We do always hope that our prose is intoxicating and our stories addictive, but we are really talking about metaphorically! Apparently romance is just too dangerous a drug to be trusted. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the news story I read this week in the Guardian with the provocative headline, “Mills & Boon blamed for sexual health problems.”
Uh huh. Yeah, that’s right: the biggest seller of romance titles in the world, Harlequin/Mills & Boon is just a big pusher trying to ruin your life.
Blaming romance novels for unprotected sex, unwanted pregnancies, unrealistic sexual expectations and relationship breakdowns, author and psychologist Susan Quilliam says that “what we see in our consulting rooms is more likely to be informed by Mills & Boon than by the Family Planning Association”, advising readers of the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care that “sometimes the kindest and wisest thing we can do for our clients is to encourage them to put down the books – and pick up reality”.
Okay, it’s really just another attempt to slam women who read and write romance. Like the LDS “Life Coach” who claimed that women were “unbalanced” by romance, it’s another sensational pile of hogwash disguised as “concern” about women. In our childlike simplicity, we’re just not capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Poor lost souls! I feel a fainting spell coming on.
Of course, the scholar in question refers to 70s era classic Mills & Boon bodice-rippers as her “evidence” for this. Yes, books from decades ago: obviously nothing has changed in the forty or so years since then. Or has it?
While Quilliam admits that more recent Mills & Boon novels are truer to life, with female characters holding jobs and addressing challenges such as disability and domestic violence, as well as enjoying “many and varied” sexual activities, “still a deep strand of escapism, perfectionism and idealisation runs through the genre”.
Shock! Shock! Because I’m sure that’s not a problem in any other genre! Why, there are no elements of “escapism, perfectionism and idealisation” in — oh let’s say — superhero narratives or spy novels or military thrillers (you know, the genres generally perceived as appealing to male readers). There’s no crazy, unrealistic and condom-free sex in books made to appeal to the boys!
No, it’s only women who must have a finger shaken (not stirred!) at them and told to be good and realistic and above all, not to image wild and improbable sex. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?
Nah, me either.
[by the way, if you’re at Readercon next weekend, see you there!]