Monday, July 27, 2015

Romance: Reflecting, and Reflecting on, Society

Scott McCracken has observed that
To study popular fiction [...] is to study only a small part of popular culture. Nonetheless, written popular narratives can tell us much about who we are and about the society in which we live. [...] Popular fiction is both created by and a participant in social conflict. (1-2)
Support for his view can be found in a variety of reports from the 2015 Romance Writers of America conference. Suleikha Snyder, for instance, found the conference a source of enjoyment and comradeship but also felt there was what could almost be considered a parallel RWA conference,
The one where publishers still don't quite know what to do with multicultural and queer romance. [...]
The one where you feel as though your presence is just barely being tolerated, and these other women are indulging you as long as you stay quiet and don't draw too much attention.
This other conference was a convergence of microaggressions. From being side-eyed in elevators to having us confused for each other — Falguni Kothari and Alisha Rai are not the same person, FYI — to being told that diverse books were not a priority for Pocket/Gallery...there was a thread of something that was almost like resentment. “Why do we have to talk about diversity?” “Why are there so many of you here?” “My God, can't you all be quiet and go away, so we can go back to the way it was before?”
Here are a few of Rebekah Weatherspoon's comments in a similar vein:

A collection of tweets from the RWA panel on "Diversity in Romance: Why it Matters", at which Weatherspoon was one of the panellists, has been compiled by Alisha Rai and the handout from Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, K. M. Jackson and Falguni Kothari's workshop on "Multicultural Romance: When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong - and How to Make it Right" is now online too.

From an academic point of view, all of this reinforced for me a number of points most/all romance scholars are aware of:

* Romance, like all popular culture, reflects (and sometimes explicitly reflects on) the social/cultural/economic context from which it emerges and that context is not solely the context of white, middle-aged, cis-sexual, heterosexual women of the kind studied by Janice Radway. It never was, of course, and it certainly isn't now.

* This means that while it may be tempting to claim romance as a bastion of one particular point of view and/or make generalisations about romance (e.g. "romance is feminist!", "romance authors are supportive of one another!") such claims need to be qualified.

* If our collective body of work (both written and pedagogical) is not to present a misleading and/or incomplete picture of popular romance fiction we must make romance fiction's diversity apparent to our readers/students.

Any other conclusions romance scholars could benefit from bearing in mind?

[Edited to add: Jessica Miller's reflections on the conference focus on
socioeconomic class issues. Here are a few random examples:

1. Meetings at the Broadway Lounge in the conference hotel. So many meetings happened there, both scheduled and informal. A drink at the lounge will set you back $10-15 plus tip.

2. Dressing for the conference and the RITAs. There’s a lot we can say about the gendered nature of the term “business casual”, (does it ever apply to men?), the beauty norms, etc. But I’m thinking about the cost of showing up for the meetings, the cocktail parties, and the RITAs. And the issue isn’t even just having to dress up. I think a middle class woman can show up in casual clothes and not feel bad about it. Someone in a different situation might find it important to dress to hide her economic status (“Dress for success!” “Dress for the position you want, not the one you have!” etc.).
It barely needs saying given the number of romance protagonists who are billionaires/tycoons/rich aristocrats, but issues of socioeconomic class are also present in romance fiction itself.]

McCracken, Scott. Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1998.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Romance Academics at the RWA

As usual, I wasn't at the conference but I read quite a lot of tweets and blog posts about it. One exchange of tweets related to the panel on:
Why Professors Love to Study Romance: The 10 Year Anniversary of RWA’s Academic Grant (SPECIAL)

Speakers: Conseula Francis, Joanna Gregson, Stacy Holden, Madeline Hunter, Jayashree Kamble, Jen Lois, Sarah Frantz Lyons, and Catherine Roach

At the ten-year anniversary of RWA’s Academic Research Grant program, a select panel of award winners will discuss how the grants have supported a wide range of projects that raise the profile of the genre and bring attention to the craft, values, and unique voices of romance writers. Attendees will learn what this particular group of scholar-readers finds interesting, challenging, and compelling about romance fiction.
Here's the exchange:

If an author asked me what they could do to support my research, I'd be very tempted to suggest that they go and read Jennifer Crusie's handout (also from the conference) on motif and metaphor, with the caveats that, obviously, the author doesn't have to act on my or Crusie's suggestion and also that this may not necessarily help other researchers. I do like a juicy motif/metaphor, though and what Crusie says makes it clear that what she's arguing for is not the imposition of extraneous metaphors just for their own sake, but the discovery of motifs and metaphors which are already
personal to your story. The metaphors that you choose, consciously or subconsciously, are part of its deeper meaning; they grow organically from the story you're telling. That's why it's best to find the metaphors already present in your text after your first draft, rather than superimposing a literary idea on it.
Since they're already in the text, romance scholars may find them anyway, without additional help from the author. But if working on them a little in the way Crusie suggests can make them clearer to us and enhance other readers' experience of a text (which is what Crusie suggests they'll do), then it seems like a not too onerous suggestion to make to authors.

If anyone can point me in the direction of more tweets or blog posts related to that panel, please let me know and I'll try to add links here.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Theory in Love: International Comparative Literature Association, 2016

Organisers: Brendon Wocke (Université de Perpignan), Francesca Manzari (Université d’Aix-Marseille), Apostolos Lampropoulos (Université de Bordeaux III)
International Comparative Literature Association
XXIst Congress: “The Many Languages of Comparative Literature” July 21 – July 27, 2016,
University of Vienna, Austria

This panel concerns theory speaking in terms of love, seeking to establish the relationship between “l’amour” and theory.
In The Politics of Friendship Derrida reflects on the question of the indecidable possibility, the “peut-être,” of love, of friendship, and of desire: “‘Je t'aime entends- tu?’; cette déclaration d'aimance hyperbolique ne pourrait donner sa chance à une politique de l'amitié que soumise à l'épreuve du peut-être, de l'indécidable” How then can we express a refusal, a no, without listening, without hearing? How can one express the divergent and differential possibilities opened by this phrase? And yet Derrida already has, in Envois, where he explores, theorizes and dramatizes a love affair, tracing the course of its refusal in the various postcards and letters which remain unsent, forever awaiting their destination.
What Derrida performs in Envois is effectively echoed by Lacan who, in Seminar XX, says: “people have done nothing but speak of love in analytic discourse. [...] What analytic discourse contributes - and perhaps that is, after all, the reason for its emergence at a certain point in scientific discourse - is that to speak of love is in itself a jouissance.”
If, as Lacan says, the troubadours understood that love is nothing other than form, we could perhaps establish a relationship between love’s discourse and theoretical discourse as bridging the gap between philosophy and literature.
Does love function as a theoretical paradigm? Or should we think of theory as an act of love? Or even as born out of love? Can one think of a polyamorous theory? And what would such a theory consist of, in the writhing phrases which intertwine like the honeysuckle of Tristan and Iseult.
We welcome contributions on the subject of love and its relation to theoretical writing.
Please submit your abstract online by August 31, 2015 via the conference website
You will need to create an account with the website and enter the seminar number 17327 into the “topic” field on the “add abstract” screen. The participants will be informed of their inclusion no later than December 31, 2015.
For further information contact 
Papers in either English or French will be accepted. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

StoryTelling: A Critical Journal of Popular Narrative

I recently spotted a call for papers from:

StoryTelling: A Critical Journal of Popular Narrative

StoryTelling is dedicated to analyses of popular narrative in the widest sense of the phrase and as evidenced in the media and all aspects of culture.  Manuscripts should: see the narrative as a reflection of culture; use theory to analyze the work, not work to illustrate theory; employ scholarship; and be written for the general audience.  The editors are especially interested in visual accompaniments, bibliographies, and interviews with creators of popular narratives.  No limits on period or country covered.  No creative writing.
More details here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Noted with Interest: Twilight of the Gothic (3)

Crawford draws a useful distinction, I think, between our retrospectively constructed pre-history of genres (conceived of as characteristic themes and topics and plots) and a more historically-aware account of genres as existing not just between the covers of books (as themes and topics and plots) but also, and crucially, as paratextual and epitextual phenomena:
If we take the hallmark of 'Gothic fiction' to be a preoccupation with fearsome events and / or supernatural phenomena, and the hallmark of 'romance fiction' to be a story that revolves around the development of a love relationship between two characters, then both must be thousands of years old: many examples of each could be found, for example, in the mythology of ancient Greece.  But the fact that the conceptual categories of 'Gothic fiction' and 'romance fiction' are very much newer than this, and only started to be used by readers, writers, booksellers and publishers in the 1790s and the 1920s respectively, should give us pause.  Love and fear have always been written about, but they have not always had literary genres to call their own; those emerged only at specific points in history, when the right cultural and commercial conditions were in place to call them forth (Twilight of the Gothic, 15).
I am, as always, grateful to An Goris for adding the terms "paratextual" and "epitextual" to the way I talk and think about romance.  The image by Gustave Dore, from his illustrations to Milton's Paradise Lost, a text which "can now seem rather Gothic when viewed in retrospect" (Crawford 15).

Monday, June 22, 2015

Noted with Interest: Twilight of the Gothic (2)

I hope you'll indulge me as I continue taking notes on Crawford here.  These will be useful to me in the opening lectures of my upcoming romance classes, I suspect, and I doubt I'm the only one who'll find them helpful.  I should note that most of the sentences I'm quoting here have footnotes, and if you'd like me to post the sources he cites, I can add them in.

Crawford says that the "unravelling of the medieval romance tradition" occurred in several stages.
"The first element to disappear was its reliance upon the supernatural, which Cervantes mocked in Don Quixote (1605), reflecting the increasing scepticism regarding the reality of supernatural forces which was then taking root amongst the educated elites who read and wrote romances" (13)
The second stage has to do with the extraordinary nature of the characters and events.
"Seventeenth-century romance-writers still preferred their heroes and heroines to be larger-than-life figures living in far-off times and places, perfect in love, and superhuman in war; but, by the eighteenth century, tolerance for even this level of 'romantic' heroism had started to wane" (13).
In the 18th century we begin to see the clash between "romance" and "the novel," as the new, upstart form "defined itself against the romance, establishing its cultural credibility by eschewing the less naturalistic elements of the tradition which it aspired to replace" (13).  Thus,
"Early novels such as Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Richardson's Pamela (1740) achieved lasting popularity and fame throughout Europe by recounting the loves and adventures, not of morally perfect aristocratic heroes and heroines living in a fantastical version of the past, but of flawed, ordinary people living in a recognizable, realistic present; and, in their wake, the genre of romance came increasingly to be dismissed as suitable only for the ignorant poor, who were thought too credulous to understand the difference between the pointless fantasies favoured by earlier, more superstitious centuries and the realistic, educational novels by which they had now come to be displaced" (13).
The novel also defines itself largely as a genre focused on love, says Crawford:  "to the extent that 'novel' and 'love story' became almost synonymous terms" (13) as novel after novel "told the story of one or more young people, and the various difficulties that they had to navigate on their way to (hopefully) securing a suitable marriage with the partner of their choice" (14).

In the novel, as opposed to the romance, the barriers between lovers were "social, emotional and psychological rather than physical" (14):  class difference rather than an earthquake, say, or parents rather than pirates.  "The eighteenth-century novel tradition [...] generally prioritized good sense and social responsibility over grand passion, and often went to some lengths to demonstrate that an overly 'romantic' view of the world, and of love, could lead young people -- especially young women -- very dangerously astray" (14).

Monday, June 15, 2015

Noted with Interest: Twilight of the Gothic (1)

Noted with interest, these passages from Joseph Crawford's very impressive monograph The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2014; distributed in the US by U Chicago P).  Page number precedes the quotation; a slash mark (/) mid-quotation marks a page break.

Crawford's introduction differentiates his project from Pamela Regis's Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003) in some interesting ways:
8-9: I have no strict set of rules for determining which works count as paranormal romances, like those which Pamela Regis proposes for the romance as a whole in her Natural History of the Romance Novel, for the simple reason that I do not believe that such rules reflect the way in which genres actually function.  A genre, in the sense that the word is used by readers, booksellers and publishers, is not composed of a checklist of generic requirements, against which any given work of fiction can be compared in order to discover whether it belongs to that genre or not; instead, it is / defined by a constellation of associated tropes, and words of fiction participate in those genres to the extent that they partake of those tropes which define it.  Nor is this constellation fixed: it can shift and change as the genre develops, and almost always does so. 
9:  An accurate generic history must, by necessity, include such hybrid works, for the simple reason that authors, readers and publishers almost never restrict themselves to 'pure' works of a given type, and thus lines of influence often run through other channels. 
9:  [Crawford has] tried to map out, to the best of my ability, that line of literary and cultural descent which ultimately led to the modern genre of paranormal romance, rather than limiting myself to those works which fit some Platonic definition of generic form.
Crawford's first chapter is called, deliciously, "The First 800 Years." It begins with the etymology of the word "romance," then moves into some literary and cultural history:
11-12:  The rise of the heroic romance as a literary genre in twelfth-century France coincided with the appearance of the aristocratic cultural ideal of fin' amor, 'fine' or 'courtly' love, which postulated the then almost unheard-of idea that, under the right conditions, love between men and women could potentially be a morally or spiritually ennobling force.  The development of both the romance as a literary genre, and of fin' amor as a cultural practice, were encouraged by Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of England and France: she and her eldest daughter Marie acted as patrons to important / early romance authors such as Chretien de Troyes and (probably) Marie de France, while simultaneously helping to spread the ideals of fin 'amor across the royal courts of Western Europe. The same ideals of love were reflected in the works of the romance-writers whom they patronized, and so thorough did the identification of this new code of courtship with this new form of writing eventually become that, when we wish to refer to intense and ennobling love-relationships today, we no longer speak of fin 'amor: we refer, instead, to 'romantic love.'
These romances "were not only love stories--they were also stories of war, magic and adventure," Crawford explains (12).
12:  This combination of courtly love stories with magical high adventure proved so enduringly popular that, for the next 500 years, a single genre -- 'romance' -- served simultaneously as Western Europe's preferred form of both.  Pure and perfect love was 'romantic'; but so were supernatural events, or incredible feats of arms. 'Romantic love' went alongside 'romantic heroism' and 'romantic enchantment,' linked so inseparably that, when Don Quixote decides to become a knight arrant like the heroes of his favourite romances, he concludes that not only must he be an invincible warrior who inhabits a world of magic and monsters, he must also have a beautiful and virtuous maiden with whom he is perfectly in love, on the assumption that the former must naturally imply the latter.
The "first question" for Crawford about contemporary paranormal romance is therefore not "how stories of love and the supernatural came to coexist within the same genre; rather, we should investigate how it came to pass that, after five centuries of unity, they ever came to be separated" (13).

I'll type up some notes and quotes on Crawford's account of how this separation occurred in the next of these posts.  For now, let me just say that I'm intrigued by the notion of starting my romance course with a book that somehow captures that earliest, internally-multiple version of the genre.  The one that I might try is Alexis Hall's Prosperity, which is a queer steampunk novel that includes romantic love, heroism, and enchantment, and which I've been trying to figure out how to approach in the classroom.  This might help!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

PCA Romance Area Call for Papers

All Proposals & Abstracts Must Be Submitted Through The PCA Database.
Please submit a proposal to only one area at a time. Exceptions and rules

Conference of the Popular and American Culture Association (PCA/ACA)
March 21-25, 2016 – Seattle, WA
The topic of romantic love suffuses popular culture, and in turn, the popular culture of romantic love shapes real life social practices, from dating to weddings to holiday shopping. The Romance Area invites proposals on any topic related to popular romance culture or the romance industry, now or in the past, anywhere in the world.

Please note that you do not need to have a university affiliation to present.  Our area welcomes proposals from authors, editors, publishers, reviewers, and independent scholars. If your proposal is accepted, you will need to join PCA to present; however, you do not need to present in order to attend the conference and join the discussions.  Details on conference registration are being posted and updated at the PCA conference website
Some possible topics for Romance (although we are by no means limited to these):
  • #weneeddiverseromance: romance authors, readers, and publishers of color and the politics of representation
  • Disability in romance: the “Aspy hero,” love-cures, and getting past the tropes
  • Love, Inshallah, Ishqr, etc.: love and Islam in popular culture
  • Romance Around the Pacific Rim: media trends and real-life romance practice
  • Indigeneity, Native Issues, and Popular Romance
  • Queering the Romance: authors, characters, plot twists, publishers, readers
  • Fan fic, Adaptation, and the Classics: romancing Shakespeare, Austen, and canonical pop culture
  • Tensions within the “Romance Community”: crises, kerfuffles, fault lines, debates
  • Aca-Fandom and Romance Scholarship: Opportunities and Concerns
  • Young Adult, New Adult, and Vintage Adult (fortysomething and over) Romance
  • The “Erotics of Property” Revisited: money, social class, and romance
  • Romancing the Marketplace: romantic love in advertising, marketing, and consumer culture
  • Canons to the Left of Us, Canons to the Right of Us: Iconic Texts / Authors and the Romance Canon Debate
  • HEA, HFN, TTFN: Theorizing (and Close Reading) the Romance Ending
  • Emerging Genres, Authors, and Media
  • Lauren Berlant and Romance; Sara Ahmed and Romance; Critical Love Studies and Romance: New Critical / Theoretical Approaches
  • Non-Romance Topics (Work, Community, History) in popular romance texts
  • Masculinity and / in Popular Romance
  • Questions of Consent: Romance and / vs. Rape Culture, Now and in the Past
  • Outlander, Jane the Virgin, the Poldark Reboot, Healer: Romance on (Global) Television in the 21st century
  • Teaching Romance: Where? How? What? Why? To Whom?

Special Session: The Romance of Science Fiction Fantasy or A Little Sci-Fi Fantasy in your Romance
The Areas of Science Fiction/Fantasy and Romance will be holding a special joint session which will highlight the combination of the genres of Science Fiction/Fantasy with Romance.
How has the intersection of these two popular genres opened up new possibilities in conceptualizing gender, desire, sexuality, love, courtship, or relationship structure? How has their intersection allowed us to see existing concepts of these more vividly, freshly, or critically? How have authors, filmmakers, showrunners, and fans played these genres against one another, for example by using romance to critique traditions in SF/F, or SF/F to critique the tropes of romance?
We welcome proposals on steampunk, paranormal, fan-fic/ slash, science-fiction, and fantasy romance in literature, film or television (eg. Kate Douglas, Meljean Brook, J. D. Robb, Alexis Hall’s Prosperity Universe, Game of Thrones, Outlander, Ever AfterHer, Lost Girl, etc.)
When proposing for the special session please clearly indicate this in your abstract / proposal, and contact the area chairs (SF/F) and separately to request that your paper be considered for the session.
As we do every year, the Romance area will meet in a special Open Forum to discuss upcoming conferences, work in progress, and the future of the field of Popular Romance Studies.  All are welcome to attend.
Submit a proposal or abstract (200-300 words) proposal or abstract through the PCA website, and ONLY through the PCA website, at If you wish to submit a panel for the conference, all presenters must submit individually through the website, and then notify the Area Chair of your intentions to present together. Please do not include panel colleagues on the electronic submission as this confuses the program. Instructions for submission can be found
Do not simultaneously submit the same proposal to multiple areas. Doing so will result in your proposal being disqualified and your paper being refused by the PCA/ACA. Per PCA/ACA guidelines, a person may present only one paper at the annual meeting, regardless of subject area. If you try to submit to two areas, the master program will not accept your proposals (which may result in your paper not being accepted in either area).
Submission Deadline: October 1, 2015
Please feel free to forward, cross-post, or link to this call for papers.
If you have any questions as all, please contact the area chair:
Eric Selinger
Professor of English
DePaul University

Monday, June 08, 2015

CFP: "Asking For It: Discussions of Consent and Sexual Violence"

--Eric Selinger

In light of some recent discussions of rape, rape fantasy, empathy, and romance at Dear Author and Olivia Waite's eponymous blog, I thought this CFP for a book project called Asking For It: Discussions of Consent and Sexual Violence seemed relevant and on point.  I have some hesitations about the CFP's reference to sexual violence as a "source of entertainment" in romance novels, since this seems a gross exaggeration of a complex issue in the genre's history and current practice, but perhaps that's all the more reason for romance scholars to propose contributions.  

NOTE:  Given the reviews out today (June 15, 2015) of Lilah Pace's new erotic novel Asking for It at Dear Author and at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (trigger warnings at both sites), this seems even more relevant than it did last week.

The current deadline for submissions (3-6,000 words; longer pieces will be considered) is June 26, 2015.  If that won't work for you, and you still want to submit, it's worth getting in touch to discuss a workable time frame.

Call for Papers

Asking for It: Discussions of Consent and Sexual Violence
Joshua Stein, ed.

At the start of the 21st century, there are few social justice issues as divisive and important in popular culture as that of sexual violence and consent. Sexual violence is a fixture in popular culture, both as a source of entertainment (e.g. Law & Order: SVU; romance novels; etc.) and as a major news issue (e.g. University rape accusations; sexual and domestic violence in professional sports; etc.). These instances have fueled public discourse on consent and sexual violence.

The goal of this anthology is to provide an interdisciplinary and inter-subjective look at the subject of consent, focusing on the various contexts in which consent to sexual activity is violated in our society, the victims of sexual violence, and the social structures that are barriers to seeking justice and care for those victims. In the course of this discussion, the authors explore both the human, social, and ethical dimensions of our social problems with consent and sexual violence.

A secondary goal for this book is to develop the perspectives of a younger generation of academics, and so priority will be generally (though not absolutely) given to younger contributors and/or essays that address concerns and instances in popular culture. Historical analysis that discuss instances of sexual assault before the 20th century are fine, but are best if such analyses are placed in contrast to 21st century instances and data.

This anthology roughly divides into four parts:

Mainstream Narratives of Sexual Violence Contemporary narratives around sexual violence in certain public spaces have become distressingly common: cis-gendered man or men sexually assault a cis-gendered woman, whether in a University, at a party, in a hotel, on the street. Essays in this section discuss the common themes and eccentricities around these events, ranging from media representation, social factors, the experiences and struggles of the victims, and the legal process.

The Consent of the “Others” There are an enormous number of cases of sexual violence that the public narrative doesn’t include, notably sexual violence against non-cis-female people. These instances problematize social beliefs about what sexual violence looks like, and create further social and personal barriers for victims who do not fit in the mainstream narratives. These victims, included men, trans* people, people of color, the incarcerated, etc. are often forgotten in our discussions of consent, and the goal here is to bring the discussion back to focus on them.

Theoretical Considerations The discussions around consent, and the instances of sexual violence presented in the first two sections, requires a broader consideration of two theoretical questions. First, how does our contemporary society address sexual violence, at its best and at its worst? As a matter of fact, what are the social structures that are meant to ensure justice, and how do they work? Second, how ought we to address issues around consent? What constitutes consent, and under what circumstances? How are we to evaluate violations of consent to sexual activity and ensure just treatment of perpetrators and compassionate treatment of victims?

Creating a Culture of Consent Following consideration of the theoretical issues, what we should aspire to in our culture, we close by attempting to address concrete social changes that can be made to improve our society’s ongoing issues with consent and the perpetuation of sexual violence, both as a matter of institutional reform and in order to create a culture that values a more ethically sound view of consent.

This collection is open to submissions in the form of narrative, social criticism (interdisciplinary or limited to a single discipline), or ethical argument. The goal is to provide academic-level analyses of this serious social issue and present those analyses in ways that are accessible and engaging for readers both inside and outside of academic study; regardless of the approaches to analysis, the discussions need to be able to engage readers who possess a limited familiarity with technical material and theoretical framework in the various disciplines being utilized.

We are looking for submissions between 3-6,000 words on the subject of consent and sexual violence for inclusion in this volume. Consideration will be given to longer articles, where there is a particularly compelling reason for inclusion.

Articles can focus on:
Depictions of sexual violence in popular culture and media, as well as the benefits and problems of such depictions.
Social factors that condition both acts of sexual violence and responses from victims, support systems, and the wider community.
Groups that are victimized by sexual violence who are often ignored by mainstream portrayals or discussions of the issue. (e.g. men, trans* and queer persons, people of color, indigenous people, the incarcerated, sex workers)
Resources for victims of sexual violence, and the limitations of and barriers to those resources.
Radical social criticisms (e.g. feminist, Marxist, anarchist, etc.) of society’s treatment of sexual violence and consent violation.
The relationship of sexual violence to other parts of culture. (e.g. mass incarceration, television and film, political discourse, etc.)
Prospective solutions, social programs, and community organizations to address the problems of sexual violence.

One of the goals of this volume is to bring out the voices of young advocates on the subject of sexual violence; while articles addressing pre-21st century subject matter or written from a more venerable perspective will be considered, it is recommended that such articles consider contrast with contemporary examples.

Academic analyses are welcome, but will require editing to make them stylistically accessible to a non-academic audience.

Friday, June 05, 2015

"Love Between the Covers": LA Showings and Online Promotions

--Eric Selinger

The U.S premiere of Laurie Kahn's documentary film Love Between the Covers, for which I served as a scholarly adviser, is coming up soon at the LA Film Festival. Laurie's asked me to help get the word out, and I'm happy to oblige.  

Love Between the Covers will be showing at the Regal Cinema LA LIVE 10 in downtown LA, with two showings available:
June 14th at 6:15 pm
June 16th at 5:25 pm
Tickets are on sale now at the LA Film Festival website  and they cost $15. Anyone who comes to a screening will be eligible to win a Love Between the Covers tote bag filled goodies worth $100.

In addition, Laurie is doing a special promotion to help get the word out about the film.  Evidently anyone who retweets or shares the e-card that Love Between the Covers has posted on Twitter and Facebook with information about the two screenings will be eligible for $100 USD of books from her/his favorite bookstore!  (I don't know whether this applies only to folks in the United States--I don't see why it should, but you can use Twitter and Facebook to ask.)

If you'd like to learn more about the film, you can find out much more at The audience at the Love Between the Covers international premiere at Toronto's Hot Docs International Film Festival loved the film, Laurie reports:  here's her link for the press the film has gotten.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sneers and Leers: Sociologists on Attitudes Towards Romance

Sociologists Jennifer Lois and Joanna Gregson, who received funding from RWA, have had an article published in Gender & Society. Here's the abstract:
Drawing on four years of ethnographic research with romance novel writers, we show how their affiliation with romance—a literary genre known for stories containing sexual content—prompted outsiders to sexually stigmatize them. Our work examines both the application and management of this stigma. We describe how outsiders applied the stigma in two ways: by conveying blatant disapproval through “sneering” and inviting writers to display a highly sexualized self through “leering.” Writers interpreted outsiders’ sneering as slut-shaming rhetoric and responded discursively to manage the stigma; leering, however, sent a more complicated message that was harder for writers to manage. In revealing how these interactions threatened to strip writers of their sexual agency, our analysis suggests gender may be a primary mechanism by which stigma is applied and managed, which has theoretical implications for the stigmatization of women’s sexual selves. 
Although there has been research done on romance readers, this is the first research on "how the sexual stigma affects [romance] writers" (3).

Authors spoke of having to overcome
shame about the sexual content of their books. They discussed the work it had taken to reach that emotional state, to “mostly—mostly—kill the selfconscious voice inside,” as one writer explained. [...] Many writers credited the great support they received from others in the romance community who taught them how to contest the sneering shame they felt outsiders unfairly applied to them. (10)

And "As the antithesis of shame, pride [...] was one way to neutralize the slut-shaming discourse" (10). It's not clear to me how much of this pride was derived from authors' assessment of the literary quality of their writing. Lois and Gregson do, however, mention that quite a few of the authors they spoke to
told us they were “laughing all the way to the bank,” a conventional measure of success that offset some of outsiders’ sneering. The more legitimate their writing careers, mostly measured by number of books published and revenue earned, the more power writers had to contest the shame they felt outsiders imposed upon them. (12)
Although showing pride in their writing "was effective, writers’ realization that sexual shame is disproportionately aimed at women significantly strengthened their ability to contest it" (10). In other words, it helped authors when they put the stigma they faced into the wider social context of attitudes towards women's sexuality.

Lois and Gregson didn't speak to many male romance authors but,
Interestingly, the male romance writers in our sample experienced the sexual stigma of romance differently. As a “women’s” topic, romance called their masculinity into question. Unlike female writers, male writers rarely encountered outsiders deriding their shameful sexuality; instead they perceived outsiders to be disparaging their shameful femininity, a deviant emotional orientation that seemingly allowed them to write about love and relationships. (11)
In contrast to the disapproval expressed in "sneering", authors also had to deal with "leering":
leering invited writers to play the part of the sexual deviant by “approving” of their presumed willingness to share their sex lives and fantasies with their readers. In these interactions, it appeared outsiders wanted to be voyeuristically entertained by asking writers to play up the titillating aspects of their sexuality. (13)
"Leering" can include a range of behaviours: while many instances of leering "featured leering male outsiders propositioning female writers" (13),
we noted that leering included a broader set of behaviors in which outsiders seemed to presume writers’ willingness to share their personal sexuality by asking intrusive questions and engaging them in highly sexualized conversations. (14)
This latter type of "leering" could sometimes be difficult to distinguish from the "authentic approval from some outsiders who talked about the sexual content in a way that seemed more genuinely appreciative" (15).

"Leering" seems to affect writers differently:
Writers responded in two ways: granting the request by personalizing their sexuality or denying it by depersonalizing the sexual content of their books. (13)
In the first category were female authors who "personalized their sexuality by playing along with outsiders’ intimations that they were highly sexual women" (16) and male authors who "used outsiders’ leering questions to their advantage, positioning themselves as heterosexual men who celebrated their jobs for the focus on female sexuality" (17).
Though this strategy was not universally accepted, we saw many examples, such as dressing as dominatrices at book signings; singing sexually suggestive karaoke with romance novel cover models at a readers convention; and hosting “post the sexiest shirtless Navy SEAL” contests on Facebook fan pages, often with the explicit goal of growing readership.
Writers also expressed their sexuality because the romance community, with its shame-free orientation toward women’s sexuality, was a safe space to do so. (17)
writers ranged widely in their motivations for personalizing the sexual stigma. Some writers told us it was “fun,” “shocking,” and even “empowering,” while others specifically tied it to neutralizing the sexual stigma. One writer told us that personalizing sexuality was a way to “defang the critics” because “we’re calling ourselves trashy before they can.” (18)
Writers who adopted the other approach towards leering
mainly did so by depersonalizing the sexual content of their books and framing it instead as integral to the craft of storytelling. If writers could emphasize that the story sex was not about them, they could decline the invitation to display their sexuality, negate the assumption that they were documenting their own sex lives, and gain control over the leering interactions.
Embracing either a personalizing or depersonalizing strategy did not create a fixed division among writers, but some writers had strong opinions about how useful and appropriate each strategy was. (18)
Either way,
given the ineffectiveness of both personalizing and depersonalizing the sexual content, our data reveal that leering was much more difficult to manage than sneering. (22)

Lois, Jennifer and Joanna Gregson. "Sneers and Leers: Romance Writers and Gendered Sexual Stigma." Gender & Society (2015): 1-25. [The article has been published "online first" which means that it hasn't yet been assigned to a particular issue. The pagination is therefore provisional. The authors have also made available an unofficial, earlier version of the paper (click to download).]

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Eric's Erotic Encyclopedia Entry

The new/forthcoming International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality includes an article on romance fiction by Eric. Here's the abstract:
A love story with a happy ending, the romance novel is as old as the form of the novel itself. The modern romance novel emerged with Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740), and scholars have studied the relationships of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century romance novels with imperialism, Orientalism, and anti-sentimental modernism. The popular romance novel, a mass-market form predominantly written by and for women, is a twentieth-century phenomenon. Critiqued by feminist thinkers, it has responded to changing social and sexual mores, and with the advent of digital publishing, it has proliferated and diversified, with an equal diversity of scholarship beginning to emerge.
Selinger, Eric Murphy. "Erotica: Romance Novels." The International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality. 2015. 325–368. [Abstract from here]