Thursday, July 07, 2011

Seriously? Again?

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. :-)


  1. Great post, Donna. I am so sick of this "women are too stupid to live" stuff.

  2. Good post, Donna. I blogged about the Daily Mail article last week only to find this on my Twitter feed this. SO sick of women always being to blame for society's ills because we too fluffy to cope with fantasy. Grrr

  3. Anonymous10:23 a.m.

    Well said, Donna!
    And I is maddening.


  4. Nice one, Donna... It got my goat too!

  5. Anonymous10:28 a.m.

    AMEN Donna, very well said!

    Michele Payne

  6. Do you know what I think is dangerous for young women today? Accepting crappy behavior from the men and boys in their lives. Romance novels introduce the idea that a man who respects you and treats you well is exactly what a woman deserves.

  7. I'm so tired of articles about romance ...I guess women are too stupid to figure out that fiction is not real...grr...I get so tired of being insulted for my reading choices!

  8. Great point, Anne!

    And relentless baby-making? Hahaha...oh that is rich. Can you imagine that as a pick up line? Hey beautiful, I wanna git with you and do some relentless baby-making.

    I think the individual that wrote that article needs to dig her head out of one particular oriface and do some research based on the facts and not the imaginary world she's concocted in her head.

  9. Funnily enough I have been stewing about this article all day too. According to Ms Quillam's assumptions, seeing as I also like to read crime novels therefore I am likely to turn into an axe-weilding maniac. GRRRRR

  10. Grrrr. Articles like this makes my blood boil! Like you say I *bet* she's never read a M&B in her life. Caroline x

  11. Anonymous12:54 p.m.

    The author should have questioned her source, as in not taken all the source said verbatim. She should have sited references (passages from actual romance novels) to illustrate Miss Quilliam’s claims, (note: MISS Quilliam. If she was a “modern woman”, wouldn’t she go by Ms). At least the author did give M&B a chance to have a say. The covers shown with the article gotta be from the ‘70s. Let’s all send Ms Singh and Miss Quilliam a copy of our favorite romance novel.

  12. Thanks all - I know a lot of people are up in arms today. Anne - big round of applause for you. The point of so many romance novels today is exactly that - not settling for less than love and respect from a partner. I laugh and also pull my hair out when I read how these books damage young women. I find them empowering - the women in the books lead interesting, successful lives and find love and partners who treat them with respect and dignity.

  13. Hi Donna:

    Thanks for brining this article to the attention of your readers. I have also commented on it on my blog:

    In short, the romance genre is not the target of these recurring negative articles and the normal defenses of the genre have no impact on the critics.

    It all goes to motive. It’s all about their goals.


  14. Anonymous4:49 p.m.

    So many good points here. I wonder if the Telegraph would print a "rebuttal" article written by some romance writers?

  15. I'd like to follow SBTB Sarah's lead and laugh, but I find these 'articles' so irritating, I really can't find the humor in them at all.

  16. Loved your rant, and I agree with everything you said!

  17. Whoot whoot! Honestly, when I first saw the original article I had to check the date, because I was sure that it was either a) written 40 years ago, or b) dated April 1 and hence an April fool's joke. Maybe the author in question just wanted a little free publicity.

    Great post!

  18. I'd say Yes yes yes! Donna - but I'm obviously too stupid to understand your blog. Or the article that provoked it. Because - in no particular order
    a. I'm a woman
    b. I read romances - specifically Mills & Boon
    c. I write romance for Mills & Boon
    d. I fell in love and married - that seems to be a really great sin because I married a man - and I did actually spend some time gazing adoringly across a room to catch a glimpse of him.
    e. I have discovered 'sex may be wonderful and relationships loving', but yes, they may not be perfect but this one sure as hell has been 'ideal' for me.

    f. And as for that 'short way to heartbreak' - I've only been married 38 years next Thursday (I was a child bride - honest!) so obviously all that reading and writing romance has ruined me for lasting relationships!

    But I was still punching the air and saying YES! Because that really has to be one of the most stupid arguments I've ever read.

    Thank you for your rant. The only trouble is that I bet Ms Susan Quilliam is too narrowminded, too determined that her own thesis is right ever to read it - or any real M&B books

    Kate Walker (in case Blogger refuses to recognise me again)