manifesta: (Battle Eyeliner)
Remember, the 3W4D Book Giveaway ends tonight at 11:59PM PST! The contest entry post is here.

From Kiersten White, author of the upcoming YA Paranormalcy, on romance in YA:
"But I knew—KNEW—that we were meant to be together. And if I could just figure it out, convince him, I’d be able to root out his personal demons. He would confess he simply feared he wasn’t good enough for me/was actually protecting me, and we’d be able to have our happily-ever-after.

As long as I earned it. As long as I was good, and pure, and self-sacrificing. Then I could make it work.

Romantic, isn’t it?

Wait. You mean that was creepy? You mean that no girl should ever, EVER have to “earn” the right to be treated well in a relationship? That if a guy treats her like that, he is not worthy of her?

[....] So here’s to making sure that our girls know they are worth far, far more than a bad boy. That they shouldn’t have to work to earn the right to be treated like they deserve. That they shouldn’t have to sacrifice themselves or their dreams for someone to love them."
It's good to know some YA authors are listening.

I particularly appreciated her emphasis on how women, and especially young girls, are socialized to believe that they must earn their happiness, and in earning it they must compromise themselves (which isn't portrayed as compromising oneself at all, but rather making a general compromise for the good of the relationship if not solely for the boy).

I think that, in regards to relationships, there is a very strong American rhetoric of "making it work." Couples are encouraged to compromise and to be flexible enough to take as well as give, which all in all is sound advice. Gender roles throw a wrench into the equation because women are already encouraged by society to give more than they take. And so when you look at the current trend in romantic YA (and especially in paranormal), what Americans see--because it's what they expect to see--is a couple "compromising" when what's actually occurring is a greater portion of the burden of "compromise" being shouldered by the woman.
manifesta: (Dangerous)

It is an unfortunate truth that I live in a wind tunnel. For some reason, Bellingham likes to show its worst side in the morning hours when I need to walk to class. The wind tunnel is a direct line from my apartment to campus. With little to no cover. My jeans are still hanging out to dry from the crazy wind and rain.

However, an hour after my last class, it became perfectly sunny out. I live in a city with a cheeky sense of humor.

*****

Dry, warm, and armed with a caramel macchiato, I offer forth my analysis of The Raven Prince (with an introductory divergence into my reading habits).

I feel like I frequently purchase or choose to read books from specific subgenres (urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and historical romance in particular) in hopes of finding one that redeems the rest of the genre. Being a fantasy reader first and a romance reader second, urban fantasy and paranormal romance should be right up my alley. And in many ways, they are. Setting aside my dislike of repetitive tropes, I enjoy the fantasy aspects of most UF and PR. My main complaint tends to be the author's portrayal of women, using multiple boytoys or leather or guns to create the illusion of strength while still keeping them firmly tied down in the realm of acceptable femininity.  The most disturbing aspect of this is that the majority of these books are written by women for women.*

Historical romance is not only rife with strict gender roles and reduce women's worth to their sexuality, often times domestic violence is disguised as ecstacy, the laws of consent are bent until they're broken, and sexual assault is sugar-coated and justified. Given the fact that historically women are and have been oppressed by men and a system of male domination, I argue that it is inherent within any historical romance set prior to the 1970s that there will be rampant sexism.**

Which brings me back to every once in a while picking up another one of these types of books in hopes of finding something that isn't utterly appalling. I love history. To my chagrin, this is the first quarter that I've been able to take a history course since high school. And so it is a particularly awful quandry I've found myself in, wanting to immerse myself in a romance that takes place in a non-contemporary setting while also wanting the female characters to be written with respect.

There have been many women from history who we now describe as strong and empowered despite the times they lived in. These women persevered despite the oppression that surrounded them. Most didn't outright ignore their society's social norms but instead learned to adapt them. If they couldn't vote, they influenced their husbands'. If they could only wear skirts, they would wear trousers when in secret.  If they weren't allowed to fight in a war, hell, they disguised themselves as men and fought anyway.

It is because of this that I am convinced that historical romances can do better. I understand and respect the need for accuracy in historical romances, but accuracy is more than just correct fashions or dialogue--it is the little things, the details that differentiate a novel that depicts women in history as unknowing victims from a novel that illustrates women's strengths in the face of adversity.

Now. The Raven Prince

I picked it up on a whim over Christmas break and recently sat down to read it. It's a compelling, spicy tale of an impoverished widow who actively seeks a job (!!!) and becomes the resident Earl's secretary. Anna is snarky, inquisitive, and uncowed, even when dealing with Edward's temper. At one point, she questions the social construction of propriety:

"Had she ever met a prostitute? She thought not. such persons lived in a different world from poor country widows. A world that her community explicitly forbade from ever intersecting hers. She should do as John suggested and leave the poor woman. It was, after all, what everyone expected of her.

"John Coachman was offering his hand to help her up. Anna stared at the appendage. Had her life always been this constrained, her boundaries so narrow that at times it was like walking a tightrope? Was she nothing more than her position in society?

"No, she was not." (page 69)
Hoyt takes risks in writing The Raven Prince; Anna pushes more boundaries than I've ever seen in a historical. She toes the line between what is acceptable and what is not while still remaining, if somewhat precariously, on the side of societal respectability. She does not break so many rules that she becomes discredited as fringe or Other, but instead bends enough of them that she shines as a strong individual capable of asserting her opinion and taking care of herself.

This is what I mean when I say women in historical settings can and did adapt to their circumstances instead of merely conforming. This is what I mean when I say historical romances can do better.

There are flaws, of course. The constant reminder of how Anna is "feminine" and Edward "masculine" was overkill and unnecessary, explicit gender stereotyping. Edward himself was as decent a hero as I've seen, which the exception of an episode later in the book where he pinned her against a wall with his weight in a fit of rage. Believe it or not, this falls under the banner of domestic violence, and it is a prime example of how violence against women is frequently glorified as acceptable "because she deserved it" or passed off as sexual aggression in romance novels and our society at large. He didn't hurt her, but he damn well made sure she knew he could if he wanted to.

Additionally minor spoiler warning )

I also have a niggling feeling that Anna is only allowed to bend so many rules because she is a widow. I'd like to see a romance of a single, nonvirginal  single woman in a historical period that questions the structure of her society and then defies it. In many ways a single woman would have more to lose, and so I believe the risks taken would be greater and thus more compelling.

Overall The Raven Prince is my favorite historical romance that I've read by far, and I'm looking forward to the second book, The Leopard Prince.*** Hoyt did justice to Anna and wrote her as a strong, salient female character despite and within the confines of the era's social norms. 



*If history is any indication, romance novels tend to quite accurately reflect the reality of middle-class, heterosexual White women. Romances of the 50s-70s featured rape as the main form of initial intercourse between the hero and heroine; rape was used as a justification for the female character's sexual pleasure in a social climate where women were not supposed to want to have sex, let alone enjoy it. I would theorize that the sexualization of women in modern UF & PR is a reflection of an evolved but decidely insidious form of the same gender stereotypes from the 50s. Women are allowed to have sex and be sexual, but only if it takes place in the form of what men want; women are allowed to be strong, but only in ways men find acceptable. A woman is not allowed to stand strong on her own merit. This isn't to say, of course, that women shouldn't wear leather or pursue multiple sexual liasions--certainly. I am more concerned about the overall trend, and, no, I'm not convinced that the what-sells-is-replicated model is a good enough answer. I question why it sells.

**Not that there isn't sexism in contemporary romance, or any other genre for that matter. Our society was built on and perpetuates sexism, and until that system is revolutionized, even the most egalitarian novel will reflect that.

***The interspersion of the fairytale "The Raven Prince" was a charming detail, one I hope is repeated. 

manifesta: (Black Jeweled Queen)
I'm in the middle of writing a ton of papers (in particular, the final paper for my main experiment), so I'm dropping in just to link an entry made by Sarah Dessen regarding domestic violence:

"I'm sitting here watching a segment on domestic violence on GMA, and it's breaking my heart. They're talking specifically about teenage girls, and what they are calling the "Rhianna effect," i.e. that since she came forward and talked about being beaten by Chris Brown on Friday night, calls to domestic violence lines---and specifically teen targeted ones---went up considerably. This is an issue close to my own heart, because I wrote a book about a girl in a similar relationship, and since then I have literally gotten hundreds of emails and letters from girls telling me about their own stories with abusive boyfriends. It's a terrible, terrible thing, that this happens, and I so respect Rhianna for coming forward and shedding some bright, needed light on the subject. I was never in an abusive relationship. But several of my close friends, in high school and since, were, and they were not weak women. They were strong and smart and just got overwhelmed. It happens. But it doesn't HAVE to."

Emphasis mine.

I loved Dreamland, her book that involved domestic violence, and so I really appreciated that Dessen made this statement. However, I'd like to note that violence doesn't just 'happen.' There are specific gender roles our society perpetuates that in turn fosters violence against women by men. Domestic violence or sexual assault victims/survivors do not simply 'get overwhelmed.' This implies responsbility, and that if they had simply done something, called someone, the violence never would have happened or it could have ended sooner. The responsibility to end the violence shouldn't be placed on the woman to make that call; it should be placed on the man to not engage in violent behavior.

I truly don't believe Dessen meant it this way. Unfortunately, semantics is half the battle. As long as we continue to blame women with our words, on purpose or on accident, we continue to support the violence that is being perpetrated against them.
manifesta: (Dangerous)
Marjorie M. Liu made heads roll a few days ago in her post regarding Roman Polanski. It's good to see such a prominent author speaking up. Carolyn Jewel did, too. (Edit 10/8/09: Amanda Downumhas also chimed in.) For those unaware, Roman Polanski is a U.S. fugitive currently undergoing criminal court in Switzerland to be extradicted to the U.S. to face trial for his offenses. Some people have even risen to Polanski's defense, neatly ignoring the fact that he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl.

As someone relatively familiar with these issues, I'd like to address some of the language I've seen being used.

From TulsaWorld:
"Roman Polanski lost the first round Tuesday in his battle to avoid extradition to the U.S. for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl."
An adult does not have sex with a 13-year-old girl. Sexual assault laws vary across the U.S. regarding how many years can separate two minors for sex to be legal, but in every single state it is illegal and considered to be no less than rape for an adult to penetrate a 13-year-old girl. It is not sex. It is rape. Referring to it as anything other than such is to demean the levity of the assault.

I'd also like to note that, regardless of age, it is also illegal and considered rape if one or more of the parties involved is intoxicated because it is impossible for someone under the influence to grant consent. This is also standard in every state.

Polanski plied her with alcohol. Why there is even any discussion after this point, I don't know.

From Carolyn Jewel:
"I really thought we'd moved past the days when we blamed women for the violence committed against them. I really did. I didn't think anyone in America today could stand up and blame a 13 year old girl for the actions of a 43 year old man who gave her alcohol and drugs before he got around to having sex with her -- because, damn, she kept saying no!"
Good entry overall. However, in a nutshell: we as a society are no where NEAR over blaming women for the violence committed against them. Victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and rape apologism is on going, and it occurs among our peers, our workers, our friends, our family, our police, our government. In a world (and specifically, this country) that believes people get what's coming to them, the first question we ask is not, "Is there anything I can do to help you?" but instead, "What did you do to provoke him?" This is not the first case of a child molester, but it is a case that has been under public scrutiny because of the perpetrator's fame, the length since the rape, and his flight from the country.

Let me make this clear, folks: If the perpetrator had been anything other than famous, this uproar would be not be occurring.

There are thousands of women, men, and children who have had acts of violence committed against them, many of whom do not have their perpetrator's fame to speak for them. Thousands.

What's sickening that it's taken the rape of a child by someone famous for people to begin to realize that no, HELL no, things are not okay here. When the news of Chris Brown's assault and battery of Rihana manifested last Spring, people pointed fingers, tsked, told Chris Brown never to do such an awful thing again, and promptly dropped it. Over half of teens polled blamed Rihanna. Only when it's so clear-cut as to include a child, and alcohol, and a desperate flight from the country does the media consider it sensational enough to cover it, for people to sit up and pay attention.

It doesn't matter how many times she said no, or if she said no at all. Consent is not granted in the absence of the no. Consent is not granted even if she says yes, but is still intoxicated or underage. Consent was not only NOT granted, but she was not ABLE to grant consent, period.

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