Since the start of the holiday season we've written a lot of to-do lists at my house so I thought it would be appropriate to write another list, this time for the blog. It's a list of links to thought-provoking, controversial, or perhaps simply irritating, items:
- In the Women's Studies Encyclopedia, in the entry on "Supermarket Romances," written by Karen S. Mitchell, Mitchell states that "The juxtaposition of a multidimensional heroine with a somewhat one-dimensional hero is a characteristic of the romantic historical novels written today." She also writes that,
While the heroines of historical novels have become increasingly competent in their domains, they are limited by the social constructs of the historical time. In this way they are forced to be subservient and are often subjected to rape, dominance, and violent abuse. Helen Hazen argues that romances include rape fantasies because "rape fantasy is quite healthy" (17).It's probably worth noting that Hazen's book was published in 1983. Although Mitchell is clearly aware that the genre has changed since then, her description of historical romances doesn't match the contents of the historical romances I've been reading recently. Does it describe recent historical romances you've read?
- The next item on my list has been discussed in some detail by Jessica. It's Critelli, Joseph W. and Jenny M. Bivona. "Women's erotic rape fantasies: an evaluation of theory and research." Journal of Sex Research (2008). Hazen is again used as an important source:
One review of historical romance novels found that 54% included the rape of the lead female character (Thurston, 1987). In particular, Hazen's (1983) analysis of rape in romance novels also functions as a theory of women's erotic rape fantasies.And
In essence, both romance novels and rape fantasies are created works of fiction. Sexual fantasies are self-generated erotic stories often intentionally initiated to provide enjoyment and sexual arousal. Romance novels are structured erotic fantasies that individuals intentionally expose themselves to, typically for emotional satisfaction and sexual arousal. In a rape fantasy women create an imaginary scenario and they participate in the fantasy through the rape experience of their self character. In a romance novel that includes rape, women identify with the lead female character and vicariously experience her rape.
Hazen (1983) notes that, although the hero in romance novels must be handsome, he may also be cruel. Gorry (1999), in a content analysis of male romance heroes, found that these men are strong, masculine, muscular, sexually bold, and dangerous.1 According to Salmon and Symons (2003), romance heroes are not gentle and sensitive; they are men with the physical and temperamental qualities of warriors.2
Hazen argues that the romance novel presents the heroine with an exciting challenge. [...] In romance novels, there is often a violent confrontation with a dominant, sexually aggressive adversary who appears to be evil. The challenge for the heroine is to conquer his heart, seduce him into falling in love with her, have him voluntarily make a lifetime commitment to her, and transform his apparent evil and cruelty into something more socially acceptable without diminishing his masculinity. In romance novels, rape is used as an effective means of creating excitement and dramatic tension. Hazen argues that, in the female imagination, shattered purity through violent sex is a primordial danger whose tension creates a powerful story.
In romance novels the narrative structure allows the fantasy to continue to completion in marriage.
- Salmon, Catherine and Don Symons, "Slash fiction and human mating psychology," was published in the Journal of Sex Research in 2004 and can be found online:
Before discussing slash and its fans, however, we first consider the general question of why human beings enjoy fiction at all. Our discussion is animated by the premises that mental phenomena, such as enjoyment, are the products of brain states and that the human brain, like every organ in every species, is the product of evolution by natural selection.and
Written fiction probably contains elements of both engagement of organizing adaptations and of pleasure circuit lock-picking, and different kinds of fiction may contain different proportions. Perhaps "great" works of fiction are those that most fully engage organizing adaptations, which is why they have survived the tests of time and translation, while "lesser" fiction, including genre romance novels, may primarily pick the locks of the brain's pleasure circuits.While I cannot comment on the evolutionary biology underpinning these statements, I would like to challenge the classification of romance as a "lesser" form of fiction. It would appear to be based on an assumption that romance is read solely, or primarily, for different pleasures than those derived from more intellectual fiction. As I hope we've demonstrated on this blog, some (though certainly not all) romances can be extremely intellectually rewarding to a reader who approaches them with a mind which is respectfully open about their literary and intellectual merits. Salmon and Symons might also benefit from a little more thinking about how much intellectual activity can be involved in the writing and reading of porn. Pam Rosenthal, for example, has said that she
THE NATURE OF THE GENRE ROMANCE NOVEL
Romance novels have been called, with some justification, "women's pornography." [...] If we can persuade the reader that porn consists almost entirely of lock-picking rather than engagement of organizing adaptations, our subsequent argument that the same is true of genre romances may be more persuasive.
come[s] out of that highfalutin French intellectual porn tradition. Story of O was absolutely formative for me in the 1960s, and so was Sontag's essay The Pornographic Imagination. I read a lot of the Marquis de Sade in my teens, too.In fact, Salmon and Symons would appear not to be aware of erotica and porn written by women, because on their list of "erotic genres [which] could exist, but to our knowledge, none of them does" they include
And I've gotten a fair amount of mail from highly intellected porn readers as well
Narratives with little development of character, plot, or setting in which heroines have brief, impersonal sexual encounters with attractive male strangers, with no obstacles, no falling in love, no strings attached, and no happily-ever-after endings (i.e., narratives that directly mimic male-oriented porn).Salmon and Symons seem aware only of women authors of romance novels: "What, then, actually does characterize women's erotic fiction? The genre romance novel has the following features. The goal of the heroine is never sex for its own sake, much less sex with strangers."
- A more recent, item which has already deeply irritated many romance readers is a study which, as reported by the BBC, found that "Watching romantic comedies can spoil your love life." The study's already been discussed at AAR and at the Smart Bitches'. It's probably worth acknowledging that research can sometimes be reported in the press in ways which lack the nuances present in the original. I'm not sure exactly which study is being referred to, but there are a variety of papers and other items on this and related issues which have been produced by members of Heriot-Watt's Family and Personal Relationship Laboratory. They are:
- Holmes, B.M., & Johnson, K.R. (In Press). Adult attachment and romantic partner preference: A review. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
- Johnson, K.R., & Holmes, B.M. (In Press). Contradictory messages: A content analysis of Hollywood-produced romantic comedy feature films. Communication Quarterly.
- Holmes, B.M. (2007).In search of my "one and only": Romance-oriented media and beliefs in romantic relationships destiny. Electronic Journal of Communication, 17 (3).
- Holmes, B.M. (2004). Romantic partner ideals and dysfunctional relationship beliefs cultivated through popular media messages: Implications for relationships satisfaction. Ann Arbor, MI: Proquest Information and Learning.
I haven't had time to read these over (due to a need to get on with some of the items on my other lists). Does anyone else feel like taking on the task over the holidays?
- And finally some good news, via AAR's new blog,. The original source of the news has subsequently been deleted because, as Paula Guran explains,
the numbers I was mentioning yesterday were compiled from the only the lists of the top fifty bestselling books for the week (in whatever the category and whatever week) on Bookscan — not ALL the books sold. Evidently, that was not clear — especially when taken out of context elsewhere.However, they're still available at Galleycat: "compared to the first 49 weeks of 2007 [...] mass market paperback sales are up 14 percent—and overall romance sales are up 83 percent, with mass market paperbacks alone experiencing a 50 percent boost." I suspect those might be US figures, but romance seems to be doing well in the UK too: "The real winner in our economic meltdown, you see, is the book publisher Mills & Boon" (Black).
Second, I evidently was not supposed to put those figures “out into the media” at all. I didn’t put them “out into the media”. The media picked up a public posting. To me, there’s a difference, but evidently there is none to Bookscan and I see their point.
And that's the end of my list, and probably my last blog post of 2008. Happy Holidays!
1 April Gorry's Ph.D. thesis, "Leaving Home for Romance: Tourist Women's Adventures Abroad" (from the University of California Santa Barbara), is unpublished and therefore not readily available, but descriptions of her analysis of the heroes of romance novels can be found here and here. It should be noted that the thesis is not primarily about romance novels. The abstract of a conference paper presented by Gorry in 1995 gives an indication of the focus of her research:
the mating behavior of Caucasian tourist women vacationing in tropical locations such as the Caribbean, East Africa, Indonesia and Greece. The widespread occurrence of a phenomenon that cannot easily be explained by evolutionary theory makes female romance tourism worthy of ethnographic attention. An initial three month period of field research conducted in the Caribbean has revealed the following behavioral anomalies: tourist women tend to engage in more promiscuous behavior than they would at home, taking one or more different lovers in the span of a few days, choosing men of lower status than themselves, providing payment for "romantic services," and prioritizing male appearance and reputed love making ability over other mate selection criteria.
2 Salmon and Symons's book, Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality, while it includes statements about romance novels, seems to be only partially about them. The description of the book is as follows:
The stark contrasts between romance novels and pornography underscore how different female and male erotic fantasies are. [...] The authors focus particular attention on slash fiction, an erotic subgenre written by and for women and found on-line and in fan magazines. Slash—so-called for the punctuation mark indicating a romantic pair—depicts sexual relationships between heterosexual male television and film characters such as Starsky and Hutch (S/H) and Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock (K/S). Salmon and Symons argue that—despite some differences—slash fiction has much in common with romance novels. The authors examine the essential ingredients of female sexual fantasy and how slash fiction provides them.
The photo of the list is from Wikimedia Commons.