I had planned to write my first blog post focusing on relationships: what makes them work and how can we improve them? There are very simple things that can be done in order to increase the chances of a couple sticking together, and I’ll get to that soon. But not today.
Today my heart is somewhere else. I’m thinking of how a lot of romance novels portray heroines, and why. I grew up reading literary classics and cheap romance stories—a strange mix, I know. Then for a long time I haven’t read anything in the genre. Recently I restarted reading romance novels, and was stunned at how heroines were treated in many mainstream erotic works I’ve read. I’m not saying all romance novels are like that, of course, but there is definitely a trend.
I saw heroines being verbally mistreated, sodomized without having much of a say about it, raped, beaten up, and even offered as sex toys to other men… by their very own heroes. Did I mention double penetration in the best porn style? Yes, there was that too. The hero was a double jerk, and the heroine, a doormat to go along with something she wasn’t even consulted about. Can we please at least call it for what it is? Romance it is not. I guess it’s supposed to be hot. Maybe it goes to show that a heroine—a woman for that matter—should endure any abuse in the name of love, because in the end her endurance will win the hero’s heart. So it’s all good. Right?
Well, not in my book (no pun intended). To me, that’s degrading. I’m no prude: I believe that in the bedroom anything goes, as long as it’s consensual and no one gets physically or psychologically hurt. Backdoor action, for example. Nothing wrong with that, it’s simply a variation that some people enjoy and some don’t. A woman can enjoy it but is also entitled not to like it and reject the idea. She can even get her kicks from being offered as a sex toy to a bunch of guys—but that must be her decision, not someone else’s.
Love involves concessions; however, not to the point of a woman repeatedly subjecting herself to something that’s uncomfortable to her. And if it’s unpleasant to the heroine, the hero should not insist on it. Period. That’s what true alpha males do, because they don’t need to prove their strength by imposing their whims on their partners.
If the hero wishes to act upon his fantasy, then it needs to be done after a mature conversation and mutual agreement. Otherwise he’s treating the heroine like a thing devoid of opinion and volition. That’s debasing. Take BDSM, so huge these days. I’m no expert by any means, but I’ve researched the subject and one thing I know: BDSM is about a consensual arrangement in which the submissive defines his or her wishes and limits. In that sense, it’s the submissive who is really in control of the situation. And safe words exist precisely to make sure his or her limits are respected (“no” won’t cut it here, because it often means “yes” and is actually an extra spice).
That has been my recent experience reading romance novels. All of them written by women. Why women? Because women are verbal and men are visual. Do I blame those authors? Absolutely not, although in my opinion those books are not really helping our evolution as human beings: the authors are, inadvertently, reproducing a domination model because they themselves are conditioned to that. They write through the lenses of male porn. And by writing that way, an unhealthy model is reinforced to readers, who become used to it as something acceptable and at times even desirable. Then the industry requests more of that from authors because it sells, and now we have a vicious cycle.
What concerns me is that the abuse comes sugarcoated with “romance”: the hero is a jerk, then saccharine sweet to counterbalance the abuse, then he’s a jerk again and so on. It’s no secret the more you’re exposed to something, the more you become desensitized to it, let alone if it’s delivered with a bunch of flowers. Your brain changes. You start to regard abusive behavior as normal. When violence is sexualized, it becomes invisible. There’s nothing normal about disrespect or violence, though. Let’s face it for what it is: unacceptable no matter who’s doing it, be it a man or a woman, a billionaire or a hot chunk.
I also believe the abuse occurs in such stories for shock value, for the sake of “plot twists” and “thrills” in an industry obsessed with them. So each new release tries to top the previous as far as “kinks” go. What we gain in shock we lose in depth. Personally, as a writer, I’m very aware that each line I write can potentially change the way a reader thinks—not that I’m a genius, far from it; it’s just that words can be powerful and I have no control over how a reader may absorb mine. So I’m very careful with the messages I thread into my stories. I’m not just blowing sentences in the wind: I have a responsibility as to what kind of message my stories are sending out there.
I choose love, freedom and mutual respect. Once that’s in place, throw into the mix whatever rocks your boat. 🙂
My novel RED: A Love Story is being released in print and ebook format on March 30 2016. It includes light BDSM and role playing with the main focus on emotional connection. If you feel like taking a look at it, you’re welcome to read a sample here.
UPDATE: I am further exploring this subject in a series of posts about sex and gender conditioning: the media and the porn industry impact our sexuality in deeper ways than we think. The first installment is Hyper Sexed!