sexuality

Part III - Representations of Romantic Relationships and the Romance Genre in Contemporary Women's Writing (Sheffield, 11 June 2016)

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 12 June, 2016

Continued from Part I and Part II. In this post I've written up my notes and comments on the final papers:

Fiona Martinez, Sheffield Hallam University - The Romance Genre & Feminism: Friends or Foes?

Lucy Sheerman, Independent Researcher - Charlotte Brontë and Contemporary Representations of Romance Fiction

Deborah Madden, University of Sheffield - Rewriting Romance in 1930s Spain and Portugal: Rebellious Heroines of Federica Montseny and Maria Lamas

Martina Vitackova, University of Pretoria - The Sexual Turn in Post-Apartheid Women's Writing in Afrikaans

 

Fiona Martinez, Sheffield Hallam University - The Romance Genre & Feminism: Friends or Foes?

Fiona's research focuses on:

the use of romance and the romance genre within contemporary women's literature, and the extent to which its creation of authentic relationships is a feminist endeavour. Combining Jean-Paul Sartre's interest in existential authenticity and his views on the need for authenticity within relationships I will be examining the work of Margaret Atwood, Ali Smith, Zadie Smith and Jeanette Winterson and considering the ways in which they have created representations of 'authentic love' within their literature through the re-writing of the romance genre.With Sartre’s theory, and belief that authenticity within a romantic relationship was possible, I will consider the extent to which contemporary women writers mirror this belief within their literature. I will aim to use this research to question borders between high and low culture through an exploration of the practice of romance writing by contemporary women writers and a consideration of whether the current boundaries are typical of, and help define,a contemporary female aesthetic which re-writes the romance.

 

Martinez (@PhFi_) discussing motherhood, the female body and heterosexual relationships in NW by Zadie Smith #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

Martinez (@PhFi_) moves on to discussing the unconventional love triangle in Jeanette Winterson's Gut Symmetries #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

In this paper Fiona outlined the relationships depicted in Zadie Smith's NW and Jeanette Winterson's Gut Symmetries. Fiona contrasted the same-sex relationship between women with the heterosexual ones and also looked at the pressure on women within a heterosexual relationship to have children. Fiona suggested these novels question aspects of compulsory heterosexuality and therefore differ from/re-write the romance.

I haven't read either of these novels but I wonder if they're maybe closer to some genre romances than others. For example, in Karin Kallmaker's genre romance In Every Port, one of the heroines is involved in a heterosexual relationship when she first meets the other heroine and so there is some discussion/contrasting of lesbian and heterosexual relationships. I'm not sure whether Jane Rule would have classified her Desert of the Heart as a romance but it can certainly be considered one and in it:

Evelyn thought marriage was a way to make herself a real woman, but she was unable to have children and is not sure whether she ever really loved her husband. It is her connection with Ann, finally, that puts her in touch with her femininity and all that it encompasses: "She was finding, in the miracle of her particular fall, that she was, by nature, a woman. And what a lovely thing it was to be, a woman."(After Ellen)

Some romances nowadays depict polyamorous relationships between more than two people. So there may be elements of the two novels Fiona analysed which are, in fact, present in romance novels. Maybe romance has been re-writing itself?

Lucy Sheerman, Independent Researcher - Charlotte Brontë and Contemporary Representations of Romance Fiction

Lucy is a "Writer, gripped by the legacy of the Apollo moon landings and currently at work on a fan fiction project". Her Rarefied (falling without landing) was written

in response to the documentary Apollo Wives, a series of interviews with the wives of the Apollo astronauts. They talked about the experience of being plunged into the media spotlight while their husbands were on the Apollo programme and how they formed strong bonds with each other while living in close proximity on a military housing base.
 
Structurally I have been using fairly strict constraints to number of lines and number of beats in a line, but these are significantly longer than the palette I used to work with. I find that it has been very liberating to lengthen my lines and it has felt like reintroducing oxygen into the writing to a degree. The ability to let the writing breathe and allow a vestige of narrative provided an entry point into the work which however I felt I could still control. Some of my earlier work had got so sparse that it was almost visual. This shift meant the text became more expansive, capable of including narrative, memory and speech in quite a different way. (Peony Moon)

Lucy's approach to the texts discussed in her paper (Jane Eyre, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and Fifty Shades of Grey) similarly mixed the visual and textual. In Jane Eyre fire represents passion out of control. In Brontë's own life, the passionate romances she'd read and enjoyed in the Ladies Journal were burned by her father because he disapproved of their content. In other circumstances he feared fire and therefore kept the parsonage interior rather austere so that it would be less of a fire risk. Nonetheless, her brother, Branwell, set his curtains on fire while drunk. These events may have affected Charlotte's depiction of the destruction of Thornfield Hall by Mr Rochester's wife, who has been hidden in the upper level of the house.

In Rebecca, it is again the influence of the displaced wife which causes the fire that destroys the hero's home and Lucy also noticed the way in which the narrator of Rebecca had earlier burned some text written by Rebecca.

Lucy was intrigued by the similarities between this burning, the burning of the Ladies Journal and contemporary burnings of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Burning of texts/books naturally led us to discuss censorship and I was reminded of Lady Chatterley's Lover,

one the most banned books in history. Infamous for its explicit descriptions of sex and other vulgarities, it was only published openly in the United Kingdom in 1960. The book focused on the illicit affair between an upper class woman and her lower class gamekeeper, and it was received with outrage and intrigue, resulting in numerous abridged versions being published throughout the 1920's, 1930's, and 1940's. [...]

First printings were bound with brown boards with an insignia of a phoenix gracing its front cover. The phoenix has remained a potent symbol for the book, in large part because of the book's victory in the infamous British Obscenity Trial in 1960. (Biblio)

The phoenix, of course, rises from the ashes and it's been suggested that some of the fire in Jane Eyre could be read similarly as a similarly purifying/productive force:

The image of fire might symbolize signifying first sinfulness, then rebirth. Since the passionate love that Rochester and Jane first held was sinful, it was accompanied by images of fire and burning--possibly a portrait of Hell. After Jane leaves Thornfield, and her "burning" desires for Rochester are somewhat subdued, the next and final image of fire occurs. In the fire that destroyed Thornfield, Rochester proved his worthiness to Jane by attempting to save Bertha from the blaze. A feat that indicated that he had tempered his "burning" passions regarding Jane and Bertha and atoned for the wrongs that he had perpetrated on the women in his life. Shortly thereafter, Jane and Rochester reunited and each proved to be reborn. (Vaughon)

Deborah Madden, University of Sheffield - Rewriting Romance in 1930s Spain and Portugal: Rebellious Heroines of Federica Montseny and Maria Lamas

Deborah's "doctoral research seeks to identify left-of-centre Spanish and Portuguese women writers from the early decades of the twentieth century whose works have been excluded from the literary canon. By focusing on novels by politically progressive women in early twentieth-century Iberia, the thesis aims to examine how a selection of female authors used literature as a means of political expression, while uncovering the shared experiences of Iberian women."

Deborah Madden (@DMadden89) outlines the historical and political context of the work of Federica Montseny and Maria Lamas #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

That context was dominated by military upheaval. In Spain a Republican government was overthrown after a Civil War which ended with the triumph of the fascists, under General Franco (in power from 1939-1975). Similarly in Portugal

the 28 May 1926 coup d'état, sometimes called 28 May Revolution or, during the period of the authoritarian Estado Novo (English: New State), the National Revolution (Portuguese: Revolução Nacional), was a military coup that put an end to the unstable Portuguese First Republic and initiated the Ditadura Nacional (National Dictatorship), later refashioned into the Estado Novo, an authoritarian dictatorship that would last until the Carnation Revolution in 1974. (Wikipedia)

Federica Montseny

was born in Madrid, Spain, on 12th February, 1905. Her parents were the co-editors of the anarchists journal, La Revista Blanca (1898-1905). In 1912 the family returned to Catalonia and farmed land just outside Barcelona. Later they established a company that specialized in publishing libertarian literature.

Montseny joined the anarchist labour union, National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT). As well as working in the family publishing business she contributed articles to anarchist journals such as Solidaridad Obrera, Tierra y Libertad and Nueva Senda. In her writings Montseny called for women's emancipation in Spain. [...]

In November 1936 Francisco Largo Caballero appointed Montseny as Minister of Health. In doing so, she became the first woman in Spanish history to be a cabinet minister. Over the next few months Montseny accomplished a series of reforms that included the introduction of sex education, family planning and the legalization of abortion. (Spartacus)

Heroínas, the novel by Montseny which Deborah discussed, was published around 1936, is set during a revolution and involves a heroine who has two suitors. The first is a socialist who proposes to marriage to the heroine in the event that they win the revolution because he believes she would be an asset to him in his political career. She turns him down and is rather more attracted to an anarchist who seems to embody the romantic ideal but is, however, already involved with another woman and is therefore also deemed unsuitable. Both men are executed but the heroine survives and continues the fight. [Quite a lot of pages of the novel have been put online here by Margaret Killjoy who found it at International Institute of Social History, which "is the world’s largest repository of anarchist history. Of particular note to me, it houses almost-complete collections of La Novela Ideal and La Novela Libre". Unfortunately Margaret "can’t really read enough Spanish to understand these things. So please, anyone with interest in this stuff, let me know. If the stories are good, I’d be happy to make them available in zine format. And if anyone is feeling really inspired, I’d be happy to print English translations as well." (details here)]

Maria Lamas's novel Para Além do Amor (1935) features a heroine who is unhappily trapped in a loveless marriage to a rich industrialist. She takes a lover who encourages her to work to improve the lives of the workers by setting up medical facilities for them etc. He has the opportunity to move abroad and wants them to go together but she rejects him, saying that she stays in Portugal not out of fear, or even from love for her children, but because she must continue her work.

These aren't the happy endings one would expect in a romance novel. I wondered if they could, perhaps, be thought of as romances in which the ideal partner is not another human being but a cause. Perhaps that's a bit of a stretch.

Martina Vitackova, University of Pretoria - The Sexual Turn in Post-Apartheid Women's Writing in Afrikaans

Martina's paper and current research was prompted by an article which stated that Afrikaans women's romantic fiction features active female sexual characters. While Martina thinks this is true of some women's writing in Afrikaans (for example an autobiographical account by a sex worker), she does not believe it is true of the works of a highly acclaimed author (and academic) whose novels sounded to me like "inspirational" (Christian) romance albeit with mild depictions of sexual activity. These Afrikaans heroines do have pre-marital sex and have even had previous sexual partners before they meet their heroes. However, the sexual passages in the novels are not very explicit, give the heroines rather passive roles in love-making and suggest that true sexual fullfilment can only be found with the right partner (i.e. the man the heroine will marry).

Perhaps these novels are aimed at a different audience from the readers of the far more explicit Afrikaans women's fiction?

It was noted that the "elephant in the room" in these novels is the whiteness of almost all the characters (and certainly all the protagonists). Despite this, these novels are apparently read in townships and that's also despite the existence of English-language romance novels about Black protagonists. I took a look at the covers of the novels written by the members of the Romance Writers Association of South Africa and they mostly seemed to feature White protagonists too, unlike the romances published by Nollybooks and Kwela Press (which are discussed in this article by the BBC and also this academic one).

Part I - Representations of Romantic Relationships and the Romance Genre in Contemporary Women's Writing (Sheffield, 11 June 2016)

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 12 June, 2016

 

Yesterday I went to a one-day conference/symposium on Representations of Romantic Relationships and the Romance Genre in Contemporary Women’s Writing. There were 5 papers which focussed on romance novels, one on Fifty Shades (I think there have been debates over how to classify that, though it could be considered erotic romance), and various papers which looked at links between romance and other forms of women’s writing.

I’m going to write up my thoughts about each of the papers here but these are very much my thoughts on the papers, rather than an accurate description of each of the papers themselves. That’s mostly because it’s difficult to write fast enough to take accurate, detailed notes which won’t misrepresent the finer points of someone’s argument but also because (a) I’m not sure how much information all the participants want to have shared online about their work and (b) I’m a bit single-mindedly focussed on romance, so even when a paper is primarily about books which are not genre romances my brain will tend to zoom in on the bits of the paper which relate to romance scholarship (as opposed, for example, to scholarship on feminism, capitalism etc).

The first three papers were:

Fran Tomlin, University of Edinburgh - “True Romantic Art”: Love and the Quest in the novels of A. L. Kennedy

Elizabeth Dimmock, University of Lincoln - Fifty Shades of Grey and Late Capitalism

Veera Mäkelä, Independent Researcher (previously studying at the University of Helsinki) - Acting for Herself, by Herself: Learning, Regaining, and Employing Female Agency in Mary Balogh's Dark Angel, Lord Carew's Bride and The Famous Heroine.

In my second post I write about:

Dr. Amy Burge, University of Edinburgh - Beyond the Alpha: Sex, Masculinity and the Exotic in twenty-first century Harlequin Mills & Boon romance.

Val Derbyshire, University of Sheffield - "In these modern times": Reading Harlequin Mills & Boon Romantic Novels as Signs of the Times

Alicia Williams, Independent Researcher - Busting the Mills & Boon Myth: Category Romance as an Instrument for Change

In the final post I attempt to summarise papers by:

Fiona Martinez, Sheffield Hallam University - The Romance Genre & Feminism: Friends or Foes?

Lucy Sheerman, Independent Researcher - Charlotte Brontë and Contemporary Representations of Romance Fiction

Deborah Madden, University of Sheffield - Rewriting Romance in 1930s Spain and Portugal: Rebellious Heroines of Federica Montseny and Maria Lamas

Martina Vitackova, University of Pretoria - The Sexual Turn in Post-Apartheid Women's Writing in Afrikaans

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Fran Tomlin, University of Edinburgh - “True Romantic Art”: Love and the Quest in the novels of A. L. Kennedy

 

Fran is working towards her PhD, on the topic of "A.L. Kennedy and the Quest for Happy Ever After": "Fran’s thesis focuses on the work of contemporary Scottish writer A.L.Kennedy, examining issues of gender, love and sex in her work, and how these issues relate to the notion of Romance as it appears in British Literature as a whole."

Although Kennedy does not identify herself as a romance writer, the paratext of her books does tend to mention their romantic elements and she has said "I believe in God, I believe in love - they probably make very little sense without meaning much the same thing" (Mitchell 123).

Tomlin: The blending of the passionate and the painful sets Kennedy apart from the traditional genre #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

Although Kennedy's characterisations seem very realistic, Fran quoted Robert Louis Stevenson's observation that "True romantic art [...] makes a romance of all things. It reaches into the highest abstraction of the ideal; it does not refuse the most pedestrian realism" (Stevenson, qtd. in Norquay, 60). [As I discussed in For Love and Money, there's nothing preventing romance novels from being written in the low mimetic mode so "realism" doesn't disqualify a novel from being considered a romance. It should be noted, though, that when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about romance in 1882, he wasn't thinking about the modern romance genre.]

Fran said that Kennedy's novels are structured in such a way that the reader wants there to be a happy ending but although the possibility of one exists at the close of the novels, they haven't got there. [A lack of an HEA doesn't automatically disqualify a novel from being a romance, though, given that the RWA merely require a romance to have "An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending". It would seem, though, that the endings aren't "emotionally satisfying" to Fran because an optimistic potential isn't enough for her, but that could be a matter of personal taste rather than a clear indication that the books aren't romances.]

Tomlin: Is Kennedy producing a more literary romance? How is this distinct from the traditional genre? #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

Overall, the paper raised questions about the definition of a "romance novel". Amy Burge, for example, suggested one could think of romance as a strategy and/or a structure (which might fit with Fran's use of the term "quest" in the title of her paper) and I think referred to Gillian Beer's The Romance.

Elizabeth Dimmock, University of Lincoln - Fifty Shades of Grey and Late Capitalism

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

Bakhtin suggested that traditionally the carnival is a one-off (though recurring) way in which the status quo can be temporarily transgressed. It's a safety valve which ultimately functions to support dominant structures and relegitimate it. In modern, neo-liberal capitalist society, the carnivalesque has been individualised and commercialised, to similar effect:

Dimmock: Commercialisation of transgression in contemporary culture prevents it from threatening power structures #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

In the Fifty Shades trilogy, although the BDSM appears transgressive, the series does end with the protagonists in a fairly traditional (married, heteronormative, with children) relationship.

Fifty Shades is set in the US but the author is British and in the UK BDSM has perhaps traditionally been associated with the ruling elite. More recently there was the 2008 court case involving Max Mosley and just this year there were revelations concerning the Conservative minister John Whittingdale MP, though

According to the former editor of the Erotic Review, Rowan Pelling, Britain is "still known abroad as the 'nation of floggers'".

"A lot of it has to do with the way we have historically treated children," says Ms Pelling, "sending them away to boarding school from an early age. (BBC)

It wasn't working-class children who were sent to boarding schools. And the Marquis de Sade was an aristocrat, of course. So perhaps that would suggest that BDSM has traditionally been a carnival for the elites.

It also occurs to me that female submission is actually fairly traditional (and perhaps therefore not so very transgressive) in the romance genre. It's not always been made explicit, and certainly wouldn't have been expressed as BDSM, but dominant heroes who give heroines "punishing kisses" or more were extremely common at one time. It also fits with traditional gender roles within marriage, in which the wife was expected to love, honour and obey. One romance which made me think more about the extent to which female (but definitely not male) submission has been accepted within the genre was Jill Christian's The Tender Bond (1961). It's a vintage romance in which Martin, a man who is ultimately not chosen as the hero, quite clearly has submissive tendencies and the heroine observes that

He did not stir her to tingling excitement as Dominic did. Dominic roused in her the instinct to surrender, to give herself body and soul into the hands of a lord and master. He would dominate her, and there would always be a certain awe in her love, a desire for meek obedience. She would never, never win the upper hand with him.
Martin would never seek to dominate her.

Martin is eventually paired up with a woman who states that she's:

not an ordinary woman. I'll never be a little, adoring wife. [...] At my wedding there'll be no such words as 'obey.' In the old days, I could have been a queen." She smiled as if seeing a picture of herself, a cruelly satisfied expression that reminded Pamela of a fed tiger in a zoo. "I should glory in possessing and ruling Martin, and he'd glory in obeying."
Pamela shuddered. "It's horrible, like the spider and the fly."
"A lot of insects eat their husbands. I don't find that disgusting. I find it interesting. [...]"

[More details about that book can be found in this post I wrote in 2008.] In that context, a female dominant/male submissive romance would presumably have a lot more subversive potential than one like Fifty Shades.

Veera Mäkelä, Independent Researcher (previously studying at the University of Helsinki) - Acting for Herself, by Herself: Learning, Regaining, and Employing Female Agency in Mary Balogh's Dark Angel, Lord Carew's Bride and The Famous Heroine.

Veera's paper is the heroine-focussed counterpart of the paper she gave to the 2015 PCA/ACA conference:

Alpha, Beta, and the Ambiguous Omega: The Diversity of Heroes 

The heroes examined in this paper exemplify how a successful romance hero is a discussion on the pressures society puts on men and breaks reigning stereotypes. The romance genre almost demands that male protagonists show softness in order to be worthy of the heroine, which renders the stereotypical notion of the brutish Alpha antiquated. It is therefore necessary to update the vocabulary used to describe heroes and to examine the issues they represent in today’s romance writing.

Romance heroes have developed rapidly with the genre. The rapist Alpha is seen to a far lesser extent than it previously was, and the Beta hero’s soft personality is viewed as distinctly positive. However, although the surface division between Alpha and Beta types remain, any closer scrutiny reveals that the modern hero is in fact more a blend of the hard and soft traits than weighed in favour of one or the other.

This paper discusses the diversity and ambiguity this blending causes in romance heroes, using as examples the heroes of Mary Balogh’s novels Dark Angel, Lord Carew’s Bride and The Famous Heroine. The discussion takes into account the criticism of the romance hero, both past and present, and shows the change in basic terminology used to describe these male protagonists, which on close reading of Balogh’s novels proves to be useful as a basic tool regarding reader preferences and the hero’s function in the novel but inadequate in truly describing the wide range of male personalities found in the genre.

Returning to the same three (linked) novels by Mary Balogh, Veera turned her attention to their heroines.

Mäkelä: 'The Honourable Miss Jennifer Winwood' learns agency in Dark Angel #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

The heroine of Dark Angel initially conforms to gender norms and attempts to please the men in her life but eventually she gains agency in her relationship with the hero.

Mäkelä: Miss Samantha Newman regains agency in Lord Carew's Bride (note the different arc of agency to Jennifer's) #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

The heroine of Lord Carew's Bride has internalised oppression by men and so cannot act without reference to the man who left her disillusioned. Eventually she does succeed in throwing off her victim status and physically fights back against her oppressor.

Mäkelä: Miss Cora Downes 'takes charge' (notably sexually) in The Famous Heroine. Wishes to please society, not men #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

The heroine of The Famous Heroine is of a lower social class than the other two heroines so her concern is with pleasing society rather than individual men. It seems she attempts to fill the traditional womanly roles of mother, wife and homemaker (I think Veera was referring here to the romance heroine as described in Kay Mussell's Fantasy and Reconciliation) but does so in ways which burst out of the traditional limits.

Veera's analysis raised a number of questions: to what extent does the series shows a progressive change in heroines? If it does, does this reflect changes in the genre as a whole? Is it better to want to please individual men or patriarchal society? To what extent is "society" depicted as patriarchal in these novels given the power of the patronesses of Almack's? And to what extent are romance authors like those patronesses as they decide what constitutes appropriate behaviour in a heroine?

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Mitchell, Kaye. A. L. Kennedy. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. "A Gossip on Romance". R. L. Stevenson on Fiction: An Anthology of Literary and Critical Essays. Ed. Glenda Norquay. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999. 51-64.

Effects of Written Erotica

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 6 February, 2016

A recent piece of research in The Journal of Sex Research, in which a group of male and female readers were exposed to three different types of erotica (male dominant/female submissive; female dominant/male submissive; neither partner submissive or dominant), suggests that:

reading about a sexually submissive woman may have a negative impact on attitudes toward women, including increasing benevolent sexism in women and rape myth acceptance in men. However, erotica also had the power to challenge traditional gender roles. We found that after reading about a sexually dominant woman, men rated dominance as an appealing trait in a potential partner, at least to the same extent that women did. Finally, we found that men and women were similar in their levels of arousal in response to sexually explicit erotica and that different types of erotica are equally arousing, regardless of the dominance and submission roles taken on by the protagonists. In sum, although we highlight some potentially negative consequences of reading erotica depicting male dominance, our findings should not be interpreted as devaluing erotica. Instead, our study hints at the utility and benefit of seeking out a range of erotica that eschews typical gender roles to encourage “eroticizing equality.” (10)

The authors did advise that:

It should be noted that the effects of reading different submission/dominance stories on attitudes were small. We speculate that the potential consequences of reading male dominance erotica on attitudes, such as more negative views toward women, may be exacerbated following repeated exposure to such erotica. Future research might investigate the effects of a longer-term exposure to submission-/dominance-themed erotica by using a diary study to test the effects of reading a full-length erotic novel, or longitudinal work testing male dominance erotica consumption and attitudes over time. Finally, an additional avenue for future research would be to test the effects of reading popular erotica in a nonheterosexual sample. For example, submission and dominance between a consenting lesbian pair would be unlikely to carry with it the same political meaning as male-on-female dominance. It is possible, however, that effects may still be seen on partner preferences. (10)

Here's a bit more detail about their findings regarding the dominant woman/submissive male and neither-partner-dominant-nor-submissive erotica:

It may be that depictions of nontraditional men and women as “sexy” broaden our understanding of what is considered gender appropriate behavior. The battle for less prescriptive gender roles is often fought directly. Our work highlights that change can also occur indirectly via the stories that we tell, including those that sexually arouse us. While erotica has the potential to result in detrimental outcomes for women (i.e., through increased benevolent sexism and rape myths), it also has the potential to make the deviant desirable and prompt a shift toward acceptance of nontraditional gender roles. Although the shifts observed in our study were small and likely to be temporary, more consistent exposure to nonnormative erotica (or even literature more generally) may have a stronger impact on what men and women want in a partner. (9)

and

Our findings provide promising evidence that a focus away from female submission does not mean a decrease in sexual arousal. Rather, stories describing female dominance or no dominance were equally arousing and perhaps less likely to perpetuate the belief in women that sex and submission are necessarily linked. (9)

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Harris, Emily Ann, Michael Thai & Fiona Kate Barlow (2016). "Fifty Shades Flipped: Effects of Reading Erotica Depicting a Sexually Dominant Woman Compared to a Sexually Dominant Man", The Journal of Sex Research.

Zane in the Highschool Classroom: (12 - Alyssa D. Niccolini): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 28 December, 2015

Niccolini's essay "draw[s] on data from two focus groups with U.S. high school students aged 14-18 who identify as African American, Black, Afro-Caribbean, and Latina to argue that erotica [...] teaches" (225). She "hone[s] in on the work of Zane and her self-termed erotica noir in relation to this pedagogy as her books were the most widely circulated and intensely beloved by the students I taught" (226).

According to Niccolini

Erotica's pedagogy is a pedagogy of the present. Its knowledge is about what the body is capable of now. This present-centered feeling of "I shouldn't be reading this but I am" traverses a range of affective intensities that fall somewhere between a guilty pleasure, flouting of discipline, exciting transgression and sense of shame. As standardized tests are more and more the horizon for curricula in U.S. schools, a curriculum centered on immediate intensities may offer a temporal relief from an insistence on knowledge being tied to futurity. (228-29)

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Niccolini, Alyssa D. "Sexing Education: Erotica in the Urban Classroom". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 225-39.

A "Recreational" not a "Companionate" Sexual Ethic: (11 - Victoria Ong): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 28 December, 2015

One aspect of Ong's essay which I found particularly interesting, because of its implications for the popular romance novel (and especially the erotic romance sub-genre) is that she mentions

Christine Overall's analysis of identity and sexual relating in "Monogamy, Nonmonogamy and Identity" (1988). Overall argues that "[t]he convention of sexual relating, outside of paid work, is that in that context the woman expresses herself, becomes and is most truly and genuinely herself" (p. 8). As such, a sexual relationship becomes a form of chosen vulnerability. This convention of connecting identity with sexual relating is subverted in the conventions of sex work. Overall writes that sex workers structure sexual relating differently and "define themselves by reference to the paid labour they perform rather than by reference to the men with whom they interact and usually choose not to be vulnerable, self-expressive, or genuinely open" (p.9). (Ong 211, emphasis added)

One definition of "erotic romance" is:

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. Happily Ever After is a REQUIREMENT to be an erotic romance. (Day)

Sex can presumably only be "an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development" if, at some point (perhaps not in initial encounters but certainly in later ones) the heroine "expresses herself, becomes and is most truly and genuinely herself" while engaged in sex with the other protagonist(s). Indeed, if the narrative is constructed primarily via sex scenes, then the sex must, perhaps, be deemed much more meaningful in, and important to, a relationship than in romances which show the development of the relationship via other interactions.

Perhaps this is one reason why Amanda, a reviewer at the romance blog Smart Bitches Trashy Books, has stated that "my experience is, I have yet to be mirrored, or, or even my viewpoints on sex as a woman in the twenty-first century have yet to be mirrored in a romance that I’ve read". Amanda has:

compartmentalized sex and intimacy –

Amanda:  Yes.

Sarah:  – into a very convenient option where if you would like to have sex, that’s a thing that happens, and then it’s over and you can go do your other things.  It’s not something that has to be built on a relationship.

Amanda:  It’s like a chore that, you know, like, I tick off my to-do list.

Sarah:  But it’s a nice chore.

Amanda:  It’s a, it can be a very nice chore. (Wendell)

Amanda will also

nickname the people that you have Tinder conversations with.

Amanda:  I do.  I do nickname them.

Sarah:  So it’s almost like making them characters.

It seems as though Amanda is creating a narrative of her sex life which contains nicknamed male characters and differs noticeably in its plot from that of a romance novel. Perhaps it more closely resembles texts like Belle de Jour (Dr Brooke Magnanti)'s The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl which, in foregrounding

modern womanhood [...] humorously and light-heartedly as the texts chronicle protagonists' cosmopolitan lifestyles and their efforts to navigate work life and their personal relationships [make the] enjoyment and pleasure of sex a major theme [...]. These texts align with contemporary chick lit. (Ong 204)

Their emergence, and the life-styles they describe, have perhaps been

facilitated by the emergence of new paradigms of family and community [...] that [...] has resulted in isolable individuals with profoundly transformed models of sexuality, new configurations of intimate life and new erotic dispositions: "[b]oth the traditional 'procreative' and the modern 'companionate' models of sexuality are increasingly being supplanted by what sociologist Edward Laumann and his colleagues have referred to as a 'recreational' sexual ethic" [...].

This recreational sexual ethic is premised upon the depth of physical sensation and emotionally bounded erotic exchange [...]. The authenticity of recreational sex is bounded in the sense that the emotions of erotic exchanges are delimited to their discrete episodes and sex is free of lingering emotional attachments. (Ong 209)

I have the impression that contemporary popular romance (generally) expresses a commitment to the 'companionate' model of sexuality and the view that sex has, or should ideally have, a strong emotional component which, unlike "bounded authenticity", continues to exist long after the sexual encounter is over.

That said, neither Amanda nor Belle de Jour are completely unemotionally involved during sexal interactions. Amanda clarifies that:

sometimes the guys that I find to be really attractive and really pretty are dumb as a box of rocks, and I can’t.  Like, if there’s a spelling mistake in your profile or you can’t string together a sentence with proper grammar and punctuation, I’m not –

Sarah:  You’re not interested.

Amanda:  Yeah, ‘cause I’m not, I’m not emotionally stimulated to carry on a conversation with you.

Sarah:  Right, so it’s not just, hey, you’re pretty, let’s bang.  There are other things at work in creating the connection that you’re looking for.

Amanda:  Yes.  Even though if it’s not, like, a love connection, there’s definitely, there has to be some kind of conversational connection first.

Ong's analysis of Belle's sexual interactions with clients similarly reveals a need for some kind of emotional connection. In one of the two

client interactions where they are uninterested in bounded authenticity and seek only sexual gratification [...the fact that] he [the client] remains unshakeable and disinterested in her efforts to create intimacy or eroticism in the session evidently unnerves Belle. [...] In these two entries, Belle's narrative voice is serious and flat, in stark contrast to her usual light-heartedness. Since humor denotes her ability to process her emotions and indicates her self-composure, the grave tone of these entries suggests that she is unable to fully own these experiences in her reframing of them. She is impacted deeply because her provision of bounded authenticity enables her to find her work meaningful, and their disinterest in bounded authenticity means she is unable to find work meaningful in these bookings. In addition, their disinterest in intimacy and blunt usage of her for their sexual needs removes the distinction of her brand of "meaningful" sex work to that of the merely physical service of street-based workers. (221-22)

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Day, Sylvia. "What is Erotic Romance?"

Ong, Victoria. "Selling Authentic Sex: Working Through Identity in Belle de Jour's The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 204-24.

Wendell, Sarah. "172. Tinder, Sex, Romance, and Relationships: A Frank Discussion of Sexuality with Amanda". 18 December 2015.

Subverting the Romance in the Philippines

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 27 December, 2015

The article discussed in my last post, about fans of yaoi and Boys' Love fiction, argues that these texts had changed their Filipino readers' attitudes. In particular,

Fans' exposure to representations of male homoeroticism, androgyny and coupling were all instrumental in teasing out from fans their dissatisfactions with the dualistic and essentialist constructions of gender and sexuality, as well as intimate relationships in their societies. However, more than that, Yaoi and BL's non-normative representations of masculinity and intimacy also help fans develop a more humanistic and egalitarian vision of men, women and love relationships, rejecting rigid gender norms and oppressive power relationships. (Santos Fermin 200)

Tricia Abigail Santos Fermin suggests that they may therefore be considered sites of cultural/political resistance. The same could be said of the romantic fiction discussed in Mina Roces' Women's Movements and the Filipina 1986-2008.

There isn't enough about romance novels in it for me to feel I can really add it to the Romance Wiki bibliography but it seemed a shame not to note down and share what she has to say about some romances published by "the radical women's health organization Likhaan [which] presented me with a unique source of six romance-style paperback books in the Tagalog language that they had commissioned to introduce the taboo concept of abortion as a reproductive right" (31):

Between 2004 and 2006, Likhaan published six pocketbooks. They were written by two authors; one of the authors, Lualhati Bautista, was an award-winning writer and novelist. The pocketbooks written by Carmen Cabiling were distinguishable from Bautista's because they were grouped under a series called The Scarlett Diaries where the main characters of each book were close friends of one local nonmetropolitan community named Gian. These pocketbooks were packaged in the genre of romance novels much like the Mills and Boon or Barbara Cartland books. But it was the issue of "abortion" rather than "romance" that received "star billing" in these novels. Although romance novels followed the quintessential formula that commenced with "boy meets girl" and ended with "boy gets girl," the pocketbooks by Bautista began with "girl gets pregnant" and was preoccupied with "girl and abortion." In addition, although the visual appearance of the publications were in the trope of the cheap romantic paperback novel, the content of these particular books captured poignantly the women's struggle with the decision to have an abortion - there represented as a decision that involved not just the woman herself, but also her kinship group, the father of the child, and her friends - and the difficulties in finding an abortionist, including complications that might have arisen due to the clandestine nature of it. [...] Carmen Cabiling's The Scarlett Diaries series privileged the "romance plot" over the "abortion plot" (Erika, Serena, and Angelika) [...]

Likhaan commissioned the writing of the pocketbooks based on the stories of thirty women interviewed by the organization for its research advocacy arm. The decision to use this genre was the extreme popularity of romance pocketbooks in the 1990s; they replaced the comics of previous years. The books were written in conversational, colloquial Tagalog, with an emphasis on dialogue rather than on literary description. All were short novels, of around 125 pages long, and were published in newsprint. A print-run of six thousand copies or one thousand per pocketbook was published. Many of the pocketbooks were handed out free of charge to audiences or participants in Likhaan's forums, training sessions, community educational activities, and mobilization events and to patients benefitting from their medical outreach services. [...] In addition, the books were sold at a minimum of 5 pesos each (a few cents), a huge price drop when one compares it with the P40.00 (or US$1.00) price tag on commercial pocketbooks. In addition, Likhaan has sold five hundred copies through consignment with a University of the Philippines writer-artist who sold it to college students and personal friends. By October 2007, only three hundred copies remained. All books brandished the Likhaan name and logo and were sold by Likhaan. The conspicuous absence of any explicit descriptions of sex in the novels themselves was probably intentional, because Likhaan was not shy about discussing sexuality. Because the purpose of the books was to inform, sex scenes that had the effect of titillating readers would only blunt the powerful message introduced by the narratives. Despite the cheap packaging and risqué series title (The Scarlett Diaries), these books handled the issue of abortion in a sophisticated and poignant way, delivering their attacks on the Catholic Church and the state through the intense dialogue of the characters. In this sense, the proverbial "do not judge a book by its cover" was appropriate. These pocketbooks subverted not just the sociocultural and legal mores of their time, but also the romance trope in which they were packaged. Perhaps that is why these books were seen as a potential subversive tool. But the aim was to introduce the delicate issue of abortion to mainstream society, epitomized by the target readers. One could also detect a certain irony in the use of the romance novel as a way of refashioning readers, since readers of romance fiction were not usually perceived to be susceptible to feminist ideas.

The stories that were told through the medium of these pocketbooks blurred the lines between fiction, romance, and autobiography. All books carried the following acknowledgement: "Although all the people and events in this story comes from the imagination, we wish to thank all the women who opened their doors and hearts to us who in minor or major ways have been the inspiration of this literary work or book." (189-190)

Roces concludes by stating that

Likhaan's innovative use of pocketbooks [...] create[d] a counter-hegemonic discourse by subverting the romance genre. Even these radical ideas were packaged in the narrative of romance. Perhaps cultural preparation required hints rather than blunt demands. [...] In the meantime, women readers of romantic fiction have been introduced to the serious topic of abortion, although it was accompanied by a happy ending. (196-197)

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Roces, Mina. Women's Movements and the Filipina 1986-2008. Honolulu: U of Hawai'i P, 2012.

Santos Fermin, Tricia Abigail. "Male Homoerotic Fiction and Women's Sexual Subjectivities: Yaoi and BL Fans in Indonesia and the Philippines". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 187-203.

Review/Summary (10 - Tricia Abigail Santos Fermin): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 27 December, 2015

I'm probably not doing a very good job of trying to capture the essence of many of these essays, given how little I know about the texts they discuss. At a minimum, I hope I'm giving enough quotes to let people know if an essay is on a topic which interests them.

The subject of Santos Fermin's essay is made clear in its title: "Male Homoerotic Fiction and Women's Sexual Subjectivities: Yaoi and BL Fans in Indonesia and the Philippines" but

In particular, I will show how Yaoi and Boys' Love have spread underground in the religously conservative societies of the Philippines and Indonesia, and contributed to the formation of fans' attitudes toward their own bodily passions, as well as a reworking of their moral sensitivities concerning non-heteronormative sexualities. Using data gathered from informant interviews of self-identified Yaoi and BL fans in Manila and Jakarta, this chapter ultimately aims to raise the following points. Yaoi and BL are primarily consumed for entertainment and titillation, serving as a non-threatening medium through which readers are able to explore and positively confront their own sexual desires. Informant accounts also show us that fan engagement with Yaoi and BL does not necessarily lead to a full rejection (or critique) of their society's hetero-sexism and an acceptance of homosexuality as a valid mode of sexual and gender identity. Instead, fans attempt to negotiate their personal stances on homosexuality, which are more often than not still heavily influenced by their religious beliefs and affiliations, in order to accommodate the strong but morally-conflicted interest that they develop in these genres. The discussion will show that while Indonesian and Filipino fans all eventually develop at least an open or permissive attitude toward non-heteronormative sexualities, issues around homosexuality and LGBT rights are merely a secondary concern. (189)

Santos Fermin concludes that:

The explorations of male homoeroticism, androgyny and coupling have helped fans realize and express their dissatisfactions with oppressive constructions of gender, sexuality and intimacy [...] and [...] also led at least some of these fans to [...] imagine a more egalitarian model of intimate relationships. (203)

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Santos Fermin, Tricia Abigail. "Male Homoerotic Fiction and Women's Sexual Subjectivities: Yaoi and BL Fans in Indonesia and the Philippines". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 187-203.

Review/Summary (8 - Jude Elund): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 26 December, 2015

Focusing on the representation of lesbianism in mainstream erotic fiction, the essay principally investigates the idea of experimenting with one's sexual orientation as an aspect of the cultural shift toward embracing sex practices that depart from the norm. In mainstream erotic fiction, I will suggest, female-female sexuality is primarily represented in the context of, indeed, as an element of, heterosexual, white, middle-class fantasy. [...] One particular novel, Till Human Voices Wake Us by Patti Davis, serves as a key text for analysis. A self-published novel about an upper-class American woman who falls in love with her sister-in-law after the death of her child, Till Human Voices Wake Us appears to have little claim to either "literary" or "erotic" merit and would probably be completely unknown except for the fact that Davis happens to be the daughter of Ronald Reagan. However, an analysis of this novel and its discursive context will provide some insight into the uncertain position of same-sex desire in relation to mainstream women's erotic fiction. (150)

Elund argues that in Davis's novel affluence is key to permitting the protagonists

to live a life outside of the normative. This is neo-liberal ideology at work and is a key driver to how we, as a society, understand and engage with difference: if the market allows it then it must be at least somewhat legitimate and/or permissible. [...] Sexual and gender diversity are marketable; they illustrate an apparent social consciousness while striving for an edginess that conservative hetero-culture cannot embody. Naomi Klein argues that these representations have become a strong selling point for marketers, whereby marketing has "seized upon multiculturalism and gender-bending in the same ways that it has seized upon youth culture in general - not just as a market niche but as a source of new carnivalesque imagery" [...]. This means, for example, that homosexuality and sexual fluidity become more visible and socially accepted, but only a certain sanitized version of homosexuality and/or sexual fluidity that is suitable for the mainstream market. (158)

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Elund, Jude. "Permissible Transgressions: Feminized Same-Sex Practice as Middle-Class Fantasy". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 150-66.

Review/Summary (7 - Carole Veldman-Genz): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 26 December, 2015

Carole Veldman-Genz's "focus is on a particular strand of erotic romance fiction for women published by market leader Ellora's Cave under the copyrighted term romantica" (134), namely their

male-male (m/m) and male-male-female ménage (m/m/f) romantica, not only because they are popular subcategories, but also because they point markedly to the contradictions and conflicts in current thought on sexuality, gender, corporeality, pleasure and agency. So far, little attention has been paid to the ways in which the homoerotic male-male encounter in women's popular erotic fiction triggers female sensuality and elicits female pleasure. In its precise aim, this article investigates male homo- and bisexuality as fantasy tropes for women. (135)

Veldman-Genz argues that:

gay content in romantica often results in the depiction of "feminized" or romanticized gay sex. In m/m and m/m/f romantica, readers are invited to endorse the emotional and sexual intimacy between male characters, and male-male sex is often scripted in terms of both nurture and sexual adventure. [...] Framed by a female gaze, these are intimate and romantic erotic encounters in which gay men excite by virtue of their caring and nurturing abilities as much as their virility and hyper-masculinity.

This gender-blending of "masculine" and "feminine" traits is an indication of how the gay/bisexual male body has been offered up for heterosexual female reading in romantica and how gay sex has been romanticized and made "female-friendly" in these texts. (144-45)

I find this argument troubling because, despite the use of inverted commas, there does seem to be an implication here that men and women have different "traits" and that therefore real gay and bisexual men (i.e. men outwith the "romanticized" world of romantica) would not have sexual relationships which include "nurture" and "emotional [...] intimacy".

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Veldman-Genz, Carole. "Selling Gay Sex to Women: The Romance of M/M and M/M/F Romantica". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 133-149.

Review/Summary (5 - Naomi Booth): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 24 December, 2015

Naomi Booth explores

the idea of shaking, shattering states in relation to radical thought, and I will present a number of theories that describe shaken states vibrating with the potential to unsettle wider social relations, disturbing our connections to the controlling discourses of gender, capitalism and anthropocentrism. Alongside these theories, I consider another frequently depicted literary state of shaking: that experienced by the vibrationally overwhelmed romance heroine. The contemporary romance heroine is preceded by a long line of female characters who reverberate with the disturbance of their erotic entanglements: Samuel Richardson's Pamela, for instance, fits violently at one of Mr B.'s early sexual approaches [...]; the more stately "felicities of rapid motion" are enjoyed by Jane Austen's Emma while dancing [...]; Thomas Hardy's sensual Tess, who is "throbbingly alive," trembles repeatedly, her tremulous state tending her speech toward shattered syllables, "ecstasized to fragments" [...]; and the palpitating body of Bram Stoker's voluptuous Lucy Westenra shakes and quivers and twists "in wild contortions" as her fiancé drives a stake through her heart. (99)

While generalisations can be useful at times, in order to highlight broad trends/themes, I wonder if it's really helpful to Booth's argument to put someone having a stake driven through their heart in the same category as someone enjoying a dance.

As far as modern romance heroines are concerned, the only example given is Anastasia Steele from the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy which, Booth argues, in its descriptions of "jellied legs, [...] blushing, [...] various palpitations" draws on

clichéd tropes within romance fiction, which create a continuity between Fifty Shades and other popular romance novels. We might already, then, be on slightly shaky ground in attempting to read these novels as depicting shaking subjectivity in a radical or progressive sense: these jellifying tropes call backwards toward familiar descriptions of female sexual response in romance fiction, descriptions which often idolize female physical passivity, insufficiency and fragility. (105)

There isn't any analysis here of actual examples from romance novels, and therefore no comparisons between romance heroes and heroines. I can't help but wonder about alternative readings. For example, could it be that in some cases romance heroines' bodies are just reflecting their emotional openness? There are certainly examples of the same kind of language being used to describe heroes' emotional defences being shaken and then destroyed:

The thick, angry barrier around his heart shattered and blew away. […] He knew then that he had to believe her or lose her forever. That he was nothing without her. That he had finally found a safe place to belong.

“I love you,” he told her. […] “[…] I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Please do me the honor of marrying me.” (Mallery 248-49, qtd. in Vivanco and Kramer)

The limited range of primary texts is, however, justified by Booth on the grounds that:

While a full consideration of the contemporary romance genre is beyond the scope of this essay, it seems to me that Fifty Shades of Grey, with its prominent depictions of ecstatic, shattered states, is a particularly important text for romance studies. Fifty Shades, with its spectacular vibrations, might be read as a narrative charting the ways in which disruptive, active female energy is narratively released and then dealt with in romance fiction. We might, therefore, read Fifty Shades as a paradigmatic text. (106)

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Booth, Naomi. "Good Vibrations: Shaken Subjects and the Disintegrative Romance Heroine". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 99-116.

Vivanco, Laura and Kyra Kramer. "There Are Six Bodies in This Relationship: An Anthropological Approach to the Romance Genre." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 1.1 (2010).