I thought today I'd talk about content in our books, and a somewhat disturbing trend I've been noticing in some. Romance, as a rule, empowers and enchants the audience, which we know is predominantly female. However, in a lot of books recently, and I'm speaking of mainstream romance not sub-genres, there seems to be a leaning toward heroines who want to be hurt by the hero. In a few cases I can think of, she actively provokes the "punishment" which invariably involves her being humiliated, and having rapturous orgasms while being essentially abused by the hero. I don't know about others, but that bothers me not only as an author but it really makes my skin crawl as a woman who respects herself.
Fantasy is a hugely important element in what we write when we choose the field of romance, and while everyone has less than romantic fantasies, is actively asking for humiliation and abuse the kind of message that should be accepted in our work? Romance, at its core, is about positive passion, acceptance, and the celebration of the most common desire the average person has - the driving need to not only find love, but to then experience it and share it with someone you are supposed to trust more than anyone else. When did it get to be about playing mind games, hurting someone on the deepest levels of their psyche, and then turning that into sexual domination? We, as readers, are being asked to accept that this is love/passion that is born in ultimate trust. Is that what I'm missing, that if you trust someone that much, it's acceptable for them to use your trust to hold you prisoner to sexual pleasure?
We preach sexual responsibility to our audience and publishers are now asking for it to be plainly visible in our work. I agree with that completely. But what about the emotional responsibilities that come with our work? It doesn’t really matter who your write for in terms of an audience, we ALL have young fans who are discovering romance books for the first time, and they are impressionable and seeking to learn to trust their budding instincts and desires. They want to know what love is, and how it works. Is it time to create yet more subgenres and warnings, or is it time for us to look a little more closely at what we’re presenting to our public, and then ask ourselves if there is a positive and loving message there? I don’t think anyone could in good conscience suggest that humiliating heroines is heroic… and by the same token, neither is abusing your hero.
A book that explores a traumatic experience is not what I’m referring to, in case anyone’s ready to take that stance in defence. What I’m talking about is the kind of story that presents us with a supposed loving relationship, then when the bedroom door opens, we have a domineering hero who uses sex to control his heroine – and we’re asked to believe that’s what she wants because she deserves it, and it’s a huge turn-on. Unless you back that with a damn strong back-story, I think most women would agree that being used and made to beg is not really a huge turn-on.
The floor is open, I’d love to hear your thoughts? Is this kind of story really romance, or is more accurately a psychological and emotional abuse?