finding my voice

Romance-shaming? Is this a thing? Do some book sellers and librarians look down on romance titles? Though I’ve never come across this phenomenon, I have no doubt it exists. Just “wiki” romance genre, and you’ll find the sub-heading “Critical Attention” that uses a portion of an article written by David Pollard:

“Romances are, in fact, subversive literature: They encourage women to be dissatisfied with inequality, and to set higher expectations for themselves, and they show them ways to achieve those expectations, largely by taming men and, in a way, usurping their power. Romances are arguably the only art form of any kind that portrays women as equal partners with men.”

Alone and out of context, this is a pretty harsh comment on a genre that in 2015 held an almost 20% market share for adult fiction for print books, a statistic that does not take into consideration the overlap into fantasy, suspense, etc. (to read more on this, click here).

[cue sound of screeching brakes]

Starting over now. I began writing this blog four days ago and have come to realize that, at this particular moment in time, there are more important topics about which to blog than romance shaming. Recent events DEMAND that anyone with a voice speak out.

As a writer, I have many opinions. Many, many opinions. Strong opinions. It is VERY difficult for me to not tweet or post about my personal views. But I don’t, because writing romance, for me at least, has always been about telling a story, entertaining the reader, and providing an escape from the rigors of quotidian life.

Many of my tweets take the form of haikus (#HiKu4U). When I write one that is slightly controversial, I highlight it in red, and I don’t tweet it. Today, I tweeted the following:

No advance warning///removes possibility///of giving consent.

#NoMeansNo is always implied

And then, I promptly deleted it. You see, as a new author, I’ve been advised to be careful about tweeting and posting about controversial topics. And then, I happened upon Colleen Halverson’s blog “Stopping the Show.” Wow. Just, wow.

Memories of college at The University of Michigan and going to the bar with my roommates flooded back to me. I recalled the night where a male student reached out with both hands and grabbed my breasts. He turned around and rejoined his buddies, laughing. It turned out that he had a running bet to see how many breasts he could squeeze in one night. At first, I was shocked, then a second later, so pissed! This was when cowboy shoes were in fashion, and mine had fancy metalwork on the toes. I kicked that jerk in his Achilles as hard as I could. He stopped laughing.

And this wasn’t even the worst incident. There were others, ranging from when I was 15 all the way to 20 years old. I just never put too much stock in them, nor did I allow them to make me afraid, because it wasn’t as if I had been actually raped. That debasement fell to one of my college friends at a frat party. I was with her when she saw him again one football Saturday after fearing for her safety for months as she crossed campus, going from one class to the next. That evening, he smiled at her like they were friends; she smashed a bottle over his head. My friend ended up in the emergency room with deep lacerations in her hand; he ended up getting kicked out of the bar for the night. One night. She never reported it to the police. The emergency room doctors did not include it in her chart. They stitched her up and sent her on her way; it was months later, after all.

Watching the news, and waiting for tonight’s debate, I look at my children. I have twin fourteen-year-old boys. And I have friends who have teenaged girls. I am so relieved to not have to worry as much as they do. There’s an old adage: with a son, parents worry about one penis; with a daughter, they worry about all the penises. Crude? Absolutely. But it is so true. And it is so wrong. To responsibly raise boys, I HAVE to care about my friends’ daughters. I have to worry about all of the penises.

I must do this to help break this Culture of Rape. I have to have honest and really awkward conversations with my boys. My husband and I must talk to them about respecting women. We have to discuss what is going on in the world, and how this craziness relates to our family and to them personally. If Trump’s leaked comments and the accusations against Clinton have done anything, they have made women and men speak up against a vicious cycle. This is not political. This is not controversial. This is reality, and tonight I will join the thousands of others and raise my voice. I hope you will join me and raise yours.


p.s. I have to add the link for David Pollard’s article: “The Romance Novel: Literature of Liberation” where he writes:

“So, brava, writers and readers of romances! You are a breath of innovation in a creatively moribund industry, and, despite the sneers, an important force in the liberation of women. Now if only someone could invent a subtle and engaging genre of literature we could use to educate men…”

7 Replies to “finding my voice”

  1. As a mother of three girls, I can’t say how strongly I pray for a day when No actually means NO! That we have to discuss this topic angers me to the depths of my core.

    Thank you, for having the bravery to raise this topic. I, too, am a new author and I’ve worried during this election season if I should be quiet on social media to avoid alienating potential readers.

    The thing is, I can’t stand quietly by when someone is disrespecting another woman. When others brush it aside. When women are objectified and it’s supposed to be okay. We need more people getting behind initiatives like Its On Us and I Always Get Consent. Until the day comes when a woman isn’t shamed for how she looks or how she dresses. When no one is shamed or embarrassed or ridiculed or taken advantage of, male or female.

    When No means No means No. That day can’t come soon enough for me.

  2. I’m glad you wrote about this! I remember that bra-snapping was pretty ordinary in junior high. And I left one of my first jobs at a Burger King to avoid the lecherous old man who made sexual comments to me. I consider myself lucky to have avoided worse. But, unlike men, I can never go in a 7-11 at night, or a grocery store, or anywhere, really, without looking around and locking my car. I’ll bet men don’t think of that.

    • I remember miniskirts coming into fashion in the 80s and wearing shorts underneath them because boys would try to lift the hems. Juvenile, yes. I asked my 14-year-old if he or his friends would ever think of doing such a thing. He yelled, “Why the [heck] would I ever do that?!” I may not have been successful at curbing their swearing, but that’s something at least!

  3. I put an incident of breast-grabbing in one of my women’s fiction novels, A Daughter’s a Daughter. And no, there was no handsome FBI agent available to break the hand of the perpetrator. My heroine had to deal with the shock on her own, as most of us do.

    Alas, a problem with responding is that men are physically our superiors. There. I’ve said it. In a college bar, kicking a peer may work, but in another kind of bar, a man shamed in front of his friends will be waiting outside to do something much worse to the woman who fights back physically or even verbally. That’s what we’re raised to know, and that’s the key reason they can so easily victimize us. There’s a social pecking order and we violate it at great physical risk.

    Of course I would like it to be different. For all our freedom and our steps forward socially in the U.S., we have recent public examples of the immense level of disrespect in which women are held by many, many men. And don’t let’s forget that some women collude with men to keep the status quo rather than fight what they view as an impossible battle. Trophy wives and beauty queens and botoxed, surgically altered movie stars don’t help any of the rest of us. They continue the concept that we’re here only to please the male gaze. We also have many public examples of how coddling fragile male egos simply encourages their worst behavior.

    But to speak a little more lightly about this, I also at times have had the sincere belief that men are crazy. Why else would you send someone a picture of your penis?

    • Fortunately, each new generation of girls is more empowered than the last. How can they not be with fictional heroes such as Tris, Hermione, and even the latest Disney princesses?

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