Are romance novels porn for women?

This is part 2 of a four part article. Read the full intro or skip to the sassy answer to the question of romance novels and porn. 

If this picture were in color, you’d see that she was blushing.
If this picture were in color, you’d see that she was blushing.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that romance novels are naught but misleading fantasies that delude innocent young ladies, pornography for the feminine sex, and rescue fantasies for idle women, all of which end in marriages that snuff out the feisty, independent heroine.

Or so we are encouraged to believe.

We readers know instinctively these stories are GREAT and that none of the above statements are true.  But have you ever wondered where these stereotypes come from and why they persist? Have you ever wanted to utter a devastatingly witty and smart retort whenever someone questions your preference for “trashy bodice rippers”? But no longer!

Behold, the secret history and smart strategies to outsmart the snark!

The Snark:  Romance is just porn for women

The Secret History:  Definitions of porn/erotica aside, the {ahem} thrust of this comment is to dismiss something that has been terrifying for millenniums: female sexuality. Whether it’s porn (or not), erotica (or not) two key aspects define sex found in romance novels in contrast to most other depictions 1) the emphasis on a women’s pleasure and 2) that she experiences this pleasure and nothing bad happens to her.

One revolutionary element that sets romance apart from “Serious” Fiction is that the heroines have sex and do not die in the end. Think about it: from Juliet Capulet and Anna Karenina to Madame Bovary and Hester Prynne, Literary heroines that dare to love often pay the ultimate price. It’s the petite mort VS The Big Death.

 Because the happy ending functions as a reward for good behavior, what this suggests to readers is that it is acceptable—even desirable—to experience and explore pleasure with the person of one’s choosing.  What’s wrong with that? Consider this in light of the eighteen and nineteenth centuries (and earlier) when a tremendous amount of wealth and power depended upon a woman’s chastity (inheritance laws being a prime example). With so much at stake, strict control of women’s sexuality was essential.

 On her blog Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Sarah Wendell notes, “Politically and culturally we are instructed that we should feel shame for our own sexual curiosity and arousal.” Again we see that mockery, scorn and shame are just strategies to encourage potential rebels to keep their voices down and their hands to themselves.

No, really—What’s wrong with a woman enjoying consensual love making with a partner of her choosing? What is wrong with depicting this in literature marketed for adults? It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it?

Or to again quote Sarah Wendell: “Romance is not porn for women. Porn is porn for women. There is nothing wrong with either one. And whatever a woman employs to satisfy her own sexual curiosity and hornypants is her business, not yours.”

Read More Sassy Responses to Snarky Comments: 

*Excerpted in an article originally published by The Romance Writers Report.

Maya Rodale

Maya Rodale is the author of smart and sassy romance novels.

Comments

DJ in PA
Reply

Well, ya know, first of all, you should NEVER read the critics. Period. End of story. There is a reason they are critics. No matter what you do, some will criticize. The infinitely sticker problem in the arts is that with those jobs you get full-time, paid critics to slash and burn your work. Their opinions may have more to do with their chronic dyspepsia or failure to give their own passions a go–whether that passion is novel-writing or just the sort of extracurricular thang you write splendidly about.

Secondly, does it really matter if it IS porn for women? Honestly, who cares what some people think? Judging by the success of the film porn industry, we should all be so lucky to be that popularly successful in whatever we do! For all of the huffing and puffing about it, a whole lotta people seem to be partaking! Do you want to be Marcel Proust or Heff? Better put: Which do you think is a more realistic goal? I mean, c’mon, who looked better in a smoking jacket?

Don’t worry so much about what some people think. Some people think that the moon landing was a hoax. Some people think climate change is a conspiracy to take their guns and Hummers away and give them to the Ruskies or gay men who also threaten their marriage vows. Lemme tell ya something, sister, art critics don’t think certain types of art–those deemed “Women’s work” (such as textiles or anything deemed to “precious” meaning careful craftsmanship) is real art. Careful craftsmanship in media worked by men is called “skill”. Go figure. A logical, well, reasoned assessment of the error of their ways will not change their stupidity because their opinions are informed by something larger than their anal delineations of medium or genre but stuff having to do with gender or maybe mother issues. Such people tend to be vacuous pinheaded simpletons who view what is relevant for everyone else via their own filter of reality, tastes or hierarchical classifications/stereotypes.

Are romance novels high art? Hell no. But who cares? Neither is John Grisham or Tom Clancy but nobody calls their work porn for men with power lust or guys who like to get their geek freak on. The only people who care are those not busy working on their own “hornypants” as you so fittingly put it. Whatever that is. Which brings me around to the whole point of romance novels in general.

Honestly? I enjoyed your latest work, Maya, but truth be told, I am not a huge romance novel fan in general. Which really is a huge compliment to you that I enjoyed your novel b/c I’m not your usual audience. But, even I, an avowedly non-romance reader who never once watched soap operas as a co-ed or any of that “girly” lit…will be the first to defend such lit. I’m more of a This Old House and DIY books reader with a splash of Jane Austen, David Guterson, Wallace Stegner, Annie Dillard and whatever contemporary writer being compared to Twain whom I can lay my grubby mitts on all jauntily folded in.

Frankly, I’d rather be busy doing it all than reading about it, (whatever “it” is…wink, wink…) but I say whatever melts a person’s butter. The wide world of literary choice is why Dewey needed a whole passel of numbers to organize the library: Different strokes for different folks. The main thing is that you manage to get your strokes…however you jolly well please! ;-) And for God’s sake, Sweet Pea, QUIT READING THE CRITICS!!! Too many of them seem in dire need of getting grandly laid which is why you make them so grumpy.

For what it is worth. Just the humble musings of a (not so innocent) bystander. Three cheers for whatever puts lead in the ole pencil. Cheers!

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