine what I’d do in that situation.  And of course, I was always strong, decisive, skilled, spunky, independant.  And if things got too bad, my Viking relatives would come in their longboats and I’d leave with them, blowing contemptuous raspberries at the unenlightened schmucks trying to subjugate me (Vikings being so much more enlightened).  I had CHOICES, damn it!

    During the reading of one of those books, though, I had the realization that, back then, women didn’t have choices, and if I suddenly got plunked down in the middle of all that, I would not do well.  You know, not having any skills that would be marketable before around the 1950’s.

    If you didn’t like the man picked out for you, you could make the best of it, rebel ineffectually, rebel effectually and make everybody’s life hell (unless that got you killed), run away and die on the streets, or just die.  Probably there are historians out there who could tell me of more options, but in general, women just didn’t have a lot of choice when it came to keeping themselves fed and clothed and out of the weather.

    So I think that these old skool romances are sort of an exploration of feminine power.  They contrasted women’s former lack of choice with the modern (possibly overwhelming) array of choices.  Maybe they were a reaction to the fear that many women have to accepting responsibility for their own choices.

    Or maybe I’m just talking out my ass.

  7. 7
    Catherine says:

    I don’t mind loving adversaries because you usually see the core affection between the two and there are lines that they won’t cross.  I always like the reunited lovers/old friends theme (if it’s done well) because I like them being snarky with each other while still wanting what they once had but better.  (Anyone with recommendations for this theme lay ‘em on me)

    The conjugal enemies just do not work for me.  I know that some people like them and think they are beyond sexy, but they make me throw up in my mouth.  I find nothing romantic or loving in some guy dominating a girl and raping her until she becomes so fucked in the head that she thinks she’s in love with him.  To me there are rules.  The major one is that you do not rape the other person in the book.  The next big one is that you don’t fall in love with said person who abused you.  That goes for hitting too! 

    I guess I’m too modern to appreciate any attraction to that.  Besides that, coming from a background where some of those issues came into play for me the thought that some people see these guys as heroic makes my skin crawl.  I don’t mind rape in a book where there’s no romance angle (or it happened to the girl/guy by someone other than the hero and she’s working to overcome it) but rape from the hero/heroine crosses boundaries for me that should never be crossed.

    I’m ok with persuasion if it’s done right.  I’m talking about the, “I don’t know if this is a good idea right now.  I really want you, but what if someone finds us?” not the persuasion that happens while the girl/guy really doesn’t want sex.  My first romance book (that I stole from my sister) was Linda Howard’s After the Night.  That really pushed the line for me because there was such a disproportionate power dynamic.  It made the eventual love feel really false and kind of icky.  Another book that I recently read, Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I crossed a big line for me too.  How Daphne handles the issue with Simon not wanting to have kids was horrible.  I truly believe that if the situation was reversed and he did the same thing to her there would be a huge outcry from her fans.  I found it pathetic and really sad that he turned around and basically apologized because it was really all his fault of course.  Enough about that though… Needless to say, those story lines do not work for me at all.

  8. 8

    I like almost any storyline if it’s done well.  Some of those old skool romances would horrify a lot of readers today, but at the time the reader wanted to see it work out to a resolution where the heroine would regain her power, or find her power in some fashion.  And the best of them accomplished this.  Even a classic like These Old Shades, which has a massive power imbalance throughout, works at the end because of the hero’s insecurity and need for the heroine—he needs her a lot more than she needs him.

  9. 9

    Keeping in mind that I was VERY YOUNG, I totally dug the use of the cream. To me, it signified that hero was Doing It Wrong, and that he had to change and be more considerate of his bride, which he eventually did

    .

    I agree.  I also started reading Catherine Coulter at a very young age, and her medieval romance ROSEHAVEN (yes, there was cream) is STILL one of my favorites.  Every time I hear someone equate Coulter with rape I cringe a bit, because I don’t see it that way.  In ROSEHAVEN the hero had to consummate the marriage immediately because the castle was under seige, and a usurper could claim he wasn’t the true lord.  He doesn’t have time to woo her; he has to go out into battle.

    I can’t say the scene doesn’t fit the definition of rape, especially in a modern context, but labeling this romance a rape fantasy is not accurate.  Nor does the woman continue to be subjugated as the story continues.  The heroine is already brave and shows her strength, while the hero becomes less unyeilding.  I totally believe they’re in love by the end, and it’s more satisfying because it was such a hard road to get there.

  10. 10
    Kimberly Anne says:

    Nope, punishing heroes are not on my menu.  Like the question of “alpha hero or asshat?” the line is very simple for me.  Is he cruel, vindictive, or violent to the heroine?  If the answer is yes, then the book meets the wall.  No mitigating circumstances can make that okay with me.

    I read a Harlequin 15 years ago that always comes to mind when punishing heroes come up.  I don’t remember the title, but the heroine is engaged to a man named Tom when she gets an invitation to a function at the home of her former lover.  Former Lover was a real doucheberry, and was sure that his punishing kisses would make her leave Tom.  He treats her like shit throughout the book, while Tom is always there for her.  She, of course, pants for FL and ignores Tom, all the while despising herself for it.  Then, FL crosses a line, and she sees the light.  Declarations of love and hawt sex (snapping the antique bed in half!) ensue with Tom.  YAY!

    This is what I want to see.  A heroine who sees that asshattery is bad, and loyalty and tenderness are good.

    Oh, and if anyone knows the title of this book, please tell me.  I’d love to read it again, even if it’s not as good as I remember.

  11. 11
    handyhunter says:

    Discovering Lois McMaster Bujold several years ago was I think the first time I realized romance stories didn’t have to be all about the power dynamic or competition in a relationship.  This was after going off romance novels for a bit because I’d burnt out on bad plots and characters.

    I don’t remember His Girl Friday that well, but I love The Philadelphia Story. Would that more romantic comedies were created in that way.

    *curious* What are some of Patricia Gaffney’s best books? I’ve read a few of hers – Mad Dash, The Goodbye Summer, Circle of Three – and liked them well enough, but I seem to recall reading somewhere that she used to write romances?

  12. 12
    Leslie says:

    I can’t help thinking of Whitney, My Love. I know this one is a sort spot for many, but when I read it as a teenager I bought it hook, line, and sinker, even while recognizing the hero’s pricktastic behavior. Looking back on it, I wonder how the combination of TSTL, but oh-so-spirited and beautiful Whitney, and Alpha McJerkytown sold me…then I look over at my shelf and there it is (un-re-read for several years, but still…). Then I look at After the Night (one of my favorite Linda Howard’s EVER) and wonder what the attraction is (and then I think “Guy” and sigh at the bad-boy gone so good and, um, the public restroom scene).
    It may be the candy part of romance…good romance is like Milka or Ritter Sport and I just cannot put it away because of the pleasure; bad romance is like a fruit-whip filled chocolate that I nibble around the edges of to get all the chocolate coating (even if it is a little waxy), while ignoring the unpleasantness at the center.
    I haven’t read Woodwiss, McNaught, or Lindsay for quite a while and I think it is because their early works dominate my perceptions—have there been substantive changes in their story framing or heroines/heroes since the late 90s? They are great storytellers, but I have been nervous about diving back in.
    That said, the topics last week had me checking on some OLD Janet Dailey’s and I found that my library had some of her 80s gems (Alph-tastic) that I hid under my bed during high school; The Rogue, Ride the Thunder, and Night Way—may be checked out of the city library for the first time in years this weekend.

  13. 13
    Suze says:

    Just another word about cream, and then I’ll stop.

    What did people used to use as lube? Coulter mentioned cream in several of her books, and there was a LaVyrle Spencer in which the secondary heroine was a prostitute in a frontier town. The bordello had a cow specifically so that the ‘hos would have ready access to butter, because “they needed that butter!”  I also remember a novel in which a scene featured mint jelly.

    Granted, AstroGlide is more hygienic and effective, but it wasn’t available.  Unless another sign of True Luurve is never having to use lube?

    Discovering Lois McMaster Bujold several years ago was I think the first time I realized romance stories didn’t have to be all about the power dynamic or competition in a relationship.

    She isn’t really considered a romance novellist, but a sci-fi author.  In fact, a lot of her fans say they are her fans because she “writes like a man”.  Which I really don’t get, because her writing is wonderfully soulful and all about the human element, which a lot of male writers miss.

  14. 14
    MS Jones says:

    “Your lips say no but your body says yes” is, I think, the element that is supposed to validate the conjugal enemies conflict. When the hero forces himself on the heroine – over her protests – her traitorous body responds with enthusiasm, so he ignores the red light coming from her mouth and listens to the message coming from her other lips.

    This isn’t even all that old-skool. I like Judith Ivory’s books, but the rape scene in Untie My Heart – published in 2002 – creeped me out. The imbalance of power is huge: he’s wealthy and powerful, she’s a poor farmer tied to a chair, his motivation for the rape is revenge (“For two minutes you can live with what it’s like to have surprising places of your privacy transgressed…welcome to the world of consequences, retribution, and personal trespass”).  He wants a vindictive quickie and he knows she can’t do anything about it. And yet it’s all supposedly okay because she gets off.

    Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold (1995) also has a serious power imbalance and a sexual relationship that starts out with a rape.

    Loving adversaries is better.

  15. 15
    Esri Rose says:

    I used to read those power-struggle romances as a teen and really liked them, but I think that’s ‘cause they were what was available. These days, I don’t even want the loving adversary thing. In my experience, sniping and oneupmanship does not add spice to a relationship, it leads to divorce.

    I much prefer to read about a couple who are kept apart by cultural differences (elf and human) or a situation (villain)—a couple who are compatible and mutually attracted, but kept apart by circumstances.

    I’m not comparing myself to Bujold, who is brilliant, but I’ve been told I write like a man. Could be because of being adventure-plot oriented, maybe? Or not much interior monologue? Dunno.

  16. 16
    MoJo says:

    Yeah, ditto what Suze said.  These things have a real soft spot in my heart.  My first was Kathleen Woodiwiss’s Shanna, then Wolf and the Dove. In fact, I would argue that Shanna is damn near perfectly reasonable and logical in light of what else was being published back then.

    These weren’t nearly as bad as the Rosemary Rogerses and the Valerie Sherwoods, which I also liked (but more for their sweeping saga-ish nature).

    The author I adored at 15 (Carole Mortimer, Harlequin Presents), though.  Wow.  I read those now and I shudder.  It’s like freebasing low-grade crack.

  17. 17
    Theresa Meyers says:

    All I could think of when you said conjugal enemies was the movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith!

    But I’ve got to agree with some of the historical basis.  In the 1900’s alone things changed so drastically for women that sometimes its hard to concieve that the reality for women was far different in historical times—with death the most likely outcome if you didn’t fall in line. (But the whole rape fantasy-thing still seems a bit squiqtastic for me…)

  18. 18
    Kalen Hughes says:

    No rape. Period. Nope. Don’t care about the circumstances. No. Not ok.

    I read my very first romance novel when I was 16 (my mom isn’t a romance reader so I had to wait until my best friend handed one over). It was Johanna Lindsey’s FIRES OF WINTER. My BF adored it. *shudder* Put me off the genre for a decade. No lie. And I don’t think I would have EVER even tried the genre again if I hadn’t been trapped in an airport, delayed beyond all reason, and faced with only two books in the tiny newsstand: Something-or-other by Stephen King and MISTRESS by Amanda Quick. What a happy discovery that was!

  19. 19
    willa says:

    Ugh. Rape scenes and storylines where the hero overpowers the heroine and renders her completely incapable of fighting back or making her own choices disgust me. They make my teeth hurt. They burn my eyes. They make my skin crawl.

    “Loving adversaries” is a different matter, but they’re really hard to pull off for me.

    I’m reading The Duke and I right now, and the hero is “verbally sparring” with the heroine. He’s baiting her repeatedly, enjoying it, while she gets genuinely angry and upset. Apparently, in the hero’s mind, this is a game, a flirtation. What the frickin’ hell? Making the heroine upset and baiting her is a flirtation? Good to know, I guess.

    Had the same problem with Quinn’s The Secret Diaries of Miss Amanda Cheever or whatever. The hero’s “verbal sparring” made me want to reach into the book and stab him repeatedly. I couldn’t even finish the book.

    Making one’s SO/partner/whatever upset and angry is not sexy to me. Overpowering her and raping her and taking away her agency is beyond disgusting. I refuse to read it in a romance novel. It’s an automatic toss for me.

    That rape scene in Untie My Heart totally grossed me out, too. I hate that book.

  20. 20
    Catherine says:

    I’m reading The Duke and I right now, and the hero is “verbally sparring” with the heroine. He’s baiting her repeatedly, enjoying it, while she gets genuinely angry and upset. Apparently, in the hero’s mind, this is a game, a flirtation. What the frickin’ hell? Making the heroine upset and baiting her is a flirtation? Good to know, I guess.

    This totally bothered me too!  The manipulation at the end made me want to strangle the girl, but the constant bickering totally drove me insane.  I’ve really liked the way that Nora Roberts handles her loving advesaries.  Even “Birthright”, where the hero and heroine are divorced, handles it well.  I don’t mind the bickering (in moderation) and angst, but I hate it when one half of the couple is mean to the other person all the time and thinks it’s funny. (I don’t mind a little mean when I think it’s deserved.  Sometimes it takes a while to forgive that person and get back to nice.)

  21. 21
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    What did people used to use as lube? Coulter mentioned cream in several of her books, and there was a LaVyrle Spencer in which the secondary heroine was a prostitute in a frontier town. The bordello had a cow specifically so that the ‘hos would have ready access to butter, because “they needed that butter!” I also remember a novel in which a scene featured mint jelly.

    How about olive oil?  More hygienic than dairy-based products and readily available since ancient times, at least in the Mediterranean countries.
    My spam word:  children69.  Need I say more?

  22. 22
    Catherine says:

    So I think that these old skool romances are sort of an exploration of feminine power.  They contrasted women’s former lack of choice with the modern (possibly overwhelming) array of choices.  Maybe they were a reaction to the fear that many women have to accepting responsibility for their own choices.

    Can you explain this more?  I totally don’t understand what you mean by this.  Thanks.

  23. 23
    Suze says:

    I’m not completely clear on it myself, but here goes:

    1. In the 80’s and 90’s, there was a weird backlash against feminism that manifested in a bunch of women creating groups with names like REAL Women. These groups espoused women finding their feminine power in the traditional roles of wife and mother, and made stupid-ass press releases indicating that any woman who went looking for fulfilment in being anything but a devoted wife/ housekeeper/ mother wasn’t really a woman.

    2. At some point in the last decade, I read a piece indicating that Muslim women in Saudi Arabia not only didn’t resent having to wear the chadur, but actually found great comfort and relief in it, as it made their role in society very clear, and defined any interactions they would have with males.

    3. At the time these conjugal enemy stories were being written, it was still quite remarkable to see a woman in a non-traditional role, and extremely remarkable to see a man in a non-traditional role.  I still hear comments about male nurses, male florists, male administrative assistants (actual secretaries, rather than secretary/treasurer of the corporation type roles).

    I think that the stories were, to some extent, women feeling their way into their new roles and responsibilities, and looking back at where we’d come from a little nostalgically. There’s a kind of comfort in the idea of being financially supported, so that you are responsible only for the comfort of the one supporting you.  I still know women who put up with all kinds of crap only so that they don’t have to work, and I know people who married the spouse their parents picked out for them—and they like it that way.  It took all the pressure off, and the choices, while not necessarily exciting, were acceptable.

    There’s also an element of the desire to be with a confident man.  I think, tragically, that many of us (including authors) don’t know enough men who are both confident and non-assholes, so that we don’t really know how to describe them.  So we end up with alpha-holes.

    But like I said, I could be talking out my ass.

    Did that make any more sense, or less?

  24. 24
    Catherine says:

    That definitely made more sense.  Thanks for the clarification on that.  I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it though.  However, just to be clear, that wasn’t my generation either.  It may be harder for me to understand that. 

    I definitely agree with what you said about a lot of the traditional Middle Eastern woman.  I know that most times the veil and other restrictions are custom as opposed to law.  I know many woman who mold themselves closely to their husbands until it’s hard to view their own personality.  They like the comfort of their husband making choices for them and managing the money so they don’t have the uncertainty of being responsible for making the wrong choice.

    Now, while I understand that some people feel that way, I still have a very hard time seeing how the hero raping the heroine is romantic.  (Even for women who prefer not to be independent)  I don’t know many women who would look back with fondness and say, “Remember when he controlled and raped me?  I kind of miss that.  It was much easier for me; less choices.”  I can, however, see that one of those women could look back and have a fond wistfulness for the days when all the choices were made for her.  It’s the same way people look back and say that it was much easier when they were a kid and kind of wish they could go back for a day so they could have a break. (most people do this until they remember that childhood sucked because your parents owned you :P)

  25. 25
    Cat Marsters says:

    Merlin and Ransom?  These are character’s names?  No wonder they’re adversaries: if someone told me his name was Ransom I’d laugh so hard he’d slap me.

  26. 26
    Catherine says:

    My post got cut off.  Here’s the rest of what I was going to say…

    Now this is veering a little away from the topic you were talking about, but it has really been bugging me.  A little while ago I was looking up different perspectives on Romance books that revolved around rape.  Time and time again I kept seeing people say that no one really wanted to be raped and they weren’t trivializing it by making it seem okay.  They said that it was a type of female empowerment by kind of owning the rape and ending up with the power in the end.  Well, that was the gist of it. 

    I really didn’t understand this because (nothing against people who like this) personally I think that is a crap line of reasoning.  Hand a Romance novel like this to someone who has recently been raped and see how empowered they feel.  My friend had been raped and was trying to get back into the things she really liked to do before that.  She picked up a Romance novel and just wanted a story that would give her a little happy.  The book was a Jane Feather book and had the hero helping some king rape the heroine.  She couldn’t finish it and ended up having a bit of a break down.  She couldn’t understand why another woman would glorify a man who did something so horrible.  It made her feel even more dirty because so many people seem to think it’s sexy to read about.

    That was her situation and isn’t true for everyone, but I truly feel the same way.  I just don’t understand it.  Would anyone want to read about some kid falling in love with his molester?  Why is it sexy when it’s adults and rape?

    Also, if people do want to read this that’s okay… it’s their choice you know?  Whatever floats your boat.  None the less I really think that there should be some kind of clear indication on these books that it deals with the hero/heroine raping the other hero/heroine.  My friend just picked up a historical on the spur of the moment (a kind of quick decision to try and pick up an old habit) and didn’t consult reviews on any website beforehand.  I just think her break down could have been prevented if it had a graphic material kind of warning on the inside (or back) of the book.

    Just my 2 cents.

  27. 27
    sandra says:

    In Victorian porn, they use cold cream for lube.  I think one reason for the proliferation of rape in old-style romances is that ‘nice’ women were not supposed to have sexual desires. The’ hero’ had to force sex on them so that they didn’t have to feel guilty about having it, and of course, it is assumed that if she ‘enjoyed’ it, she must be in love.  Spamword is ways63.  As in ‘how do I love thee, let me count them”?

  28. 28
    MoJo says:

    IMO, the ‘70s/‘80s rape fantasy romance (where the woman ends up getting off anyway) was a way for a woman to enjoy sex without being responsible for making a clear decision to have sex.  Those were the days of the “sluts” and “trashy girls,” remember.

    The heroine could remain “pure” in the reader’s eyes, but still have the orgasm to go with.  She could have her dick and eat it too.  I think it kinda goes back to what Suze’s number 1 point was regarding that weird backlash against feminism.

  29. 29
    Catherine says:

    Ahhhhhh, good point MoJo and sandra.  I didn’t think of that.  Like I said, not my generation.  I tend to forget that it was harder for my mom and her mom in terms of sexuality.  I can understand it being written about then because of those reasons (even though it still gives me the squicks) but I still don’t understand the reason they’re still written about today.  But, that’s from my own standpoint and not from someone who enjoys them.

  30. 30
    willa says:

    None the less I really think that there should be some kind of clear indication on these books that it deals with the hero/heroine raping the other hero/heroine.  My friend just picked up a historical on the spur of the moment (a kind of quick decision to try and pick up an old habit) and didn’t consult reviews on any website beforehand.  I just think her break down could have been prevented if it had a graphic material kind of warning on the inside (or back) of the book.

    I’d appreciate that, too, something a few years back I would have railed against, the idea of a content warning seeming too much like TV and movies and a bad move toward… censorship or something. I don’t know why I thought it was a bad idea.

    I’d REALLY REALLY like warnings about animal cruelty/pain. I read The Leopard Prince recently and there was a very brief mention of animal torture that upset me way more than anything else that happened in the book. I wish I hadn’t read it. And that was just a brief blip in the novel. I’d be so happy if books and movies came with warnings about that sort of thing. And torture of people as well. Content like that stays with me forever, like a haunting. I’d like to be able to avoid it, these days.

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top