ClitLit – Women, Romance Fiction and Patriarchal Discourse

July 29, 2010

“No” = “No” – Quick Shots

So I’m currently reading a novella by Yvonne Lindsay, and before I get to some of the most hilarious physical descriptions I have ever read, there was a line I thought definitely merited some discussion.

‘Clearly the word “no” simply meant “try harder” for men like Richard Wells.’

– Lindsay, Y., 2010, The Magnate’s Mistress-for-a-Month [Harlequin: Mills & Boon] p. 106

If there were no stories in the world about men chasing women, then there would be… a LOT fewer stories. Like, a LOT. However, what often happens in romance novels, and is definitely happening here, as far as I can see, is that this pursuit turns into something that is actually quite frightening. In this novella, Richard, the hero, sees Catherine, the heroine, riding a horse, decides he must have her, and sets off to make it happen, including encroaching on her personal space very significantly within about four seconds of having met her. If this happened in real life, he would be up on sexual harassment charges very, VERY quickly.

This is a line that often gets blurred in romance fiction – especially in category romance fiction, where space is so limited – that I wish was a little more clear. ‘No’ definitely does mean ‘no’, and not ‘try harder’. Pursuit is one thing (though the double standard around it is a whole other thing – the woman who pursues is usually portrayed as desperate) but what is basically tantamount to stalking is quite another indeed. One is a literary device – not my favourite one, but a device nonetheless. The other is bad. I really don’t like the trope of the man who just can’t control himself – it’s demeaning to men and dangerous to women.

In short? Sexual harassment should not be used as shorthand.

And now, for the funnies. Some of the best physical descriptions I have EVER read. I killed myself laughing.

‘[He was] always an early riser – in more ways than one, he smiled ruefully.’

– ibid., p.96

What’s the story, morning glory?

‘His nose was a straight blade of male perfection.’

– ibid., p.100

…are you sure you’re talking about his nose?


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.

March 10, 2010

Some Simone – Quick Shots

Just came across this quote in Simone de Beauvoir which I found very, very interesting.

‘The body of man makes sense in itself quite apart from that of woman, whereas the latter seems wanting in significance by itself … Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man.’ And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called ‘the sex’, by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex – absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.’

– de Beauvoir, S., 1949, The Second Sex

This not only fits with that notion of sex-completing-the-woman while the man is complete already, but also highlights something I have only (to my shame) noticed about category titles. When do you ever see ‘The Mistress of Revenge’s Italian Boss’? ‘The Virgin Secretary’s Sheikh’? ‘The Pregnant Housekeeper’s Greek Millionaire’? No, it is always the men doing the possessing.

More on this when it is not late o’clock at night!

January 5, 2010

Oh Karen Templeton No! #1 – Just Bein’ A Man

I am aware I am pretty much liveblogging this book, but I’m only on p. 27 and there is already so much awful. Not only have we had more gratuitous clothing description (and furniture description – just as your heroine is not your Barbie, her world is not your dollhouse!) we’ve come across this delightful reinforcement of gender roles:

‘Bemusement danced in her eyes. “If you stare at my chest any harder, my bra’s gonna catch fire.”

“I – I’m sorry, I don’t usually…” He blew out a breath, his face hotter than the pizza. “I didn’t mean…” She laughed. Troy sighed again. “Okay, so maybe I did. But I’m not a letch, I swear.”

“Oh, don’t go gettin’ your boxers in a bunch. You’re just bein’ a man, is all. No harm, no foul. It’s kinda cute, actually.”‘

– Templeton, K., 2007, Pride and Pregnancy [Harlequin Mills & Boon] p.27

Heroine calling hero on his asshatery? EXCELLENT.

Heroine writing off hero’s asshatery as ‘just bein’ a man – and it’s kinda cute’? OH KAREN TEMPLETON NO!

That is going to be my new catch cry whenever this book makes me feel like beating my head against my desk.

December 21, 2009

Identity and Models of Gender – Quick Shots

Filed under: quick shots — Jodi @ 10:36 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Brief addendum to what I was talking about yesterday re romance and the gendered construction of selfhood. Here’s another quote from Crusie’s essay:

“Certainly the heroine in the romances I enjoy comes to a greater sense of self through the arc of the story, but she does so through both actions and relationships, while the hero follows his own character arc at the same time, maturing in the same way.”

– Crusie, J., 1997, ‘Romancing Reality: The power of romance fiction to reinforce and re-envision the real’ [originally published in Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres. Number 1-2, 1997: 81-93, accessed via, 21/12/2009]

This seems to bear out exactly what I was saying yesterday – the heroine attains selfhood through sexual union with the hero, while the hero, already a complete person, attains a better kind of complete selfhood. Essentially, the heroine needs the hero, but if the hero had never met the heroine, he probably would have continued just fine.

‘Old skool’ romance fiction was very much the heroine’s story, whereas ‘new skool’ romance is moving towards a journey for both leads. It is still, however, primarily the woman’s journey – and in a female-dominated industry I guess that’s understandable. However, even though the heroine makes the hero’s life better and he adjusts to her worldview (codependence) rather than her adjusting to his, I don’t know if this is an adequate model of femininity. It is still hierarchical, the male able to function as bachelor and husband, with the woman only able to function as wife. (This is borne out linguistically as well – who wants to be termed a ‘spinster’?)

But as we can see in the progression from old skool to new skool, romance is changing. Partnerships, while still hierarchical, are becoming more equal. Are we going to see a shift – maybe not necessarily in this model of femininity, but in the model of masculinity?

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