Monday, November 15, 2010

A Miscellany

Today I was reading a romance from 1964 in which nothing goes further than kisses between the hero and heroine, but when she's abducted by the hero's brother overnight she discounts the threat of rape on the grounds that "I may be young and inexperienced, but I'm not ignorant. I've always understood that rape is virtually impossible unless the victim is partially willing" (Seale 174). Since nothing is said or done to prove her wrong, this totally incorrect statement about rape goes unchallenged in the novel.

Another rape myth I came across recently was expressed in a comment left in response to a recent review at the Smart Bitches': "what puzzles me, regardless of societal context, is the notion that a woman being forced to have sex would have an orgasm. Orgasms are not just physical" (Laurel). This incorrect statement didn't go unchallenged. However, as Orangehands concluded,
society has so enforced rape culture that rape in its more subtle shades can show up and slip by without any acknowledgment for what it is. Sometimes because the characters themselves don't see it that way, sometimes because we read the scene from the [point of view of the] pursued instead of the pursuer (and so we can read his/her desire while she's saying no), and sometimes because it's just that subtle and we don't know to call it rape, and sometimes because we have been taught not to think about it as rape.
The way that Cooks Source acquired some of its content came in for considerable scrutiny and criticism recently in the romance community. Well, it's a new week, and there are more allegations of plagiarism, this time directed at George Bush:
it appears that Decision Points is not so much the former president's memoirs as other people's cut and pasted memories.

Bush's account is littered with anecdotes seemingly ripped off from other books and articles, even borrowing without attribution – some might say plagiarising – from critical accounts the White House had previously denounced as inaccurate.

The Huffington Post noted a remarkable similarity between previously published writings and Bush's colourful anecdotes from events at which he had not been present. (McGreal)
American politicians expressed their interest in the pursuit of happiness a long time ago, but in the UK the
government is poised to start measuring people's psychological and environmental wellbeing, bidding to be among the first countries to officially monitor happiness.

Despite "nervousness" in Downing Street at the prospect of testing the national mood amid deep cuts and last week's riot in Westminster, the Office of National Statistics will shortly be asked to produce measures to implement David Cameron's long-stated ambition of gauging "general wellbeing".

Countries such as France and Canada are looking at similar initiatives as governments around the world come under pressure to put less store on conventional economic measures of prosperity such as gross domestic product. (Stratton)
I suppose I can tangentially relate this one to romance too, since according to the Beatles "money can't buy me love" and "all you need is love."

I've come to expect that Harlequin Mills & Boon Greek tycoons, however, will invariably get both money and love. I was rather amused, though, to discover that one of them also ensures there's a lavish supply of suitably symbolic bath toys for his secret baby:
Maribel watched Leonidas roll out a convoy of boats for his son's bath-time entertainment. For a Greek tycoon, whose fortune was based on a vast shipping empire, she supposed an entire fleet was a natural choice. (Graham 117)
With thanks to Tumperkin, who gave me a copy of Lynne Graham's The Greek Tycoon's Defiant Bride.


  1. I stopped reading a science fiction author I enjoyed when he said, via the character who was clearly the author's voice, that women who were truly unwilling couldn't be raped. A friend tried to mitigate the statement by pointing out it was "a different time". Since it was a reprint, I wanted to know if a racial slur common from "a different time" would have been left in. I still remember a historical romance I read where the hero explained that he knew rape was an act of violence because he had found a victim after an attack. I fell madly in love with that hero, and applauded the writer!

  2. I stopped reading a science fiction author I enjoyed when he said, via the character who was clearly the author's voice, that women who were truly unwilling couldn't be raped. A friend tried to mitigate the statement by pointing out it was "a different time".

    I know for a fact that there were laws against rape in medieval Castile:

    Female as well as male detractors of townswomen were regularly prosecuted on the complaints of their female accusers, whether they had dared a relatively minor slander or resorted to more detrimental and outrageous behaviour. A variety of offences thus harmed, dishonoured and put an innocent woman to shame. They ranged from malicious allegations through a variety of physical abuse, of which rape was the most despicable. The municipal court provided a woman with means to redress her grievance by requiring her convicted assailant to compensate her with pecuniary damages suitable to the gravity of the injury and, for the more insufferable wrongs, undergo harsher punishments. (Dillard 170)

    I'm sure there are other, older laws too, but I've only studied this particular time and place. So knowledge of rape, and the idea that a woman can be raped despite being unwilling, has been around a long, long time. Even if this piece of science fiction was set in the future, you do have to wonder why their laws would have deviated so much from existing ones.

    Dillard, Heath. Daughters of the Reconquest: Women in Castilian Town Society, 1100-1300.

  3. As a 13 year old I had a blazing row with the step-father of my best friend when he asserted that unwilling women couldn't be raped. I refused to believe that he was naive - he was a grown man and should have known better. I knew a little girl who had been raped and I wasn't prepared to let him get away with saying such rubbish.
    I think that those old M & B's were aimed at people who wanted to believe we lived in a world where such things as rape didn't occur.

  4. "people who wanted to believe we lived in a world where such things as rape didn't occur."

    Or perhaps they wanted to believe that things like rape couldn't happen to "good" women like them?

    In this novel the heroine's virginity is emphasized repeatedly (she's the maiden who will catch the unicorn/hero), whereas the other main female character is her glamorous widowed cousin Cleo, who would be prepared to marry the hero while continuing her affair with his brother. The latter reminds Cleo she's "thoroughly amoral [...] as you've often admitted" (150).

    So there's a very clear distinction in the novel between good/sexually innocent women and bad/sexually promiscuous ones, and I suspect the implication is that "bad" women can't be raped because they always want sex anyway. Presumably if a "good" woman gets raped it would have been taken as proof that she wasn't really "good"? Or that she was really in love with the rapist? Or perhaps the author has some very weird ideas about the protection afforded by an intact hymen.

    Oh, and the hero hits Cleo at one point and says "I don't apologise for that because it's the only sort of treatment you understand" (181). The message seems to be that "bad" women sometimes need to be hit (as well as being the kind of women who ask to be raped).

    The definition of what constitutes a "bad" woman may have changed in the genre, but as Tumperkin pointed out recently, it's not exactly uncommon nowadays to find heroes who kill "bad people" so we still have romances which divide people into "good" and "bad" and suggest that it's justified to do "bad" things to "bad" people.