What concerns me is that the ‘ideal’ world that some women want would have boys for men or at least those with teeny weenies, no chest hair, no muscles and itty itty schlongs that would never mess up or bother a delicate female HooHoo.2 And men who aren’t men, just beaten down creatures allowed to live in the presence of the Princesses.Later on in the same thread, Miranda posted a link to a webpage about the writings of Andrea Dworkin and the ways in which her work has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. Dworkin commented that
And sex would be this vapid, super quiet thing with the woman totally in control at all times, because if the man dares get passionate, she’s being victimized.
[I]f one's sexual experience has always and without exception been based on dominance--not only overt acts but also metaphysical and ontological assumptions [...] [i]f one has eroticized a differential in power that allows for force as a natural and inevitable part of intercourse [...then, for such a person] Equality in the realm of sex is an antisexual idea if sex requires domination in order to register as sensation.It seems to me that there are widely varying ideas about what constitutes the ideal relationship, yet perhaps because, as Robert J. Sternberg found when he began to analyse people's ideas about love, each person "believed they were carrying around a set of rock-solid facts about what love is," there can be a comprehension gap between people who have different ideals. What one person considers ideal might seem boringly prosaic and lacking in passion to another, and the fantasies that turn the second person on might seem abhorrent or alien to the first person. In his theory of love as a story Sternberg describes stories as being crucial to shaping people's ideas about love and romantic relationships:
All of us are exposed to many different stories about love. They reach us through our own experience, as well as through literature, the media, and so forth. [...] Under the spell of the stories we absorb, we gradually form our own personal stories about love—models of how love is “supposed” to work. How we develop our own stories and what they turn out to be depends on our personality and our environment, but once we have a story—or, like many of us, a set of stories—we seek to live it out in reality. [...] It seemed reasonable to suppose that people are more likely to succeed in a relationship with a partner whose story closely matches their own. [...] It didn’t take long to discover that certain types of stories tend to dominate Americans’ conceptions of love [...]. There’s love as a cookbook, for example, where lovers build a relationship by following a “recipe,” or love as a fantasy, complete with knight in shining armor, or love as a game or sport—26 stories in all. (Tufts Magazine)The list of the 26 stories can be found here, along with a short description of each.
When Sternberg says that "once we have a story—or, like many of us, a set of stories—we seek to live it out in reality" he doesn't mean that every individual will truly seek to live out the story in every detail, but rather that the expectations and power dynamics which underlie their love story/stories may inform that person's real-life choices and behaviours.
Different stories have very different power dynamics, for example there are two variations of story 9, "Government. (a) Autocratic. One partner dominates or even controls the other. (b) Democratic. Two partners share power equally."
So could it be that our internalised story/stories about love affect which romances we prefer? Candy says, for example, that
I enjoy the antagonism and sparring between alpha types as much as anybody else. One of my all-time favorites is Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, for example; Dain and Jessica are both Type A personalities, and it is a true joy to watch them duke it out. The two of them are well-suited to each other; they’re equally strong, and best of all, they’re equally fun to watch.Is this sort of response more likely to come from someone who finds story 25 a close match: "War. Love is a never-ending series of battles. The partners may both be willing combatants, or one may be unwilling"?
Jane from Dear Author wrote that in romance
Heroines are often portrayed in isolation, no friends, often estranged from family or an orphan, teetering on the brink of financial ruin. They are depicted as sad sack individuals whose sexual identity was created for them out of one miserable experience with a man more interested in the growth of his own toenails than the satisfaction of his partner in bed. The whole driving motivation for the female is to achieve a better sense of completion through the love of a good man.If Jane's right that this is a common type of heroine, is it because a lot of romances are drawing on the following stories: 1 "Addiction. Partners show clinging behavior and anxiety about losing one another. In some relationships, one partner is a codependent, living off the other’s addiction"; 6 "Fantasy. You expect to be saved by a knight in shining armor or marry a princess and live happily ever after. The knight or prince tends to serve the princess"; 17: "Recovery. After the trauma of the past, you can get through practically anything. One person helps the other recover from a past event"?
Do romances about virgins being taught about their sexuality by older, more experienced men appeal more to people whose internal love story is 26: "Student-teacher. Love is a relationship between experienced and inexperienced parties. One partner teaches the other, although the roles may sometimes reverse"?
Will people with a strong predisposition to story 19 sometimes find love stories without a happy ending even more powerful: "Sacrifice. To love is to sacrifice one’s own interests for those of one’s partner. (Humphrey Bogart toward Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid Bergman toward Paul Henreid, in Casablanca.)"?
How many of us, when we read romance novels, have a strong preference for works which match our own personal stories about love? Could it be that some readers strongly reject romances which are based on stories which are very different from their own "story about love"?
1 The discussion began when Candy posted On Alpha Heroes, Sarah followed it up with a post about Alphas in Marriage, and Candy then picked up on some of the issues which had arisen, in a post titled Feminism and Masculinity. The result was a lot of very heated argument. As the issues have been discussed there in considerable detail, I don't want to write about them here.
2 It's interesting that, as with William Sheldon's theory concerning somatotypes, different body types are being correlated with particular personalities. Sheldon's classification system was as follows:
Endomorphic -- tendency to put on fat, soft roundness of body, short tapering limbs, small bones, velvety skin; viscerotonic temperament, relaxed, comfortable person, loves luxury, an extrovert.However, although "the body composition analysis is still considered a valuable way to look at general body types, [...] the psychological component of the early work is not" (from this website). Discredited or not, the psychological associations of particular body types would still seem to exert considerable force in popular culture. Romance heroes, particularly the alpha romance heroes, are generally mesomorphic. Here's Germaine Greer's description of the type:
Mesomorphic -- predominance of muscles, bone, and motor organs, large trunk, heavy chest, large wrist and hands, lean rectangular outline; somotonic or Dionysian temperament, active, assertive, aggressive, unrestrained.
Ectomorphic -- predominance of skin, lean, fragile, delicate body, small bones, droppy shoulders, small face, sharp nose, fine hair; cerebrotonic temperament, sensitive, distractible, insomnia, skin troubles, allergies. (O'Connor)
The strength of the belief that a man should be stronger and older than his woman can hardly be exaggerated. I cannot claim to be fully emancipated from the dream that some enormous man, say six foot six, heavily shouldered and so forth to match, will crush me to his tweeds, look down into my eyes and leave the taste of heaven or the scorch of his passion on my waiting lips. (180)
- Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. London: Paladin, 1971.
The first picture is of a study for Sir Joseph Noel Paton's The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania (c. 1849). The study is from Wikimedia Commons. See this page for more details about the quarrel between these two lovers, and to see the final version of the painting.
The second painting is Edmund Blair Leighton's 1882 Abelard and his pupil Heloise, from Wikipedia. More details concerning their relationship can be found here.