Saturday, October 22, 2005

A rant about women's lib and books...

Real life and fiction are two separate things - we all know that. In fiction, women and men meet, hate each other on sight, sleep together, are separated, get back together and live Happily Ever After. It's called romance, and the formula is employed in one fashion or another in all the romance books published - from 'Forever Amber' to the latest Linda Howard book - and romance books are the bestselling books in America - keep that in mind.
But I wonder what effect all these romance books have on the easily influenced minds of young women all over America. When I hear about the teenage pregnancy rate and the unwed mother rate, and the latest story about the 23 year old woman who tossed her three children into the sea to drown, (if you do your math you'll see that she was only 17 when she had her first child) I wonder if romance books have somehow placed the reality bar too high. The happy-ever-after that these women are longing for never happens for them. They stay unmarried, on welfare, on medicaid, with kids to raise and few people to help them. If someone wants to write a realistic romance, it wouldn't be a very cheerful book.
In reality, young girls fall in love every two weeks or so, while boys just want to screw (I dare you to deny this, young men) and the results are often tragic. With the rise of formula romance books, women's lib fell back - the cult of the alpha male wiping out a decade of education and women's rights gains. Women everywhere read books where a woman's ulitmate 'happy ending' was walking up the church aisle dressed in white. The princess bride, daddy's little girl; the myth of a woman's place in life that had finally been vanquished in the sixties and seventies came back with a vengence. When I go to the US, I am shocked at how woman have slid backwards to the mentality of the fifties, where a woman's place was in her home raising the kids, and the man was superior to woman.
In Egypt right now, a woman is running for a seat in the government on a conservative ticket. This woman is speaking out Against women working, and saying clearly that according to her religion, Islam, men are superior to women. The problem with this picture is that in all religions men are portrayed as being superior to women. What we have to remember is that MEN wrote the bibles and religious law books - not women. For centuries, men have used these books as a way to control women. Now women are writing books that Millions of other women are reading. And instead of using this opportunity to empower women, they are staying within the confines that men have drawn for them.
Give me some examples of romance books (other than Gone with the Wind) that empower women? (and look how hard Scarlet had to fight and how her society looked down on her) In which books do heroines fight for equality and don't see love and marriage as the only goal worth having? In most books I read, the woman is submissive. In real life she is too. In most books I read the future is rarely discussed between couples. The woman invariably has the 'lesser' job (waitress, nanny, secretary, or assistant). Women hardly ever take control of their lives in books. Women often rely on men to help them or get them out of trouble. Women fall in love first.
Only in a romance book will a woman get pregnant and amnesiac and wander off to be found by an unmarried cowboy who is willing to keep her around (for housework? For cooking?) and they will fall in love and somehow it will turn out that the pregnant woman is not already married, and the baby will somehow vanish (miscarriage or some sort of high drama) and the couple will end up HEA...
When are we going to start writing books that empower woman and teach girls that education and ambition are good? When are publishers going to start accepting books that show women kicking the hero out because he's an arrogant and violent, and have her find someone who is intelligent, hard working, and willing to accept her as his equal?
It's no mystery that the best-selling books my erotica publisher has are BDSM - where women are submissive and the males abusive. No matter the authors try to portray the relationship as equal and loving, in reality, the relationship is skewed and demeening.
But more and more women are buying these books, reinforcing their uncounscious feelings of inferiority and need to be punished for their 'sinful' thoughts of their own sexual freedom, which often involve adultery, mulitple partners, and uninhibited sex - but these feelings are not supposed to belong to women, so they fall back on books where woman are beaten and dominated in order to put their own secrets back into their 'proper' place.
In real life relationships are often unequal.
"When," asked an English socialogist, "are women going to hold men responsible for their acts? When will they stop taking resposibility, raising their children, wahsing their clothes, cooking their meals and letting them get away with the myth of 'the Breadwinner'? When you understand that men commit 90% of all violent crimes all over the world - regardless of race, religion, or nationality, you understand that the problem is not with society - the problem is with men."
If women are going to be writing books that other women read, why not write books that address the problem of alpha males instead of celebrating them?

When will our books start being helpful for the 17 year old who has her whole life in front of her - not just a wedding?


Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

Beautifully written, compelling article, Sam! I’ve been working on a similarly-themed post for my own blog. We seem to be psychically connected at times, don’t we? :-0

You brought up so many valid points here. I think many romance and erotic romance readers today are purposely seeking out stories with more realism, less violent alphas and stronger, more independent females. They also like older-than-eighteen non-domestic heroines who are bigger than a size three and who aren’t afraid to express their likes, inside or outside of the bedroom--at least that’s what the e-mails I’ve received indicate.

Females have come a long way (hopefully) since avidly reading all those historical romances of the past that featured angry, brooding, raping heroes and whimpering, simpering TSTL (too stupid to live) heroines.

Our dilemma as romance writers with a conscience comes in when we must decide how much realism is too much. We want to empower while still offering the escapism and HEA that only a satisfying romance can provide.

International-Man-Of-Mystery said...

Sam, you amaze me. I remember, once upon a time, I made some disparaging (albeit tongue-in-cheek) comments toward the entire Romance genre. But my criticisms were based solely on the literary quality--or lack thereof--of much popular Romance fiction. (Present company excepted, of course. :>)You, on the other hand, offer a legitimate, intelligent, and introspective look at the real social problems sometimes fostered by such works. Color me mucho impressed.

I can't totally blame the writers of this sort of work, though. For me, it's the same thing as when some nutcase watches a horror movie, then goes out and chops up his girlfriend in an attempt to recreate his favorite scene. The first instinct of the media is usually to blame the movie. I place the blame on the nutcase. There is some social responsibility on the artist, true, but ultimately the individual is the only one to blame for his or her own actions.

Then again, I am a male. So I could be wrong about the whole thing.

You, however, are totally RIGHT about what young men REALLY want out of any given relationship. Ladies, listen to Sam, here. If any guy ever tells you different, he's either lying or self-delusional. Sad but true.

Sam said...

LOL-Daisy, we must be soul sisters.
Anyhow, thanks guys - I was just in a really ranty mood yesterday because of that story about the woman who killed her three kids. I love a HEA as much as anyone, and feel that everyone Deserves one, not just fictional characters. *sigh*
I think my article is really about the contemporary romance scene, and some of the more 'hard' contemporary BDSM books I've read. Excluding paranormal, fantasy, and sci-fi, as I think people have the smarts to know what's real and what isn't - but contemporary fiction is so close to reality I'd like to see writers useing their influence to Favorably influence women and their outlook.
OK - enough already, lol.

Wynn Bexton said...

A thoughtful and well-written commentary, Sam. I agree!

p.s. In my historical fiction book (based on history) the women in the story were given the short end by the historians. When I started to research them, I was amazed at the strength of these women and what they accomplished (or tried to) in that ancient men's world. Remember that at one time (bronze age) it was a Matriarcal society. Then the men took over and all hell broke loose!

Tara Marie said...


Your comments are amazingly thought provoking, but I'm not sure we can put so much blame on the romance genre. Though I do agree with much of what you said, it would be nice if we had more mature acting heroines who realize that finding their HEA is sometimes work and not just some sort of magical fate.

But one of the biggest draw to romance is fantasy, some read to escape the work, and family pressures.

I'm not sure how many teenage girls that become pregnant came blame it on romance novels, and yet where do we cast blame? I'm amazed by how parents allow girls to dress for school, and complain when local malls put curfews on unattended teenagers, there's a reason for this, at what point do parents take responsibility for how they raise and teach their children. Obviously teenagers are hormone driven and parents need to parent instead of allowing schools, malls and their kids' peers to do their parenting.

In the case of the SF woman who killed her children, society failed those children and mom. She was off meds that would keep her at the least mentally stable and yet she was living in shelter, seperate from their father, sliding further and further into her mental illness. The whole situation is tragic.

From what you've posted in the past I'm about 10 years younger than you and I agree that the women's movement may be stagnant here in the States, but it did bring us to the point we are, which is better than where we were. We now have the choice to work or by a SAHM or be a working mom, it's not an easy choice, but at least we've got options, we didn't have 40-50 years ago. Unfortunetly the options for women who must work at times are slim and difficult to deal with.

The situation in Egypt is obscene, but it's still virtually a closed society and with Islam as it's religion it's quite possibly going to stay that way. How much can the "West" actually influence this situation??

OMG, I need to get off my soap box, sorry about that--LOL.

Sam said...

Tara Marie,
I'm not blaming romance novels, I'm saying that authors have influence that they don't fully use. Women are still afraid to step out of their pre-defined boxes and that, to me, is a shame when it comes to literature.
I think that with the impact romance books have, it is too bad the authors are not taking more advantage of it to create some memorable characters, like Scarlet O'Hara.

Tara Marie said...

Hi Sam, I didn't mean to take over your comments--LOL.

I agree it is time authors step up and create more forward thinking independent heroines.

I haven't read GWTW since college, I'm thinking it needs a reread. For me Scarlet, though a survivor, never really matures into anything more than a self-centered narcissistic adult.

Sam said...

Good point - and as a child (I saw the film when I was 9 yrs old for the first time!) I thought she was a terrible heroine. It's only as an adult that I can fully appreciate her struggle to escape the confines society placed upon women. She was perhaps the first fully liberated heroine, and when she finally realizes she doesn't love Ashely, she finally grows up.

Oh, and I think that the person who wrote the sequel should be strung up and shot, lol.

Wynn Bexton said...

Interesting you should bring up Scarlett O'Hara because in a workshop discussion on antagonists, anti-heros and villains at the conference last weekend she was also mentioned as a typical 'anti-hero'. It's been so long I'm out of touch with the story but I think I have the video set here. Much have a GWTW night soon!

Sam said...

Wynn, a GWTW night sounds lovely!
(wearing southern belle gowns and corsets pulled TIGHT, lol)