Wed
Jun 1 2011 5:51pm

Everything Old Is New Again: Reading Romance Novels are the Female Equivalent of Porn?

Bada Bing sign

When Megan tweeted about a piece on the website for a Utah television station equating romance with porn, I thought to myself, “Here we go again.” So much of what was written in the article harkened back to the Puzzled and Puzzled and Confused broohaha that attracted Salon.com to AAR more than a decade ago. That particular blowup came as a result of a Write Byte by Robin Schone, who scandalized the romance community by having her heroine...masturbate. Seems quaint in 2011, no? Well, it wasn’t in 1999.

Something I failed to address back in the day that comes immediately to mind where this new controversy is concerned is this: The analogy of “porn is to men what romance is to women” fails, and fails utterly. Why? Because porn sexually objectifies women and their bodies purely on the physical level —who, after all, watches or reads porn for the story? Romance novels, on the other hand, provide women with fantasies based on men in their entirety. Yes, both work on a fantasy level, which is why a man visiting a strip joint can be deluded into thinking the stripper giving him a lap dance is totally into him. He doesn’t get to know her as a person while she’s grinding on him any more than male porn performers do much else beside giving the women the bada-bing in every which way. Contrast that with a woman reading a romance novel...and, btw, most of the romance readers I know have long-term, committed, and ahem, sexually satisfying marriages/relationships...sure there’s sex, but readers get to know a romance novel’s hero, warts and all, throughout the book. Getting to know the hero provides an emotional component to the sex, which is generally associated with falling in love or staying in love.

This, of course, is part of the argument made against the reading of romance novels in some corners, which goes something like this: Real men cannot possibly live up to the fantasy of a romance novel hero, which engages a woman’s emotions, so women begin to get a warped idea of what real men are like. Additionally, we supposedly get the same high from this emotional connection as men do from the visual fantasy of naked women doing it. Again, I fail to see how the compulsion to watch women with fake boobs having sex can possibly be the same as reading about a couple growing into a committed relationship. Will Robinson, something does not compute.

That this particular piece comes from a television station in Utah raises red flags all over the place. A good friend of mine, raised in the Mormon church, left it because she felt it demeaned women in general, and because she had to hide the fact that she read romance. And when the original controversy arose at AAR, the religious leanings of those most vocal in their dismissal of romance played a tremendous part. Interestingly enough, it used to be that women were told not to read romance because it was sexist. Over the last dozen years or so, though, we’ve been told not to read romance because we’ll end up hiding books under the mattress while setting our husbands aside in favor of pocket rabbits while fantasizing about the ideal romance novel hero. Many of my favorite  romance novels empower women, and that may be the real reason we’re warned against them.

(For more about this incendiary article, check out The New Yorker, SmartBitches, DearAuthor, and VacuousMinx, among others.)


 

Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.

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15 comments
fsbuchler
1. fsbuchler
I love Robin Schone's books. She dares to write about sexuality in ways that the majority of authors of this genre shy away from. That said, I remember a masterbation scene in Connie Brockway's "All Through the Night" and it was well written and fit the senario perfectly.
Carmen Pinzon
2. bungluna
Another day, another moron spouting off about romance. Nothing new under the sun.
Laura K. Curtis
3. LauraKCurtis
And not just another moron, a plagiarizing moron, since that article is basically taken whole hog from a 4 year old opinion piece.
http://www.ajc.com/blogs/content/shared-blogs/ajc/woman/entries/2007/06/27/romance_novels.html
fsbuchler
4. dick
If you are saying that not all romance fiction is pornographic, I can only agree. But if you include all passages in all romance fiction in that disclaimer, I would have to disagree.
Laurie Gold
5. LaurieGold
dick, I don't know that you are getting my point. There are those who say reading romance novels for women is like watching porn for men not because romance is porn, but because of how it affects women's relationships with their husbands/boyfriends. Just as men who watch porn may have an unreal expectation of a real woman's body and/or how she reacts during sex (that whole "gee, that stripper's really into me" mentality), women who read romance, apparently, come to believe that real men should be like romance novel heroes, not just in how they look or perform sexually, but in how they are as men, and as men in relationships with women. Because my husband can't live up to the hero in Book XYZ, it's going to destroy the fabric of our marriage in much the same way as a guy addicted to porn on his laptop.
Carrie Strickler
6. DyslexicSquirrel
I said this on facebook, when I commented on this the other day, and I say it again: I call bullshit.

Do I like the sex in romance novels? Yes. If I was actually in a
relationship, would I read a book over actually having sex? No. No, I
would not. Why? Because that would just be silly.

The fact is that a lot of guys who are addicted to porn do just that--
they will ignore their wifes, girlfriends, friend-with-benfits or
whathaveyou in order to sit glued to a tv or a computer screen and watch complete stangers have sex instead of getting some themselves (unless you count lefty and the bottle of lotion).

I don't have unrealistic veiws on men, no matter how many Disney movies I watched growing up, how many Barbie and Ken dolls I had as a kid or how many romance novels I've read. Point in fact, I'm actually rather jaded from the actual experiences in my life. Romance novels are an escape, like wine and ice cream, but I'm not addicted to either one of those either.
fsbuchler
7. dick
I guess I did miss the point. It's effect of reading you were writing about and not whether romance fiction is or isn't pornographic. Sorry about that. Just an aside, but these posts move rapidly away from front and center, don't they?
Rakisha Kearns-White
8. BrooklynShoeBabe
In defense of men watching porn: not all men who watch porn are addicted to i; prefer jerking off watching it than having sex with a real life woman; and have unrealistic visions of what a woman's body is supposed to look like. My hubby and I have been married for 16 years and he's watched porn throughout our whole relationship, and it's never dampened our intimate relationships. I love reading romances but I never thought for a minute that the heroes in them where supposed to be the standard for real men and that goes as far back as when I read them as a teen. Maybe it is because I watched soap operas with my grandma as a kid, and new it was all pretend. :-)

Okay, for a couple of hours, I did wish my high school boyfriend was more like Dylan in 90210 but that was just for that night.
Laurie Gold
9. LaurieGold
BrooklynShoeBabe, I've no doubt your husband watches porn and isn't addicted to it. My guess is that those who become addicted to it have addictive personalities that manifest with booze, drugs, food, gambling, gaming, or porn, among others. On the other hand, it does seem as though Internet porn is the main reason men surf the web, which is more than a little scary to me.
fsbuchler
10. Saranna DeWylde
I found the article to be ridiculous. It's like saying if you read suspense or horror you're going to start investing in chloroform and a band saw. Yes, I will have urges to be a serial killer because I read about it too much. What? Really? Wurds make my poor gurl head hurt. Can I have a kitten? *rolls eyes*

I started reading the historicals when I was 10. My mother paperclipped the smutty parts so I could skip over them. I started reading them when I was 12.

Now, if we buy into this model that it will give me unreal expectations, then I would have expected to marry the first guy I slept with (snicker), he would have held me captive (yeah, no) and been a pirate. None of those things were forthcoming. And I didn't expect them to be.
Rakisha Kearns-White
11. BrooklynShoeBabe
Not to make light LaurieGold, but I just had a wicked memory of a song from the Broadway show Avenue Q--The Internet Was Made for Porn. lol. I do agree a person with an addictive personality is going to become addicted to romance novels or porn or what have you.
Carrie Strickler
12. DyslexicSquirrel
@BrooklynShoeBabe: I love Avenue Q. The Internet Was Made For Porn is hilarious. I also like Everyone's A Little Racist. I watch the videos on YouTube all the time.
fsbuchler
13. PersonA
Pornography is exactly like romance novels. The problem lies with the way you describe porn. Both maintain themselves in completely ridiculous scenarios. Both porn and romance novels provide the exact same thing, pure escapism, in its most raw, pure form. Both don't demand to much from the viewer and they are certainly removed from reality. Both rely very much (almost solely) on emotional response, easily manipulating emotions with your intellect far removed.
Rakisha Kearns-White
15. BrooklynShoeBabe
Both rely very much (almost solely) on emotional response, easily manipulating emotions with your intellect far removed.

If that's the case, any form of entertainment we engage in to escape reality would qualify as porn. What book, be it Jane Eyre or Harlequin's latest Desire title, is good if it doesn't elicit some kind of emotional response? We wouldn't care about the journey of the characters? The same could also be said about a really good movie. If we weren't some what emotionally invested in the relationship between Humphrey Bogart and INgrid Bergman in Casablanca, would we have really cared about her decision at the end of the movie?

Emotional investment is why we root for Rocky; cry when E.T. goes home; gasp when Darth Vader is revealed to be Luke's father; etc....
fsbuchler
16. truth
No female porn is playgirl, and films like bella loves jenna, janine loves jenna and jenna loves diamonds. Romance novels are a thing in of themselves still it would more akward for a woman to live only on novels and a guy porn. Video games and shows do have romance skits for guy, saddly the thems include he lost his wife. this is romantic motivational plot twist for men. Guy are given the "slay the dragon the girl , male romance.
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