Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Links: Accuracy in Historical M/M Romance; PopCAANZ

Sarah's blogging at Dear Author today, on the topic of historical accuracy in m/m historical romance:
Why bother writing historical m/m romance if you’re not going to show how far we’ve come as a society to accept two people–any two people–who love each other? Why bother writing historical m/m romance if you’re going to ignore how HUGE and BRAVE a mental and emotional leap it was for GLBT people to fall in love and to pursue that love, despite everything society told them about how wrong their actions were, but more importantly, how impossible their emotions were.

Absolute historical accuracy–whether we’re talking about things or thinking–is impossible, impractical, and even undesirable, because we are always writing and reading from our own historical moment. But if historical fiction is written to reflect our own feelings about a contentious issue at a potentially safer distance, [...] then surely the very fact that the way we think about homosexuality has changed so much over the past 200 years is precisely the point? Historical accuracy about precisely when someone could consider themselves to BE “a homosexual” (rather than just doing homosexual things) is therefore a vitally important political act. “Imagine how homosexuality will be viewed in another 100 years,” historically accurate novels say, “if we have come so far in the past 100 years.” More importantly, to have historical m/m romance claim the same narrative as m/f romance, a narrative that is inextricably intertwined in the political, social, and civil rights of the individual to choose their own destiny, makes writing m/m romance a political act, and writing accurate m/m historical romance vitally important.
You can read the whole post and comment over at Dear Author. [Edited to add: Sarah's followed this up by interviewing a number of authors of historical m/m romance.]

PopCAANZ 2010, the first Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand conference, is due to start shortly. More details are available here. There will be a session on romance on Thursday:
Special Romance Roundtable
Not Just Happy Endings: today’s romantic fiction and who’s reading it
Jennifer Brassel , Kitty Buckholtz, Paula Roe, Kat Mayo

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Activism and the Romance Genre

One of the panels at the Mid-Atlantic Popular/American Culture Association's Annual Conference will be on "Popular Culture and Activism":
Popular Culture and Activism welcomes papers or presentations that explore the sphere of activism in the production of popular culture. Whether historical or contemporary, investigations into the role of activism in shaping popular culture or the role of popular culture in shaping activism are encouraged. Possible topics might include the way individual activists or groups have utilized popular media or sought to influence popular media. Other issues to consider are: how have activist groups been portrayed in popular culture? What forms of activism are being employed on college campuses or in local communities, and how does this tie in with or shape popular culture? What are the political or ideological implications of popular culture as reflected in television shows, films, music videos, the internet, magazines, fiction, etc.
Submissions are due by the 30th of June.

Just recently it was mentioned at Dear Author that
Donna Hayes, Harlequin’s Publisher and CEO is the recipient of this year’s “W Award” presented by the YWCA of the City of New York. Ms. Hayes is being recognized not only as a business woman at the top of her field, but also for supporting the YWCA’s mission to empower women and eliminate discrimination through the books she and Harlequin Enterprises publishes each month.
According to Shelf Awareness
Created in 2005, the YWCA-NYC’s W Award honors women and companies that embody the YW’s mission to empower women and eliminate racism. [...] In a statement, Anne Winters-Bishop, the YWCA-NYC’s CEO noted that Hayes is the first woman to run the company since Harlequin was founded in Winnipeg in 1949, and added: "Above all, [Hayes] stresses Harlequin’s mission to entertain, enrich and inspire women."
Just a few of the other instances of romance-related activism I can think of are
  • the Romance Writers of America's
  • "Readers for Life" Literacy Autographing [which] has become one of the most popular events at RWA's annual conference. More than 500 romance authors participate in this two-hour autographing event, and each year we raise thousands of dollars, which are donated to ProLiteracy Worldwide. Since 1990, RWA has donated more than $600,000 to literacy charities.
  • Brenda Novak's annual online auction in aid of research into diabetes
  • Suzanne Brockmann's decision
  • to continue Jules and Robin's story and do what I'd originally intended -- make them the hero and hero of a mainstream romance novel. I also decided to turn the concept of the holiday romance novella onto its ear by writing a story centered around Jules and Robin's wedding, set in Boston.

    And I decided that every single penny I earned from this book, from now until the end of time -- all advances, royalties, subrights, the whole enchilada -- would go to MassEquality, an organization whose sole purpose is to preserve equal marriage rights in Massachusetts . Because enough is enough.
  • and Nora Roberts' offer to
  • match up to $5,000.00 USD any donations made by Smart Bitches readers to Defenders of Wildlife, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that works to preserve not just ferrets but endangered wildlife across the US, most particularly that species much loved by paranormal romance writers: the wolf.
Romance protagonists may also engage in activism: Sir Waldo Hawkridge in Georgette Heyer's The Nonesuch supports orphanages; Rita B. Dandridge has explored "black women's activism in African American women's popular historical romances" (1); the protagonists of Karin Kallmaker's In Every Port march in response to the assassination of Harvey Milk; and Margaret Ann Jensen has noted that in
Season of Storm by Alexandra Sellars [sic], a 1983 SuperRomance [...] The hero [...] is a Native who is fighting the Canadian government and a logging company for the restoration of his tribe's land rights. The book refers to ruthless corporate policies that place profits before people, to the short life span of Native people, to the police state mentality of the RCMP and to the pervasive racism that even the heroine is forced to acknowledge is part of her and her society. (81-82)
While I wouldn't want to overstate the amount of activism that is undertaken by romance authors and readers, or which occurs in romances, the above examples demonstrate that despite being considered "escapist" fiction, romance protagonists, their authors, and readers are not infrequently involved in far from escapist activities.
  • Dandridge, Rita B. Black Women's Activism: Reading African American Women's Historical Romances. African American Literature and Culture 5. New York: Peter Lang, 2004. [Two of the novels analysed in that book, Beverly Jenkins’ Indigo (1996) and Shirley Hailstock’s Clara’s Promise (1995), are the subject of an earlier essay, "African American Women's Historical Romances: Race and Gender Revisited," which can be found on pages 42-56 of The 2000-2003 Proceedings of the SW/Texas PCA/ACA Conference. This essay is available online.]
  • Jensen, Margaret Ann. Love's $weet Return: The Harlequin Story. Toronto, Ontario: The Women's Educational Press, 1984. [Excerpts available via Google Books.]

Friday, June 18, 2010

More Calls for Papers: Vampires, Erotic Adaptations and Serial Narratives

Vegetarians, VILFs and Fang-Bangers: Modern Vampire Romance in print and on screen, 24 November 2010

De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Vampires have had a long and complex relationship with human beings and have been threatening and attracting us through folklore, literature, film and television for centuries. But now they walk among us, seeking to integrate themselves into our culture, to be our business partners, friends and lovers. Why do we now prefer our vampires with a sensitive nature or with their ruthlessness focused on business deals? How does this change affect the relationship between both species and genders? This one-day conference seeks to understand and criticise the phenomenal popularity of what is sometimes termed Dark Romance. Papers are sought on authors such as Stephanie Meyers, Charlene Harris, and Laurell K. Hamilton, the adaptation of Dark Romance books for both film and TV and a general consideration of the change in our relationship with the vampire.

Deadline for abstracts: 8th September 2010. More details.


Erotic Adaptations One-Day Symposium (26 January 2011)

Centre for Adaptations, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Proposals are invited for papers on erotic and sexually explicit adaptations and appropriations, from film versions of erotic classics such as Justine, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Story of O to contemporary slash fiction and porn parodies. The focus will be on screen adaptations but papers are welcome on graphic novels, novelisations, video mashups, photography, manga, book illustrations, radio and video games.

Deadline for proposals: 1 November 2010. More details.


Serial Narratives and Temporality

NeMLA Convention 2011, Rutgers University

The serial principle has a important influence on contemporary culture: novels, movies and television shows, comic books, video games, etc. are published in series. Consequently, this principle largely informs contemporary ways of conceiving, producing and making sense of narratives in general. This panel wants to locate the importance of seriality within our present-day mediascape.
It is interesting to see that, while individual studies of mostly 19th-century serial novels and 20th-century television shows are available in large numbers, the phenomenon of serialization has rarely been acknowledged as a medial practice that informs contemporary culture as a whole. [...]

In order to create a comprehensive theoretical framework for the various serial practices, this panel will focus on the concept of temporality. Many series experiment with narrative time. The individual episodes/installments/posts allow for the most diverse temporal structures: continuous, constellatory, reverse or cyclical. Time stretching, acceleration as well as ‘real time’ are integral parts of recent narrative experiments. What can we learn from these experiments about the ways in which we conceive time and about how these notions are expressed in narrative?

Deadline for abstracts: September 30, 2010. More details.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Covers and Coverings

A while ago I posted about a cover I was sure had been inspired by one of Edmund Blair Leighton's paintings. This time I'm not so sure, but I have the impression that Blair Leighton must be quite popular with Harlequin/ Mills & Boon's art department, because they chose his A Favour (left) for the cover of one of their reissues (right).

Take a look at the cover of Barbara Dunlop's The Billionaire's Bidding, below. Do the lighting, the angle of the bride's head, her hair-style, the white objects beside the register, the feather pen, or the position of the groom remind you of anything?
What about this?

It's Blair Leighton's Signing the Register.

A recent call for papers on Literary Dress: Fashioning the Fictional Self states that
Fashion, fabricate, artifice, make-up: all these terms have a double valence. Each term in noun form denotes a prosthetic application of something foreign atop something natural (usually a human body) with the intention of concealing or enhancing the natural item beneath. Each term in verb form, though, carries a connotation of constitution and creation: a sense of literal “becoming,” or even investiture. In some way, these terms gesture towards the ephemeral, frivolous, and the temporary AND towards a sense of ontological making.
The wedding dresses pictured above seem good examples of how an item of dress can communicate to the viewer "a sense of literal 'becoming,'" since the individual wearing it is in the process of being transformed from the single to the married state. It seems, therefore, that clothing can tell the viewer much about the individual. In addition, as Joanne Entwistle has noted,
The social world is a world of dressed bodies. Nakedness is wholly inappropriate in almost all social situations and, even in situations where much naked flesh is exposed (on the beach, at the swimming-pool, even in the bedroom), the bodies that meet there are likely to be adorned, if only by jewellery, or indeed, even perfume. (6)
However, in an anonymous madrigal in Davison's Poetical Rhapsody, 1602, while the poet mentions that his beloved's clothing "doth show her wit" and varies according to the season, he nonetheless finds her unclothed body even more beautiful:
My love in her attire doth show her wit,
It doth so well become her:
For every season she hath dressings fit,
For winter, spring, and summer.
No beauty she doth miss,
When all her robes are on:
But Beauty's self she is
When all her robes are gone. (Carpenter 78)
The last line's reference to the lady's nakedness perhaps provides some subtext when the previous line appears in Georgette Heyer's Venetia (1958). Notice, too, the detailed description of both Lord Damerel's clothing and his body:
Startled, she turned her head, and found that she was being observed by a tall man mounted on a handsome grey horse. He was a stranger, but his voice and his habit proclaimed his condition, and it did not take her more than a very few moments to guess that she must be confronting the Wicked Baron. She regarded him with candid interest, unconsciously affording him an excellent view of her enchanting countenance. His brows rose, and he swung himself out of the saddle, and came towards her, with long, easy strides. She was unacquainted with any men of mode, but although he was dressed like any country gentleman a subtle difference hung about his buckskins and his coat of dandy grey russet. No provincial tailor had fashioned them, and no country beau could have worn them with such careless elegance. He was taller than Venetia had at first supposed, rather loose-limbed, and he bore himself with a faint suggestion of swashbuckling arrogance. As he advanced upon her Venetia perceived that he was dark, his countenance lean and rather swarthy, marked with lines of dissipation. A smile was curling his lips, but Venetia thought she had never seen eyes so cynically bored.
'Well, fair trespasser, you are justly served, aren't you?' he said. 'Stand still!"
She remained obediently motionless while he disentangled her skirt from the brambles. As he straightened himself, he said: 'There you are! But I always exact a forfeit from those who rob me of my blackberries. Let me look at you!'
Before she had recovered from her astonishment at being addressed in such a style he had an arm round her, and with his free hand had pushed back her sunbonnet. In more anger than fright she tried to thrust him away, uttering a furious protest. He paid no heed at all; only his arm tightened round her, something that was not boredom gleamed in his eyes, and he ejaculated: 'But beauty's self she is! ...'
Venetia then found herself being ruthlessly kissed. (31-32)1
It is not only Damerel's clothing which proclaims his status and character, since "no country beau could have worn them with such careless elegance." It is the body inside the clothes which reveals that Damerel is a rake: "he bore himself with a faint suggestion of swashbuckling arrogance," his face is "marked with lines of dissipation" and his eyes are "cynically bored." That it is the body, rather than the clothes, which proclaim the truth about the man is demonstrated by the counter-example of Oswald:
'[...] He is Sir John Denny's son, and the top of his desire is to be mistaken for the Corsair. He combs his hair into wild curls, knots silken handkerchiefs round his neck, and broods over the dark passions in his soul [...] if ever he meets you he will be quite green with jealousy, for you are precisely what he thinks he would like to be - even though you don't study the picturesque in your attire.' (36)
Oswald may dress the part, but he nonetheless fails to give the impression of "A Byronic hero" (36), perhaps because he cannot fabricate the necessary "lines of dissipation," fails to move his body with "swashbuckling arrogance" and does not have "cynically bored" eyes.

Romance heroines, it seems to me, are often remarkably skilled at reading the truth in their heroes' eyes. Sometimes all it takes is a single look and, depending on the circumstances, they can discern cynical boredom, soul-deep anguish, or passionate love. Their bodies are also frequently described as betraying them, or of revealing truths:
'You've no right to decide what I want and what I don't, she said [...]. 'I am the only one who can say that.'
'You are saying it, he whispered. 'Your eyes say it ...' He brushed a fingertip over her lids and lashes and her eyes closed on a reflex. 'Your mouth says it,' Sean said, and lingeringly stroked her lips. 'Your whole body is saying it ...' (Lamb 135)
If romances, both chaste and more explicit, traditionally depict the truth being revealed and spoken wordlessly by bodies, this may explain why, in the context of the genre, scenes of "forced seduction" appear unproblematic to many readers. In real life, verbal consent is required as evidence that any ensuing sexual activity is not sexual assault, or rape. In romances, however, it seems that a heroine's body may apparently speak the truth, giving consent even as the heroine's words seek to deny it. Obviously, this concept is rather troubling if one takes it out of the realm of fiction and considers what its consequences are when applied to real women.

As for the genre itself, if bodies are deemed inherently more truthful than words, could this be at least part of the explanation why the depiction of sexual passion has become more and more central to the novels? Certainly Sylvia Day, co-founder of Passionate Ink, the erotic romance chapter of the Romance Writers of America, has defined this sub-genre as follows:
Erotic Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction. The sex is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development, and couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline.
Maybe, in many modern romances, the truth is naked, even when the novels don't reflect the naked truth about real relationships?2

1 Heyer was, of course, using the word "ejaculated" in the now rather archaic sense of "say[ing] something quickly and suddenly" (AskOxford).

2 I apologise for the somewhat appalling pun. I wanted to include it, though, because the phrase "naked truth" contrasts with the "dressing up" of facts, and both seem to point to the idea that, as the call for papers suggested, fashion and clothing are often considered to involve the "application of something foreign atop something natural [...] with the intention of concealing or enhancing the natural item beneath."

Monday, June 07, 2010

Call for Papers - Popular Genres and Disability Representation

Popular Genres and Disability Representation
A Special Issue of the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Guest Edited by Dr. Ria Cheyne, Centre for Culture & Disability Studies, Faculty of Education, Liverpool Hope University

Romance novel or western, detective serial or horror film, the genre of a text affects how we “read” it, including our understanding of disabled characters. Genre forms may impose constraints upon the creators of texts, such as a particular setting or narrative structure, but they may equally open up new possibilities for representation. In science fiction, for example, new technologies, alien bodies, and alternative environments can challenge understandings of what constitutes disability or impairment. Michael Bérubé speculates that the genre is “as obsessed with disability as it is with space travel and alien contact.” What opportunities (and what constraints) might science fiction present, then, with regards to disability representation? More generally, how do the structures and conventions of genre forms, such as the need for heroine and hero to be united in romance, affect the representation of disability?

This special issue of JLCDS will explore the interplay of genre and disability with a focus on popular genre texts, whether in fiction, film, television, or other media. Submissions might consider representations of disability in particular texts or authors, in specific genres, or in mainstream texts that enter into dialogue with genre; alternatively, they might examine disability theory in relation to genre theory, or the role of fan communities. This list is not exhaustive, so submissions on other topics related to disability and genre are very welcome.

Proposals (300-400 words) should be emailed to the guest editor Ria Cheyne by Monday 5th July 2010. Final submissions will be due by 1st February 2011.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Links: Obituaries, Shakespeare, Ethics, and Psychology

Both Harlequin Mills & Boon author Elizabeth Oldfield and romance cover artist Pino have recently died.


Laurie E. Osborne has written a number of academic articles on Shakespeare and popular romance (they're listed at the Romance Wiki). There is some overlap between the information contained in them and the information which appears on her Romancing the Bard website, but they're not identical. The site explores the uses of Shakespeare and Shakespearean references in popular romance novels:
In my attention to the ways that romance novelists incorporate Shakespearean texts into their generic requirements, I am implicitly agreeing with recent arguments about the significance of romance novel. Critics like Janice Radway and Carol Thurston cite romance's predominantly female authorship and readership, as well as its economic clout in the book industry as some reasons that cultural critics should attend more closely to its generic features and constructed fantasies. Examining the incorporation of the "patriarchal bard" into these popular novels potentially contributes to the ongoing arguments about whether the romance constitutes a reincorporation of dangerous patriarchal ideologies (as most academic critics seems to argue) or feminine empowerment.

Jessica, of Read, React, Review, has put up part 2 of her series of posts on ethical criticism of genre fiction: "This is a sketch of a project I am working on, and of a paper I gave at the Popular Culture Association conference in April."


Marie-Joelle Estrada's recent PhD thesis seeks to evaluate "romantic actions." It's available online via Duke University Library. In it she mentions that
According to the Romantic Construal Model, people’s judgments of whether a particular act is romantic is determined by three factors: the degree to which the action is (a) personalized (personalization), (b) special (specialness), and (c) conveys that the actor values the relationship (conveyed value). Personalization refers to the extent to which an action is tailored specifically to the receiver’s idiosyncratic personality, interests, preferences, and dislikes. Specialness refers to how “out-of-the-ordinary” the act is, the degree to which the act positively deviates from everyday partner actions. Conveyed value is the degree to which receiver perceives that the act originated from or conveys the actor’s high esteem for the receiver and the relationship. According to the model, higher levels of personalization, specialness, and conveyed value increase the likelihood that a particular expression or behavior will be regarded as romantic. (10-11)
It seems to me that romance novels frequently contain romantic actions which are depicted as personalised and special and which convey "the actor’s high esteem for the receiver and the relationship." In a forthcoming essay, "One Ring to Bind Them: Ring Symbolism in the Modern Romance Genre," in New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction. Ed. Sarah S. G. Frantz and Eric M. Selinger, I've analysed some depictions of rings given to heroines by heroes, and one of the things I noticed about them was the frequent personalisation of these gifts. Furthermore, there were also a few contrasting instances of rings which lacked personalisation, and which were given to heroines by men who were not heroes. The correlation between hero status and personalisation of the ring, and between non-hero status and a lack of personalisation of the ring, accords with Estrada's suggestion that
Personalization [...] symbolizes that the actor cares enough to pay attention to details about a partner’s likes and dislikes (thereby suggesting that he or she is important enough to warrant cataloguing the smallest preferences) and knows the partner well enough to make appropriate behavioral choices. Remembering specific preferences also ensures that the behavior is one that the receiver will like, suggesting that the actor ultimately aims to make the receiver happy. (11)
In Cathy Williams's The Italian's One-Night Love-Child the hero's gift-giving to the heroine is very special (it differs from his usual method of gift-giving) and personalised, both of which facts reveal to the reader (if not, at this point, to the hero) that he considers his relationship with her to be of high value:
Cristiano had never, personally, involved himself in the tedious pastime of buying presents for women. Firstly, he didn't have time to waste dithering in shops, peering at items of jewellery and asking sales assistants for help. Secondly, he could think of nothing more soul-destroying than trying to rack his brains and come up with a suitable present for any woman. No, this was where his faithful PA had always come into her own. A woman buying for another woman. Made sense.
For the past six weeks, however, he had ditched the PA in favour of the personal touch and had found the exercise a lot less arduous than he had expected. In fact ... he had discovered that there was a great deal of enjoyment to be had browsing in the shops for things that would put a smile on Bethany's face. [...] Having made the initial mistake of buying her jewellery, which all women presumably loved, incredibly expensive jewellery with super-watt diamonds, only to find his present politely accepted and then equally politely returned, he had revised his ideas. [...]
'I just bet this is the sort of stuff you're accustomed to giving your girlfriends,' she had shrewdly remarked [...].
Cristiano, who had never failed to rise to a challenge, had become imaginative. (136-37)
This passage also reveals another element often present in romantic gestures:
A potential moderator included in the Romantic Construal Model involves the degree to which the personalization or specialness of the action is seen as requiring effort on the actor’s part [...] even though effort is not essential to romantic construal, greater effort on the actor’s behalf serves to increase the intensity of the action’s impact on the receiver because it implies that the actor cared enough to sacrifice time, effort, or other resources for the receiver. (Estrada 14)
Estrada also mentions that
Social supportive behaviors convey affection indirectly through helpful and caring acts. They include behaviors such as giving compliments, offering financial assistance, doing favors, and accomplishing tasks to help the other person. Although supportive behaviors are indirect, if perceived by the receiver as communicating affection, they can “speak louder than words” and convey positive regard more powerfully than verbal or nonverbal expressions. Although socially supportive behaviors are an important way of communicating affection, recipients may construe supportive behaviors as practical rather than affectionate, or they might not even be noticed by the intended recipient. (3)
As regards such gestures in fictional relationships, Jennifer Crusie has offered the following piece of writing advice:
Cut those romantic declarations you’ve been slaving over, the ones that sound long-winded and dorky no matter how hard you try. Go for the action; the telling gesture is infinitely more effective than telling dialogue.
However, presumably this is only likely to be effective for readers if they recognise the actions as romantic. What happens if the readers "construe supportive behaviors as practical rather than affectionate"? And while it might be effective if the actions are not initially "noticed by the intended recipient" within the novel, it's not likely to be so effective if the readers also skim over the actions without really paying much attention to them. Getting back to real life,
Experts from the University of North Carolina in the US studied how couples behave when responding to nice gestures.

They found that simply doing something for somebody else does not automatically generate feelings of gratitude. Instead, people can feel indebted or not notice the exchange at all, especially if things have become routine.

Yet those who respond in a positive way and show gratitude can expect greater feelings of satisfaction about the relationship. Their partners also feel better, too. (Press Association)
An abstract of the article by Sara B. Algoe, Shelly L. Gable and Natalya C. Maisel can be found here and there's a longer description of its findings here.

Now I'm wondering what an analysis of the "supportive behaviors" in romance novels would show, and whether romances would provide support for the Romantic Construal Model.

The image is of some rosemary, drawn by Francisco Manuel Blanco. It came from Wikimedia Commons. Shakespeare's Ophelia observed, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember." My thanks to Tumperkin, who gave me a copy of The Italian's One-Night Love-Child.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Well, thanks for letting me know...

Sometimes, I get the impression the author is trying to embed what she thinks is a nugget of worldly wisdom into a novel. Unfortunately, I'm not always grateful for those nuggets. How do you feel about this description of one heroine's mother, for example?
Laura Stanford was not much like her daughter. Although they were of a similar height and build, Laura's hair was brown and undistinguished, and now she wore it dragged into a rather severe knot which added years to her age. She wore horn rimmed spectacles, too, and looked every inch the university lecturer she was. Tamsyn had sometimes wondered whether it was her mother's lack of femininity which had driven her father into the arms of a woman who hadn't an original thought in her head. She couldn't really understand how they had ever got married at all. They were not alike. Her mother was so much that breed of American woman who needed to feel intellectually superior to her mate. (Mather 11)
Have you ever wondered what "breed of [...] woman" (or "breed of man") you are? If not, this is the kind of passage that might make you start wondering. And if you're female and happen to wear horn-rimmed spectacles and/or your hair in a "rather severe knot" you've now been warned! People you meet may think you lack "femininity." Or perhaps they'll offer you the kind of career advice John Sawyer dispenses in Barbara Delinsky's The Dream Comes True:
"You make time for what you want," he stated in a voice that was deafeningly clear. "You give a little here, give a little there. It may mean that one thing or another takes longer to achieve, but it all comes out in the wash."
"One thing or another," Nina echoed. "You mean work. If a woman is willing to sacrifice her career, she can have the husband and kids."
"She doesn't have to sacrifice the career," he insisted, "just defer the ultimate gratification. And that doesn't mean there isn't gratification along the way, simply that the achievements may not be as high until the kids are grown and out of the house."
"She's an old lady by then."
"No way." He sat back and linked his fingers, seemingly more relaxed, as though confident he had the argument won. "Take that woman. She had kids in her mid-twenties. They're out on their own by the time she's fifty. Fifty is not old."
"It's too old to start building a career."
"She's not starting. She started years ago. She may have taken a leave when the kids were babies, but after that she worked part-time, maybe full-time as the kids got older. Okay, so she didn't go running off on business trips, or push past a forty-hour week, and maybe that held her back a little. But look what she has. She has a solid career. She has a solid marriage. She has kids who probably give her more satisfaction than anything she does at work. And she's only fifty."
With barely a breath, he raised a hand and went on. "Then again, take the woman who put her career before everything else. She got out of school, entered the marketplace and worked her tail off. She started climbing the ladder of success, and the drive became self-perpetuating. The higher she climbed, the higher she wanted to be. The more money she earned, the more she needed. There was always something more, always something more."
"Her being a woman didn't help," Nina put in. "A woman has to work twice as hard."
To her surprise, John agreed. "You're right. And that made her all the more determined to make it. So she put off thoughts of getting married, since she didn't have time for that. And she put off having kids, because she didn't have time for that. Then she reaches her mid-forties, when theoretically she should be up there on the threshold of the president's office, only there are suddenly four other candidates vying for the job and one of them is the new son-in-law of the chairman of the board. So she misses out. And then what does she have?" He raised a finger. "She doesn't have the corner office." Then another. "She doesn't have a husband." Then a third. "And her childbearing years are gone." He dropped his hand to his lap. "Do you think she's happy?"
His eloquence left Nina momentarily speechless.
"She's alone, Nina," he said more quietly. "She's alone, and she's getting older, and she's beginning to wonder what she'll do with herself if she ever has to retire. Happy? My guess is she's scared to death." (165-66)
John's "eloquence" left me "momentarily speechless" too. But not for long. I wonder if he would direct this kind of helpful advice at men? At women who don't want to have children? Or who don't want to marry (and the assumption is that the marriage would be to a man)? Is he assuming (a) that a woman needs a husband and children to make her happy and (b) that a post-menopausal woman couldn't find a husband? Oh, and Nina the career-woman almost dies from a ruptured appendix, since she didn't stop working to get it checked out, and John's career-woman first wife "was driving home very late one night after a three-day symposium, fell asleep at the wheel and hit a tree. Death was instantaneous" (163). Strangely enough, I can't help but see this as a not so subtle hint that career women are risking death by not slowing down to marry and care for children. Personally, though, I'd argue that it makes a better case for implementing a working time directive.

So, after all this instruction on how women should change their appearance and behaviour, I was intrigued when I picked up Sharon Kendrick's One Husband Required! and saw this comment from the heroine:
there was no way he would look twice at her. Men like Ross Sheridan were never attracted to women with unfashionably curved bodies of softly cushioned hips, and breasts which looked like overripe melons. They liked their women slim. No. Skinny. With plenty of bones showing, like sleek race-horses. Classy women. (8-9)
I hadn't thought about the possible class connotation of slimness, so that was interesting. However, would Ursula be proved right about the preferences of "Men like Ross Sheridan"? No, because apparently he thinks she's "a beautiful woman [...] like a rich, ripe, beautiful peach" (172). But immediately after having had sex for the first time, which provides her with irrefutable proof that men like him can indeed like women who resemble ripe (or over-ripe) fruit, Ursula realises why she had remained a virgin into her late twenties and why she had acquired this body shape:
'When I was growing up, men frightened me. I knew so little about them. I'd grown up in an all-female household - my father died too young to be any kind of role model. [...] And all the other men on the estate where I grew up seemed to think of women as being good for just one thing.' That had been the beginning of her plumpness, she realised now. A cushioned body had protected her and meant that the ferret-eyed boys had left her alone. (175)
It reminded me of Susie Orbach's Fat is a Feminist Issue, in which Orbach suggests that "There is also something positive to be gained from being fat that we must explore. I am not suggesting that the desire to be fat is a conscious one. Indeed, I would argue that people are largely unaware of it" (42). She reports that "the most common benefits that women saw in being large had to do with a sexual protection. In seeing herself as fat, a woman is often able to desexualize herself; the fat prevents her from considering herself as sexual" (43). Orbach herself found that once she had thought about her underlying attitudes towards food and fat, she gradually began to lose weight. Something similar happens to Ursula: following her insight into why she ate
'[...] I just kind of lost interest in food. I never really found the time to snack once I started living with Ross.'
'You mean that sex replaced food?' queried Amber bluntly.
Ursula blushed. 'There's no need to put it like that!'
'Well, it's true, isn't it?'
Yes, it was true. Ursula's world had changed immeasurably - Ross had seen to that. It had become brighter, sharper, clearer - more real than real. Mealtimes had lost their allure as the focus of her day. Not that she had become an unsightly skinny-ribs - a woman obsessed with the amount of calories she put in her mouth - or anything like that. No, it was just that the rounded hips had melted away to firm curves, and she definitely had an hourglass shape now! (182-83)
Again, I think there's a lot one could say about this. But my conclusion from this week's reading is that if, as is often said, romance is written by women, for women (although RWA's latest statistics suggest that "men make up 9.5 percent" of the readership, and there are male authors), then perhaps in some ways the genre's the textual equivalent of a feminist consciousness raising group crossed with a storytelling session at which women reveal their internalised sexism.
Internalized sexism refers to women‟s incorporation of sexist practices, and to the circulation of those practices among women, even in the absence of men. [...] Everyday conversation is woven from the conventions, motivations, and negotiations that make up life in cultural communities. When sexism is part of a culture, sexism, and the internalized sexism that accompanies it, becomes one of the threads out of which conversations are woven. (Bearman, Korobov and Thorne 11)

  • Delinsky, Barbara. The Dream Comes True. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 1990.
  • Bearman, Steve, Neill Korobov, and Avril Thorne. "The Fabric of Internalized Sexism." Journal of Integrated Social Sciences 1.1 (2009): 10-47.
  • Kendrick, Sharon. One Husband Required! Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 1999.
  • Mather, Anne. Chase a Green Shadow. 1973. London: Mills & Boon, 1980.
  • Orbach, Susie. Fat is a Feminist Issue ... How to lose weight permanently - without dieting. 1978. Feltham, Middlesex: Hamlyn, 1982.

My thanks to Tumperkin, who gave me the Delinsky and the Kendrick.