Keep Your Feminism out of My Romance

Disclaimer: This posting contains some sexual elements not intended for a young audience or those easily offended. If that is you, please leave.

“You know, you can learn a lot about women just by looking at what they read. If for women to be into sex with their husbands they need lots of housework-help, deep communication, crock-pot simmering, and tender, gentle butterfly kisses, then why are the covers of romance novels colloquially known as “bodice rippers”? Don’t women hate the idea of being submissive and under a man’s power and control?” (1)

Ok. I admit it. Sometimes modern life is just too much for me. Sometimes, in between dishes, sweeping, mopping, school runs, cooking and studying various languages, dancing and playing various musical instruments, a girl just needs a break. The time honored escape is, of course, a good old-fashioned romance novel (my secret shame). I look to the historical section. Oh, to escape into a world where men were men and women were women! To escape into a world where men where chivalrous, women stayed home and did housework and things were simple. A time when men where actually in charge of things and protected and supported women! But, as the months have gone by since my first venture into the historical section, something has become painfully obvious. Romance has gone PC.

A girl will be hard pressed to find anything these days written after about 1990 that has anything truly historical in it. As with every other area of life, feminists insist that they speak for “all women” and women’s fantasies of submissive heroines and manly he-men have to be censored. Instead of anything truly old-fashioned we instead get this:

“Bodice-rippers and their contemporary counterparts were popular during the 1970s, occupying the same cultural space as the feminist movement but seeming to represent its polar opposite. As feminists were fighting patriarchy, romance novels were propping it up. Despite a major shift in the genre in the late 1980s and early 1990s that saw the near-disappearance of rape and the emergence of much stronger, more modern heroines, the idea remains that feminists and romance readers exist on opposite ends of the spectrum. This is not the case.

Dr. Jackie C. Horne, a writer, independent scholar, and author of the site Romance Novels for Feminists, says that the women who now write romance novels grew up enjoying the benefits of the feminist movement. These authors, Horne says, “take feminist ideas that were once novel, provocative, on the very edge of inconceivable for granted, as givens.” In Alice Clayton’s Wallbanger and Lauren Dane’s Lush, both heroines are adamant that their careers not suffer in order to make a relationship work. They negotiate long-term committed relationships with men who treat them as equals. And, as is par for the course in most romance novels, these women seek out sexual pleasure and they enjoy sex. These are not the romances of the 1970s.” (2)

How romantic! A lot of the old novels from the un-PC days of romance are still around. However, a girl would be hard pressed in these times to find that they have not been edited to be PC. Almost every single one of them that you will find for, say, your Kindle device has been edited. If you want old-fashioned don’t buy the new versions whatever you do. Maybe this is why women are so unhappy these days. Not only has feminism caused masculine men to go extinct, feminism has also come along and censored fictional novels. They want to make sure that our very thoughts are changed in accordance to their movement.

“‘No, don’t deny it. You enjoyed it tremendously. And I think we can assume that besides riding and apologies, you also enjoyed using the crop. Correct?’

How could she answer these questions? Whitney thought frantically. She flicked a glance at Khan, longing to flee.

In a silky, dangerous voice, he warned, ‘Don’t try it.’

‘Now we are both going to share your favorite amusements: Riding, using the crop, and apologizing…'” (McNaught, “Whitney, My Love,” 1985)

So, old-fashioned romance with an over domineering hero who demands to rule the roost is not allowed. Authors have been forced to edit the un-PC scenes out. Prime example is Judith McNaught’s “Whitney, My Love” originally published in 1985. In a later version of the book she was forced to edit out the “riding crop” scene even though it took up a whole two paragraphs of the book. I also think of the classic Gone With the Wind where Rhett forcibly carries Scarlet up the stairs straight to the bedroom and rapes her one night in a drunken stupor after she’s disgraced herself (she is curiously quite happy the next morning). These elements were quite common in older romance novels. These elements of romance are extinct today, yet, somehow books like 50 Shades of Grey and thousands of other wannabes are completely acceptable. If you wish to read a book with an alpha male or dominant male hero this is about all you will find. Do an internet search for romances with “alpha” or “dominant” males and you are guaranteed to find nothing but “kink.” If if suits you you could also find spanking erotica these days as well. As far as I am to understand it it’s a genre growing quite popular. I guess the take home message is that it’s OK for a man to whip or beat a woman for the fun of it or in erotic play, but anything that actually promotes patriarchy or traditional gender roles is not allowed.

“However, since the early eighties, things have changed. From my own experiences with two separate publishers, I can summarize it like this: romance has gone politically correct, and spanking, unhappily, is romance at its most un-PC. S & M is chic; witness the success of Anne Rice’s “Beauty” series. Her spankings, however, are never far from the erotic realm; while given as “punishment” on occasion, the overtones are completely sexual. It’s always a turn-on. But a realistic disciplinary spanking given by a dominant hero to a misbehaving heroine is verboten.” (3)

Another pattern I have seen is that most historical romances written in the modern era are very sexually explicit. Most of the old-fashioned romances leave something to the imagination. I guess when you censor female fantasies of a romance with a true dominant man you have to replace it with a lot of fillers. I personally do not like sexually explicit things. I feel it is a major turn-off. It’s much better and even sexier to leave something to the imagination. I don’t like “kink.” I don’t like games. I do certainly have fantasies of male dominance, and I am most certainly not alone. Of course, feminists know this and it presents a real and true problem for them.

“This is complicated by the fact that a fair amount of women find sexually dominant men to be titillating. And almost any romance author you speak to about the genre will quickly tell you that what they write is not true life but a fantasy. The critical space between what one reads and likes and what one actually does is something that critics of the genre must remember, especially because their own policing of women’s desires is the product of the patriarchal system they are trying to criticize.”(2)

Yeah, and if it wasn’t bad enough to kill out old-fashioned masculine men, in most romance novels today the men have turned into somewhat of, well, wimps (to put it nicely).

“In Grant’s first novel, A Lady Awakened, the heroine uses the hero in order to get pregnant. She is not initially interested in emotional intimacy or love. The heroine is the one taking charge of her sexuality and her future while it is the rake who we find crying about how he feels used and eventually begging his love for a long-term commitment.”(2)

Oooh! Where can I find a mangina of a man like that? Somebody please sign me up. The other day I even read a historical romance novel set in early 1800s London where the ladies were pleased as punch to to be proposed to with the hero asking them to be equal business partners. I mean, really!? Also in most historical romance novels today you will find that both the hero and heroine are “enlightened.” They all believe in women’s rights and and illegitimacy is always acceptable, not to society of course, but to the hero and heroine who are “enlightened” and believe in the modern way.

“Obviously, there needs to be a balance: romance, as an escapist genre, does not need to (and should not) portray every brutal and disgusting historical fact. But more and more, every romance is becoming a “time-travel.” Readers are not getting personages that have even a grounding in their time periods; they’re getting twentieth-century people, dealing with twentieth century problems. In order to give it an “historical” aura, we put funny clothes on them and we don’t let them drive.”(3)

Why can’t the “women’s” movement stay out of romance? Feminism is not sexy by any means. It doesn’t fill a woman’s heart with love and joy. Women today are more unhappy than ever before and study after study shows it. At least in fiction, if not in reality, women should have a good romance to escape into that will truly take them to another time and place. A romance that spans the course of many years and much drama, not just a few short weeks and a few graphic sex scenes.

Bottom line, if you want to truly escape into an old-fashioned world with traditional gender roles, don’t read a historical romance written after about 1990.

“With respect to sex, no further argument is required to establish that at all stages of the sexual revolution feminism’s vision for heterosexual women was corrupt: first, when feminists encouraged women to engage in promiscuous sexual intercourse; and second, when some of them rejected traditional heterosexual intercourse, advocating withdrawal to the barren wasteland of masturbation, lesbianism and such so-called diversifications as sado-machosim.

That its sexual prescription could bring women to rest on the bed of de Sade and in Sir Stephen’s mansion is feminism’s recognition of the female desire for some dependence upon a powerful and dominant male. The male’s status as breadwinner within the traditional family creates an archetype of male dominance and female dependence. But feminism has rejected the benign dominance and dependence institutionalized in traditional marriage. Taking their cue from the homosexual men they so much admire, some feminists choose to retreat instead to the malign dominance of rough sex with leather and chains.” (Graglia, “Domestic Tranquility,” 261)