rowyn: (Default)
[personal profile] rowyn
I started reading romance novels in the 80s. I was a voracious reader, and exhausted the little branch library's allotment of the genre quickly. I could only afford to buy so many new books, so I bought a lot of used books. The used book store charged half cover price, which made 60s and 70s romances cheap.

After a couple dozen, I stopped reading 60s and 70s romances because even teenage me was appalled by the rampant misogyny in them. These were books for woman, by women, starring women characters, and YET. The female protagonists were often caricatures: helpless creatures, with no ambitions beyond love, marriage, and children.

I was, in one way, fascinated by this, because I read much older books that portrayed women in a far more attractive light. Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte gave me independent, confident, interesting women. Why were 60s romances so bad at this?

While I recognized the shallowness of the characters early on, it took much, much longer for me to realize how unhealthy many of the relationships were. It wasn't uncommon to read a romance in which the male protagonist outright raped the female protagonist. I don't mean "this is kind of rapey because she's uncomfortable about having sex" but "woman is saying "no" over and over again while ineffectually trying to push him away, and man ignores her protests and rapes her".

The Flame and the Flower was a 1972 romance showcasing this trope on the lame excuse that the man thought she was a prostitute and I guess prostitutes don't get consent? And this was one of the romances I liked as a teen. I read my favorite parts over and over again.

By the 2000s, most romances had gone from "rape is a good way to get the protagonists in bed because it lets you have your pure female character and sex too" to "howabout we portray the kind of healthy relationships we'd like to be in, instead?"

I love healthy romances. I write about characters who are careful with one another, who consider issues of power and consent, who have an unselfish love for one another. They do not seek to gratify their own desires without regard for the object thereof. Even in Frost and Desire, I cling to that overall tone, despite having a scene of mind control and rape. This trend delights me.

But I feel as if romance is now held to a different standard from every other genre. We don't just say "Wow, that relationship in The Flame and the Flower is messed up": we say "This book is objectively bad because the relationship is unhealthy". When teens say they love TWILIGHT, we fret that they plan to get into abusive relationships.

People, I loved The Flame and the Flower and A Woman Without Lies and I've never been in anything close to an abusive relationship, or thought that abusive relationships were a good idea. I loved reading books about these warped relationships that somehow magically turned out for the best because they were fun, not because they were my role model.

We don't wonder if people who love horror are going to become serial killers, or expect that people who read mysteries will become either cops or murderers. We don't watch Game of Thrones because we long for a return to the War of the Roses.

But romances, ah, if they show unhealthy behaviors, it has to be because the author and the readers endorse those behaviors in the real world.

As I built my playlist of dysfunctional love songs for Frost, I found it freeing to realize just how much music glorified terrible relationships. Music is expected to cover the full spectrum of relationships, from happy to broken to dysfunctional. Music is cathartic, not a model of the ideal.

I came up with the plot for Frost in 2015, and I put off writing it for three years in part because "people will assume I think this is a romantic ideal".

And I finally decided to write my messy hurt/comfort problematic romance anyway.

Because yes, it's great that so many romance novels now model strong, healthy relationships.

But fantasies that would make for bad realities have their place, too.

Date: 2019-01-24 02:39 pm (UTC)
anke: (Default)
From: [personal profile] anke
I think part of the different treatment of genres is that murder has been considered wrong for quite a long time (unless it is privileged people murdering marginalised people, unfortunately), but a lot of toxic relationship behaviour is still considered normal, or has been until recently.
Looking at rape, in Germany, rape was defined as "a man forcing a woman he is not married to to have sex" until 1996 or so.
There are campaigns trying to get it through people's heads that you need consent for sex, that being drunk or in a relationship is not consent to sex. I haven't seen such campaigns trying to teach people that murder is bad.

But really, what needs more criticising is action/adventure stuff with a flat or nonsensical romance subplot, in which the male protagonist ALWAYS gets the love interest. -_-

Date: 2019-01-25 04:31 am (UTC)
archangelbeth: An anthropomorphic feline face, with feathered wing ears, and glasses, in shades of gray. (Default)
From: [personal profile] archangelbeth
*nod* Yeah, as I said on Twitter, I'm all for having an Author's Note of "dear gods, no, this is not a healthy relationship; this is a FANTASY relationship where there is drama so the reader can enjoy it" or the like.

(And then Rowyn had one like that for hers and well! O:D )

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