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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why I Hate Self-Appointed Literati

In the Guardian there's an article about the 100th Anniversary of Mills & Boon romances. In their article they've fallen into the pathology of having to include a pro and a con segment to the article. (What? Someone has an opinion? We must have an opposing viewpoint, the force must remain in balance!)

It is the "con" portion that really torques me. Julie Bindle pulls no punches in her article unambiguously entitled "Detestable Trash." The first two lines:

Fifteen years ago, I read 20 Mills & Boon novels as research for a dissertation on "romantic fiction and the rape myth". It was the easiest piece of research I have ever done.

Can you see the warning signs already? When you set forth the ease with which you've come to your conclusions in the second sentence of your argument, you are admitting the shallowness of your thoughts on the matter. Much like certain wannabe European literati who were publicly spanked on other, more popular, sites in the SF blogosphere, this article advertises the lack of depth of the writer, waves it like a flag, and pretends it is a trait held in common by people whose opinions matter.

Now I don't take lightly arguments about "novels that perpetuate gender stereotypes... [which] feed directly into some women's sense of themselves as lesser beings, as creatures desperate to be dominated." However, I think a lot more thought went into the deconstruction of the misogyny of Larry Niven's Known Space oeuvre on the Feminist SF Blog than went into this article, which allegedly considers a much longer and broader body of work. Not only does the author condemn a century worth of text on the basis of twenty-some examples, read fifteen years ago, but condemns the current crop simply on the basis of back cover copy. That's just lazy. When you are too intellectually dishonest to read the subject of your critique, you undercut your arguments no matter how easy the target might be.

The final insult comes at the end, with the following enlightened bit of criticism:

[...] Heterosexual romantic fiction promotes the sexual submission of women to men. M&B novels are full of patriarchal propaganda. I can say it no better than the late, great Andrea Dworkin. This classic depiction of romance is simply "rape embellished with meaningful looks".

Thus we come to condemn an entire genre, hetrosexual romantic fiction. I can understand a feminist critique of Mills & Boon, of category romance, and of romance in general, is probably not going to be favorable. But even as someone who's only brushed the genre, I can see that this is over the top. Way over. This is the same thing as a blanket condemnation of SF because you read a couple dozen bad Perry Rhodan novels in the 90s. Worse, the deliberate qualification, making it heterosexual romance, makes it appear that the portrayal of homosexual rape fantasies is somehow a morally superior exercise.

ADDENDUM: Teach Me Tonight has begun an in-depth critique of this article.


RobRoy said...

What are some examples of mediocre, decent or even good romance novels that do not perpetuate said myths? And is it "rape myth" if the woman likes a little roughness in her play?

Steve Buchheit said...

As S. Colbert says, "I don't need to see the movie to have an opinion against it."