Sunday, 21 December 2014

8 Things I’ve Learned from Reading a Romance Book

Being absolutely bored to death and in need of something to read, I downloaded to my Kindle this book for free, “Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble” by H. P. Mallory. Before you start judging my taste in books, I must dare to say that it’s a relatively good read. Actually, I've read all of the 5 books of the Jolie Wilkins series.
Whaaat? I like it...
It has well considered plot, it’s fantasy world with witches, fairies, warlocks and vampires, so it’s not only about sappy love and nothing else. There is war between species, there is drama, there is suspense and it’s really engaging. And, as it usually goes in this kind of books, there is a love trio, with main character - Jolie Wilkins the witch in the middle, warlock Rand and vampire Sinjin fighting for her attention, love and affection.
Oh, and there are erotic scenes that made my heart beat faster. And I had really restless nights after reading some fragments…

But anyway, I wouldn’t be myself if I just switched off my feminist brain and take the book as it is. Nope, it didn’t happen. I had to analyse each male – female dynamics and draw conclusions. I couldn’t help but wonder how can this kind of books impact on our perceptions of love, romance and sex. And most importantly, what is the message that some of those books are sending to the women who are reading them?
Anyway, this are the things I noticed in this books that are worth mentioning.

1. If the woman says no, it means no.

This is the first thing that I’ve noticed and I were like “Whoop whoop! Halleluiah!”. Although it seems that every male character with name wants to have sex with Jolie, she has her eyes on Rand and he is the only one who gains the privilege of being her lover. And even though each male character with name says it multiple times how bad they want her, if she says no, it means no. It doesn’t stop them from talking her into it, but basically that’s it. No means no.
What is even better, the erotic situations with Rand doesn’t always end up with sex. Heck, I had to wait until Book 2 for them to finally get it going. There are various reasons why they didn’t do it earlier (author’s sadism being the main reason), but some of them were cut short by Jolie’s “no”. Even if there is this graphic description of Rand’s erection and his desire and basically he is so horny that if he could, he would have sex with her 10000 times without a break, when she says “we can’t”, he stops and takes cold shower. And that’s it.
Easy? Easy.

2. Rape is appalling and inexcusable. And victim needs to be supported.

Although the sexual tension is almost on every page of the book, it is clearly highlighted that rape is inexcusable. Even when the victim dresses up provocatively.
It is clearly described how Jolie changes her clothing style from really safe and unrevealing clothes, to “sexy” ones and “highlighting her twins”, but she is never policed for it.
When she gets kidnapped, violated and almost raped by one “son of a b**** vampire”, even though she is dressed in clothes showing all of her sexy curves, she isn’t blamed for anything by anybody. And what’s best, she doesn’t blame herself.
And when others do find out what happened to her and what the “son of a b**** vampire” did to her, nobody is against her. Not even her ex-boyfriend with whom she isn’t at best of terms. Everybody is outraged, sickened by the situation and she meets with support and understanding. And when she says that she never mentioned the whole situation, because she wanted to forget about it, there is only one thing to say: “I understand”.

3. Everybody has different sexual needs and sexual drives.

Another awesome thing in the book is that sexual desire and needs don’t depend on gender. We have Jolie who can go without sex for some time and can patiently wait for Rand to finally jump into her bed (I told you, there is drama and various conundrums), even though there are some guys, who would be more than happy to take his place, right here, right now. But she is waiting (sometimes not as patiently) for the one she really desires.
Then we had her best friend, Christa, who has insatiable sexual drive. Before the action even starts to develop, we are getting familiar with the list of guys that Christa dated and had sex with. And there isn’t even a hint of judgement of her actions. Finally, she finds a boyfriend, whom she marries at the end of the series. And btw, he sometimes complains about her sexual needs and that she wants sex TOO MUCH. So we have a guy, who wants sex less often than his girlfriend. It happens.
Then we have a guy, who basically f**** everything that has vagina. Then we have a vampire Sinjin, whose sexual drive is compared to Christa’s. And finally we have Rand, who mentions his desire to have sex with Jolie from almost Chapter 1, but he is able to wait patiently for a proper moment where both of them will be into it.
So ladies and gentlemen, never be ashamed of your sexual desire, or lack of thereof, because everything that feels natural to you is NORMAL.

4. Sex scenario between employer and employee is unthinkable.

That was an interesting point. At one moment (lots of things happen before that, but anyway…) Jolie starts working for Rand. So Rand is her employer. So he is in the position of power. And even though they want each other baaadly (there are random passionate kisses and looks and jealousy and graphic erotic descriptions etc.) Rand decides not to take the step further, because it would be inappropriate as he is her boss and he doesn’t want to put her in problematic position.
Bravo, Rand.

5. Woman’s orgasm first.

That’s the thing I looooved. Like I said, there were various erotic scenarios that ended with nothing, but each action always started with Rand pleasuring Jolie. Always. Unless it was described that she was ready for it like right now and downright announced it.
Also, the first sexual situation that actually was carried through, was an oral sex performed on her. There is again a graphic description how her taste and wetness etc. made him feel, but he decided that he want to pleasure her and that this evening was all about her. And when they FINALLY did have a proper sex (multiple times), it also started with him pleasuring her. Only when she said something among the lines like “I want you NOW”, only then he get straight to the business.
Like I said, that’s the point I really loved. The truth that the main source of orgasm for women is clitoral stimulation and there is only a handful of women who have vaginal orgasms. So ladies, there is a lesson for you to learn from that: if the guy loves you and cares about your pleasure, he will make sure that you are first wet and horny enough for him to enter. If you are not and he doesn’t care, just kick him in the nuts, because he is not worth it.

6. Men in power can easily work on equal terms with women in power.

At one point in the book Jolie becomes the Queen of the Underworld, so she is like the highest of highest and she has her Council where all magical species are represented and all representatives are the most powerful of all. Even though the ratio is 5 to 3, it is always highlighted that each of the women could easily make barbeque of everybody on the Council (and most of others, for that matter). And guys don’t have a problem with that. They can easily work alongside women, take their opinion into consideration, don’t mansplain anything and suck it up when they got outvoted. There is only one sexist comment where one person suggests that women are weaker sex, but he’s put in his place by everybody in the room.

7. Marriage shouldn’t be forced on woman.

When Jolie becomes the Queen, she is pushed to do many things she not necessarily wants to: move out of her small apartment, get classes in various political and queeny things, meet with people, give speeches, consult her council and properly represent her people.
When it becomes apparent that it would be a good political decision if she marries a representative of other magical being (vampires, fairies, demons, werewolves), the decision is only hers. And when she indelicately tells everybody to shove off, there is no hard feelings.
And when she finally gets together with Rand and gets pregnant, everybody is happy for her. Because she is seen as a person with ability and right to choose, not a bargaining card for political benefits.

However, there was one thing that stood out and I didn’t like it. And I believe that this kind of narrative becomes way too often represented in books that brought up the subject of sex and romantic relationship:

8. Sexual harassment, stalking, psychological violence and jealousy are sexy.

Like I just said, this narrative is problematic and it scares me how sexual harassment and violence is easily mistaken with eroticism and passion.
For example in Twilight saga, books potentially for teenagers, stalking is described as something sexy, as a sign of love and care. Nobody mentions how creepy it is and how many victims live in fear because of it and how their experience is belittled by almost everybody, including criminal justice system representatives.
Not to mention Bella’s first time, when she basically is all bruised up. But that’s okay, because he is a vampire and he can’t control his strength. But he regrets everything afterwards and he is sorry.
Or 50 Shades of Grey books that are on one hand glorified for their attempt to bring alternative sexual scenarios into the discussion, but on the other hand are frequently criticised for mistaking domestic violence and sexual abuse with love and BDSM lifestyle.
Here is similar situation. Although rape is clearly described as something appalling, sexual harassment, stalking and jealousy manipulations are not.
So basically, Rand is indecisive the entire book, he loves Jolie, but he won’t act on his feelings, he doesn’t show her for long time how much he cares for her, but is always angry at her that she doesn’t know that. He is terribly jealous each time another guy comes into the picture and she seems interested, even though few pages ago he made it clear that he doesn’t know what he wants with her or that he won’t allow for anything to progress.
There are few situations where Rand is fighting with somebody for her. Actually, I think it got to punching on three or four occasions. And each time it’s described as something “wow”. Because she never would have thought that the guy could fight for her and now there is this two extremely sexy guys throwing punches. Wow. And what is more, few of those acts of violence are when Rand tries to “defend” Jolie, regardless of her opinion on that matter. But still “wow”.
Also, through entire book there is this hint of psychological violence and manipulations. For example, things are going into the sex direction, then something happens, Jolie gets angry at Rand and decides she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him (or guys for that matter), so he goes to tell her how much he cares for her, but still does nothing, she have a thing with somebody else (a kiss, a date, etc.), Rand gets jealous, stops speaking to her, make a guilt trip saying that she doesn’t care about his feelings, so she turns her attention towards him, but he ignores her. So she is left with guilt, mixed feelings, usually crying until he decides to “forgive” her. So basically she is in this perpetual situation when she doesn’t know what will future brings with Rand, because he is freakin’ indecisive. But each time when he pushes her away and she is like “fine, I have to move on”, he automatically does something to stay around and make her feel guilty for thinking about her own happiness.
And finally:

Sexual harassment and violence is sexy when it’s done by a guys who are handsome and woman is attracted to them.

We have whole spectrum of horny guys who wants to f*** Jolie and even though some of them accepts her “no” for sex, it doesn’t prevent them from grabbing, rubbing, flashing, invading personal space, forcefully kissing and freely commenting on her clothes and boobs. As if somehow the sexual harassment was a normal thing that guys can’t control and all the girl can do is to accept that and feel flattered that she receives so much attention.
There are also few descriptions of sexual violence, especially in relationship Jolie – Sinjin. So from their first encounter it’s clear that Sinjin is attracted to her and she is clearly attracted to him. As we all know, she is in love with Rand, so she is patiently waiting to jump his bone, but there are obvious description that she is sexually attracted to Sinjin as well. And somehow it excuses all of his actions against her. He pins her into wall or tree, rubs himself against her, few times forcefully kisses her, holds her down against her will while stinging her with his erection through his pants, etc.
For me, it’s clearly sexual violence. Sexual attraction does not excuse such violations and actions against woman’s will. But here it’s mistaken with passion, desire and lust. And at the same time, it doesn’t seem to bother the girl, somehow it’s made to appear flattering.

Those are dangerous messages. Sexual harassment is clear violation of woman’s integrity and it doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator is sexy and sexually attractive or not. Men just can’t violate women whenever they please, only because they have a desire to do so. Strong sexual desire, passion and lust doesn’t require sexual violence to take place. And even when girl “like it rough”, it doesn’t mean that she wants to be sexually harassed and abused.

Just to sum up, those books and similar to them clearly have some feminist messages that are broadcasted to the world. Female characters are complicated, full of ambitions, desires, various stories and experiences. Male characters can be respectful, complicated, sensitive and are not afraid of women in power.
However, there is still a looooooooong way until we learn to talk about sex as a natural phenomenon and stop mistaking sexual violence for signs of affection and love.

What about you? Do you like to read romantic/erotic books and novels? What are your observations? Did you noticed something in particular?
We’d love to hear your opinion!

 Written by Vespertilio

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