Here it is, then, paragraph by paragraph (numbers added for easy reference). Laura, Sarah, and the rest of us contributors can weigh in by editing this post and adding commentary after each paragraph, as well as in the comments boxes.
Let the games...begin!
1. Fifteen years ago, I read 20 Mills & Boon novels as research for a dissertation on "romantic fiction and the rape myth". It was the easiest piece of research I have ever done. In every book, there was a scene where the heroine is "broken in", both emotionally and physically, by the hero. Having fallen for this tall, brooding figure of masculinity, the heroine becomes consumed with capturing him. The hero is behaving in a way that, in real life, causes many women to develop low self-esteem, depression and self-harming behaviour - blowing hot and cold, and treating her like dirt. But all comes right in the end. After the heroine displays extraordinary vulnerability during a crisis, Mr Macho saves the day and shows her he cares.EMS: Laura has already written about Bindel's research methods here, so I won't cover that. Instead, let me just observe that I don't know what "rape myth" she means, and it matters. Imagine this same paragraph--this one and the next one--as having grown out of a different dissertation, one on "romantic fiction and dominant / submissive sexual fantasy" and see how differently it reads. (One can also imagine it as deriving from research into "romantic fiction and the power of random reinforcement.")
SSGF: Doesn't exploring a "myth" or a narrative give us power over it in real life? Don't various narratives exist precisely so that people can explore the extremes (as Lazaraspaste says in the comments) in order to give us psychic control over the situations if/when they happen to us?
2. By this time (you know how uppity women can be), our heroine is so fed up that she does not comply when he grabs her inevitably small frame in his huge arms, and attempts to take her to bed. And so begins the "gender dance" - man chases woman, woman resists, and, finally, woman submits in a blaze of passion.EMS: I'm puzzled by the euphemism here: "gender dance." Clearly Bindel wants us to see the scenario she describes as a rape, with the final clause an unthinkable, ridiculous finale. On the other hand, again, if this were in a piece about power disparity and sexual fantasy or consensual sex-play, there's nothing particularly unthinkable about the scene she describes; anyone who follows Dan Savage or other sex-advice columns, or reads the LustBites erotic authors blog knows how common such scenes and fantasies are.
EMS: It’s clear from what Laura has posted below that Bindel dislikes this particular “dance,” whether as sexual fantasy or as consensual play. She speaks, for example, of “pornography and sadomasochistic sexual practices” as having “invade[d] the lesbian community.” Her assumption would seem to be that women as such, were they not “invaded” by patriarchal ideology, would not find power differentials erotically exciting. I don’t know what evidence she has for this; certainly as far back as Sappho’s “Hymn to Aphrodite” (Frag. 1) we find differences in power between women being eroticized:
[Anne Carson’s translation]
Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind,
child of Zeus,who twist lures, I beg you
do not break with hard pains,
O lady, my heart
but come here if ever before
you caught my voice far off
and listening left your father's
golden house and came,
yoking your car. And fine birds brought you,
quick sparrows over the black earth
whipping their wings down the sky
they arrived. But you, O blessed one,
smiled in your deathless face
and asked what (now again) I have suffered and why
(now again) I am calling out
and what I want to happen most of all
in my crazy heart. Whom should I persuade (now again)
to lead you back into her love? Who, O
Sappho, is wronging you?
For if she flees, soon she will pursue.
If she refuses gifts, rather will she give them.
If she does not love, soon she will love
Come to me now: loose me from hard
care and all my heart longs
to accomplish, accomplish. You
be my ally.
That penultimate stanza makes it pretty clear that Sappho doesn’t fantasize about equal, reciprocal affection, even between two women. Rather, what she wants the Goddess of Love to promise is a reversal of the existing power dynamic: the chased one will be the pursuer, the beloved the lover, “even unwilling.”
A lot of work was done on this issue in Emily Dickinson's love poetry back in the 1990s. There were two distinct waves of criticism: the first tried to argue that when ED wrote about love between women, it was egalitarian and reciprocal and kind, but when she wrote about heterosexual love, the poems were about hierarchy and domination / submission and so on. A few years later, the problems with this grew unmistakable: the theory simply didn't fit the facts, the actual poems. Bindel strikes me as very much a "first wave" critic in this scheme: on whatever grounds (taste or ideology) she wants to assert that love should be a certain way and that certain behaviors and dynamics should not be attractive. If they are, there's something wrong with you: you've been infected, invaded, etc., by the patriarchy.
3. My loathing of M&B novels has nothing to do with snobbery. I could not care less if the books are trashy, formulaic or pulp fiction - Martina Cole novels, which I love, are also formulaic. But I do care about the type of propaganda perpetuated by M&B. I would go so far as to say it is misogynistic hate speech.EMS: Has she shown, so far, that the novels perpetuate propaganda? Has she shown that they are misogynistic, evidence of what we might call "female self-hatred" (as one hears of "Jewish self-hatred," for example)? I don't think that she has.
EMS: Let me say that again, more loudly. I don’t think that Bindel has shown, so far, that these novels perpetuate propaganda. She has read selectively, distorted some facts, and implied that a common, even commonplace locus of sexual excitement (hierarchy, differences of power) is at best contemptible, and at worst (as in the later passage, quoted by LV below) radically foreign to women, so that if women like it, even between themselves, they merely testify to their own corruption. I am unconvinced.
EMS: So far, then, the core argument seems to be that these novels feature heroes who "behave in a way that, in real life, causes many women to develop low self-esteem, depression and self-harming behaviour." Am I wrong to see this as meaning, essentially, that Bindel objects to the fact that many women enjoy reading about men who behave in ways that they wouldn't put up with in real life, which is to say that she objects to women fantasizing about things that they wouldn't want to do (or suffer) in real life.
EMS: The logic would seem to be that by enjoying this fantasy, they give aid and comfort to men who act (in real life) like these heroes, and they undermine support for women who have been abused by such men. Let me offer a comparable case from another cultural realm: supposing there was a body of popular work (fiction, songs, movies) in which people have a wonderful time binge drinking, or drinking and driving. Someone who came from the world of public health might well look at all those films and stories and songs--ah! the songs: "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," "Hey, Bartender," "One for My Baby (and One for the Road)," "Seven Drunken Nights"--and write a similar case against them. Yes?
LV - One might also want to make a comparison with smoking in the movies. There's been quite a lot of research done on that. For example, Mekemson and Glantz found that "Both the entertainment and tobacco industries recognised the high value of promotion of tobacco through entertainment media. The 1980s saw undertakings by four tobacco companies, Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds (RJR), American Tobacco Company, and Brown and Williamson to place their products in movies." and, Dalton et al observed that "Exposure to smoking in movies has been linked with adolescent smoking initiation in cross-sectional studies. [...] Our results provide strong evidence that viewing smoking in movies promotes smoking initiation among adolescents."
EMS: I'd thought of that analogy also. But smoking is, in all circumstances, a threat to one's health. Drinking leads to alcoholism and alcohol abuse less pervasively or inevitably, except in perhaps in particularly at-risk populations. Are all women to be considered an "at-risk population" here? Heterosexual romance and marriage don't strike me as being quite as dangerous, case for case, as smoking, although I don't know the statistics. Perhaps if I did I'd feel differently?
SSGF: I think the analogy is much closer to the crime fiction Bindel likes so much. Nothing gets resolved in films with drinking and smoking. No one stops the vice, nothing gets fixed. But at the end of crime fiction, the world is a more just place. The killer is apprehended or dead, and the protagonists have saved the day. And it's the END that is valorized in considerations of the genre. The end isn't denigrated as they are in romance fiction, because of course the criminal has to be punished, the crime solved, and order restored. No one questions that ending, and because of the ending, crime fiction has slightly more respectability that romance fiction. And yet, as romance defenders say again and again, no one expects crime fiction readers to go out and commit the crimes they read about. Ah, but you're not identifying with the criminal, right? You're identifying with the solver of the crimes. Then again, what about Dexter, which I've heard is a fabulous show in which one does identify with the serial killer, because he is the protagonist. Still, readers/viewers don't go out and commit their own crimes. It comes down, again, to which part of the story has the most "influence"? The beginning/middle where the hero might be acting like a jerk, or the end where he has reformed, changed his ways, and treats the heroine as she deserves, admitting her power over him. If that's the influential part of the story, then again, as I said in my post, romances are "good for you" rather than "misogynistic hate speech" (I really can't believe she said that).
LV: Sarah commented that "Nothing gets resolved in films with drinking and smoking" which is sort of true, in one way, but in another, if characters drink and smoke and this makes them appear glamorous and more successful sexually, then it's suggesting that drinking and smoking have positive effects, and so that perhaps makes their portrayal in film closer to the ways that some heroes behave. In real life these behaviours might be indicative of an abusive relationship, but in the romances kidnapping a heroine or blackmailing her, or deciding to take her virginity as revenge for something her father did to your father, is part and parcel of the hero's glamorous, sexy alpha-ness. And it could be argued that even the way he changes could be read as encouraging the idea that an abuser could also change, whereas in fact abuse tends to escalate.
LV - and why am I ending up playing the role of Devil's Advocate here?
EMS: Because you're a fair-minded, reasonable person, doing what an academic is supposed to do: take ideas seriously, test them, and see what you think!
LV - anyway, to get back to smoking and alcohol, here's some of the research: “one in every five deaths in the United States is smoking related” and smoking is, as we have seen, encouraged by certain representations of smoking in films.
LV - Re alcohol, "Estimates for 2002 show that at least 2.3 million people died worldwide of alcohol-related causes accounting for 3.7% of global mortality. Alcohol consumption was responsible for 4.4% of the global burden of disease" (Global Alcohol Policy Alliance). Alcohol consumption is affected by portrayals in film and the media:
The central conclusion reached by Hanewinkel et al. is that exposure to incidental portrayals of alcohol use in US movies has contributed to the early onset of alcohol use by a group of German adolescents.and a
study, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is the first-ever national longitudinal survey of the influence of alcohol advertising on youth. Snyder and her colleagues conclude that greater exposure to alcohol advertising contributes to an increase in drinking among underage youth. Specifically, the analysis shows that for underage drinkers, exposure to one more ad than the average for youth was correlated with a 1 percent increase in drinking, and that an additional dollar spent per capita on alcohol advertising in a local market was correlated with a 3 percent increase in underage alcohol consumption as well. (from here, and more research into the link between advertising and alcohol consumption can be found here)LV - So those are two activities which can be very harmful and consumption of both substances has been shown to be linked to their portrayal in film/the media. Given the horrific figures relating to violence against women, one might argue that relationships with men, while potentially pleasurable and even beneficial (like alcohol), can often have extremely negative consequences. According to the US Department of Justice’s 2000 Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: "Women experience more intimate partner violence than do men: 22.1 percent of surveyed women, compared with 7.4 percent of surveyed men, reported they were physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend or girlfriend, or date in their lifetime."
EMS: Just to jump in for a second, Laura: you say "relationships with men," but the report speaks of assalut by "boyfriend or girlfriend." According to the this website website (which I have not evaluated), "Domestic abuse occurs in approximately 30 to 40% of GLBT relationships, which is the same percentage of violence that occurs in straight relationships. It is a myth that same-sex couples don't batter each other, or if they do; they are just "fighting" or it is "mutual abuse"." Here too, on the AARDVARK site, I read that "The rates of domestic violence in same-gender relationships is roughly the same as domestic violence against heterosexual women" and "The GLBT community itself is often not supportive of victims of battering because many want to maintain the myth that there are no problems (such as child abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, etc.) in these relationships." One might argue that Bindel's brief against heterosexual romance fiction perpetuates this myth, because it suggests that violence against women is a problem only when women are in relationships with men.
LV: According to the Findings from the Australian Component of the International Violence Against Women Survey (2004) "Over one third of women who had a current or former intimate partner reported experiencing at least one form of partner violence over the lifetime, and four per cent in the past 12 months" (and there are more Australian figures here). In the UK, “One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime” and globally “At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, according to a study based on 50 surveys from around the world” (Amnesty).
LV - Unlike alcohol and smoking, it's much more difficult to establish quite how romance-reading relates to domestic violence. But what evidence there is, is discussed below, in relation to paragraph 4.
4. Why do I care so much about books that few take seriously? Are there not more important battles to fight? Challenging the low conviction rate for rape certainly seems more urgent than trashing novels that perpetuate gender stereotypes, but there is no doubt that such novels feed directly into some women's sense of themselves as lesser beings, as creatures desperate to be dominated.EMS: "There is no doubt." Does that mean "there is evidence"? If so, where is it?
LV - There is some evidence in Julia Wood's "two-year study, which she described in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, [in which] Wood identified 'women's use of gender and romance narratives to make sense of violent relationships'" and "People commonly use stories to make sense of their lives, placing themselves within those stories, said Wood: 'Some of the images of men and women in these romance novels are entirely consistent with the dynamics of violent relationships'" (from here). As noted previously, Bindel is only saying that romances have a particular effect on "some" women, just as Wood's study was of a small group of women who had been/were in abusive relationships.
EMS: But "make sense of" doesn't necessarily mean "excuse" or "stay with," does it? Is there any evidence that women who repeatedly "make sense of" their situation by reading romance novels tend to change that situation in higher or lower numbers than women who do not?
We'll need to get this study or the full account of it to evaluate it properly--from the description here I'm not sure it qualifies as a "no doubt" proof, or even as very persuasive.
SSGF: I'm with Eric: we need to read this study in full, because it's very unclear (to me) as to whether Wood is looking at women already in an abusive relationship? Again, romance narratives might compound their problems, but I can't believe that they're the sole reason women are in those relationships. But this doesn't cover the blanket statement that Bindel seems to be making that all (or most) readers are adversely affected by the patriarchal ideology of the romance narrative. And if romances contribute to just one women staying in an abusive relationship, that is of course too many, but I think there's too many variables to be certain about anything.
EMS: And, as I've observed before, romance fiction is hardly the only genre or text that can be used to make sense (bad sense, destructive sense) of an abusive relationship. Thus, for example, this:
LV - Pointing out potentially unsavoury aspects of other genres/belief systems doesn't get romance off the hook, though, does it? I mean, if I commit a crime, it's still a crime, regardless of whether other people commit more crimes or worse crimes. And in fact, if other genres and belief systems could be used in the same ways as romance, might that not suggest that romances form part of a wider set of cultural ideas which validate abusive relationships? So if we're defending romance, I don't think we should distract attention onto the beams in other genres's eyes in order to dismiss claims that there's a mote in our own. But is there a mote in our eye? That is the question. And having now misquoted both the Bible and Shakespeare, I think I'd better stop.
EMS: Motes, shmotes! OK, you caught me, Laura. But my point--if I had one besides wanting to give Sarah something nifty to think about at church--was twofold:
- First, if romance does contain this set of cultural ideas, it may not do so any more than any other genre or branch of culture, in which case it's unfair to single it out for derision or critique; and
- Second, if romance and the Bible both contain such negative material, they also both contain material that contravenes or complicates or flatly contradicts it. The Bible contains the book of Lamentations, which is one of the more unsettling accounts of an abusive relationship I know, but it also contains the book of Job, which radically ironizes anyone's attempt to justify unfortunate events as divine punishment, and it also contains the Song of Songs, which is one of the loveliest accounts of equal and reciprocal companionate love that I know--in which, I might add, there is occasional play with hierarchy and power and so on.
LV: Wendy Larcombe's Compelling Engagements : Feminism, Rape Law and Romance Fiction. Annandale, N.S.W.: Federation Press, 2005 is described by her publisher as being
a ground-breaking work which investigates the narratives of rape law and of romance fiction, and explores the outmoded and strikingly similar depictions of their normative female subjects. These are women who are not only vulnerable but also evidently worthy of the protections or rewards promised: punishment of the rapist or the hero’s love. [...] Larcombe shows how the legal construction of gender and subjectivity in rape law is still working to disempower victims. She suggests feminism’s failure to accommodate women’s investment in heroines of romance fiction has limited their effectiveness in transforming rape law.I haven't been able to get hold of either of these works to read them in full, so I don't know how much evidence, or what sort of evidence, Larcombe provides.
EMS: Does every woman (or man) who wants to be dominated think of him or herself as a "lesser being"? Again, on what evidence does she make that claim? This paragraph seems quite weak to me, but perhaps I'm missing something.
SSGF: Eric, from the BDSM perspective, absolutely not. In fact, most sexual submissives I know are incredibly self-confident, self-assured people who are usually Type A personalities IRL. In fact, in the community, if a submissive is needy and DOES imagine him/herself as a "lesser being," red flags are thrown up around them and clever doms learn to stay away. BDSM is not counseling, it's a sexual orientation. It shouldn't be used to work out self-esteem issues unless all the partners know exactly what they're doing. But that's not what Bindel is talking about. She's talking about a more pervasive unconscious drive that women apparently have to debase themselves because society tells them to. Part of the disconnect here, I think, is that most non-readers still buy into the stereotype of romance readers being undereducated housewives who shore up their "false consciousness" by addictively reading romances, whereas statistics show that, in general, romance readers have a higher education level than the general population, and are probably therefore slightly more conscious about how and why they read, and therefore less likely to "succumb" to the supposed patriarchal influence of romances.
SSGF: And furthermore, while Bindel is looking at how far we HAVEN'T come in feminist aims of an equal society and blaming it on romances, one could turn that on its head and look at how far we have come toward meeting goals of equality in the last forty years, which is precisely when romances have had their resurgence. As in, for hundreds (thousands) of years, equality for women was unavailable, even unimaginable, but since romances became popular, we've been creeping closer and closer to equality. Correlation or cause--you be the judge! (tongue planted firmly in cheek).
5. One argument from M&B apologists is that the heroine has moved with the times. True, she is now more physically active and sexually imaginative. The modern-day character often dares to have sex before marriage, knows what she wants in terms of her career and personal life, and even has a sense of humour.EMS: So far, she's ceding points to us apologists. I'm getting suspicious. (Did she not have a sense of humour before? I haven't read enough category romances to comment--but then, has Bindel?)
6. As a result of the changing heroine, the hero has been required to catch up. But rather than becoming a "new man", it seems he has become even more masculine and domineering in order to keep the heroine in line. This is how the rape fantasies so integral to the plot have been able to persist.SSGF: Oh, Lord, where to start. Hey, in the 90s, we tried the "beta" hero in a lot of category romances, and he wasn't so popular. I'm sure Bindel would say that this proves her point, but I'm not so sure. Yes, true, the hero has become more masculine and more domineering, but we've also gained much more access to his thoughts, to his point of view, and this gives us more access to understanding why he does what he does. Again, Bindel would probably say this is patriarchy at its worst, but I still wonder what part of the novels we're valorizing. If it's the end, where the hero is brought to heel--tamed, in fact (sorry, Laura, I know you don't like this word)--then the fact that he's super-domineering means the heroine's victory is that much more powerful (and empowering?).
LV - I also much prefer beta heroes (though because of the very different ways that people use the terms "alpha" and "beta" to describe romance heroes, they often aren't very helpful and you have to provide your own definition of each term before they can really be meaningful).
EMS: There's no logic to this paragraph, folks. Why would we expect the heroes to become more "beta" (mo' betta'?) if the heroines have become stronger? Wouldn't we expect precisely what has happened: stronger heroines need bigger challenges?
7. Take this description of a recent M&B novel, The Desert Sheikh's Captive Wife: "Tilda was regretting her short-lived romance with Rashad, the Crown Prince of Bakhar. Now, with her impoverished family indebted to him, Rashad was blackmailing her by insisting she pay up ... as his concubine! Soon Tilda was the arrogant Sheikh's captive, ready to be ravished in his far-away desert kingdom."EMS: The "rape fantasy," if there is one, is staged as anticipation here. Does Tilda actually get ravished? Does the Sheikh remain arrogant? Bindel doesn't care enough to find out, but surely it makes a difference. This is one more retelling of E. M. Hull's classic The Sheik, evidently, but I suspect that its actual plot, turn for turn, and its characterization of both hero and heroine are radically different.
8. Or Bought: One Island, One Bride: "Self-made billionaire Alexander Kosta has come to the island of Lefkis for revenge ... He doesn't count on feisty pint-sized beauty Ellie Mendoras to be the thorn in his side! ... There's a dangerous smile on Alexander's lips ... As far as he's concerned Ellie's a little firecracker who needs to be tamed. He'll seduce her into compliance, then buy her body and soul!!"EMS: "Seduce her into compliance" may mean "rape" in somebody's book, but I don't think it will mean rape in this one. And again, does anyone who reads much romance believe that Ellie will be the only one "tamed"?
9. Or Virgin Slave, Barbarian King: "Julia Livia Rufa is horrified when barbarians invade Rome and steal everything in sight. But she doesn't expect to be among the taken! As Wulfric's woman, she's ordered to keep house for the uncivilised marauders. Soon, though, Julia realises that she's more free as a slave than she ever was as a sheltered Roman virgin."EMS: We're going to read this one collectively, here at TMT, in January: stay tuned for details. Dibs on the Wulfric costume!
SSGF: This one is fascinating to me, because the titillation factor is high on that last sentence, but the book is actually discussing definitions of civilization vs. barbarism and their treatment of women.
10. The first two were published this year, the third comes out in January.SSGF: And we all know how accurate the front cover and back blurb are in depicting the atmosphere and actual ideology of the book (see all SBTB Cover Snark!). Great research there.
LV - And yet, people do pick up books at least partly as a result of looking at the covers. So presumably words such as "blackmail," "concubine," "ravished," "revenge," "dangerous," "seduce," and "compliance" are ones which attract some readers. Bindel might wonder what it is about these concepts that's attractive to readers.
EMS: I think Bindel knows what about these concepts is attractive: she just doesn't like it, and doesn't think they should be attractive. On the other hand, readers who know the genre also know that although the books may give them the frisson that these words promise, they will also end with an HEA, so that the book as a whole will take them from the ordinary world into the world of romance and then (as it were) carry them safely home. Even more, they know that they will get to indulge in a fantasy of power that is doubled: male power and female power, even if neither of these play out in a way that Bindel thinks is safe or sage.
LV - In another of the interviews Bindel's done, she spoke to Sheila Jeffreys, for whom
heterosexual sex is sexual desire that eroticises power differences. Lesbian and gay sexual practices do not escape her scrutiny. Two of her books, The Lesbian Heresy (1993) and Unpacking Queer Politics (2003), focus on how "queer" sexual politics have led to oppressed sexual minorities embracing any kind of sex, such as sadomasochism, in the name of liberation. Jeffreys tends to see things coming before they happen. She was the one who warned, in the early 1980s, that pornography and sadomasochistic sexual practices would invade the lesbian community. They did.LV - Maybe I'm extrapolating too much from Bindel's overall positive response to Jeffreys, and from the word "warn," but I would guess that Bindel isn't exactly embracing sadomasochism. I've only found one other reference to Bindel's position on the issue: "Julie Bindel of Justice for Women even believes a 'bridge between lesbian feminism and S/M politics' is possible (Taylor and Chandler, 1995: 42). This is an unusual acknowledgment that sadomasochism does not necessarily rule out lesbian feminism" (O'Sullivan 118). [O'Sullivan, Sue. "What a Difference a Decade Makes: Coming to Power and The Second Coming." Feminist Review 61 Snakes and Ladders: Reviewing Feminisms at Century's End (1999): 97-126.]
SSGF: ::sigh:: If one sees BDSM purely as a representation of the repressive patriarchal power dynamics in society, then seeing it "infiltrate" the lesbian community must be devastating. But if one realizes that being kinky is, itself, a sexual orientation above and beyond being lesbian, then kinky lesbians do not herald the end of civilization as we know it. Kinky lesbians are just women who happen to enjoy playing with power dynamics in a relationship and I very much doubt the lesbian community has ever been free of them. Let's see, I know an incredibly feminine lesbian dom who calls herself "Master," and a very butch female dom who calls herself Daddy. The feminine dom is partnered with a very butch submissive. The butch femdom is partnered with an incredibly beautiful femme sub. I also know a butch femdom partnered with a butch submissive. How do we unpack the patriarchal power dynamics in these relationships? Or more to the point, should we unpack them? I would argue that we shouldn't.EMS: "Heterosexual sex is sexual desire that eroticises power differences"? You mean, if I have hot power-exchange sex with another guy, it will still be heterosexual sex? Damn! No one tells me anything. More seriously, see Sappho's poem above, among any number of other texts.
11. In 1970, one of M&B's regular writers, Violet Winspear, claimed that her heroes had to be "capable of rape". Another, Hilary Wilde, said in 1966, "The odd thing is that if I met one of my heroes, I would probably bash him over the head with an empty whisky bottle. It is a type I loathe and detest. I imagine in all women, deep down inside us, is a primitive desire to be arrogantly bullied." These comments may have been made some time ago, but the tradition seems to continue in the many M&B novels that depict female submission to dominant heroes.SSGF: Or maybe all women, deep down inside, have the primitive desire to control the arrogant bully, because that's certainly what romances give them, if we valorize the ending, not the middle.
LV - I don't think "all women" have either of these "primitive desires". The term "primitive desire" is interesting, because it suggests that these desires are innate/"natural". But if we accept that, does it mean that true vanilla-ness is deviant/kinky/subversive of the norm?
SSGF: I like the way you think! :-)
EMS: Face it, Laura: you're utterly bent! As for Bindel, has she in fact demonstrated that there are "many M&B novels that depict female submission to dominant heroes"? She's shown me the heroes; no evidence yet of the submission. Not in this article, anyway.
SSGF: Ooh, nice point, Eric. Is Bindel arguing by proxy that dominant male necessarily equals submissive female, without thinking that dominant male might just as easily equal dominant female as well?
12. My horror at the genre is not directed towards either the women who write or, indeed, read them. I do not believe in blaming women for our own oppression. Women are the only oppressed group required not only to submit to our oppressors, but to love and sexually desire them at the same time. This is what heterosexual romantic fiction promotes - the sexual submission of women to men. M&B novels are full of patriarchal propaganda.
SSGF: So what dynamic are the kinky gay men in
SSGF: For what it's worth, going back to the ritualized submission of BDSM sexual orientation and practices, the submissive has all the power in the relationship. It is the submissive's right and duty to say "Stop!" at any point, and the dom's responsibility not only to respect this negative, but also to make sure the submissive is alright, whether or not s/he says stop at all. While this might be viewed at patronizing from outside the community, it absolutely isn't when practiced in real life. Any dom who earns a reputation for not stopping or makes any kind of remarks about respecting safewords should be and usually is completely ostracized. The submissive has all the power, precisely because the submissive gives up the power.
13. I can say it no better than the late, great Andrea Dworkin. This classic depiction of romance is simply "rape embellished with meaningful looks".SSGF: Nothing is ever black or white. Nothing is absolutely one thing or the other. Does Bindel's argument hold some water for some women? Probably. Her fault is in not realizing that romances can be and are empowering for other women. Her fault is in throwing around words like "misogynistic hate speech" without recognizing that others might feel differently and that for the women who subjugate themselves to patriarchal practices, romance novels are the least of their concerns.
LV - Given Bindel’s admiration for Dworkin, it may be fruitful to examine possible similarities in their thinking. Dworkin, as noted in the obituary Bindel wrote about her, “came to represent the fierce debate on pornography and sexual violence.” Bindel has done research into “sexual violence and the criminal justice system. A founder member of the feminist law reform campaign Justice for Women, Julie believes that doing paid work, however ethically and responsibly, is not enough, and remains a committed political activist.”
LV - Dworkin “achieved fame when, in 1983 along with legal academic Catharine MacKinnon, she drafted and promoted the civil rights law recognising pornography as sex discrimination in Minneapolis” and later “Dworkin and MacKinnon were commissioned by the Minneapolis city council to draft a local ordinance that would embody the legal principle that pornography violates the civil rights of women, and is ‘hate speech.’”
SSGF: Personally, I don't feel repressed by the porn I watch and read.
LV - In paragraph 3 Bindel used the term “hate speech” to describe romances, and I wonder if she also believes that they are pornography. Certainly romances have been described this way by some feminist critics of the genre. 1979 saw the publication of Ann Snitow’s “Mass Market Romance: Pornography for Women is Different” and it was followed the next year by Ann Douglas’s “Soft-Porn Culture: Punishing the Liberated Woman.” Douglas’s comments are particularly relevant, as I think her ideas about romance may be similar to Bindel’s:
The Harlequins are porn softened to fit the needs of female emotionality. They are located inside the female consciousness, but so are most current hard-porn (heterosexual) stories and magazines; so, for that matter, are the Marquis de Sade’s Justine and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill. Female, not male, consciousness is the most satisfactory repository and register for the forced acknowledgement of male power. The Harlequin heroines initially resist domination, but so do the hard-core heroines. Breaking down female antagonism is half the fun. (27)and
How can they [romance readers] tolerate or require so extraordinary a disjuncture between their lives and their fantasies? Probably the Harlequins are not written by men [...] but the women who couldn’t thrill to male nudity in Playgirl are enjoying the titillation of seeing themselves, not necessarily as they are, but as some men would like to see them: illogical, innocent, magnetized by male sexuality and brutality. It is a frightening measure of the still patriarchal quality of our culture that many women of all ages co-sponsor male fantasies about themselves and enjoy peep-shows into masculine myths about their sexuality as the surest means of self-induced excitation. (28)
[LV - I've put all of the Bindel paragraphs into a dark green (green being one of the colours of the suffragette movement).]