Coming out of the closet

I’ve taken a lot of heat the last couple of months because I dared to say that the bodice ripper romance was a product of its time and thus needed to be considered for the time in which it was written. Is the forced seduction PC? No, and never was. It was a fantasy, a fantasy that, if the contemporary nonfiction literature at the time is to be believed (both anecdotal and academic), was common. Considering the number of those written and sold, I’d say it was a pretty popular one, all dressed up in period clothing and the mores that clothing represented.

Also lately, around the romance blogs, historical and contemporary romance/erotic romance with bodice-ripper elements have been ridiculed, maybe rightly, maybe not. But in a romance reading public that’s taking to male/male romance and BDSM romance, this abhorrence of the longest-running sexual fantasy in romance is bewildering to me. Women have their fantasies. Some of them involve the forced seduction. Is it PC? Absolutely not. Is it valid? Yes.

Genre romance has always thrived on the power imbalance between the male and female, but this has its caveats, and the caveats make up the majority of the fantasy:

1. The heroine is always clearly superior to any male in her milieu except for the hero, who is the only male strong enough to conquer her.

2. The heroine is always isolated from female companionship for many reasons, one of which is that she is superior to all other females and thus, the object of female derision/jealousy. If there is a female, she takes on a mentor/sister/mother/fairy godmother persona.

3. She’s already attracted to him and he gets her off.

4. The “asshole alpha”’s transformation into acceptable mate material depends on whether his eventual groveling is equivalent to his previous assholishness.

5. He better damn well grovel and do it right.

6. At the end of the book, the reader knows that while the heroine can go on and live without the hero, the hero cannot live without the heroine. He always winds up more dependent on the heroine’s love and presence than she is on his, turning the power imbalance 180 degrees.

7. It’s all about the groveling.

Other than the innumerable authors who write the six Harlequin Presents novels every month, I can’t really name any contemporary romance authors who write the “asshole alpha” except, perhaps Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and boy does she write good groveling, viz. Kiss an Angel, which is one of only five romances on my DIK list (and the only contemporary).

Lately, Anna Campbell and others have come back with the bodice ripper, but again, they write historical and I don’t think it does anybody any good to pretend that some of these characters are a century or two more enlightened than the people around them at the time.

The power imbalances in my own book have been pointed out to me with startling clarity, and I’ve been chewing on this for days, not because I disagree in the case of Knox and Justice (an homage to the Harlequin Presents line of books I cut my teeth on and my best crack at writing an anti-hero), but because I do disagree in the cases of Giselle and Bryce, and Sebastian and Eilis. I’m not going to go into why because that entails spoilers.

What ultimately brings me to write this post, though, is because lately, despite my professed ambivalence (possibly distaste) for paranormal romance and urban fantasy, I’ve been reading a few books (that I liked!) that have led me to a conclusion:

The asshole alpha still lives and breathes, as assholish as he ever was. The bodice ripper hasn’t gone away. The forced seduction hasn’t lost its appeal.

It’s morphed.

Into demons, werebeasts, vampires, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and things that go bump in the night. In many, many cases it’s further disguised as the (overused) “one true mate and nature has given us no choice” device.

Only now, because it’s dressed up in con clothes and otherworldly window decoration, it’s perfectly acceptable. Except … some of us don’t care for the window dressing.

I also made a statement a while back that a lot of Mormon authors write our basic tenets and philosophies and beliefs and religious history in science fiction and fantasy, where it’s almost or fully unrecognizable to non Mormons. I said that I thought it was cowardly. I was told by one author that his first instinct was to write science fiction/fantasy and that the incorporation of our doctrine, traditions, and culture was secondary. I believe that—for that author. I don’t believe it across the board.

Why does this happen? Perhaps because suddenly, one person’s fantasy/message is another person’s call to battle?

I don’t write that way. I can’t wrap the bodice ripper up in paranormal and urban fantasy paper and put a shibari bow on it because that doesn’t appeal to me, although the sex probably will. I can’t put a pretty dress on what is, to many readers, an ugly philosophy/belief system in science fiction and fantasy because that doesn’t appeal to me, although the philosophy will.

This is why I like erotica, because, by its very nature and reader expectations, it’s bald. It’s honest. It’s also why I did actually appreciate The Actor and the Housewife for one thing: It put our culture and beliefs and jargon out in the open honestly, naturally, with no apology or preaching.

I want it straight and I write it that way. I call it what it is because that appeals to me, the honesty of it, the setting of human-as-animal in a contemporary world where our baser wants and needs are not only taboo, but ignored as if they don’t exist. And likewise, where our spirituality/religious beliefs offend a whole lot of people, and short shrift is given to the struggle between the natural (human) man and the enlightened (human) one, who attempts to control himself and sometimes simply doesn’t.

I have no issue with control, losing it, struggling with it, conquering the natural man. After all, that’s why we’re here, right? To vanquish the natural man?

But I’m interested in the process.

And the groveling.

I don’t expect a non genre romance reader to get this, so the objections I’ve received have only made me think about the genre, think about why women read romance, the vast subgenres of romance, and why some women despise genre romance altogether.

Whatever universal truths are revealed in fiction, no matter how they’re portrayed, I don’t give a shit about vampires or demons trying to overcome their natures to be moral creatures because vampires and demons don’t exist.

I don’t give a shit about a being (possibly alien) who drives a spaceship for a living (or who has some fantastical adventure) who’s going through some vague spiritual struggle that Mormons can drill down to the most minute nuance, and might kinda look like Mormonism to anybody with a passing familiarity, because I can’t relate to that.

I can relate to asshole people whose feet are planted on earth, who don’t have regular contact with the boogeyman or aliens, who have no magic or fae blood, no superpowers, who strive and fall and fail and lose themselves in their baser natures, who want something better for themselves but may not know how to get it, who make bad choices and know it even while they’re doing it, who depend on other people or a religion or a deity or a philosophy to help “fix” them.

We all need fixed in one way or another, and there is always a power imbalance in a relationship. It shifts and it changes and it morphs and it takes time to level out as much as it’s ever going to. It’s a neverending process, and sometimes it seems like being on a hamster wheel.

How do I know this?

’Cause I’m an asshole and I strive and I fall and I fail and I lose myself in my baser nature, trying, always striving, for enlightenment. And because I need my husband to “fix” me, and I daresay he needs me to “fix” him, too.

And we both have to grovel.

But please, can we stop pretending the forced seduction romance, and the inherent power imbalance the male has over the female is gone? It’s not. It never will be. We like it too much, and, as a fantasy, it’s no less valid than the up-and-coming PC fantasies of male/male romance or BDSM romance in all its incarnations.

It’s just been driven into the closet.

The role of urban fantasy…

…and the kick-ass heroine.

Came across an interesting article by Jennifer de Guzman about the female audience need for a female superhero. Well, you know, I followed the links to the XY asshole type who said, “No, you really don’t.” Then I went to Jezebel’s post. Read them all, then come back. Josh Tyler (who knows what women want) posts:

Catching bad guys is not a common female fantasy.

Hey, you know, lemme go back in time to my 7-year-old self and tell Little Miss Batgirl that. (Notwithstanding BatGIRL opens up a whole host of other topics and is problematic in itself.) He further digs his hole:

Men are interested in imagining themselves as ass-kicking heroes. Women are interested in movies about relationships and romance and love.

Now, this discussion falls under the two of my pet topics: The definition of feminism and the gatekeepers, the gatekeepers in this case being filmmakers. And I gotta say, I can think of only one filmmaker who does the female superhero well (albeit not in WonderWomanish garb): Quentin Tarantino. And he made a lot of money exploiting the hell out of her. What does he know that Josh Tyler doesn’t?

Better yet, what does genre romance know that Tyler doesn’t? This is where the genre romance gatekeepers have stepped up to the plate and it’s where women will find their superheroes, albeit it not in graphix or on celluloid.

It’s the kick-ass heroine in urban fantasy. They don’t have a Batgirl or Wonder Woman outfit. They don’t have a golden lasso or an invisible plane. Sometimes they don’t come from a mysterious Other World. They have leather. They have a tramp stamp. They have guns or cross bows or daggers or swords or a combination. They prowl the streets looking for wrongs to right and bad guys who need an ass-whoopin’. Yes, yes, I hear Buffy’s name being screamed from the rooftops, but she’s not part of this discussion because…

…most of these setups (unfortunately) involve otherworldly paranormal goo-drooling and blood-drinking types, and, quite frankly, I get tired of the endless fighting of the supernatural. How ’bout some human baddies? (This is one reason I love Beatrix Kiddo just so damned much.)

Aside: I’m not talking about kick-ass heroines whose JOB it is to be kick-ass. I’m talking about the ordinary woman pulled into extraordinary circumstances and who rises to the occasion [ahem, EILIS], or the anti-heroine who exists outside a societal structure and takes on the role of vigilante as a form of service to society (with hopes of paying restitution or redemption or at least a few cosmic brownie points) [ahem, GISELLE]. Or—better yet—a heroine who starts her journey being a milquetoast and ends up with a spine of steel [ahem, JUSTICE]. After all, we’re not born kick-ass. Life makes us or breaks us that way and the hero’s journey has never been just for men.

So here again we see that the gatekeepers (in this case, filmmakers) don’t know their audience well enough to exploit another revenue stream—but genre romance does! We’ve been subsisting on these women for decades (can you say “pirate queen”?). Clarissa Pinkola Estés even wrote a little book about the kick-ass heroine, her history, and her place in our evolutionary collective subconscious, so this?

Men are interested in imagining themselves as ass-kicking heroes. Women are interested in movies about relationships and romance and love.

He really needs to go talk to Dr. Estés or at least read her book.

Tarantino! Thurman! Thank you for The Bride. I love her. (And all of her wicked evil baddie stepsisters, too!) Now, step up to the plate and give us a female superhero only with spandex this time, ’kay? Call me!

Favorite kick-ass heroines. Who are yours?

In which fashion pimps for pedophiles

Yo, New York. Milan. Bentonville.

Roman PolanskiI’m tired of having to tart my 5-year-old FEMALE Tax Deduction up like a 63rd & Prospect streetwalker. There’s this thing called a waist. There’s this other thing called a waistBAND. The waistBAND should come up all the way to the waist.

A) I do not have the time nor inclination nor money to sew my TD’s jeans. I know how. Sorta. They’d look homemade and I don’t want my TD to come home crying because she got laughed at about her homemade jeans.

B) It’s not like I don’t want her to be fashionable. I just don’t want her to be Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears at 5 or until she can pay for her own damned clothes and the laundering thereof.

C) This is not out of some outraged sense of modesty or affront to church standards, either. She’s FIVE YEARS OLD. She’s a target just by being five. I spose the gender doesn’t matter much these days.

D) I’m not even saying get rid of low-rise, but SHIT! Give me an alternative, eh? You give me boot-cut and straight-leg and bells, but you don’t give me a choice on rise?

E) If she does want to tart up like Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears in the future, I could deal with it better if I could point my nightmarishly teenager-girl-ish Tax Deduction to her contemporaries who have a waistBAND touching their actual WAIST and tell her where she needs to shop. And, oh, the thrift stores are no better because they’re backing up on the last 5 (that I know of) years of other little tax deductions who outgrew their 4- and 5-year-old skin-tight, low-rise skank makers.

Every time I go clothes shopping for this kid I get pissed off about this and then I forget about it–right up to the point I have to take her shopping again. I can find modest blouses, no problem. It’s the jeans and khakis that are giving me fits. Or not. If anybody has a source for high-rise jeans/khakis online, I’ll take it.

Beatrix Kiddo, feminist

I play with boys. Always have. I was the Batgirl and Princess Leia to my cohorts’ Batman, Robin, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, etc. Apparently, I am not the only one, since the “urban fantasy” subgenre (with the blatantly hard-ass heroine) has become such a success.

Only within the last few years have I run into women with sensibilities similar to mine and with whom I feel comfortable. Also lately, I’ve found a couple of blogs with women I relate to on a more matter-of-fact level (e.g., Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books).

But put me in the bloggernacle (a portmanteau of blog and tabernacle) and I have to start hanging out with the boys again because the women are…well, whiny. And inconsistent in their whining.

I didn’t realize this until I was reading over on Eugene’s blog about the Japanese movie, Freeze Me, which is, in his opinion,

…the standard Death Wish revenge fantasy formula: pacifist gets shocked into action delivers violent justice to evil-doers (“a conservative is a liberal who got mugged”).

But then the film disappoints him:

Freeze Me could have hummed and purred as well. Instead it alternately shivers and sweats and clunks and gives up without a fight.

Then Eugene goes on to blame:

Thelma & Louise which should more appropriately be titled: “The Original Dumb & Dumber.” This supposed paean to film feminism follows the exploits of two unbelievably stupid grown women who have spent their entire lives as victims of impulse and circumstance and aren’t about to let a little (almost justifiable) homicide stop them.

The good-guy cop (Harvey Keitel) finds them such a pathetic pair that he starts emoting like a father in pursuit of his two dimwitted daughters. Their exploits inspire pity at best, contempt at worst. Not once is logic ever allowed to compete with emotion, let alone overcome it. So why not just drive off a cliff?

It’s hard not to read a very obvious metaphor into the final scene: the caring man stands by helplessly while the newly “liberated” women cast themselves into oblivion. And a woman actually wrote it.

Which put me in the mind of Mormon feminist blogs. I can’t speak to feminist blogs of any other type because I don’t read those. (Except, well, I’ve stopped reading the Mormon feminist blogs, too. )

I can’t really get a handle on this feminist thing, being as I’m fairly new to the label. Some days I think I’m a feminist and some days I don’t. Most days I don’t know what a feminist is or how one defines oneself as a feminist. I mean, if it’s as simple as “equal pay for equal work” (and the definition of that is fodder for a different rant), I’m there.

This is what I have gleaned (albeit most likely incomplete) from my wanderings around Mormon feminist blogs:

1. You cannot be a feminist and against taxpayer-funded social welfare programs.

Where’s your compassion? Bitch. (Pssst: Did you hear that piece of the doctrine where Christ wanted people to be able to choose for themselves?)

2. You cannot be a feminist and a raging capitalist.

You’re contributing to the exploitation of women. Bitch. (Pssst: Did it ever occur to you that you can be more generous if you have money?)

3. You cannot be a feminist and pro-life.

(Yes, even amongst Mormons.) Bitch.

4. You cannot be a feminist and not want to be given the priesthood.

It’s just a natural extension of equality and you should want it. Bitch. (Pssst: Did it ever occur to you that God & Goddess might not be the ones doing the discriminating here? Oh, it DIDN’T occur to you. The church isn’t the final authority, you know.)

Oh, amongst other things. So it looks like to me the hierarchy goes like this:

Liberal-ish politics



There’s apparently room for the traditional Mormon woman role in this construct, but what I find disturbing is the willingness to completely bitch-slap a woman if her political philosophies don’t align with the label of “feminist,” especially if it hints at a more conservative bent.

So the LDS women of libertarian capitalist leanings have only one place to play in the bloggernacle: With the boys. As usual. Who are a helluva lot more enlightened than they’re given credit for–they just explain their philosophies in Belch (yes, it is an official language).

My soul sister is reading AmBITCHous, which means I’ve put that on my TBR pile (she finds all the good non-fiction!) along with Rules for Renegades.

Mind you, these are just my gut impressions, but the “discussion” of feminist issues in the church has a whinier tone than I’m comfortable with. And at this point, I’m thinking I’m not so much a feminist (whatever that means) as a bitch.

Thelma & Louise or Beatrix Kiddo? I didn’t hear much whining in Kill Bill.