Romance Novels: A Right to Own Our Sexuality

Editor’s Note: this month is National Women’s Month and starting March 8th, International Women’s Day, we are featuring writers who have shared with us their thoughts on reading romance. Today we’ve asked Dear Author‘s Jane how National Women’s Month pertains to romance novels. Click here for more blog posts on the subject!

By Jane Litte, blogger for Dear Author

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International Women’s Day was started in 1911 to celebrate and agitate for women’s equality.  Nearly 100 years later, women have achieved great freedoms: the right to vote, the right to own property, and earn a living wage.  It seems that the next great challenge, beyond getting the right to be paid the same for the same work, is the right to own our sexuality.

I often think that romance books are criticized for being about sex because there is something challenging about a woman as a fully cognizant sexual being.  Take, for example, sex and violence.

In many mystery and suspense books, there is very graphic violence, usually toward women.  Women are captured in groups and have snakes sent up their legs to violate them.  In Brett Eason Ellis’ book, American Psycho, the protagonist sends a rat through a prostitute’s body and chases after her with a chain saw.  In Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series, Lena Adams is violently raped more than once and in more than one book.

Mysteries and suspense books are considered real literature, worthy of reviews in major newspapers and considered for major awards.   There is very little discussion about the level of violence in these books or the abuse of women that seem to be a central theme and what the readers of those books are seeking.

Yet, women that read books that praise a woman seeking out and having orgasms, seeking pleasure, deriving pleasure are held up for mockery and disdain.  Some of the more erotic romances are called one handed reads, presuming that the stories are a) read for titillation and b) that there might be something wrong with point a.

What can be wrong with a woman reading about other women getting pleasure, both physically and emotionally?  Why is that perverse or dangerous?

I know Victoria Dahl, author of Talk Me Down, gets a lot of flack for writing her “dirty” books but I enjoy the sex positive attitudes of her lead characters.

In the 19th Century, women were cautioned not to read, particularly pulp fiction because they were said to be susceptible to the power of fiction.  Some argue that romance readers will generate unrealistic expectations of life, relationships, or love.

I think that if there was more equality in the sexes about sexuality, romance novels would appear to be less dangerous, less provocative.

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Comment ( 1 )
  1. Ashley Ladd
    March 15, 2010 at 8:23 pm
    Reply

    I wonder why more people don’t worry about the mystery novels. Snakes violating women? Chainsaws? (shudder)

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