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Monday News: Massachusetts finally criminalized upskirting, more on Harlequin’s troubles, a...

Massachusetts bans ‘upskirt’ photos, closes Peeping Tom loophole – A mere two years after the original criminal charge was filed against a man for taking upskirt photos on public transit, the Massachusetts legislature managed to re-write the law so that it explicitly applied to these types of situations. I know people have been cheering the legislature for its allegedly quick response, but if you look back to 2004-2005, you will see that the state had an example of a federal peeping tom law to work from, which explicitly targeted upskirt photos, among other forms of electronic surveillance and image capture. I also find it interesting that the Senate President focuses on the moral dimensions of upskirting, essentially saying that the law jails people for immoral behavior. While there are definitely ethical issues here (and upskirting would certainly qualify as a crime of moral turpitude), can’t we just focus on the idea that women have a reasonable expectation of privacy under their clothes, and that it should be and now is illegal in Massachusetts to deprive them of that?

“We are sending a message that to take a photo or video of a woman under her clothing is morally reprehensible and, in Massachusetts, we will put you in jail for doing it,” Senate President Therese Murray said in a release. –Reuters

Love Affair With Digital Over For Romance Publisher Harlequin? – A more extensive analysis of the declining revenue story about Harlequin, including an interview with Harlequin CEO Craig Swinwood. Swinwood claims that the company is “in transition,” which I sincerely hope is true. As I’ve remarked before, Harlequin’s focus on and willingness to sell directly to readers has made it a valuable player in the Romance publishing marketplace, and I believe that the continued viability of that market depends on the vitality of the greatest diversity of writing and publishing players.

A decade ago, publishers like Harlequin only had to compete among themselves to attract and retain authors; now they have to compete with the option to self-publish, too. For its part, Harlequin, like many other publishers, is scrambling to offer authors more and better service. Swinwood pointed out to me Harlequin’s Author Network, a dashboard where authors can check sales, get market intelligence and have all their questions answered by a concierge service. –Forbes

The Sheikh’s Prize Is Usually White by Natalie Storey – An interesting, honest, and very personal contemplation from a white reader of skeikh romances that does not shy away from the more difficult issues of race, culture, and constructions of the exotic. The way she touches on the problematic fact that the white woman becomes the cultural outsider in these books made me think of Reina Lewis’s wonderful Gendering Orientalism: Race, Femininity and Representation, and Jennifer DeVere Brody’s fantastic work in Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture.

But my interest in sheikh romances doesn’t end simply with wanting to believe in their depictions of cross-cultural love. I had never read any of the books before I traveled to Jordan, but their stories were so recognizable to me that I began to wonder if their narrative is so pervasive that it influenced the way I lived and loved without my knowledge or consent. I’m sure this suspicion developed from reading romance novels alongside Orientalism and other writings by Edward Said, which show how some cultural narratives are so deep-seated that we hardly notice them for what they are or whom they misrepresent. But there’s a difference between Said’s orientalism and that in the romance novels. Orientalism demonstrates how stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs have been embedded in popular culture and academia and how they continue to circulate, perpetuating fear and racism. The romances cope with the stereotyped images of fear and hatred of Muslims and Arabs in the popular media by reversing them to love. I think the romance novels’ reaction to hate bears some similarity to my desire to understand the Middle East for myself, the desire that propelled me to Jordan, helped me learn Arabic, and led me to begin a relationship with a Jordanian man. The romance novels seem to contain a positive message, but their reactive love relies too much on a fantasy of racial and cultural difference. Exoticism, in the end, objectifies others as much as hate.–Los Angeles Review of Books

Book News: @GSElevator Author Loses Book Deal - Despite the fact that Simon and Schuster admitted that it knew about the fiction that was @GSElevator’s twitter experiment, Touchstone has cancelled publication of his book. There’s an interesting email from LeFevre posted on the NPR blog, but no real explanation for the cancellation. –NPR

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

8 Comments

  1. Ros
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 07:50:31

    Thank you for the link to the sheikh romance essay. Really great and thought-provoking.

  2. CD
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 09:13:03

    Robin – thanks for the sheikh romance essay – definitely very interesting and I think one for a separate column in and of itself. Hint hint!

    I dated an Algerian for many years and I can tell you that any sense of the exotic fades when you watch him and your cousin spending the whole weekend nerding it out over video games. Or trash talk you over the England-Algeria draw during the last World Cup [grrr]. Or when it takes him at least two additional hours to get through UK immigration Every Single Bloody Time. I tell you, these things never happen in sheikh romances – I want my money back.

  3. MelissaB
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 10:26:28

    I read through the article about sheikh books and it was an interesting piece. I read sheikh romances but I don’t think they are realistic at all. To me they are just like any Harlequins – a kind of fairy tale, non-realistic story that still entertains me.

    I enjoy reading blogs from western women who live in the Middle East because I feel like I learn more about what the countries are really like. The Same Rainbows End is written by an American woman married to a Saudi and living in Saudi Arabia, she is a good writer and shares about her life. Her latest blog post sort of pertains to the subject raised in the other article about cultural and racial identity.

  4. Darlynne
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 13:53:47

    @MelissaB, if fiction works for you as well, Zoe Ferraris’ crime series is outstanding. The main characters are Saudi, one a devout Muslim, but she writes from her perspective/experience of having been married to a Saudi-Palestinian. There are three books and a storyline in the second (I think) follows an American woman whose husband works in Jeddah. I love the books, primarily because of the characters and also because they challenged me, and what I thought I knew, so soundly.

  5. Robin/Janet
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 19:33:20

    @CD: I have actually written on the construct of the white woman as the insider/outsider in my series on captivity and Romance. But there’s so much more to it, obviously. I wish Storey had pursued the cultural and literary history more, and in general I’d suggest that the article is more a conversation starter than anything else. Still, I appreciate that she’s at least thinking about some of these issues.

    One author I would recommend to readers who believe that sheikh books are only written by and about white women is Olivia Gates, an Egyptian physician who has lived and worked in Cairo. She writes for Harlequin/Silhouette, and she’s written sheikh Romances, medicals, and more. Her sheikh books often taken on issues of cultural and personal identity, in fact.

  6. mali muso
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 20:47:45

    I found the sheik article very interesting as well. Having dated (and ultimately married) a man from another racial and ethnic group while living within that culture, I have certainly had moments of hyper-awareness of my privileged and bizarre identity as a white woman in that space. Looking forward to reading that future column.

  7. CD
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 04:43:08

    @Robin/Janet:

    Robin – you may have actually convinced me to try a sheikh romance! I’ll be looking up Olivia Gates to see if I can suppress my automatic association of sheikhs with elderly religious leaders/scholars. Not exactly conducive to sexy times [shudder]…

    As someone who is British but of Vietnamese descent, and has dated people of other races, nationalities and religions (generally all three), I would really REALLY love to see a romance that dealt honestly with dating “across borders”.

  8. Stumbling Over Chaos :: No potholes have swallowed up linkity yet, but it’s only a matter of time
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 02:01:44

    […] and publishing news from Dear […]

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