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Monday, July 11, 2011

How Romance Novels screw women up

"Television has done much for psychiatry by spreading information about it, as well as contributing to the need for it." - Alfred Hitchcock

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Mills and Boon 'cause marital breakdown'

"With their chiselled menfolk and swooning heroines, Mills & Boon novels are a guilty pleasure.

They are also a cause of marital breakdown, adulterous affairs and unwanted pregnancies, according to a warning published by the British Medical Journal.

Far from being a slice of innocent escapism for millions of female readers, romantic novels are a danger to relationships and sexual health. That is the verdict of an article in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, which said women struggle to distinguish between romantic fiction and real life.

Susan Quilliam, a relationship psychologist and author of the article, said that a "huge number" of problems dealt with in family planning clinics have their roots in romance novels.

"What we see in our consulting rooms is more likely to be informed by Mills & Boon than by the Family Planning Association," she said, claiming that the values of romantic fiction "run totally counter to the [messages] we try to promote".

"We warn of the stresses of pregnancy and child-rearing, and we discourage relentless baby-making as proof of a relationship's strength. Above all, we teach that sex may be wonderful and relationships loving, but neither are ever perfect and idealising them is the short way to heartbreak. But are our lessons falling on deaf ears when compared to the values of the Regency heroine gazing adoringly across the Assembly Rooms to catch a glimpse of her man?

"When it comes to romantic fiction, the clue's in the name; the genre is fiction not fact, and while romance may be the wonderful foundation for a novel, it's not in itself a sufficiently strong foundation for running a lifelong relationship. But I do wonder how many of our clients truly realise that."

Women who read romance novels can "suspend rationality" in favour of romanticism, Miss Quilliam said, including "not using protection with a new man because she wants to be swept up by the moment as a heroine would" or being persuaded to give up contraception a few months into a relationship.

"It might mean terminating a pregnancy (or continuing with one) against all her moral codes because that same man asks her to... or judging that if romance has died then so has love, and that rather than working at her relationship she should be hitching her star to a new romance."

Living the life of a romantic heroine can also have serious sexual health implications, Miss Quilliam said. "To be blunt, we [sexual health professionals] like condoms - for protection and for contraception - and they don't."

Even though modern Mills & Boon heroines have jobs and the heroes can be sensitive, the books still contain "a deep strand of escapism, perfectionism and idealisation... clearly these messages run totally counter to those we try to promote".

Miss Quilliam's article was published by the BMJ on behalf of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

A Mills & Boon spokesman said: "At Mills & Boon, we publish romantic fiction, not sexual health manuals. Our books reflect rather than instruct real life situations and, while many of our authors feature condoms in their sex scenes, as with real life, there are occasions when condoms aren't used.

"Romantic fiction is about escaping from everyday life, and is not a guide to reality, and our readers are intelligent enough to understand the difference."

Mills & Boon was founded in 1908 and sells 130 million titles worldwide each year. They have been translated into 26 languages, are sold in 109 countries and one is bought every four seconds."


Are Feminism and Romance Novels Mutually Exclusive? - "I don't know how you can read many romances today as anything but feminist"


"Romance novels do not leap off the shelf and assault men and women. Men and women could, in theory, walk safely past whole warehouses full of it, quietly resting in its jackets. It is what happens through its use that is the problem... Romance novel consumers are not consuming an idea any more than eating a load of bread is consuming the ideas on its wrapper or the ideas in its recipe... Romance novels do not engage the conscious mind in the chosen way the model of 'content,' in terms of which it is largely defended, envisions and requires. In the words of Judge Easterbrook, describing this dynamic, romance novels 'do not persuade people so much as change them'...

Sooner or later, in one way or another, the consumers want to live out the romance novels further in three dimensions. Sooner or later, in one way or another, they do. It makes them want to; when they believe they can, when they feel they can get away with it, they do... As romance novel consumers, teachers may become epistemically incapable of seeing students as off-limits and unconsciously teach about statutory rape from the viewpoint of the accused. Doctors may molest anesthetized women, enjoy watching and inflicting pain during childbirth, and use romance novels to teach sex education in medical school. Some consumers write on bathroom walls. Some undoubtedly write judicial opinions.

Some romance novel consumers presumably serve on juries, sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, answer police calls reporting domestic violence, edit media accounts of child sexual abuse, and produce mainstream films. Some make husbands and sons and clients and students look at it and do what is in it. Some sexually harass their employers, employees and clients, get date raped and then later blame the men when their expectations are not met, encourages nuns to run away from convents, become mistresses and prostitutes and accustoms them to bad editing -- with romance novels present and integral to the acts. Some seduce men in sororities and at rest stops on highways, holding up the romance novels and reading them aloud and mimicking them. Some try to turn themselves into vampires -- using and writing romance novels is inextricable to these acts -- either freelancing or in vampire packs known variously as vampire clubs, religious cults, or fan fiction rings. Some write romance novels for their own use and as a sex act in itself, or in order to make money and support the group's habit."

--- More Than Words
[Ed: This is a riff on Only Words by Catharine MacKinnon]


But then, what's sauce for the gander is also sauce for the goose.
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