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 (I must be one of those heretic younger readers who find outdated ideals offensive.)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.
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.