I was reminded of why I avoid visiting the AAR messageboards yesterday. They’re a wonderful avenue of lively discussion, but OY, they’re such a time suck—and not only that, they sometimes contain some of the most jaw-dropping sentiments. Not only do I disagree with them, but I think they’re quite astoundingly silly.
For example, from this message on the AAR Reviews board (the thread started out as a discussion about Lisa Valdez’s The Passion):
Political correctness is diluting and changing our language, and in its name, there are many traditional behaviors that are no longer PC. Classic romance is all about “When men were men and women were women.” Today, the heroines have an edge—they banter with the men, they are as aggressive as the men—they might as well BE men. And the heros are drawn to them because they are “different” and “more exciting and stimulating” from the usual women they meet? What rubbish! Who wants a wise-cracking, sarcastic virago who doesn’t need a guy for anything because she can handle it all herself? With these tougher heroines, there is nothing much left for the men to be, except “gentler,” more “sensitive,” and the heroine’s “best friend.” More rubbish! I like your descr1ption: “A contemporary romance set in 1812.” I live in 2005 and I read historicals to get AWAY from contemporary life.
I wrote a reply, as did someone named Lisa. Go read ‘em if you like. Myself, I’m staying far, far away since I’ve said all I wanted to say on that board. There was, however, an issue that was brought up in this post that I didn’t address in my reply, and that’s the issue of political correctness.
Robin, one of our regular visitors, has mentioned in one of her comments that political correctness has come to mean something bad, but “something is only ‘PC’ based on your own subjective standards of conduct.” She hit the nail on the head. Nowadays, when a powerful figure makes a blatantly racist, sexist or otherwise repugnant statement, any attempts to point out the shitfulness of said statement are immediately labelled attempts to be PC, therefore wrong or suppressive or unrealistic. Shit, ifeminist.org has labelled The Vagina Monologues as PC, and while I do think that parts of it are disturbingly anti-male (something other friends of mine picked up on as well), a play in which a roomful of women are encouraged to scream out “Cunt! Cunt! CUUUUNT!” with almost orgasmic fervor could hardly qualify as politically correct without twisting around the definition of PC quite a bit.
I’m not saying that it’s impossible for political correctness to go too far. People squealing when someone uses the word “niggardly,” for example. That’s not just PC going too far, it’s just plain ignorant. See that dictionary? Learn to fucking use it. The etymological portion of the definition might be of especial interest. I might even start up a society: The Association for the Preservation and Appropriate Use of the word “Niggardly.”
But back to historical romances. Blaming the departure of old-skool romances featuring alpha assholes and simpering ninnies on modern political correctness is grossly inaccurate. First of all, I think the answer is as simple as this: The market changed. I read those old-skool romances as a young child, before I’d even HEARD of the term “political correctness”—hell, this was before the PC movement gained steam—and before I learned what feminism was. The stories still bothered me. All I knew was, I really didn’t like the way the heroes were rewarded for being mean. I’m going to guess that a great number of women felt much the same way, and started glomming romances that featured heroes who were actually, y’know, NICE once in a while, and publishers, who are in it for profit, after all, perked up and took notice.
Look, if old-skool type romances were still overwhelmingly popular, d’you honestly think publishers wouldn’t be pumping out new titles the way they are vampire romances and chick lit? I’m not going to be simplistic and claim that publishers sell exactly what all the readers want, all the time, but they do generally respond to market pressure. Hey, I wish there were more medieval romances and romances featuring heavily-tattooed atheist heroines; you won’t catch me blaming this lack on political correctness, though.
Second of all: Why in the everloving fuck are some people so eager to label strong, capable, independent women with a sense of humor as mannish and undesirable? Hey, I’m not especially fond of unrealistic superheroines who are capable of taking over Daddy’s floundering company before she’s out of leading strings, either, but honestly, I encounter far more heroines of the exact opposite kind in romance fiction: heroines who fuck up consistently and require the hero to save their fucktarded little asses. And even then, I don’t think of the unrealistic heroines as being unfeminine. Frankly, romance doesn’t have a problem with masculinizing its heroines. It does have a problem with feminizing and idealizing the heroes, but this happened even in old-skool romances. What, you think any self-respecting guy, much less a tough-ass captain and rapist extraordinaire, would say some of the absolutely mortifying things the hero does in The Flame and the Flower?
And third: lamenting the departure of alpha asshole heroes in historicals because they’re no longer PC somehow assumes that some of the things these jerkwads did (such as repeated, unremorseful rape of women) was condoned in ye olden tymes and somehow some sort of historical fact. The idea that these types of heroes are somehow more convincing for their time period makes me want to bang my head against the desk. The idea that these types of heroes are real men while the heroes who refrain from doling out physical, verbal and emotional abuse are watered-down pussies makes me want to bang my head even harder. I guess having a Y chromosome and a set of cock and balls is not enough to make someone a real man. Ye have to RRRRRAPE the wee lassies, mon!
Political correctness, while occasionally verging on silly, has made people think about the language they use and re-evaluate cultural attitudes, and that’s always a good thing. No, I don’t believe that changing the language will change societal attitudes—witness what’s happened to the word “special” once people started using it to describe retarded kids instead of calling them, well, retarded. And “retardation” and “retarded” were (still are) bona fide medical terms before being co-opted by assholes everywhere (including me) as an especially pejorative synonym for “idiot.” But in terms of effecting greater cultural change, thinking about the language we use, the attitudes we carry and why we say things the way we do is a decent first step. Yes, some people go off the deep end, but them’s the breaks. In my opinion, someone who uses PC as some sort of all-purpose whipping post is engaging in lazy thinking. It usually stands in for “my opinion is unpopular, and it’s not unpopular because it’s wrong, or because the majority of people just simply hold opinions different from mine—it’s because of POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.”
p.s.: Blame Sybil for providing the initial link to the discussion.