Stop with the misogyny plot point

Stop with the misogyny plot point

Contemporary romance — it’s time to do better, writes our guest blogger Ainslie Paton. In 2016, misogyny shouldn’t stand unexamined in romance fiction. We have enough of that in our real lives.

Ainslie Paton writes hyper-real contemporary romance, so it’s not surprising she has an opinion on this. She’s the author of twenty-one and counting stories with heartbreak and happy endings, including a drug-fueled captivity serial where the hero is a villain who makes good. Her latest, Offensive Behavior, features an alpha, virgin geek and a pole dancer. ainsliepaton.com.au @AinsliePaton

It’s the lunch hour crush on main street, and rushing back to his office, a businessman accidentally knocks into a woman. She’s carrying a briefcase and her lunch: a sandwich and a strawberry smoothie, and when he bumps her, she jolts and drops her lunch; the sandwich bag spills, the smoothie splashes her legs. She’s annoyed and exclaims, loudly. He says sorry, just the one word, and notices she’s pretty. Then he puts his hands on her shoulders, turns her fully to face him. She sees he’s handsome. She’s unbalanced and her hand goes to his chest, presses there. He lifts her chin, lowers his head and kisses her lips. He tells her she’s lovely and walks away. She’s left staring after him, wondering if that really happened.

And so was I, but not for the reasons you might think.

This scene is how a book* opens, it’s the first 500 words, paraphrased. It’s written to be atmospheric and engaging.

Dramatic start to a novel?

Catchy, absolutely.

Romantic?

No, actually, it’s sexual assault.

What? You’re not serious?

Deadly.

In case you need a refresher on the definition, here’s the basic, easily accessible Wikipedia one:

Sexual assault is any involuntary sexual act in which a person is coerced or physically forced to engage against their will, or any non-consensual sexual touching of a person.

But wait, it was an accident and he apologised.

Still assault. Not the part where he bumped into her — accidents happen — but the part where he deliberately held her still, moved her head and kissed her. She didn’t ask to be handled and touched intimately by a complete stranger on the street, let alone one who just barreled into her.

But she didn’t push him away, or shout, or make a fuss. She thought he was handsome and she touched him.

Still assault. Sexual assault. Let’s be very clear about that. Her lack of protest doesn’t validate his choice of behavior. He does not ask in any sense of the act and she does not give permission. He takes because he’s physically superior and believes he’s entitled.

Hang on, he told her she was attractive and when he walked away, she wasn’t angry. She was dazed, maybe a little confused, but she wasn’t unhappy about it.

Yeah, it’s still assault.

She didn’t ask to be held and kissed by a stranger. Not protesting it, isn’t the same as permission, and in fact a moment before the kiss she was cursing, not generally the kind of encouragement a kiss might get, and still, beside the point.

Settle petal. He’s an alpha male, it’s a thing, they do this stuff.

True. The alpha male is a trope character and a good one. He’s everywhere and he’s great fun to write.

This alpha male is a doucheturnip. He comes from a long line of alpha doucheturnips who would stalk a woman, break into her apartment, read her mail, frighten off her friends, stop her behaving in a way he didn’t approve, demean, belittle and gaslight her because he alone knows what’s best for her.

This is the kind of doucheturnip who would have sex with a heroine without worrying if she wanted it too, because once again, he knows all her secret thoughts and fantasies better than she does, so the consent is implied. When that happens by the way, it’s called rape.

The other word for a doucheturnip like this is villain.

A true alpha male would buy the woman a fresh lunch, offer to pay for dry cleaning and make sure she was okay. He might steal a kiss, but he’d wait for an overture, or at least until he was halfway sure the object of his affection expected that contact. He can be gruff and taciturn, he can be patronizing and intimidating, but he’s not going to sexually assault a woman, in the first five minutes of meeting her, no matter how attractive she is or how turned on he is.

This guy is a Neanderthal in a suit and our heroine is too stupid to live if she has anything further to do with him.

Go read any of Kristen Ashley’s Chaos MC novels if you don’t get it.

Because that’s the other thing: the heroine does appear to think it’s acceptable, and I can’t think of one good reason for that other than a notion that it’s romantic. This man is a stranger. He’s bumped into her, ruined her lunch. He’s put his hands on her and kissed her. We assume, because this is romance, he’s not going to be Jabba The Hut, so attractive men get a pass on sexual assault?

Yeah, I don’t think so. Would Jabba? Hell, no.

Heroines should have agency over situations like this. They stopped being passive, dazed creatures a long time ago. Narratives like this are the reason we hear the expression strong female character. It’s used as an attempt at separation from doormat heroines with dubious understanding of their own capabilities and rights.

You’ve clearly never heard of the Forced Seduction trope.

The Forced Seduction trope has been around a long time and it’s still as valid a narrative choice as the alpha hero. I’d posit BDSM reads where consent is explicit and safe words are a go, are the inherent contemporary version of it. This is not an argument against Forced Seduction in any context but modern day set contemporary romances where it remains an unexamined plot point.

Cake and eat it too, much?

No, better, more amazing cake that has neutral calories.

As authors we recognised it was smart to get contraception, however annoyingly awkward, with its crinkling foil, into our stories. It’s become a convention, shorthand for the fact we care about sexual health and signaling the risk of pregnancy, but for some reason, aggressive behavior, unexamined misogyny gets a free pass to roam around unmolested.

It’s just a kiss. You’re making too much of it.

This is romance, no kiss is just a kiss. Imagine that happening in real life. You’ve got no lunch, you’re covered in sticky smoothie and a man you’ve never seen in your life before has just put his lips all over yours in a public place. You’re either so shocked you don’t react or maybe you knee him somewhere you know is going to hurt for days.

If you kneed him it would be self-defence, because he just assaulted you.

But it’s fiction, not real life.

See above for contraception.

And so we’re clear, this isn’t a dark romance, it’s not a captivity trope where you expect all those boundaries to be pushed deliberately hard. It’s your standard workplace contemporary and it’s time sexual assault and unexamined misogyny wasn’t considered a plot device to make a scene dramatically romantic.

Let’s go back to our example. It’s set in 2015. Turns out the hero and the heroine are both executives working for rival companies in the same building. When one company buys out the other they become colleagues, competitors who have to work together. You know the framework, tried and true, he’s an arrogant billionaire slumming it and she’s, I hate to say it, feisty. It’s a reverse Taming of the Shrew. She’s going to pull him down a few pegs so he’s worthy of being in love with. And that love, well, it started that day, with that kiss, it just takes them a whole 60,000 words to realise it. A happy ending that began with sexual assault.

Okay, so it’s a bit over the top, there’s no harm in it.

OTT can be heaps of fun, the hero can be dominant and dangerous, and the heroine a mouse who’s not yet learned to roar. It’s a fantasy, a journey towards rebalance, and clearly in this example, it’s a set-up. The hero is going to get his comeuppance. He’ll become a better guy and get the girl.

This is not an argument against OTT. It’s an argument against sexual assault and misogyny in contemporary romance.

Romance is a lot of things. It’s a place to explore fantasies and live vicariously, a place to find comfort, be thrilled, chilled or soothed. It’s also a genre where social constraints between people are explored in historical, modern and future contexts.

In 2016, inside contemporary romance, it shouldn’t be a place where misogyny stands unexamined. We have enough of that in our real lives.

It shouldn’t be a place where we let our heroines be inadvertent victims of superior men. (Or our male lead characters for that matter). Where we write heroes who would trample on a woman’s will, because they can, and heroines who accept that behavior too easily as if they deserve it and it’s a thing of wonder.

That’s not loving our heroines or creating the kinds of heroes worth reading about.

Here’s Wikipedia on misogyny:

Misogyny (/mɪˈsɒdʒɪni/) is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, hostility, male supremacist ideas, belittling of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women.

When romance has traditionally brought readers stories to excite, inspire and encourage, why is it still okay for unexamined misogyny to be a scene dynamic or plot point?

Not that it was ever okay, but we tended not to notice it. It was our cultural norm. What’s our excuse now?

We can avoid the contraception, sexual health issue by closing the door and fading to black, are we going to do the same here?

Apparently, because some publishers ask for it, some readers don’t reject it and some authors keep writing it.

I want a hero in the making whose first contact with the heroine isn’t sexual assault.

I want a heroine who is able to take action on her own behalf. I don’t mean she has to take offenders down a la Jessica Jones, it’s perfectly reasonable that’s she shocked and dazed and doesn’t react. It’s cool that she’s submissive, or a mouse who only ever squeaks, but that she has no choice other than to accept what’s doled out and like it, with no competing thought is just too bad.

As long as we write heroes outside the constraints of fantasy or fetish reads and inside the HEA space of contemporary genre romance, who get away with sexual assault with no consequence, as authors we’re saying we’re okay with our heroines being abused, because secretly that’s what they want in a man.

Really?

Authors create culture. Is that the message we want to stand behind?

I’m not buying it in any context, let alone a contemporary romance. And I’m not insensitive to the OTT tropes. I’ve written a captivity serial. It was a lot of fun. The hero took more than a kiss, but he paid for it dearly and the heroine was never unaware of what was happening to her even when she had limited options.

And there are so many other ways to write a dominant hero, even one who is disrespectful of boundaries, without it being at the expense of a heroine who doesn’t understand what he’s done and why she should run a country mile from him.

We don’t need unexamined misogyny as a plot point. It’s a creative hack. It’s a piss poor show, and we can do better.

We can write heroes with the potential to be genuinely heroic, not simply endured, corrected, or alternatively brought to heel. We can write heroines who aren’t hapless victims without support networks.

I don’t mean, never write the gaspy, tricky, screwed up human relationships stuff, where people do dumb, crazy, desperate things. I love that stuff. Write all of that, but do it knowingly and with a sense of control over the narrative.

Don’t write assault and call it by another name and have it stand in for romance. Don’t let it slip through because you didn’t think it mattered. Don’t be a publisher and ask for it.

Don’t do that and then wonder why it happens in real life.

It matters.

Romance books aren’t real life but contemporary stories aim to echo it. Readers are smart enough to know the difference, but it’s confusing when we consistently throw writerly tricks at them, word smoke screens to convince them otherwise. We write assault, but we tell the reader it’s fine because the heroine liked it.

It’s not fine. It’s really not.

So well is the concept of misogyny internalised, and in this instance, romanticised, I’m worried some writers and publishers aren’t aware they’re promoting it, because why would we knowingly choose to?

Time to become aware. Time to do better. As an author: to write nuanced contemporary heroes and heroines and continue to enrich the genre without resorting to misogyny as a plot point. As a reader: to call it out, return the book, because it’s not contemporary genre romance, even if it does end happily; you’ve been sold a sad imitation.

Until we collectively as publishers, writers and readers say enough of the unexamined misogyny plot point, publishing will use it as an excuse to keep villainous heroes, hapless heroines, and abuse disguised as magical moments alive.

And we’re all better than that.

* No, I’m not telling you the book title. The book itself isn’t important, it was simply the needle under my nail. It’s a bigger issue than one book, and I have no intention of singling out one publisher or author. This is not a witch hunt, it’s a call to action.

 

47 comments

  1. So interesting. Many women who grew up when I did were told to accept this, similar to subway groping and catcalls. Not accepting most male displays of power was considered rude; we were labeled ball-busters or bitches for not just taking it.

    It’s right up there with apologizing and deferring to males in decision-making. THanks for writing it.

    • In fact not accepting it was a career limiting move, and in some workplaces still would be. Too sad, ins’t it. I don’t want to read about it in my off hours.

  2. Kat says:

    Authors create culture.

    There’s a lot to unpack in this essay, but this sentence really stuck out for me. Do authors create culture? Or do they reflect it?

    • I probably have a biased view having worked in an industry that created the news of the day, I think authors can and do create culture – but of course they reflect it too, that’s half the fun.

    • Kaetrin says:

      If authors reflect culture, don’t they also, at the same time, either overtly or impliedly, state their opinion of it? Like, “this is the culture and it’s wrong and here’s why/how” or “this is the culture and because I’m being silent about what I think, I’m implicitly agreeing with its norms”, for example? (Not that those are the only two things which could be said of course.)

      • Maybe. It’s not necessarily easy to read the author’s own opinion from their characters actions. I might write a joyous, righteous serial killer, doesn’t mean as the author I believe serial killing is a good thing.

  3. Aislinn says:

    YES! Thank you for writing this. I’ve been thinking this for years, and the genre seems to be going even further in the wrong direction rather than fixing itself.

    • It’s been suggested to me that this is a Fifty Shades effect plus sheer commercialism on behalf of publishers. They have to sell what sells and the whole thing is tricky to untangle.

  4. Sami lee says:

    its not only ‘some’ readers who accept this, it is many. You hit the nail on the head when you called the misogyny internalised. It’s so ingrained in our society that many women don’t see it for what it is. I’m in my 40s (not that old dare I say?) and as a young girl I was taught that boys teased you because they liked you, and you were supposed to always be polite even if a guy was being a jerk. Don’t be a prick tease by accepting a drink if you weren’t willing to put out. I was told that wolf whistles were flattering, so I couldn’t comprehend why things like that made me uncomfortable. I figured I was weird. And while we’ve come a long way, a lot of those same lessons are being taught, either consciously or not, to our young girls because a lot of women haven’t worked out how messed up those lessons were). the idea that a guy can get away with certain behaviours because he’s hot still prevails (if Christian Grey lived in a dingy apartment and cleaned toilets for a living, Ana would have gotten a restraining order, pronto. And this was a book read and enjoyed, deemed romantic by millions of women. So no it’s not only ‘some’ readers) mysoginy is so pervasive in our culture that it’s bound to be reflected in the novels that culture produces.

    What makes me really sad is that romance is written largely by women for women. If we can’t lead by example how can we ever expect men in society to get it? Great post. I hope it makes a few people more aware of these mysoginistic plot points when they happen, and eventually makes readers demand something different.

    • Kat says:

      It’s a dilemma for me as a reader. Sometimes I just want to be swept up by the fantasy, even if it reinforces sexist behaviour. And sometimes I do the same thing you did — swap the h/h for unattractive people with no money and no prospects — and I usually end up watching TV instead. lol

      • Sami lee says:

        I agree I like to be swept up in fantasy sometimes too. I guess my question is: why is having a hero save us such a popular fantasy? Why are so many women married to the dream of being swept away by a Christian Grey, when they could fantasise about BEING him. Or a female version of him. Given the choice I’d rather be a Billionaire than be beholden to one.

      • Must be something tonal in that I suspect, something of the context or characters that allows us to go – yeah, I can do this in some texts and yet not in other. I gave Edward sparkle vampire a pass on creepy, because vampire. But when he’s suited up in a contemporary setting it’s, oh , please no.

      • Kat says:

        Why are so many women married to the dream of being swept away by a Christian Grey, when they could fantasise about BEING him.

        Honestly? Because I’m lazy. That’s actually true. lol But yeah, we need more powerful heroines in romance, where her power isn’t the actual issue. That would be so refreshing.

      • Kat says:

        Heroine who inherited her billions and is suffering from ennui — that fantasy I could get behind. :D

    • Yes, Sami, yes. We can still have heroes who act dominantly, but it would be better if they weren’t inappropriately aggressive and if heroines recognised they had more choices.

      • What – lazy? What rom billionaire actually does a 9-5? More women start small businesses than men. We’re not afraid of the work. Bring on the heroine billionaires. There are a few out there, but they don’t have any street cred.

      • Kaetrin says:

        I just meant that I can see the attraction. To have all the stuff but do none of the work? I’d be all over that.

  5. Can I point out the irony that it was most likely a woman who wrote that illustrative scenario above? There’s no patriarch with a gun at a woman’s head making her write those scenarios.

    So if there is misogyny at play in romance novels, it is one written, fostered and perpetuated by women for women.

    And please don’t get me started on Sheik stories.

      • It’s because some women enjoy reading it. Where there is an audience, there is a market.

        It’s fantasy and women can tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

        So the question is – it is okay for women to fantasize about, ahem – liberties taken about their person?

        The scenario you describe not my cup of tea. I prefer romances where the hero and heroine each overcome their personal demons and make the big emotional leap of faith to trust one another with their hearts and grow in love and mutual respect together.

        As a writer I have to buy the scenario myself before I can write it. If some random guy in the street kissed me, he’d be slapped in the face regardless of how good looking he was. I couldn’t write a heroine who was okay with that and I most definitely couldn’t write a hero who would do that.

        But where do we draw the line in ‘othering’ women’s fantasties or ‘book shaming’ their choice of reading?

      • Maya says:

        I’ve been wondering this myself. I’m not a writer, I read and have friends who write.

        Is it true that Harlequin’s biggest seller is their Presents line? That line is very much a throwback to the attitudes in the books I would read as a kid in the 70s and early 80s. Virgin heroines who are down on their luck and a rich arrogant male swoops in to save the day.

        This current billionaire hero trope has long outlasted its welcome for me at least.

        The excerpt example I think is one of the more extreme examples but I also think there are microagressions through out.

        Too often the women are the PA instead of a fellow CEO or a fellow scientist, doctor, etc.

        Too often the hero still has some kind of economical advantage of the heroine.

        Don’t get me started on the sub genre of second chance romances which has the guy go out and sow his wild oats while the woman sits at home never dating again, usually with his secret baby, only to have sex again when he returns.

        I think the industry has come a long way but as most everything in life, is a work in progress.

    • Brie says:

      Internalized misogyny is a thing. Women don’t exist in a cultural vacuum. We’re part of a misogynist, patriarchal culture that marginalizes us and imposes those views on us. So no, it’s not ironic at all.

      • Brie says:

        That’s not to say it shouldn’t go unchallenged by both narrative and reader, just let’s keep the cultural context in mind.

      • Kat says:

        I think internalised misogyny plays a huge part in the problematic themes and scenarios that we see in romance. But I also feel that there’s scope in the romance novel to work through this and subvert it (see Kelly Faircloth’s Jezebel article, or Jodi McAlister’s comments in our podcast ep4) and that most romances, in fact, attempt to do so (with varying degrees of success).

        What bothers me most in the opening scene that Ainslie described is that we’re still perpetuating the images of beauty that are prescribed for us as women, and measuring ourselves by how desirable we are to men.

      • I don’t believe internalized misogyny is a thing. That is to suggest that women are too stupid to know their own mind and I disagree vehemently. People make conscious choices that we may or disagree with but that doesn’t mean they’re ‘internalized’ anything.

      • Kaetrin says:

        I don’t think that follows at all. Girls are socialised to accept certain norms which are in themselves sexist. We internalise it and think it’s okay. It’s nothing to do with girls being stupid. It’s about the culture we live in. We don’t exist in a vacuum. We are influenced by what goes on around us.

        It is only by women pointing out the inherent misogyny of various things that I grew up thinking were okay and “just the way things were” I even learned to notice it and challenge those norms. And I’m certainly not stupid.

      • Kat says:

        I don’t believe internalized misogyny is a thing. That is to suggest that women are too stupid to know their own mind and I disagree vehemently. People make conscious choices that we may or disagree with but that doesn’t mean they’re ‘internalized’ anything.

        I think there are a lot of internalised things, to be honest. I think part of what makes romance fiction so transgressive for many women is that our books often shed light on these. The whole point of internalised anything is that we’re doing it subconsciously. Once we recognise what we’ve internalised, then we can make conscious choices.

        I think this is linked to what Ainslie is questioning in her post. My view is that sexual assault as romantic might be tied to trying to examine how, as women, we deal with something like that. If the author leaves the subconscious misogynistic assumptions unquestioned — that a man’s desire is the measure of a woman’s attractiveness/value; that a woman will always welcome a handsome/rich man’s attentions; that a man has the right to express his desire for a woman without requiring her consent — then it does a disservice to readers. Of course, we can still enjoy it, much like we can enjoy a lot of books that aren’t well written but evoke an emotional response, but it makes the text a lot less nuanced as a product of culture.

        I think this sentence is key to Ainslie’s critique:

        The hero took more than a kiss, but he paid for it dearly and the heroine was never unaware of what was happening to her even when she had limited options.

        (As an aside, I do love that struggle for equal power in romance.)

    • Brie says:

      I don’t believe internalized misogyny is a thing. That is to suggest that women are too stupid to know their own mind and I disagree vehemently. People make conscious choices that we may or disagree with but that doesn’t mean they’re ‘internalized’ anything.

      No, that says women make conscious choices that are informed by culture and society. That doesn’t mean they don’t know their own minds or that they are helpless or whatever you’re reading into it. In fact, as Kat said, romance can be used to cope, work through, and subvert hurtful and toxic cultural norms by including them in the stories.

  6. Shirley Wine says:

    I really agree with Kat’s comments.
    There is such a lot covered in this blog, especially her question: Do authors create culture? Or do they reflect it?
    Personally, I would like to think that we, as authors, reflect culture and have a duty to tell stories that reflect acceptable and accepted social standards.
    In recent times the world-wide awareness of sexual assault has been highlighted by the criminal trial of Rolf Harris and the antics of Jimmy Saville.
    Any thinking author must be aware that inappropriate sexual touching is a criminal act.

    Every day there is an article somewhere on the net about romance authors decrying the fact that the romance genre is not given the respect it deserves, may I suggest that to garner respect authors first need to respect the genre by avoiding the type of character action that sparked this post.

    I have similar reservations about gratuitous sex between characters that have just met and are strangers … I interact with a lot of readers and authors on a daily basis via social media, and I have heard time and again that for a romance to be romantic, the right for characters to have sex in a book has to be earned …

    • Kaetrin says:

      Some of my favourite romances are ones where the h/h hook up shortly after they meet. As long as the sex happens between consenting adults, it’s all good. I don’t think sex has to be earned and I don’t think sex *has* to be romantic. I’d find a narrative which posited that gratuitous sex was “bad” very moralistic and nope out of it straight away. That said, I do want sex scenes in any novel to further the plot. But I don’t mind how many there are or when they occur in a book as long as they mark/create change in the story/characters.

      • Shirley Wine says:

        God forbid that I come across as moralistic.
        I enjoy a good sexy romp as much as the next reader, but for me the sex has to grow out of the story and further the plot or the characters growth in some way. And I’ve read several books where new meet sex has been used as a pivotal plot point and has sparked a really great story.

        This was the point I was trying to get across.
        I have read far too many books (and usually tossed them), especially after they Grey phenomenon, where sex is inserted into the story for no other reason that I can discern other than the author thinks it’s time to add a sex scene.
        This is what I meant by authors needing to respect the genre.

  7. Joanna says:

    Interesting point of view, and you are certainly entitled to have it and share it, but please stop telling us what we should or shouldn’t read. Just because we read something doesn’t mean that is what we want to happen in real life, and the majority of us can tell the difference.

    • Kat says:

      To be fair, I think Ainslie was addressing writers rather than readers in her post.

      But your point is taken: there’s a layer of complexity to this issue, which has to do with reader fantasy and how that plays into how we interpret the what authors write. I think it’s an interesting thing to examine: how much of the romantic fantasy reflects the misogyny that women experience in their daily lives? And how does romance fiction subvert, support, question, celebrate or otherwise handle those scenarios?

      • Kat says:

        Plus, you know, tentacles and double peens. They have a place in romance fiction but not in real life. :D

    • Kaetrin says:

      I think it’s possible to criticize content without criticizing the readers of that content. It’s okay to like problematic things (and, problematic isn’t always a universal measure) but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about why they’re problematic.

  8. Kaetrin says:

    Maybe. It’s not necessarily easy to read the author’s own opinion from their characters actions. I might write a joyous, righteous serial killer, doesn’t mean as the author I believe serial killing is a good thing.

    @Ainslie I’m unconvinced. I read a book recently where all three main characters repeatedly said gender essentialist things about how girls are good at things like emotions and hugging and men were supposed to be manly men and therefore hugging was not for them. If it was one character only, I could think it was that character talking and not that it might reflect the views of the author. But when it’s all the characters? When there is no challenge to those statements in the narrative? I’m left thinking that the author’s choice not to push back against stereotypes is impliedly indicating she agrees with it (or, at the least, doesn’t see those stereotypes as problematic/worth challenging).

    • That’s possible. It’s also possible the author is writing what they think the market wants to hear ie will be successful. We got a lot of Fifty copies that way.

      • Kaetrin says:

        I guess I’m of the view that the author’s worldview does tend to bleed into the narrative but I suppose it could have been written that way for a reason not directly to do with what the author actually thinks. Man, this is complicated!

  9. Madeline Ash says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post since I read it yesterday, and wonder whether this issue extends to a writer’s support circles. I believe many authors have vivid, multi-layered, well-motivated characters and plots in their heads – but don’t always successfully transfer this to the page. As an author, I feel we’re often too close to the story to realise that we’ve only written in the bricks, not the magic mortar that connects everything together (bad analogy, but you get what I mean). In this, we rely on our critique groups/beta readers to tell us when something is amiss.

    Just last month, a critique partner admitted to hating my hero in a certain chapter. I was taken-aback, baffled that he could come across so completely differently than I had intended. Evidently, I’d missed a whole lot of mortar. Thank god she said something to me, so I could add dialogue/thoughts to mend this bad impression. Also thank god she knows that I wouldn’t intentionally write a hero who disregards the heroine’s situation and then fires her (because in my head, he did neither of these things. Thanks ambiguity).

    So I guess that saying it’s up to authors to create positive culture also means that it’s up to an author’s reading team to point out when things aren’t right. And this might mean openly saying to said critique buddies, “I don’t want my hero to act like an arsehole. If he does, it’s a mistake and I need you to point it out. Please don’t believe that I intended him this way.”

    Note: I’m not excusing misogyny as “accidental” in romance. There’s a lot to be concerned about. But I think there are definitely instances of it that might not have occurred if the author had been alerted before publication. I also don’t think these accidental instances are a reflection of how deeply inculcated misogyny is in our society – because these moments/scenes were literally were not intended in that way!

  10. It is complicated – but better out than in!

    Just to further complicate, I tested the assumptions I was making with the specific passage and a couple of folk simply didn’t see a problem with it. Considered it acceptable in romance, because of the dominance fantasy. A couple were as concerned as I was. I figure its time to give that fantasy some nuance at least if not update it entirely.

  11. Anne says:

    Yay!!! So damn glad you wrote this, and said it better than I could have. I strongly suspect one of the reasons I’ve fallen into reading mainly M/M in romance these days is because I’m so incredibly tired of M/F sexism. Which includes misogyny but also all that helpless, little female stuff including the guy teaching the girl about sex, the man being much wealthier/more powerful, etc.

What do you think?

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