ClitLit – Women, Romance Fiction and Patriarchal Discourse

April 21, 2010

Anxious Alphole Masculinity – Quick Shots

Apologies for the length of time between posts here – I have this whole real life which often interferes with my academic writing. (And, indeed, other interests in academic writing – Thomas Middleton, for one; Georgian theatre, for another).

But enough of that – I have some more Simone de Beauvoir that I want to ponder. Specifically, this quote:

“No one is more arrogant toward women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virility.”

This is a really interesting point, and one that I hadn’t thought of, to tell the truth. There is a real trend among the “alphole” hero – the Dante from The Italian Boss’s Mistress of Revenge, for example – to assert his sexuality in a very active way that really makes me recoil, because it is practically rape. He then treats the woman terribly and she, for some reason, gets off on it.

I’m usually – and still am – very concerned about the woman in this situation, because hello, sexual assault, and this is not cool. You can wave the ‘it’s pretend’ flag all day long, when you encode someone with such behaviours as ‘heroic’ in fiction with such an intense moral hierarchy (the good get what they want, the bad suffer) as romance fiction, then there’s a problem. But problematic as this is, this is not today’s point.

To what extent is this (repellent) alphole hero emasculated by the heroine in romance fiction? His sexual desire for her is very different to the desire he has felt for any other woman – she ends up converting him to solid monogamy, case in point, when he has generally been sleeping with anything that moves beforehand. To what extent does he treat her terribly because of his anxious masculinity, because he is afraid he is no longer virile because he no longer to desire to do anyone, any time?

I would contend that an alphole is just an arsehole, end of story. But I am not a romance author, and so I don’t know if any romance authors really think about endowing their heroes with this kind of anxious masculinity. It is an interesting way of humanising the alphole… but I also find it a problematic way of excusing him.

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March 3, 2010

Rape is Not Romance: ‘The Innocent’s Surrender’ by Sara Craven

I have read some truly, truly bad category fiction in my life. I mean, come on, I’ve read three books by Trish Morey, all of which were absolutely repellent (see my earlier article Sexual Violence is Manly! Glamorised Sexual Violence in Romance Fiction). But I’m currently reading one at the moment which might just take the cake.

The book is The Innocent’s Surrender by Sara Craven. To bring you up to speed to where I am – all of p. 33 – here’s a quick synopsis. Natasha, our heroine, was brought up by some Greek shipping magnate family for some reason, despite the fact that she is British. (Oh, and a virgin. Gee, I wonder how this is going to go). This family has an enemy Greek shipping magnate family, who are about to buy out their fleet. Natasha’s evil stepbrothers have somehow coerced her into signing a letter to the son of the enemy family (our hero, Alex) saying that she’ll marry him. I’m not quite sure what this is supposed to achieve, but whatevs.

Anyway, the evil stepbrothers, for whatever reason, have sent a different letter to Alex. They’ve forged Natasha’s signature and written a letter full of lewd sexytalk. The implication of which is that Natasha (who is, we must remember, a blushing virgin) is going to be Alex’s mistress. And he’s agreed to this. And has power over her. Or something. It’s weird. I don’t quite get the legality of it. But Natasha has been whisked off to Alex’s mansion. She’s standing there, expecting to explain that, no, she won’t marry him, when he springs the whole mistress thing on her – something about which she had no idea.

I’ll just let the following quotes speak for themselves.

‘”You may well regret your candour in writing to me, agapi mou,” he added, the firm mouth twisting. “But I do not. And, while I may never have believed in you as a future wife, I look forward with eagerness to enjoying your versatility as my mistress. Which is why you are here with me tonight, as you must know by now. To begin your new career in my bed.”

Her voice seemed to come from a great distance.

“I’d rather die!”

His brows lifted cynically. “When it was your own idea?” he challenged. “I hardly think so.”

“But I keep trying to tell you… There was never any second letter. Oh, why won’t you believe me?”

“Because I have the evidence which makes a liar of you… They [her evil stepbrothers] will have to endure the shame of knowing you belong to me as my eromeni – my pillow friend – and that when I tire of you they will have you returned to them – used, and discarded.” He paused. “Maybe… even pregnant. A final blow to their family honour from which they can never recover,” he added harshly as Natasha caught her breath.

“You can’t do such a thing.” Her voice was ragged. “No one could. It’s barbaric – vile. And do you imagine that I’ll let you get away with it? That I won’t have you arrested for kidnap and – and rape, no matter how powerful you may think you are?”

“Kidnap?” Alex Mandrakis repeated musingly, and shook his head. “When you responded willingly to my invitation, and allowed my driver to bring you here? He reported no scene at the airport. No screams or struggles. As for rape, I doubt whether such an accusation could possibly succeed. Not when your letter is made public, as it would have t be. No court would convict me for taking advantage of the services you volunteered of your own free will.”‘

Whoa. WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA.

For every woman in the world, I would like to say this. RAPE IS NOT ROMANCE.

There’s no ‘I will not rape you’. No, ‘I will not force you to sleep with me’. No, there’s just ‘you could never make a rape conviction stick’.

What a huge motherfucking hero.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this book when I’m further on than p.33, but this is something which makes me see absolutely red. Sexual violence, and the threats of sexual violence, are not foreplay. Threats of sexual violence are not about desire and a growing romance. Sexual violence is about power and exploitation and is not sexy.

You fail, Sara Craven. If a romantic union is the happily ever after in your story, then your characters need to deserve it. And men who threaten sexual violence against women? They belong in a place called JAIL, not in a coma of domestic bliss. This is completely and utterly and in every way ENTIRELY UNACCEPTABLE.

ETA: This book just gets worse and worse. Check out this excerpt from p.35.

‘She said, “I am not your Natasha.”

“But you will be,” he said. “And your life will belong to me – until I decide otherwise. Did I not make that clear to you?” He smiled at her. “However, you plead with passion, agapi mou. I hope you will bring the same intensity to the pleasure we shall soon share, when I prove beyond any doubt that I do indeed want you, and not just for revenge.” He paused. “My attentions may even console you for the English lover you have lost.”

He took two of the pillows from behind him, and placed them beside him on the bed. “But now we have talked enough. Now, my lovely one, it is time you came to me. So, take off your clothes.”

She took a step backward. “No,” she said fiercely. “I won’t do it.”

His brows lifted. “Would you prefer my men to help you?”‘

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. Fail on EVERY SINGLE FUCKING LEVEL. Coercion is not sexy. Rape is not romance. This is absolutely, totally, unequivocally DISGUSTING.

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