Books to the Sky

hey, what have you got against Fleetwood Mac?

Posted on: July 14, 2009

Hey, wanna hear something crazy? You know how I don’t like rapey romance heroes? It’s because I am a Young Person!.

Amanda Hess picks apart a blog post by an old-skool romance writer defending rapey heroes. The writer says:

Mind, this definition of “rape” is not a legal one; it’s a highly stylized one in which it allows the female to retain her Good Girl status while still A) having sex and B) enjoying it because the hero is a different kind of rapist: One who is attractive, who is uncontrollably attracted to the heroine, and who gets her off after he’s made it possible for her to have an out, i.e., “I was raped.”

The problem for me is that this whole “women are not supposed to like sex outside of the confines of marriage, and even then, they aren’t supposed to like it much” notion is not really as outdated as we might think. I suppose, if you squint and turn the book sideways and shake it a little, that there’s something a little subversive about the sexual aggression in old-skool romance. The hero, after all, initiates her into enjoyable sex. But he also does this by taking away the heroine’s agency over her own body and sexuality.

My disdain for virgin heroines is well-documented, and I think what bothers me the most about them is that usually, they require some kind of sexual awakening, meaning they aren’t fully-realized people when they meet the hero. I read a lot of romance novels, so I obviously don’t have a problem with people falling in love and finding companionship and whatever else comes with the HEA, but I do have a problem with a woman needing a man to function.

Plus, there’s that whole sexual violence thing. Excuse me for not getting excited about a swarthy hero violating a woman, no matter how handsome or good in bed he is.

Our author goes on:

I’m not sure why there’s this unwillingness to go along with the zeitgeist of the time in which the book was written, but instead to apply today’s standards of fashion or technology or pop culture as markers of timelessness. We don’t expect that of our historical novels, so why do we expect it of “contemporary” romances that cease to be “contemporary” the moment the galleys are finalized?

Amanda Hess answers this pretty well: “Young readers don’t just find the fashions and soundtracks of 70’s romance novels ridiculous—they find the very romantic ideals they’re based on offensive.”

I mean, we make fun because the trope is ridiculous, although it’s not even making fun so much as being actively offended by these old notions of female sexuality. We may not be that far removed from those old notions of what women are supposed to want, but I think a lot of women today, young women in particular, have more agency. We have relationships and jobs and friends and lives, and we don’t sit around in the window waiting for our knights to come rape us.

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3 Responses to "hey, what have you got against Fleetwood Mac?"

OMG I was just talking today about – and this is far removed from the romance genre – Howard Roark’s rape of Dominique in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. It’s exactly the same idea! Stupid me and my stupid young person ideas about consent, failing to appreciate the rapey zeitgeist of Days of Yore.

I must say: for all it’s disturbing implications, “rapey” is a deliriously cute-sounding word.

[…] like porn because women aren’t supposed to like porn; see also some of what I said here about women and sexual agency). But Amanda says: But even with the availability of stuff that you can kind of guess won’t be […]

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Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.
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