Sunday, October 01, 2006

If There Was a "Politically Correct" Term for "Rape" it Would Sound a Lot Like "Forced Seduction"

In light of Racy Li's response to this post by Ragnell, I thought I'd share with you all a recent post and some subsequent comments about Romance, Erotica and Political Correctness over at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels.

Sarah's initial post is a response to a rant by author Laura Kinsale:

I read a lot--a LOT--of reader commentary on the various romance sites regarding things like alpha heroes and “rape” and “forced seduction” and how all that is so 1970’s...but we’re all enlightened modern women now and we just don’t like that sort of thing. Then in the next thread will be complaints that the genre just isn’t as compelling or interesting as it used to be and readers can’t find books they really enjoy, and gee, why are all the heroes vampires now?
Sarah ponders the question
Can you have your emotional security cake and hump it too?
and invites readers to respond. Here are my faves.

Candy, who co-runs the site with Sarah:
I disagree with Kinsale....There’s a difference between political correctness and homogenization, and she’s complaining about homogenization. There’s no doubt that political correctness can drive art towards homogeneity, but an even stronger force is market demand.....

And there’s also a difference between political correctness and speaking up about what one thinks is fucked-up shit....

...Yeah, vampires and werewolves and demons, oh my, allow us freer reign for some of our darker fantasies, but I’d argue that the sweeping historical saga of the 70s and early-to-mid 80s served much the same purpose and provided a similar element of fantasy. Not too many romances were written back then about the mousy truck-stop waitress being wooed and raped and then wooed and raped again and then abandoned and then raped and then having a secret baby and then raped and then finally falling in love with one of the truckers at her restaurant.
Laura Vivanco:
I think different people will find different things erotic...

Similarly, when it comes to romance novels, different people will have different fantasies and enjoy reading about different types of relationships....Each reader, with her/his different preferences can email authors, post on message boards etc and so the authors, like Laura Kinsale, will receive mixed messages, because they’re getting different messages from different readers.
Fucking a woman who’s crying out of fear is never hot.
Yawn. Blaming political correctness is so damn lazy.
If PC is the reason we’re not seeing the romanticization of rape, go PC.

Sorry, rape isn’t romantic. Forced sex isn’t romantic. Rough sex within boundaries? Oh yeah, very sexy. A man seducing the hell out of the woman? Very sexy.

Even studies about rape as fantasy fail to really get at the underlying issue - which is letting a woman put the responsibility for her desires that she’s deemed unacceptable or inexpressible onto the man. That’s not rape. That’s something else entirely and it’s really exciting if it’s written right.

Strong characters of both genders are sexy and compelling. A strong character can be vulnerable too. Blaming the lack of compelling characters on PC does nothing to convince me that it’s anything other than lazy writing that creates cardboard characters in some romance novels.

I don’t bemoan the good old days when heroes were asshole rapists and if the heroine got uppity he’d give her a little what for to put her in her place.
I suspect the audience of the 70s and 80s already knew the subtext and didn’t need to have it explained, or at least felt the same way he author and/or heroine did, even if they didn’t quite understand the underlying reasons for what they felt. I’ve read those books. They never bothered me; I understood what was really going on.

But the fact is, this is the 21st century, and one hopes that women today are allowed to own their sexuality, allowed to say, “Yes, I wanna!” and not be thought less of. If it’s PC-ness that demands that women be allowed to have sexual feelings, then hoo-rah for PCness.
One thing struck me in [Laura Kinsale's] quote from Ester Perel:

And eroticism thrives on something very different. It thrives on the unknown and the mysterious, on the unexpected. It’s not what you want in a long-term, secure relationship.

I’m a great fan of the In Death books and it seems to me that Eve and Roarke have a long-term secure relationship… and a highly erotic one. Nora Roberts manages to keep the heat up between two strong and independent characters… so it can be done. There’s very real conflict between the characters, in their world views and where they draw the line, and this adds to the romantic tension between them. and so far there’s not a single vampire in the entire series.

So it is demonstrably possible to have dark heros and dark heroines - or at least those with their own demons - without bowing to Political Correctness or feeling the need to stick a vampire into the series to create erotic tension.
Which makes me want to read the In Death books, because that sounds like a lot of what I like about Gabaldon's novels.

I was thinking about the term “forced seduction,” which I think is in itself a little misleading...“Force” implies total unwillingness, for me at least, on the part of the person being forced.

Seduction, however, automatically implies a certain (often psuedo-)reluctance on one side. If the other person was ready to go straight off, you wouldn’t need the seduction....even when the seduction is more physical,...[she] is almost always responding in a way that says she’s willing, she’s ready to go, she’s not being forced, though it may look that way at first. (Unless, of course, she’s only trying to lower his defenses so that she can knee him in the balls. I like my heroines kick-ass, too.)

Does that make sense? I’m all about the seduction, but adding the term “forced seduction”...that’s just a veiled rape.

Go and read it all.

And while you are there, don't forget to read one of Candy and Sarah's snarky takedowns of various romance novel covers. Honestly, sometimes they make even Greg Land look good.


vintagefan said...

"...I have already remarked that dreams and fantasies are by no means invariably the expression of hidden desire for the real act."- Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex.

'forced' and 'seduction' together sound wrong anyway.

Colleen Gleason said...

The In Death books are great...on many levels.

Nora does a great job of keeping the tension and sexuality between the Eve Dallas and her guy believable throughout the series--their relationship develops and works in a realistic way.

The mysteries are pretty good, too.

The social commentary is another thing that makes, in my mind, this series brilliant.

And the characterization. The supporting characters are great, Eve and Roarke's interaction is great, the writing is hard and edgy.

Go. Get the books. Read them in order for the best sense of character arc/development.