How Romance Novels are contributing to Rape Culture

Before I was lucky enough to find blogs and other resources that I could rely on for book recommendations, I would troll Amazon. If a description caught my eye, I would look at the sample pages. In doing so I discovered a disturbing trend in romance novel plots. Two books still stick out in my mind. One started with a drunken man stumbling into what he thinks is his room at an Inn. He then assumes that the girl sleeping in the bed must be a prostitute and he treats her as such. The second book started with a ‘gentleman’ (it was a regency, I believe) coming upon a lady in a garden. He only sees her from behind and mistakes her for someone he was supposed to be meeting for a romantic rendezvous. He ends up assaulting the poor girl before realizing she’s not who he thought she was. When he does realize, there is no apology. He just turns on the charm, brushes it off as no big deal, and they part ways. Later, during the social gathering they are attending, he winks at her from across the room.

I went back and read the descriptions of these books and realized that, yes, in both cases I had just met the hero and heroine of the book. These were the two people that were going to fall in love and live happily ever after.

What the crap??!! Are you kidding me? I’m supposed to root for a relationship that started with the ‘hero’ sexually assaulting the heroine?? Because it was an ‘innocent mistake’ and ‘no harm was done.’ Is that what we want to teach our daughters? Is that what we want to reinforce in our sisters’ and friends’ minds? Setting aside the fact that the first guy was happy to stumble onto a prostitute and take advantage of her, I’m sure he’s still a good guy. He just needs someone to tame him, right? His violent aggression is really just passion, I’m sure. Let’s justify his behavior, make excuses for him and reinforce the idea that his choices don’t have consequences and he should never feel shame for acting on his baser instincts. He’s a man; that’s just the way they are.

No.

Am I supposed to believe that the girls in these narratives weren’t hurt and traumatized by the situation? Am I to assume that they actually enjoyed it and these men just helped them realize that they should free their sexuality and just enjoy, regardless of whether or not they consented to it?

No. No.no.no.no.NO.NO. NO!

Let me be clear. I write romance novels. There are many authors who write wonderful, heart warming, love filled stories. I applaud and commend them. But this trend in other romances feeds into the idea that aggression is the same as passion, that lust is the same as love, that force is the same as persuasion, that dominance is the same as protection.

No.

I’ve had reviews of my books that said it was ok, but they couldn’t love the hero because they prefer their men arrogant and dominant. If that’s what you’re looking for, you will have to look somewhere else because I won’t do it. I will continue to write about the kind of men that I will want my daughters to marry. Yes, they will have flaws, but they will have respect, they will know the importance of backing away and keeping their hands to themselves when asked. They will apologize if they ever overstep their bounds, regardless of whether they understand.

I believe in redemption. I believe in second chances. But this corrosive idea that a woman should just give in and let a man show her what she really wants is damning and dangerous.

I recently heard an interesting term. Forced seduction. Apparently this was a common trope in the 80’s and 90’s. It could be found in romance novels and soap operas. The idea is that a man can force himself on a woman (rape her) and that she’ll realize during the act or shortly after that she wants him and they fall in love. It’s Stockholm syndrome and gaslighting at their finest.

I finally jumped on the Downton Abbey train and watched the first three or four episodes. There is a scene where a guy finds his way into a young woman’s room. He tries to seduce her. She says no and threatens to scream if he triers anything. He tells her she can scream, but then everyone will find them together and she will be ruined. He cajoles, threatens, and finagles and she gives in.

Afterward, her mom finds out they were together and asks if he forced himself on her. The young woman says no.

I suppose that’s a reflection of the time period it’s based in, because from where I stand, that was rape. She said no, several times. But he just kept pushing and threatening until she gave in. That’s not consent. That’s acquiescence under duress.

Fortunately, that man is removed from the plot and so it doesn’t turn into some awful, forced “romance,” Because there is nothing—nothing—romantic about that situation.

So let’s all do ourselves a favor. Let’s stop pretending that “forced seduction” has anything to do with love or romance. You know who uses force? Predators.

We can reject those plots. We can and should reject those ideas. Because if we don’t, where does that leave us?

We could all take a lesson from Jane Eyre. When Mr. Rochester tried to assign the blame for his choices to her, she wouldn’t allow it:

“Then you condemn me to live wretched, and to die accursed?” His voice rose.
“I advise you to live sinless; and I wish you to die tranquil.”
“Then you snatch love and innocence from me? You fling me back on lust for a passion—vice for an occupation?”
“Mr. Rochester, I no more assign this fate to you than I grasp at it for myself. We were born to strive and endure—you as well as I: do so.”  -Jane Eyrejane-eyre-2011-06

Or there’s this gem:

oneshadeofgrey

16 thoughts on “How Romance Novels are contributing to Rape Culture

  1. Amen. Amen. AMEN! Our heroes need to be gentlemen, without arrogance and disrespect… I love your stance!!

  2. Thank you! And I add my AMEN to what you have said as well. We need more creative minds picking up a pen & writing stories that doesn’t celebrate the moral decay of society. Thank you, thank you.

  3. Wonderful, I married a gentle and respectful man. My male friends are the same, we teach by example and that is what I teach my kids. These novels are destroying what true romance is, just as those pedophlie vampires that are 100 and persue teenagers.

  4. Holy moly, well said. While I love the fact that my husband carries handcuffs, I far more adore the way he gently wooed me with his overly chivalrous sense of propriety. There is a time and place for romantic thrill and it only belongs in a loving, committed relationship. Bravo to this.

    • Agree! There is nothing at all wrong with the strength of men, so long as it’s not used to manipulate, control or dominate, especially in what is supposed to be a loving relationship.

  5. Love is the taming of ones spirit; in commune with God, be alas one of his creations a helpmeet and fair maiden, to be so blushed in a ravenous moment innocence flying apart having been so liberated with rage. Where do these men find such folly in rendering their souls consigned to hell an attribute in the face of what could otherwise be an eternal round and nearer to God.

  6. You are so right about men taking advantage of women in novels, and I agree whole-heartedly. These days it takes conscious effort to avoid it. I share your admiration for Jane Eyre’s strength in standing up for herself. I am reading ‘Just Ella’ and enjoying the friendship between Ella and Gavin. I look forward to reading ‘Missing Lily’, and I hope you write more.

    • I just think it’s terrible that these twisted, unhealthy relationships are what we are expected to idolize. So sad.
      And I will be writing more, it’s just hard to know how long it will take me. 🙂

  7. Thank you!
    When I think of the man I want to marry, I think : worthy, hard-working, honest, friendly, intelligent, respectful, kind, funny etc. And I fully expect him to want the same from me.
    I would never be able to respect or friendship or love a man who thought of me as a – an object for his – attentions. That very idea is disturbing.
    So thank you for pointing this out and standing up for truth and right, very vocally and very positively!

  8. I wish you had said which books you were refering to as I want to avoid them like the plague. Because sadly that is what they are a nasty disease that takes hold of people, especially impressionable young adults, minds and start to take over. Thank you for standing up for what true love is and should be. I truthfully haven’t heard of you or your writing, but I’m going to Amazon after to buy them. I also, look into books in a similar manner, but even then there is no guarenty that it will be clean.

    • It’s been so long since I read those first pages that I have no clue what they were called or who wrote them. I tried to forget them as soon as possible, but obviously the content stuck with me. Which fits exactly with what you’re saying! They are a disease. These supposedly ‘innocent’ entertainments stay with you. We can’t unread or unsee these things and we often don’t realize the damage we are causing until much later.
      I’m glad you stopped by! I hope you like my books if you end up reading them. 🙂

  9. “Trolling Amazon” as you so aptly call it has become a tedious and frustrating process. When I find a book that seems promising, I read the reviews looking for key words like “clean” to describe the romance. If I come across words like “steamy” I know to steer clear. I am so grateful for authors like you who write books I can count on for clean, well-written romances. Thank you!

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