by Michelle_Buonfiglio 11:32 AM
While reading the post, "He Hardly Ever Called Her a Vicious Little B*tch Now..." I thought of an interview I'd done recently with a former Harlequin editor who told me in the 80s, she often was overruled in editorial confabs when she complained that some Harlequin heroes reminded her of the stalkers she was concerned she might meet in real life as a young, single woman in NYC. She said she'd hear over and over from the team: This is fantasy and readers know the difference.
I agree. Our negative and positive visceral impressions of books we read have everything to do with our experiences, whether or not we've evaluated them, and whether we've gone through or examined the things that allow us to understand where an author might have been coming from - or why a reader might have enjoyed a novel.
When we reject out of hand old-school romance as dangerous or misogynistic - or any other label easily applied while living in the comfort of times when feminists give our romance reading their blessed seal of approval - we forget that in the 80s and long before, women wrote and read romance when feminists dissed both.
And definitely to put a fine point on things, those old-school romance readin'-and-scribin' women hadn't yet "found their voices." Many were trying desperately to surf the Second Wave, and - if they even understood they had some nasty fantasies -- hadn't the ways to articulate them; erotic fiction, and heck, even Anais Nin, weren't mainstays in their local libraries.
But Harlequin romances were available.
Now, I recently read an erotic romance that I adored, "Skin Deep ," by Anna J. Evans, which spoke to some sexy elements I and so many romance readers love. But I want you to understand that you and I have had years to read erom, know the language of sexuality and seduction and have been taught that it's ok to use them. I mean, imagine the 50+ romance-reading demo in the 80s trying to articulate their bondage/humiliation fantasies!
When a contemporary hero a la "Skin Deep" says to a heroine something akin to, "You're my dirty little b*tch, aren't you?" it's ok for us to get hot. When the hero today who is a dominant kidnaps the heroine-even if he's conflicted -- it's cool for us to feel a nice, dirty thrill. And when the hero humiliates the heroine in a bondage joint by bending her over and wailing on her pretty ass - with her permission, of course - we know she's the one with the real power, so we're "allowed" that sweet ol' body buzz.
But remember this, girlfriends: Today, in the 80s and always, the woman with the fantasy is the woman with the power.
Now, when you read the Jezebel.com post, you may want to go all, "But the hero loved his stepsister! That's creepy!" Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn't, and I have my own opinions as a survivor of sexual abuse, and former child protection services worker. But, again, remember what I said above about our experiences shading how we look at novels - and think about how that could color our feelings about what makes a romance "good."
It's awfully easy to rip apart a book w/out trying to understand why it might have turned on readers. And as a fan of all romance, I think it's more interesting to attempt to understand that every author who had the audacity to write a romance when it only was unpopular - and every reader who bought a book when romance wasn't feminist- or smarty-pants approved -- deserves our respect, and our gratitude.
What old-school romance did you love and still love? What old school did your read that mortifies you today? What are the best/worst things about how editorial content has evolved over the years in romance?
Message Edited by Michelle_Buonfiglio on 08-14-2009 10:48 AM