Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Are You A Ruthless Woman?

The hero of Michelle Reid's The Italian's Future Bride (2007) makes his views clear. Tumperkin and Jessica make clear their views of him.


  1. Reid's hero is a horror show. Tumperkin and Jessica, on the other hand? MY kind of heroes.

    Re: the bit where he orders the heroine not to use the morning after pill. Apparently... "Although the statistics on the failure rate of human fertilization are not entirely robust, given the biological and ethical delicacy of conducting research in this area, the numbers consistently suggest that, at minimum, two-thirds of all human eggs fertilized during normal conception either fail to implant at the end of the first week or later spontaneously abort. Some experts suggest that the numbers are even more dramatic. John Opitz, a professor of pediatrics, human genetics, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, told the President’s Council on Bioethics last September that preimplantation embryo loss is “enormous. Estimates range all the way from 60 percent to 80 percent of the very earliest stages, cleavage stages, for example, that are lost.” Moreover, an estimated 31 percent of implanted embryos later miscarry, according to a 1988 New England Journal of Medicine study headed by Allen Wilcox of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences."

    So, um, yeah. Morning after pill? Basically just encouraging nature to do what it does a lot of anyway. Not a "sin," even if someone does subscribe to all the assumptions required to believe in sin. That is to say: if it is a "sin," and one is a monotheist, one's God has apparently designed human reproduction to sin all by itself quite a lot.

  2. Sorry, forgot to put in a hyperlink to the quote's source.

  3. Basically just encouraging nature to do what it does a lot of anyway. Not a "sin,"

    I'm not sure you've chosen the best grounds on which to base your argument in favour of the morning after pill: nature ensures that 100% of humans die but most people would agree that, in general, it would be murder to "encourage nature to do what it does a lot of anyway."

    Theologically (assuming we're going with Catholic theology, on the grounds that the hero probably is too), you'd be on somewhat safer ground if you argued that ensoulment has not occurred by the time the pill is taken, so it is not murder:

    Catholics for Choice point out that

    In the fifth century A.D., St. Augustine expressed the mainstream view that early abortion required penance only for sexual sin. Eight centuries later, St. Thomas Aquinas agreed, saying abortion was not homicide unless the fetus was "ensouled," and ensoulment, he was sure, occurred well after conception. The position that abortion is a serious sin akin to murder and is grounds for excommunication only became established 150 years ago.

  4. Hmmm. Let's imagine for the moment that someone believes that (a) there is a soul and (b) it and any moral weight it demands are present the moment the sperm enters the egg, I still don't think preventing implantation (which apparently isn't what Plan B does?) is the same as murder because, unlike in murder, one isn't causing direct harm to the zygote. One is merely saying "no, you cannot stay here and live parasitically off me for months." I don't think anyone owes another life space within their body.

    But someone who's very Catholic like the "hero" of the novel is probably would say, hateful ass that he is, that the "sin" of sex carries with it the moral obligation for a woman to give of her body's strength/life to nourish any zygote that happens to drop in. He would say that, of course, because his body isn't the sort of body such a high payment for "sin" is ever demanded of.

    And because he's an abusive scumsucker.

    Anyway. I hope that made sense for 4am. LOL.

  5. ...shoot, that was me! Sorry.

  6. "I don't think anyone owes another life space within their body"

    I got the impression that this hero thinks a zygote has a right to space in the uterus and a baby has a right to have biological parents who are married to each other; the wages of sin are pregnancy and forced marriage.

  7. You're right. It would be useless arguing the point unless one used the Augustine/Aquinas argument, and even then such a person as this "hero" would merely look me up and down, note that I'm female, and ignore every word I say.


  8. ((facepalm)) Apologies. This computer keeps defaulting to another user ID.

  9. this "hero" would merely look me up and down, note that I'm female, and ignore every word I say.

    That does seem quite likely given the way this part of his conversation with the heroine goes:

    “But I think it would be – ”
    “Well, don’t think,” he said coldly.

    It's possible, though, that he would be open to discussion about it if he wasn't personally involved but he does seem rather strong-minded so I doubt you'd change his view of the morning after pill.

  10. I happen to have come across another novel by Michelle Reid, The Markonos Bride (2008), and in the epilogue the hero and heroine have three-month-old twins and the hero has decided that he'd like to have more children: "I am Greek, we love big families. We love our wives pregnant and fat. And just think of all that loving from your man with no protection to spoil it," he urged (183). It seems this hero and heroine don't get on well with contraceptives either, albeit for different reasons from Rachel and Raffaelle: "The contraceptive pill didn't suit her, which meant that Andreas had to use something. Both of them hated it" (182).

    This is making me really quite curious about the depiction of contraceptives and pregnancy in the romance genre. I'd tended to think that the high number of contraceptive failures in the genre was due to the efficacy of the unexpected pregnancy in creating drama and prompting some sort of contact which will cause the protagonists to stay together and recognise how they feel about each other. In other words, I'd seen it primarily as a plot device. Now, though, I'm beginning to wonder if the symbolism isn't almost as important.

    In The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer, a secondary character is described as having presented her spouse with "eight pledges of her affection" (2) and the phrase refers to her eight children. If pregnancy is associated with passion, love and commitment then it's perhaps not surprising that contraceptives would have to fail or be rejected in order for love to triumph. Symbolically, it makes sense that anything which stops the heroine's emotions/womb being open to the hero's love/sperm would tend to end up being viewed negatively.

    Certainly virginity often gets described in ways which suggest it may symbolise the fact that emotionally the hero and heroine have never felt this way before. It's also been noticed that heroines not infrequently have a hymen located somewhere inside the vagina, and that really only makes sense if you read these scenes metaphorically. One of the eight essential elements which Regis lists, one is "the barrier." It has to be broken down in order for the hero and heroine's love to be fulfilled, and the barrier isn't likely to be overcome right at the start of the novel.


    Heyer, Georgette. The Grand Sophy. 1950. London: Arrow, 2004.

    Reid, Michelle. The Markonos Bride. Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2008.

  11. I think your explanation works rather beautifully. And it makes sense of the obsession with penis-in-vagina intercourse in het Romance. If not only penetration, but unrestricted penetration that penetrates a woman's vagina *and* allows a man's sperm to penetrate her egg and grow inside her are considered necessary for the love to be pure and true, then the concept of sex without any penile penetration at all would seem doubly disconnected.

    I think this is particular interesting since there's discussion in fandom about how slash fiction written by women often focuses more on penis-in-anus penetrative sex, forgetting that gay men have a variety of sexual practices, and that some men simply don't like anal. I think maybe that's a byproduct of the cultural messages surrounding penis-in-vagina sex.

    Here's a recent example of the discussion: " It is incredibly insulting to say that gay men who don't have anal sex don't have "real" sex, or that lesbians are all virgins because they haven't been penetrated vaginally by a penis. It's putting the expectations of one culture on another subculture. It's saying that the way someone else defines themselves doesn't count." (source)

    I wonder if M/M Romance shares this failing?

    Seriously though, on what planet is experiencing an orgasm with someone you love not a deeply connected and loving thing, no matter what anatomy is where at the time? O.o

    Personally, when I think of no contraceptives, I think of women being worn out like dishrags with endless pregnancies. Dying young. Having lives of poverty and disease. Not an image that adds to the erotic very much. Because then every sexual encounter was a punishment, something a woman had to flinch from knowing that more suffering and the real chance of death was coming to her because her Mr. got his leg over.

    I've *read accounts* from the early 19th Century where the women basically say *that*. I am afraid my husband wants sex because I just can't endure the thought of another child. I read one primary source where a man came home to find his wife dead from trying to induce an abortion because the thought of trying to get by with the kids they already had and another mouth to feed was so terrible she would rather risk her life than face it.

    So, to me, lack of contraceptives = being a worn out womb on legs with a broken heart. And soon being a corpse.

    On what PLANET is THAT sexy???

    ((shakes head)))

    Have women so quickly forgotten the physical burdens and suffering their grandmothers and great-grandmothers endured?


    One thing I pulled out of it that piqued my interest was the association of pregnancy with the right to be "fat" and fatness with sexual pleasure. So that the dream might possibly be to be allowed to be *physical* in size, in pleasure, in bodily presence in a way that women are told they should not be generally. The freedom to eat, to fuck, to unleash the body from the policing of diets, of contraceptives. And to still be loved, even as a large, uncontrolled body.

  12. There's a really excellent article in The Atlantic right now that talks about pregnancy and labor as life threatening conditions and how that places women's experiences FAR FAR above men, who will never have this mean life or death to them.

    Part of the reason why het Historical Romances that are PIV OBSESSED piss me off is that I think of the hero--who's so often a rake and familiar with alt. sex practices and even period appropriate contraceptives--who refuses to consider alt sex options or contraceptives and I'm, like, you say you love this woman, but you're *killing her*. And all because some nice oral or a handjob or whatever isn't fucking ENOUGH FOR YOU. DIE DIE DIE.

    This is especially irritating because I've seen for myself porn from the late 19th/early 20th Century that was really obsessed with orgasming by fucking a woman's cleavage. I mean, it's not like other fun things weren't around!

  13. Found the primary source I was thinking of, it's from Margaret Sanger:
    " stifling mid-July day of 1912 I was summoned to a Grand Street tenement. My patient was a small, slight Russian Jewess, about twenty-eight years old, of the special cast of feature to which suffering lends a madonna-like expression. The cramped three-room apartment was in a sorry state of turmoil. Jake Sachs, a truck driver scarcely older than his wife, had come home to find the three children crying and her unconscious from the effects of a self-induced abortion. He had called the nearest doctor, who in turn had sent for me.
    After a fortnight Mrs. Sachs' recovery was in sight. .. But when the doctor came to make his last call, I drew him aside. "Mrs. Sachs is terribly worried about having another baby."
    "She well may be," replied the doctor, and then he stood before her and said, "Any more such capers, young woman, and there'll be no need to send for me."
    "I know, doctor," she replied timidly, "but," and she hesitated as though it took all her courage to say it, "what can I do to prevent it?“
    "Tell Jake to sleep on the roof."
    "He can't understand. He's only a man. But you do, don't you? Please tell me the secret, and I'll never breathe it to a soul. Please!"
    The telephone rang one evening three months later, and Jake Sachs' agitated voice begged me to come at once; his wife was sick again and from the same cause. …
    Mrs. Sachs was in a coma and died within ten minutes. …I left him pacing desperately back and forth, and for hours I myself walked and walked and walked through the hushed streets. … It was the dawn of a new day in my life also. ... I knew I could not go back merely to keeping people alive. … I was finished with palliatives and superficial cures; I was resolved to seek out the root of evil, to do something to change the destiny of mothers whose miseries were vast as the sky.

    Now, obviously Margaret Sanger had an ideological reason for sharing this story as she did. She was a proponent of birth control and she supported eugenics. In the 1960s, she was the driving force behind pushing for research into the birth control pill.

    But I hardly think it's difficult to doubt that there were many women who lived in situations not dissimilar to Sadie Sachs. And when I think of a lack of contraceptives, I don't think romance, I think death and "miseries. . . vast as the sky." I think it's sad and fascinating that the reality of reproduction and what it means to women's bodies--the price in blood and suffering that was extracted from so many of our female ancestors so that we could be here--is erased. We honor veterans for dying, but Mother's Day doesn't even glance in the direction of maternity as death, maternity as blood and pain. It's all... pink and sweet and innocuous.

    I feel like a better public memory of women's history, and what women have given (or had taken from them) so that we could be here would alter people's attachment to this trope in Romance. Heck, even a less privileged understanding of the world that recognizes the pain of women in less developed countries would probably lead to a reevaluation of it. IDK.

    As it is, obviously the natural adoration of reproduction without end is that the Duggars ought to have their own Romance novel. Or a series! So many siblings, after all, to write about.

  14. "I think maybe that's a byproduct of the cultural messages surrounding penis-in-vagina sex"

    I've noticed, too, that heroines not infrequently feel they have an aching hollowness either sexually (a vagina that needs to be filled) or emotionally (but often expressed metaphorically as an emptiness in the chest, where the heart should be).

    Literally, this doesn't make sense, because sadness and loneliness do not empty the chest; the vagina isn't a wide-open tube; the uterus isn't a massive open bag, waiting to be filled. These are, though, the impressions you'd get from some descriptions in fiction (and this simplified diagram). So to get fulfilment you need to be fully filled for a moment: you need to have a penis entering a vagina (or a penis entering an anus). And then once this has happened, the filling seems to have a permanent effect inasmuch as it joins them, irrevocably.

    Metaphors can be really powerful. Have you read Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson? I'll quote from the back cover

    The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are "metaphors we live by" - metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them.

  15. "I wonder if M/M Romance shares this failing?"

    Yes, very much so. Most female readers consider the couple not to have had 'real' sex unless they have penetrative anal intercourse, and aren't shy about making their displeasure known if the author omits this vital climactic event. Taking the bottoming partner's virginity is very important in the progress of the relationship, and woe betide the author who has the larger, more 'masculine' partner be the anal virgin. This disturbs the order of the universe.

    The view that only PIV (or the m/m equivalent, PIA) is real mirrors American fundamentalist opinion (fundies are absolutely obsessed by sodomy) - and far too many teenagers, sadly, who are having oral and anal sex while insisting they are still virgins.

    Gay men, of course, consider real sex to be anything where both partners get off, and anal sex is far from universally practised. Most try it once, but many never try it again because they just don't enjoy it. The emphasis on penetration in romances is a very straight female thing.

    Of course lesbians who enjoy penetration sometimes face criticism from their in-group for not being lesbian enough. The politics of admitted sexual preferences are rather depressing.