You know, I don't know if it's because I just spent a week with the most amazing, thoughtful, passionate writers in the world or what, but seeing today's article in the Telegraph really got my goat. There have been a few such articles lately and I have sighed in disgust and moved on. But today it's annoying me more than usual. And I think it's because, well, the facts are just WRONG. And therefore not facts at all. The article (or rather the report it is based on) is a fiction all on its own.
"Far from being a slice of innocent escapism for millions of female readers, romantic novels are a danger to relationships and sexual health. That is the verdict of an article in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care." Really. A story about two flawed people finding - and accepting each other - and falling in love and entering into a committed relationship is a danger to relationships. Having sex based on love is a bad idea apparently. As opposed to having sex just because it feels good or for whatever other reasons people have sex these days. I wouldn't be up to date, apparently I am the exception to the rule because as a long time reader - and writer - of Mills and Boon novels, I've been with the same man for 20 years. As you can see it's been horribly damaging to my relationships. And yes - my tongue is very firmly in cheek, just in case you missed it.
"the values of romantic fiction "run totally counter to the [messages] we try to promote"
What values, pray tell, are you TRYING to promote? I write Mills and Boon novels. My characters are adults who know how to think and make decisions for themselves. They use protection. Sometimes that protection fails - just like in real life, by the way. My characters have to deal with consequences and sometimes they are heart breaking. Sex is never easy, and if it is, the consequences never are. Because there are emotions involved. Just like real life.
"We warn of the stresses of pregnancy and child-rearing, and we discourage relentless baby-making as proof of a relationship's strength. Above all, we teach that sex may be wonderful and relationships loving, but neither are ever perfect and idealising them is the short way to heartbreak. But are our lessons falling on deaf ears when compared to the values of the Regency heroine gazing adoringly across the Assembly Rooms to catch a glimpse of her man?"
And this is the part where I say, FOR REALS? And now I know that this person has never read a Mills and Boon novel - especially one published in, I don't know, the last DECADE? I can't think of ANY M&B book with "relentless baby making" (that actually made me snortle) and my current book out now has a single mom and if you want the stress of child rearing, this is it. The whole heroine situation was based on my own worries about what would happen if I were suddenly left alone to raise my kids. As far as the Regency heroine gazing adoringly across the Assembly rooms....since the beginning of time girls have been gazing adoringly at boys across rooms/the Garden of Eden. It's called attraction. *facepalm* Surely anyone reading a romance novel relates to that breathless feeling of seeing that certain someone and wondering if he'll ask you to dance. And there is not a darn thing wrong with that.
Women who read romance novels can "suspend rationality" in favour of romanticism, Miss Quilliam said, including "not using protection with a new man because she wants to be swept up by the moment as a heroine would" or being persuaded to give up contraception a few months into a relationship.
"It might mean terminating a pregnancy (or continuing with one) against all her moral codes because that same man asks her to... or judging that if romance has died then so has love, and that rather than working at her relationship she should be hitching her star to a new romance."
Living the life of a romantic heroine can also have serious sexual health implications, Miss Quilliam said. "To be blunt, we [sexual health professionals] like condoms - for protection and for contraception - and they don't."
Well, congratulations on insulting the vast majority of women out there who can actually tell the difference between reading a book and living life. Because we read romance novels apparently we lose all sense, morality, and judgment. (Tongue in cheek again). Miss Quilliam needs to read more. She might find a LOT of condoms in M&B novels. She might even find characters ABSTAINING. Waiting because they are not ready. Because they are unsure. She might find a marriage in jeopardy being worked out rather than "hitching her star to a new romance". Goodness, even a heroine "swept up in the moment" knows enough to ask if the hero if he has protection, or, more importantly, have it herself. Because women - and heroines - know that it's important to look after their own sexual health rather than leave it all up to their partners. And blaming terminating a pregnancy because the partner demands it? I think my jaw dropped reading that. Today's heroines are strong, independent women who would make that choice on her own and refuse to have it dictated to her. And then - just like in real life - she'd have to deal with the fallout no matter what decision she made. M&B publish an astounding number of books a year, and I haven't read each and every one, but I'd like to know WHICH book prompted this assumption. I can't recall a single one where the heroine has been "forced" to terminate a pregnancy.
The M&B spokesperson was absolutely right - the novels are meant to REFLECT reality and not provide a manual for life. Maybe there's a fantasy element involved BUT the reason why they are so popular is because those characters have real emotions and problems and have to overcome them - that's why they are relatable, sympathetic heroes and heroines (and every romance writer I know is nodding their head right now because we all know that sympathetic characters are the basis for any novel!). They are also right in that the readers are smart. I have never heard a reader say, "Well, the characters in xxxx did it, so I thought it would be a good idea and it destroyed my relationship/got me pregnant/gave me an STD."
Romance novels are perhaps the ONE form of entertainment where the emphasis is on LOVE and COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS and not the relentless barrage of sexual images we see on television other forms of media. Watch a music video sometime. Then read a Mills and Boon.
And I think that ends the rant portion of my day. :-)