I occasionally suffer from insomnia (November to March is “occasional”, roight? Roight). When I do, one of the ways I stop myself spending my nights screaming at my brain to shut up already and go to sleep, is read free crap on the Kindle. It specifically has to be crap otherwise I get into the “just another chapter” routine and there’s no way in hell I’m ever gonna sleep, ever. It’s also got to be free, because I’m cheap. A lot of the free crap I find is classed as “romantic novels”. The definition these days apparently encompasses stuff that would be porn if it was written from the point of view of a penis… but people blessed with vaginas only have romances, obviously.
Anyhoo, plot-wise these things aren’t terribly original. In particular, there is a recurring storyline that’s been driving me demented:
- Girl meets boy in dangerous/dubious circumstances.
- Girl has a bad feeling about boy.
- Boy tells girl to stay away cos he’s bad news.
- Girl ignores it all cos boy is pants-wettingly hot.
- Girl jumps boy and they have rumpy-pumpy – generally totally not the sort of rumpy-pumpy she would normally have but wow nasty sex is actually fun, whodda thunk it (and we skipped on the protection but who needs that when bonking a near-perfect stranger when that stranger is hot, hey?).
- Hijinks ensue, leading to;
- The Big Reveal: it turns out that boy was… a werewolf, or a vampire, or a secret Dom, or some suchlike dark-but-not-ill-meaning creature. He wasn’t a BadGuy©, just a TroubledGuy©, which is why he was trying to keep the girl in question at arm’s length.
- Girl embraces his troubles, because they come with a penis attached.
- They live happily ever after, and much sex happens. Oh, and occasionally they have werepuppies.
I keep finding these stories out there, and they scare me. I know plenty of people who’ve gone through precisely that storyline in real life, because hot boys are indeed hot. Only they didn’t find well-meaning werewolves at the end of the rainbow: they found addicts, abusers, fraudsters, criminals, narcissists, sociopaths, and so on. And it didn’t end well.
I understand these stories are just that: stories. They’re not designed to educate or inform or guide people. They’re a bit of light-weight amusement not intended to be taken seriously. However, to me they read like reverse fairy tales. The fairy tales of old encoded bits to advice on how to keep your bacon out of the fire: don’t go wandering in the woods; don’t make wishes without considering the consequences; don’t boast; don’t insult people, because you never know who you may be dealing with; don’t go snooping in people’s houses; have unnaturally small feet… well, ok, so not all of them include useful lifestyle advice, but a bunch of them do.
Furthermore, in the old stories many of the heroines are eye-rollingly passive.* Things seem to just happen at them. The female heroes in these new stories aren’t like that at all. They have minds of their own. They make their own decisions. They carve their own paths. And what they choose to do is stuff that is mind-bogglingly stupid; stuff that in the real world could make their lives very difficult, or unnecessarily short, but it all turns out alright for them, because.
These modern stories scare me. They encourage women to ignore their instincts, their common sense, the evidence of their own eyes. They present a view of what romance should be like that, in real life, is all too often one-way ticket to AbuseLand. If there were only one or two or six of them, they wouldn’t bother me in the least; but they are legion. I find their ubiquity terrifying, because any message that’s repeated often enough seems to get normalised and internalised. And if we’re really suggesting to women that love should be scary, that people’s troubles make them better partners, that if you feel bad about someone hot then he’s bound to be The One… Well, that could end badly.
*The flipside is that the whole story is about them – the male heroes only turn up right at the end, and a bunch of them don’t even have names. Well, either that or Prince Charming was a serial philanderer.