I’ll Save You, My Fair Lady….
This is a three blog series. Please read the first blog here.
In the previous blog I concentrated on the fantasy genre. While this particular genre can have some elements of romance contained within the story, the characters falling madly in love is a distant subplot. The romance genre is the kingpin for intertwining the characters with regards to matters of the heart. Like it or not, romance is a billion—yes BILLION—dollar industry and has been the number one selling genre for years. Readers swoon to hunky males gracing the covers with females in a state of undress. How much undercover business is within the pages often is determined by how many clothes seem to be missing. Despite the sigh-worthy need for that happily ever after, there is a darker side to romance novels and I’m not just talking the kinky side. Overbearing males who believe they know what’s best for the heroine litter the pages. When a romance novel gets popularized on the silver screen, sometimes those examples of toxic masculinity gets romanticized and normalized. Neither of which are a good combination.
Fifty Shades of Grey was a commercial success for E. L. James. Originally a fan fiction piece for Twilight, the book become a whirlwind triumph not only in books but in the movies. Tagged as “mommy porn” mostly by groups that believe romance isn’t to be taken seriously or should be no better than a back alley strip club. Like women should be ashamed of reading this type of content. To further this issue, men would have some notion that if a woman read a kinky and slightly erotic book, they were interested in performing the acts on the actual pages. The irony is no one asked a person who enjoys murder crime books if they are fantasizing about killing another being. However, Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t without its problems.
Back in 2015, I did a chapter by chapter breakdown of the book. I analyzed the storyline, the dynamic between the two characters, and sprinkled in a little bit of fact checking. Research is important, after all. The main problem I found with Fifty Shades of Grey was the relationship between the two main characters being portrayed as romance when the relationship is far from it. Christian uses domineering tactics to cow Anastasia. Beyond the contract, he controls her life by tapping her phone to getting her the job she wants and through that, he can keep tabs on her. All the while he’s the brooding man who has a dark secret. Just what a woman wants in life, right? A broken soul in need of healing no matter what the cost to her.
BDSM as a whole isn’t about hurting your partner or the submissive. It is a relationship of trusting and understanding that doesn’t develop overnight. The spanking scene toward the end of the book is a prime example of how not to have a BDSM relationship. Simply put—you do not harm your partner. He takes advantage of her while she’s drunk, gets violent when she’s with another man, and stalks her. In several points in the book she calls him a stalker. Yet, she is still drawn to him. Here’s a particular passage I’d like to highlight:
[Christian]”I don’t want to change you. I’d like you to be courteous and to follow the set of rules I’ve given you and not defy me. Simple.”
Christian is asking for her to be submissive not only during BDSM play time, but outside that box as well which is not what that lifestyle dictates at all. Mutual respect is a must.
This begs the question: Does the book industry have an obligation to strip toxic elements from the story line? These books are tailored to an adult audience and we should be able to distinguish between fiction and real life. So, in my opinion, they are no more obligated to do this than they are to stop any other genre from dancing into taboo areas. The domineering alpha male is rampant and too much of a cash cow. Remember, E. L. James had self-published these books before a sub-publishing house of Penguin UK gave her a contract. Money drives most business decisions.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out my own faults in writing these super alpha males. Although my book Rumpled Between the Sheets was loosely based on a fairytale, it is set in a modern setting where a man kidnaps a woman and forces her to work for him.
[Mary]”You—you burned my contract. I’m not going to stay here with you.”
[Benjamin]He growled and pinched his nose. “You’re not leaving and that’s final. I won’t allow it. You’re mine. Forever.”
When I initially wrote this book, I made the main character Benjamin beyond toxic. Whether something snapped inside or I was getting out the frustration of my own personal feelings, the only thing that dialed back the tone was my publisher. The male had to be possessive but not completely beyond redemption. Still, I was guilty of giving Mary bravado but clipping her claws. Justifying Benjamin’s harsh treatment of her at the end of the book didn’t lessen the fact that I dipped my toes into the pool of toxic masculinity.
Perhaps my misstep was due to the world building I had created in a fictional town called Beowulf Hollow. While this book had a small amount of paranormal elements, those snippets paled in comparison to the first book in the series Witches & Lycans. I, as a reader, tend to give a little forgiveness to the toxic alpha male when the paranormal subgenre is employed. Animalistic tendencies of werewolves or vampires, for example, are part of their nature where “normal” humans have more self-control. Regardless, just like the fantasy genre we could do with better equality and less damsel in distress yet still have a solid love story to swoon over.