Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What I learned from Romance Novels

I love to read - always have. I have the gift of being able to read super fast. Mom wasn't much into taking me to the library to borrow books - that was too much trouble. So what she did is pick up books for me at the flea market. She went there almost every weekend. Romance novels were the cheapest. You could get them 4 or 5 for $1.00. Forget about the fact that I was 10 and probably didn't need to read romance novels. Mom saw them as a cheap way to satisfy my love of reading.

So what did I learn from Harlequin?

No doesn't mean No. In most books the male hero sweeps the heroine off her feet. He kisses her - sometimes to punish her, sometimes angrily. She resists, at first. He continues on and eventually woos her into submission. Then she is overcome by passion and falls into his arms.

I didn't used to be bothered by this. However, it has really begun to irk me. I even stopped reading romance novels for many years. However, after Baby was born, I was looking for quick, easy, mindless reads and so I picked up a few at the library. They haven't changed.

On Oprah a few weeks ago, they had a sex therapist that talked about fantasies. Apparently the number one fantasy by women according to surveys ---- who exactly gets surveyed anyway? I've never been surveyed. But alas, I digress ---- the number one fantasy is of being dominated. The therapist stated that this fantasy is the reason for the way so many romance novels are written. Warrior comes in and sweeps the damsel off her feet, while fighting to protect her honor.

Huh? Really? I never wanted that. I wanted a strong man who would care for me. But I also wanted the kind, compassionate, gentle giant.

I have to wonder how many young girls read these books and think that they are supposed to be overpowered by men. That "No" is something you are supposed to say because every "good little girl" says it. But you are not supposed to mean it. You're supposed to half-heartedly resist and then give in.

I even wonder what ideas men get from these books. Don't think men don't read them. In college, I hung out with a mixed group of friends. The guys were known to have Cosmopolitan magazines around. I asked why and they explained that there was usually an excerpt from a steamy sex novel. Late at night after a few drinks of the "adult persuasion" some of the guys and girls would read from Cosmo or other romance novels - just the explicit scenes of course (I never did that - even then I had trouble saying certain words aloud). I have to wonder what signals the males picked up and what lessons they learned. Did they think that if a female said "No," that they should just keep going and she'd change her mind?

I had to put down a book this week. The woman said No. He kissed her anyway. She struggled, kicking. He picked her up and continued to kiss her. It made me mad. No means No means No means STOP right there. Not continue in hopes that the woman changes her mind.

And hence, I've quit reading these types of books again. And why my daughter will not read them while living under my roof.


beauty said...

I've always hated romance novels. An avid reader, I've been teased often over the years by people (usually men, and usually non-reading men) about my love for those type of books. For some reason, a lot of men think if you read a lot that's the type of stuff you go for.

These books are so far from reality that there's no telling the amount of damage they've done to young, impressionable minds.

Ethereal Highway said...

Funny you should post about this today, Enola. I was thinkinmg about something similar just yesterday. I don't know what made me think of it, but it disgusted me just the same. This is before your time, but many years ago on a daytime soap opera (General Hospital), there was a really sick story line (Luke and Laura) about 'no' meaning yes, and then ending in marriage. There were flashback scenes, too. The whole thing was really, really sick and twisted. Of course, everyone else thought it was romantic. Things like that make me want to puke. This is one of the ways that society destroys itself from the inside out. Good for you for shunning such sickness.

mssc54 said...

I've always thought that romance novels are women's soft core porn.

Angel said...

Enola, I feel the same way about "romance" novels. I have never really cared for them but read them as a kid for the same reason you did--ease of access. Yet my mother still hasn't grown out of them. What does that say?

Lynn, I read about that story line and it really pissed me off. Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?

Strong and determined said...

GOOD point. No really does mean NO!

I struggle a bit with most princess (Disney, etc.) movies too because it teaches my daughter that you don't really need to get to know a man. You know him for 5-10 minutes, he seems like a great guy and then you fall in love. HUH? Not very realistic. I know we need to encourage children to use their imaginations, but I don't think that means imagining giving into a man who is forcing you to kiss him, nor does it mean you barely know him and then you marry him because he seems "nice" or is "good looking."

Enola said...

I remember that Luke/Laura storyline. I grew up watching GH with my mother. My grandmother and she still watch it. I quit after college. I turned it on the other day while home with Baby. Did you know Laura is now in an "insane assylum?" I guess that part of the story is a bit closer to reality.

lawyerchik said...

I started reading Grace Livingston Hill books as a fairly young pre-teen. We weren't allowed to read the Harlequins because of the raunch factor (which, in the 70s, wasn't as bad as the detective and spy novels I DID get to read, but I digress, too).

However, we did get to read Grace Livingston Hill books, which were religious/sanitized versions of the same thing. I don't recommend those, either.

For one thing, they are still extremely unrealistic in their portrayals of how people meet, fall in love, and decide how (or whether) to pursue a relationship. For another, the "happily ever after" endings leave so many unresolved expectations!!

Of course, the classics can be tricky, too: don't let your kids read Great Expectations until they are old enough to recognize and identify the twisted psyches in each character!! :)

(I'm totally serious about this - what kind of precedent does it set for girls to learn to lead men on to dash their hearts to bits, or for boys to let girls treat them like dirt, or for both boys and girls to think that the old lady in that story was right to allow such behavior?)

Anyway, good points!!

Marj aka Thriver said...

Thanks for writing this wise post and for allowing us to use it for The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. I wasn't in that survey either. I don't want to be dominated. That's not "romantic" to me at all!