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[personal profile] foreverlasting

I finally finished reading The Prize by Brenda Joyce the other day. For a romance, it's pretty long. Nearly 600 pages. The irony is that they printed it on thinner paper, and so it's not even as thick as your average 300-pager.

The immaturity of both the main characters was irritating, particularly Virginia. I did like the setting, and how they went through a multitude of ups and downs before they got their HEA (not that I'm a huge fan of HEAs, but I digress).

However, one scene truly bothered me, to the point where I nearly stopped reading for good.

"Panic came. He was too big. She was only eighteen. He was her captor. She was afraid and she wasn't ready. What if he didn't love her!
[...]
"Devlin, don't," she began.
But it was simply too late. Crying out, he thrust into her..."

I think the only reason I continued reading from there was the ambiguity of whether or not there it actually was too late. But my first reaction was, "RAPE!" And according to the Yes Means Yes model, it certainly was. In retrospect, there was no enthusiastic yes. There was no communication. Nothing that would indicate actual consent. I really shouldn't have continued reading it. However, since I did, I would like to question two things:
 

1. According to the Smart Bitches, the trend for rape in romance novels has decreased since the 80s to the point of almost non-existence. Apparently, when books do include rape them them, huge shitstorms ravage the web from angry readers and other authors. A prelim search (Google, Amazon, popular romance review blogs) indicate that no one seems to identify the rape in this book AS rape. Some reviewers are quick to point out the characters' relationship as dysfunctional and cliche; as someone currently taking a romantic relationships psych course, I have to agree. There were too many drawbacks to the relationships from the get-go. That they were able to overcome them makes it an interesting story, but it also is highly unrealistic. (I must be one of those heretic younger readers who find outdated ideals offensive.)

The fact that no one is commenting on the rape in this book is disturbing, and I believe that it may point to even greater problems. If the ambiguity of whether there was consent threw even me, then what would the average romance reader think? Probably nothing. This leads me to wonder whether or not rape in romances is actually decreasing, or whether our definition of rape in romance novels isn't changing as quickly as our actual, real-world definition has. She didn't say yes? That's rape. In romances, however, we like our sex scenes as hot and suave as possible--and that may not include securing authentic consent. I have a bad feeling that many romance novels have their heroes forgo asking for a yes and are still banking on the absence of a no in order to create a sex scene that is sexy and not complicated with modern matters such as ensuring all parties are happy and willing.

2. Why was this scene written? It's hazy enough that I could believe that the author didn't intend it as a rape scene. Then where did it come from? The heroine had doubts. She explicitly said no. Do not collect $200, do not pass go. But the hero both ignored her request (y'know, being so caught up in his uncontrollable passion and all) and didn't even pause to check in on how she was doing after the pentration.

I don't understand WHY. What does it do for the story, but to create an atmosphere of conflict? To indicate who is dominate and who is submissive? 

Forgoing the acquisition of consent is not sexy. It is not romantic. It is violence, and no matter how many layers of sugar you coat it, it will always be violence.

Date: 2009-07-19 05:53 am (UTC)
yasaman: picture of jasmine flower, with text yasaman (Default)
From: [personal profile] yasaman
I feel like issues of consent are handled far better in (good) fan fiction, probably because there' s a (mostly) shared consensus about the roles of dubious consent and non consensual sex. In fiction like romance novels, I feel like the author and I have vastly different ideas of what constitutes consensual sex, or like I'm expected to find a skeevy sex scene satisfying or acceptable. But in fan fiction, the discourse and culture combine to specify writing that's for an audience that finds a particular scenario or trope kinky and likes reading about it; basically, there's an implicit understanding that a story with a scene with less than enthusiastic consent is exploring issues of consent or is relying on dubious consent as a kink. The focus is on the sex, and how it turns you on, or in more plotty stories, the focus is on how it affects the characters. In romance novels, it does not read the same way at all to me, because such scenes of dubious or nonexistent consent do nothing to further character development, and usually aren't even sexy or titillating.

Of course, fan fiction (nearly always) warns for things like rape or dubious consent, and frequently, the dubious consent is occurring because both parties are impaired (aliens make them do it! sex pollen! sexy times spell! etc). Most of the reason I rarely read romance novels is that there's no warning system, no real way to tell if a novel is going to actually offend me, no way to ensure I'll actually enjoy reading it as opposed to getting angry and frustrated, and I can instead get a guaranteed enjoyment romance experience by reading well-written fan fiction.

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