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Is There A Right Way to Read Rape?


Cone of Shame

 

In the wake of ubiquitous popularity for The Book That Shall Not Be Named, the reality that women do experience – and even enjoy! – sexual fantasy has collided with far more than 50 shades of judgment about who, what, where, when, why, how, and whether that’s okay. Last week, Leigh at AAR wrote a blog post detailing her concerns about the real life relationship messages conveyed in Romance novels’ treatment of sexual force scenarios. Sandy Coleman went even further, invoking the “slippery slope,” Stockholm Syndrome, and insisting that “It’s dangerous for readers to be comfortable with forced seduction. Or date rape.”  As debate ensued over whether such sentiments blame women for rape and shame them for their sexual fantasies, Ridley summarized her opposition to Leigh’s and Sandy’s concerns by arguing that “Women still can’t be overtly sexual beings without being judged for it. Rape themes in romance continue to be a way to work with and around this.”

After the haze of red cleared from my vision, I started thinking about how frustrating these discussions often are for me, in large part because I don’t find the framing all that helpful or illuminating. Some version of the following arguments appears in almost all of these discussions (and I have certainly been guilty digging these holes, myself):

  • Adult readers can tell the difference between fantasy and reality;
  • Books both reflect and instruct, and because they instruct, we need to be conscious about the messages they send and we imbibe;
  • Because women are writing these books, and women are primarily victims of violent sexual crimes and domestic violence, we have a higher level of responsibility for conveying the “right” messages, especially to impressionable girls & young women

So for the sake of argument, I want to start by accepting a version of each of these arguments to be true:

  • In the overwhelming majority of cases, adults know the difference between fantasy and reality;
  • Words are powerful, stories are powerful; therefore, books are powerful. They affect us in our real lives. As cultural artifacts, they are identifiable within the cultural paradigm shared by authors and reader, which means that they can both perpetuate and challenge dominant ideologies’
  • As women raised in primarily patriarchal societies, we absolutely help to socialize each other to survive and thrive within the patriarchal paradigm. We are almost always operating from inside the paradigm, and because paradigm shifts of this magnitude take a long time to occur, at some point we’re all complicit in sustaining the dominant paradigm.

So with all that on the table, let me propose we re-frame the discussion for a moment. Let’s start from the idea that books can powerfully affect readers and that real life rape and battering are horrific experiences that no psychologically sound person desires.

From there, let’s take a quick look at the concept of the submission fantasy, of which the rape fantasy is part. Although I’m not the biggest fan of Psychology Today, this brief article by Michael Castleman points out that in 35 years of research, only 9 major studies had been conducted. To those, I would add the work of Nancy Friday, who, though not a social scientist herself, has written numerous books and amassed an impressive archive of erotic fantasy archives, of which submission fantasies remain the most numerous. As she notes in her most recent book, Beyond My Control, when she first wrote My Secret Garden back in 1973, there was widespread backlash to the idea that women even had sexual fantasies. And yet, as Friday has shown in her almost 40 years of research on the subject, there is something primal about sexual fantasy, something that is so real that it seems to exist coherently only on an experiential level.

Clinical research seems to back this up. As the 2009 study, “The nature of women’s rape fantasies: an analysis of prevalence, frequency, and content,” concludes, we know far less about the purpose and meaning of these fantasies than their ubiquity (researchers have measured between 31% and 57% of women, with speculation that the number could be higher, with some women reluctant to disclose) and their diversity (recorded on an “erotic-aversive continuum”). We know that women who have been raped experience submission fantasies, and while some research (namely Bivona and Crinelli’s study) indicates that women who experienced rape might be more inclined toward aversive fantasies (i.e. fantasies that are less arousing or involve more pain), others continue to experience the fantasy as erotic and enjoyable.

In Beyond My Control, Friday relates the story of one woman for whom erotic submission fantasy has been “therapeutic.” The woman, identified in the book as “Melly,” goes so far as to say, “I suggest fantasy for any women who has been raped.” Consequently, the persistent belief that women who enjoy rape fantasy are not the same women who are raped is just not sustained by either the qualitative or quantitative research. Which, again, supports the absolute lack of understanding we have about the source of these fantasies or any systematic conclusions about the work they do – psychologically, physically, culturally, etc. Friday has long argued that the sexually “forbidden” is always most arousing, and that submission fantasies are about “[r]elinquishing power in a world that offers so much.” She stresses that while the fantasies themselves may be beyond the woman’s conscious control, at some very fundamental level, the fantasizer exercises absolute control over the terms of the experience.

That paradox is evident in numerous textual expressions of the fantasy, as well, especially in Romance where the author is literally exercising absolute control over the construction and execution of the “fantasy” scene. In this sense, the fantasy is deliberately created, so it differs from the primal erotic fantasies chronicled by Friday and others. However, textual representations can trigger a fantasy response in the reader, which is where much of the controversy surrounding forced sex in the genre hovers. Even if submission fantasies are spontaneous and, at the very least, value neutral in their seeming naturalness (that is, as natural as anything can be within our cultural paradigm), textual representations are deliberative and artificial. In other words, fantasies themselves may be uncontrolled responses, but the writing process is not.

This is the point at which I think a huge leap is often made, namely, that if texts are deliberately constructed, and they are also socially and culturally coded, that the reader is similarly being encoded during the process of reading. For example, books that reward a heroine for staying with a hero who rapes her could be telling the reader that they should tolerate male violence. And the more we read these kinds of scenarios, the more desensitized we become to the idea of violence against women, and the more likely we are to let violence against women go unaddressed. The problem is that this conclusion assumes facts not in evidence.

Extending the pseudo-legal analogy for a second, think about legal and cultural attitudes toward real life rape and domestic violence over the past 30 or so years. Rape laws have become stronger and less dependent on the physical resistance of women for conviction. Sexual harassment laws have become much more inclusive and far-reaching. And in the field of domestic violence, research has finally shifted from the victims – about whom virtually no consistent pattern or list of common characteristics could be discerned – to the perpetrators. For those of us who were raised with the idea that you could make yourself look or act like a victim, these shifts are substantial, if not complete, and they do not suggest a “softer” attitude toward violence against women. And in regard to The Book That Shall Not Be Named, we are seeing women talk publicly and in mainstream media about their fantasies in unprecedented ways, declaring that they refuse to be shamed for something they find pleasurable.

This is not to say that we should not question portrayals of violence against women, that we should not be individually and collectively be discussing, debating, disagreeing, and generally digging deep into the complex dynamics of the stories we tell ourselves. However, prescribing uniform readings and interpretations is another matter. Consider the US Supreme Court justices, who represent, ideally speaking, the pinnacle of understanding in regard to legal history, jurisprudence, and case law. Even among these few highly educated and trained lawyers, there is extreme disagreement in regard to the intention, meaning, and purposeful implementation of the Constitution. How could it be any different when we’re talking about reading fiction?

For all of those who went through college sometime during the past 30 years, reader response theories have informed our literary education. Simply speaking, reader response is a categorical term for theories of reading that focus on the interaction between reader and text. There are many theories that can be classified under this umbrella, and they cross multiple disciplines. Researchers at the University of Alberta have been conducting empirical research on reader response theories, and they have posted numerous online resources on their work and results to date. But one of their premises is particularly applicable to this discussion, namely,

 

We think literary reading may involve some distinctive psychological processes not found in other kinds of reading. If we contrast reading a newspaper article or a textbook with the reading of a novel, we believe that readers’ feelings are not only more important in the context of a novel, but that feelings play a critical role in the constructive processes that enable a reader to sustain her reading and make it meaningful as a whole. Our theory of reading is thus based on trying to understand feeling rather than cognitive processes. Although cognitive components such as imagery or memory are clearly essential, these are controlled and shaped by the reader’s feelings. Feelings are important because they engage the reader’s sense of self. Reading a literary text involves exploring and perhaps questioning the self, although readers may generally be unaware of this underlying process while reading.

 

Their focus on emotions and on “the reader’s sense of self” is important, I think, because it brings the focus back to the individual process of reading and interpretation of meaning and significance. In Romance fiction, particularly, the emotional aspect of the experience is forefronted in the structure of the stories themselves, personalizing the experience even more. There is a degree to which we share experiences, perceptions, and constructions of meaning; however, there is a level of experience in reading that exceeds our ability to explain or even articulate the way any of us responds to a particular book. So taking the leap from the personal experience of a book to a universal truth is always problematic, because it assumes a universal way of reading and an undifferentiated sense of self among readers.

This is not to say that textual representations are not – to any of us at a given time – problematic. Nor does it mean we should refuse to problematize them and subject them to the scrutiny of analysis. Shared analysis can be even more illuminating, because individual readers not only measure their own responses to a text, but those of other readers who may have extracted meaning in an entirely different way. For example, women writing, reading, and discussing Romance fiction within a patriarchal cultural context can affect our conscious thought processes. How does it affect our unconscious processes? Can a book force a seduction on its reader? If anything is “dangerous,” perhaps it might be making universally shaming prescriptions (and proscriptions) about how fictional narratives speak to any of us.

Why dangerous? Because it conflates reading as a shared activity and reading as a personal activity. Because it folds reality into the experience of the book in a way that might not be accurate, certainly not for the totality of readers. For example, I did not read Anna Campbell’s book Claiming the Courtesan in the context of Stockholm Syndrome. For one thing, I think the term is overused and often misused. It is a very specific phenomenon, and one of its characteristics is the lack of awareness and/or understanding the captive has about his/her feelings toward the captor. And yet Verity wonders extensively about her feelings for Justin, as do many Romance heroines who are engaged with heroes who make them suffer in one way or another. My “reality” of that text is much different. The text is necessarily an incomplete map of objective reality, because it cannot anticipate every interaction between itself and its readers. Moreover, the reader not only has the ultimate power to consent (or not) for the heroine, but she also has the ability to analyze and respond to the textual representation, creating yet another layer of symbolic distance from “real life.”  And in the case of sexual fantasy, what the reader experiences at that level is not necessarily a literal translation of what occurs in the text, as readers of The Book That Shall Not Be Named have demonstrated in conversations about the differences between the (faux) BDSM in the book and their own submission fantasies.

Even the context in which we read makes a difference. As a student of 19th C sentimental and sensational fiction, I have read numerous books in which the “virtuous” heroine who is attracted to the rake suffers sexual degradation, social ostracism, disease, and often ignominious death. By contrast, the Romance heroine who falls in love with the rake gains happiness, often wealth, social acceptance, and, often, a loyal and faithful romantic partner. Two different faces of patriarchy, but are they equivalent? Could the Romance version be viewed – under particular circumstances – as more sex, love, and power positive for the heroine?

So yes, I believe that texts have power, that they convey and reflect socially and culturally conditioned messages. So does everything with which we engage emotionally and intellectually. I do not personally know one woman, for example, who has been untouched by male violence, even indirectly. We learn that men are capable of danger and violence, and, as women, we know we can be vulnerable to that in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish violence and sex. So is it any surprise that in a world made unsafe for women by men that women might find ways to rewrite that story? Is the textual recreation of that story problematic? Perhaps, but I would argue that it’s a problem that will never have only one solver, nor one solution. Which, like the submission fantasy itself, is what makes it so potent with possibilities, and so fundamentally and stubbornly resistant to literalization.

 

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!

133 Comments

  1. Merrian
    May 01, 2012 @ 04:57:31

    This is a great article and I need to go away and think about before I respond.

    However I would suggest that it be read in dialogue with this paper published today by Angela Toscano/Lazaraspaste in the free online Journal of Popular Romance Studies http://jprstudies.org/2012/04/a-parody-of-love-the-narrative-uses-of-rape-in-popular-romance-by-angela-toscano/

    Angela asks the question; “what is the narrative function of rape in genre romance?” suggesting that ‘rape’ means “…the rape of the heroine by the hero as a textual manifestation of a metaphysical and philosophical problem within the narrative”.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    May 01, 2012 @ 06:02:54

    I’m glad I read Merrian’s comment first, because I think I too should think about this for a while before offering much of a response.

    I can say, without thought, that I have no problem reading rape that’s treated as rape, but am enraged by reading ‘forced seduction’, ‘rapist-to-lover’ or any other trope in which a rape turns out to be a good thing for the victim. But this is me and my problem; there are other people who are apparently enraged by reading present tense. Those readers have the advantage of being able to spot their rage-inducing books more easily, but they and I all have the option of not reading something that makes us angry, and it’s an option that I absolutely exercise. I won’t read it, and I won’t write it (‘good’ rape, not present tense!).

    Does this mean that no one should read or write it? No, of course not.

    Are there reasons other than my personal issue that mean people shouldn’t read or write ‘good’ rape? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows.

    As I said, I want to think about what the article some more. Things I want to think about:
    How much do peoples’ opinions on this issue fit in with their opinions on censorship in general?
    What are the steps being suggested by the anti-rape-reading side? Are they suggesting that such books be censored? boycotted? or are they like me, just looking for a clearer way to label these books so they can avoid them personally?
    Is it possible/likely that some of the outrage over these books isn’t about the books as active contributors to rape culture, but maybe about the books as depressing reflectors of rape culture? ie. “It’s frustrating that teenage girls still seem to identify with a totally passive girl who falls in love with a controlling stalker, so I’m going to hate the book that these frustrating girls love, because I’m too good of a person (and too familiar with the power of socialization) to hate the girls themselves.”
    I’ll probably think about other stuff, too!

    I think mostly, it’s valuable for us all to keep thinking about it, and to keep talking about it, even though we ARE repeating old arguments that come up each time. There’s no black and white to this issue, so all we can do is keep thinking through the shades of grey (see what I did there?).

  3. hwm
    May 01, 2012 @ 07:30:48

    My kink isn’t your kink – I just wish that I could protect myself from other people’s kink a bit better sometimes. I try to avoid forced seductions (I hate this term btw.) and titillating rape scenes, but I’m not always successful.
    Erotica and erotic romance tend to have warning labels – mainstream romance employing those tropes could use them too.

  4. Dabney
    May 01, 2012 @ 08:11:23

    @hwm: I worry this goes into Tipper Gore territory. Once we give books “warning” labels–forced seduction, anal sex, gay encounters, whatever–it’s not hard to imagine that could lead to shaming of those who buy those books (eBooks would profit from this, I’m sure) and censorship. I can totally see, in the Southern state in which I live, age limits on buying books if they contained warning labels. I personally would see this as problematic.

  5. Linda
    May 01, 2012 @ 08:35:46

    What’s your solution then, Dabney? I recently read an “erotic romance” with a graphic rape fantasy. Nothing in this author’s other work prepared me to expect that from her. My stomach churned as I read it. (As I realized exactly how awful it was going to get, I skipped over it.) I had trouble sleeping for several days afterward and couldn’t get it out of my mind. I would have appreciated a warning so I could have avoided the book. I don’t want to censor others from reading the book if that’s what they like, but I see no reason why it should be “sprung” on me like that. I now avoid all romances with a BDSM theme because I just frankly don’t want to go through that again.

  6. Lori Green
    May 01, 2012 @ 08:39:09

    My fantasies and my reading material are not the same.

    I cannot stand the trope of forced seduction or falling in love with one’s rapist (omg, he raped me because he loved me… therapy time!!). Those would be guaranteed wallbangers for me.

    Yet I could fantasize about a forced seduction and it’s a completely different thing. In my fantasy I write the rules and it goes where I want it to. It’s something we discussed here before on DA, as a previous rape victim, the need to control the event is closed to us except in our imaginations.

    I can’t read it because I don’t control it and I want any man who used force against a woman to be emasculated and destroyed. In my fantasies, I imagine that in getting pleasure from the situation there is a sense of ownership. It’s difficult to completely understand and I’ve spent years being confused by it myself.

    I only understand that who I am (a total control freak, by the way) needs to have the freedom of fantasy to rewrite my experience and live with it in a way that doesn’t hurt me. But when another writes it, I would never read it or be able to find enjoyment with it.

  7. Merrian
    May 01, 2012 @ 08:39:11

    I’m still not sure how to frame what I want to say except that I think this is about more than a ‘kink’ or YMMV.

    I seriously object to authors who use rape gratuitously to give a heroine something to overcome or to create a nearly insurmountable barrier between the two protagonists even if it is rape in the heroine’s past that affects her present or it is the heroine who does the raping. For me this is a story fail because it supposedly advances the plot but has nothing to do with the character of the people involved so does not show them to us or how they are unique becaue of these experiences. These are the rape stories that are triggering for me.

    Angela suggests that rape in stories is a narrative device that forces a radical change in how the other is perceived. If rape/dubious consent/submission/forced seduction are not uncommon elements in our genre stories, are they actually a conversation about who we are, where we begin and end in relation to others, our relative power status and capacity act, and our lives lived through our own bodies?

    I am writing these thoughts as someone who has found reading romance helpful in settling me in my body and feeling desire for the other – all things that have been compromised and wounded in me through rape and chronic illness. When people dismiss this aspect of the genre as internalised patriarchy I feel dismissed as well. Yet I do feel that we have to face that these stories are about the negotiation and reality of social power, who has it and how it operates.

  8. Hannah E.
    May 01, 2012 @ 08:41:17

    @Dabney: Good point! Romance covers are already embarassing. If publishers start sticking warning labels on them, it will be the end of my dead-tree-book-buying days. If there are certain themes/tropes someone wants to avoid, it’s better to do a little digging online for reviews and reader comments.

  9. Amber Lin
    May 01, 2012 @ 08:47:53

    I have read the most of extreme of dark erotica/dubious consent stuff, and yet it is often the type of thing Kate mentioned that most bothers me. Like in a historical romance with “forced seduction” that is really rape, but since she ends up orgasming and marrying him, it’s FINE! What I want from authors is respect for their characters’ intelligence (and mine!) that I can recognize dubious consent or forced seduction or a power imbalance, and treat it honestly. What I loved about Kitty Thomas’ Comfort Food is that the hero sees something beautiful and decides to himself to break it. Love it or hate it, but at least he’s not too stupid to comprehend his actions.

    But even the things I dislike, I have no wish for them to be censored. And let’s be clear, “rape as titillation” is not allowed by any bookseller that I know of. It MUST go under the guise of dubious consent or forced seduction. For those of you who dislike those terms, understand that the current environment of censorship against “rape” is the very thing that perpetuates them. And if “dubious consent” started being censored as well, they’d just come up with a new terminology. Persuasive sex, anyone?

    Here is my biggest problem with labels: why the HECK does “dubious consent” deserve a label when “death of a child” does not??? Because I’ve got to tell you, the first one I can read-read-read until I turn blue, but the second one? No. I feel sick, physically sick to read about it. Actually, I dislike reading about death at all. And yet our system says that I am the perverse one, because I would prefer rape to death. How’s that for shaming? That character, if she is raped, offends society’s sensibilities to the point that we must censor it, but her death – that would be just fine – please, use all the gore you want. And if I were to project that onto REAL people, does that hold too? Are rape victims better off dead, society!?

    Actually, I don’t believe that fiction holds responsibility for what real people do. That’s a whole bunch of excuses for people who do bad things. However, if it did, if fiction were responsible for what its readers did or thought, I would say our current culture of shaming rape, while elevating horrific nonsexual violence is doing a really sh*tty service to rape victims.

  10. Meri
    May 01, 2012 @ 08:51:45

    @Dabney: As hwm noted, erotica and erotic romance novels already carry this sort of warning/information, and I don’t believe this has impeded access or caused readers to feel ashamed of their reading choices. I do feel it’s best to disclose some things ahead of time – not to limit people’s choices, but to allow them to make more informed decisions about what to read and buy.

  11. hwm
    May 01, 2012 @ 08:54:41

    @ Dabney:
    I see where you’re coming from. Doesn’t this (self)censorship already exist to some extend? I remember the paypal issue, the banning of YA novels from school libraries and the fact that you have to confirm that you’re eighteen or older in order to access a lot of websites featuring (even minimal) adult content.

    Still, allowing readers to make informed decisions about their reading material, especially considering the potentially triggering nature of the content, would serve the authors as well. Nothing is gained from a reader who stumbles over these tropes, is offended by them and avoids the author’s novels from then on. I know I have.

    Also, genre serves a similar purpose. If you’re offended by/don’t enjoy a lot of graphic descriptions of sex, you don’t read erotica, if you don’t enjoy GLBT content, you don’t read GLBT fiction, m/m romance et al..
    Rape (for the enjoyment of the reader) and forced seductions are very powerful tropes, but they can appear anywhere without (or at least very little) warning.

  12. Violetta Vane
    May 01, 2012 @ 09:01:37

    Great piece! I’ve also read the Toscano essay and am slowly pondering it.

    “I do not personally know one woman, for example, who has been untouched by male violence, even indirectly.” That leaped out at me. So true it should be obvious, but somehow, it’s not, and we have to keep saying it over and over again.

    I don’t know if I can go all the way on this, though: “Moreover, the reader not only has the ultimate power to consent (or not) for the heroine…” Maybe it’s that I have a problem with isolating everything down to “the individual reader”. Reading is also a very social process, and there are so many more ingredients than the text and the reader. People get influenced by friends, family, reviewers, publishers, book prices, artists who do cover art. They react to support things and against things. They’re affected by things like their race and economic class and religion and disability or lack thereof. So yes, they have the ultimate power, but so many other forces also have power, too, and that influences their (our) decisions.

    As for warnings? I’m totally for them. I like the electronic version where you can choose whether or not to read them. I’ve written rape in narratives before (my cowriter and I have an essay contextualizing that here: http://www.stormmoonpress.com/blog/?p=334) and rape is one of those special cases where yes, it can really hurt people sometimes. Personally, I’ll read some rape in narratives (cannot read rape->love) but it doesn’t hurt me if I come across it unexpectedly. Other things—mainly unexpected racist slurs—do really hurt me. I don’t think texts can “forcibly seduce” people, but they can make them feel like dirt. A simple social convention of “contains nonconsent” types of warnings would be helpful to prevent that.

  13. hwm
    May 01, 2012 @ 09:07:18

    Amber Lin:
    ” And let’s be clear, “rape as titillation” is not allowed by any bookseller that I know of.”

    Maybe I used the word incorrectly (I’m not a native speaker). The way I understand the appeal of these tropes that they allow the reader to enter a certain headspace/emotional state that allows them to experience events they wouldn’t necessarily consider in real life and derive emotional/sensual/sexual enjoyment from that. These tropes are included for the enjoyment of the reader – otherwise they wouldn’t exist.

    The emotional experience is a big part of why I’m reading romace, at least.

  14. Isabel C.
    May 01, 2012 @ 09:08:12

    I don’t read forced seduction myself, although I sometimes find the trope appealing, because…well, a hero who does that is not a hero I want to read about, or who I care about, or who I want to have a happy ending. I want him to fall down a well and die. But that’s me. If other people believe more in redemption than I do, that’s cool. And unsurprising. ;)

    I would prefer labels, but I grew up online and reading fanfic, where labels and warnings are much more of an accepted standard. In most of the communities I’ve seen, there’s no shame associated with it–if someone freaks out publicly about a clearly labeled dubcon fic, someone else will often reply that the label is right there so what the hell is their problem? This might be another one of those points where buying/reading ebooks is an advantage, I guess.

  15. Carolyn Jewel
    May 01, 2012 @ 09:19:43

    Thank you, Janet, for this article. As others have noted, there’s a lot to think about.

    One thing that keeps occurring to me is that in the broader conversation we see two phrases, “forced seduction” and “rape” and though the words are different, in the conversation, the meanings are not always distinguished. Clearly there are people who see no distinction between the two while others do.

    The conversation gets sticky quickly with some people taking the stance (and not always explicitly) that FS=rape and others taking the position that FS rape. The intent of any given response seems, to me, to be fraught with ambiguity when those places in the conversation aren’t acknowledged.

    Perhaps its experiential to the reader. Some people want no part of a text that employs the FS trope while others derive a different reading experience in a story where sexual power is in play in that manner.

    As I said, lots to think about here.

  16. Amber Lin
    May 01, 2012 @ 09:28:14

    @hwm No, you were fine. I just brought that up because censorship is sometimes discussed as a future possibilities and not everyone realizes that it’s already there.

    This matters because it requires authors and publishers to obfuscate the rape content in order to be sold. So, the problem with labels (well, there are multiple) is that labelling your work such is a big red flag to the censors. If people want clearer labels, then make it so no one writing legal fiction (whether with rape or gay sex or whatever) has to fear being censored.

  17. CourtneyLee
    May 01, 2012 @ 09:39:50

    This discussion reminded me of a blog post I read a while ago that I saved because it was so thought-provoking. The title of the article is Shrodinger’s Rapist. I like that it makes common-sense connections between a man’s actions and the conclusions a woman is likely to draw from them and I found myself thinking of numerous romance heroes as I read. The comments are likewise interesting to read.

    http://tinyurl.com/y9mwft4

    As to the above fantastic article: this is why I read Dear Author. I’m going to take a day to process then come back to read it again.

  18. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 09:39:57

    Thanks for the great article. My position is always pretty simple – I will defend anybody’s right to read rape fantasies, or books that resemble them, and of course I do not think that there is anything problematic with reader reading whatever they want to read (any kind of topic, anything). I also have read and will read the books where bad guy commits the rape, have absolutely no problem reading them. But I HATE very much, I cant tell you how much I hate “rape him till he loves me” trope (I mostly read mm romance) (there is one exception to that, but also for a very specific reason). And I can tell you as much – if I am to read the book which does not warn me about that, use whatever phrasing you need, but yeah, I want to be warned, this author will lose me as a reader forever, I will never trust this author again. And it really has nothing to do with reading about rape per se – I mean, I do not enjoy reading about graphic violence, including sexual one, but I will read about it, if I feel that it is essentual to the story. No, my hate of this trope has everything to do with not being able to believe that *anybody* can fall in love with their rapist even in fiction. I need even my romances to be believable and I just cant believe in this trope, at all. Romance is being destroyed when I see it.

    I am not sure I understand how putting such warning on the book equals censorship, I am not being sarcastic, maybe it is too early in the morning, but I dont get it. Most mm publishers put those warnings on actuallly and I am really really grateful that they do. Let people who love those stories find them and let me happily avoid it instead of wanting to either throw the book in the trash or throw my kindle against the wall.

  19. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 09:44:08

    @Amber Lin: I absolutely agree that nobody writing legal fiction should be afraid of being censored, but if I were an author (I am not), I would make sure that my story had such warnings, I would have worried more about readers trusting me than anything else. Thats just my opinion of course.

  20. Amber Lin
    May 01, 2012 @ 09:58:14

    @Sirius I agree with you but it’s a devil of a choice, and it’s not always black and white. When Amazon banned incest, they started writing step brothers. Should those be labelled incest? Technically they’re not, although they appeal to (and offend) the same people. When Paypal started banning pseudo incest, did anyone believe for a second that no one was ever going to write about it? Who knows what acrobatics they would have come up with to do so, but you can be assured they never would label their book “incest” for fear of being banned. And it would technically be correct, because there’d be no incest.

    So, labeling is not censorship, but as long as there IS censorship, there will never be clear, direct labeling.

  21. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 09:58:43

    @Amber Lin: Actually in romance (NOT in other genres!) I would not mind to be warned for the lack of happy ending as well, specifically for the main character death. I think actually Dreamspinner press came up with perfect solution for that – without giving specific spoilers, they publish Bittersweet dreams line, which does not guarantee traditional romance ending. I usually dont care whether the guys stay together or not at the end of the story (I prefer them to of course, but it does not upset me if they dont and story so demands), but I will certainly be upset if one of them dies and while I read some, I need to be in the mood and need to be warned about that. So when I pick up Bittersweet Dream title, I do so at my own peril knowing that I am not guaranteed a happy ending.

    Riptide’s warning system makes me so very happy. They give very general warnings for extreme violence without spoiler cut and for the readers like me who love and eat up spoilers they give ALL kinds of spoilers under the cut, including whether the ending is happy or not, character death,etc. LOVE it, that makes me so unbelievably happy :). So I think solutions are possible, if one cares to think about them (publisher I mean).

  22. Darlynne
    May 01, 2012 @ 10:24:18

    So is it any surprise that in a world made unsafe for women by men that women might find ways to rewrite that story?

    If I read nothing else today, Janet, I count this a good day for this one statement alone. Thank you.

    For the same reason, I enjoy reviews like Kelly’s last week that call out books, however benign their intentions, that get so much wrong and continue to infantilize and diminish women. Outrage and anger clothed in snark works for me every time. Ditto anything that reclaims what someone else attempted/attempts to take from us; Smart Bitches, anyone?

    As for labels, I understand, but I just can’t want them in my own reading experience. I’m a mystery reader and hate, hate, hate any passages written from the killer’s POV. I’ve often lamented the inability to know this before starting a book and yet, something as simple as a warning might have kept me from books I thoroughly enjoyed otherwise. So I skip those parts–almost impossible in an audio book, btw–and my experience is still what I want it to be for the most part. It’s a tough call, one each reader must make for herself.

  23. K
    May 01, 2012 @ 10:29:13

    Every time the subject of warning labels on books comes up, I think the discussion and resources would be so much better directed toward education about and prevention of real violence. It reminds me of the backwards priorities of parents who refuse to let their children watch a television show for fear it will damage their fragile little minds but don’t think twice about letting the kids go to a house the parents have never visited to assess the presence of supervision, guns, drugs, vicious animals, and registered sex offenders. Society has given up on the fantasy of protecting anyone from real harm, so all that’s left is to “protect” them from the idea of it.

    As in most things these days, I’d like to see people take more personal responsibility for their own comfort instead of expecting someone to hold their hand and point out every little thing that might be upsetting or offensive to someone, somewhere. Frankly, I’m unconvinced a warning label would satisfy everyone. If they can’t take two minutes to skim reviews looking for their trigger word, will they bother reading a tag on the cover? “It was too subtle. I didn’t notice it. The whole cover should have been emblazoned ‘RAPE!’ in big neon letters to make sure I knew to avoid it.”

  24. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 10:44:28

    @K: Arent we discussing the reading of the rape here? There are plenty of parents I know who would not let their kids watch a violent TV show and would not let them wander off in the streets unattended. One is not exclusive to another. I am a buyer who loves buying new releases, so often when I get a book, there are no reviews yet, how exactly am I supposed to take responsibility for my own comfort if there are no warnings on the book and no reviews yet? Should I wait till the reviews appear and often the price on the book will drop down and the writer I like will get less royalties? But even so, of course when I can find the reviews or buying the older book, I read the reviews, more than one, I HUNT for spoilers that I know may upset me (like even with Bittersweet line I do everything possible to find out if one of the guys is dead at the end), but you know what? A lot of the reviewers including myself, try hard to avoid spoilers because we know that many readers do not like them. Of course sometimes I can find spoilery review or have to write one myself, but it is not that often. I think warnings help, and I think it is possible to phrase them in the general terms, or do what Riptide does – put more spoilery warnings under the cut. So, yes, I take plenty of responsibility for finding what I want to read, but I want the publisher to help me, again, one is not exclusive of another, because sometimes it is not possible to find such information in the reviews, no matter how hard one tries.

  25. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 10:49:59

    @Darlynne: Totally understand actually how you feel about warnings, I loathe killer’s POV myself, but I remember when “At Swim Two Boys” came up in the discussion elsewhere, somebody was saying that if she had known what happens at the end, she would have never picked up the book, I am just a different kind of reader, I guess, without the warning, I would have been angry at the end, very angry. Knowing what happens, I mentally prepared myself and eventually (in few months lol) dived in. So I can totally see that it depends on the reader. I can enjoy the journey just fine if I know what happens at the end.

  26. Dabney
    May 01, 2012 @ 10:50:19

    @Linda: I don’t buy a book without researching it first. Goodreads, Amazon, and review sites like this will often mention aspects of the book that might be a stretch for readers. Goodreads and AAR have advanced reviews.

  27. Dabney
    May 01, 2012 @ 10:53:25

    @Amber Lin: I look at how the film industry sees sex and would be horrified were books given the same sort of labels and resulting limitations.

  28. Dabney
    May 01, 2012 @ 10:57:17

    @CourtneyLee: This piece gives me pause. I have three sons. Would we ever write this way about women?

  29. LeeF
    May 01, 2012 @ 10:58:38

    @Dabney: I agree. That is a much better way to go than creating yet another level of warnings/cautions/labels.

  30. Violetta Vane
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:01:12

    MPAA ratings are the worst of all possible worlds, agreed.

    I don’t like ratings, but I do like content indicators for potentially traumatic stuff. If done right, they’re neutral, not moralizing. And they can also help people who want to read a certain trope, who actively seek out that stuff, and authors who want to reach that audience. They’re advertisements as much as warnings. That’s how it works in erotica and fanfic already.

  31. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:09:29

    @Sirius: Before I go away, just wanted to clarify that “At Swim two boys” is not a mystery, just brought it up for the analogy. Sorry.

  32. JoanneL
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:15:47

    Forced Seduction is an oxymoron. It’s a trope that makes me turn away from any story no matter how well it’s written. To entice someone into behavior that they would normally avoid is not, not, not the same as strong-arming someone into that behavior.

    Labels: It seems as though Ellora’s Cave and Samhain have always done a good job of tagging their stories with just enough information to give a potential reader a sufficient warning. I’m sure if this was tried on a site like Amazon or B&N the cries of outrage and fury by the Chosen Moralist who patrol book content would cause more problems then help.

  33. Isobel Carr
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:18:53

    I’m not sure how we can have labels when we don’t even have a commonly agreed upon definition of what forced seduction is. I’ve had readers tell me I write FS, which frankly really surprised me, because I don’t think I do. I write seduction. Yes, the guys are pushy, but they always make it clear to the heroine that they have a goal and they always give her a chance to say no, to back out, and they always stop if she objects. The power play between the two characters is what makes the seduction and the growing relationship interesting (to me anyway).

    That said, I’m not a fan of rapey heroes, and I find it impossible to buy into the HEA of a book where the hero has raped the heroine. Mostly because in my mind, if his mindset is that it’s acceptable to use force to get what he wants, then I don’t buy that he won’t do it again. When push comes to shove, he’ll feel justified using physical violence again (the classic abuser excuse is that she drove him to it). And no, I don’t think that romance version of FS/rape can be viewed as “power positive for the heroine”, but just because I don’t, doesn’t mean that it can’t be viewed that way by other people. Clearly many readers (and writers) enjoy the dynamic of a woman having control and choice taken from her and coming out victorious on the other side when she “tames” the man who once subdued her. I can buy that it’s a hot fantasy, and it even kind of works for me in erotica, but not in romance, where I have a different set of expectations.

    @Sirius: If one of the main characters dies (and isn’t resurrected in some way, so there can be an HEA) then it may be a novel with romantic elements to be sure, but it’s not a genre romance. The whole point of the genre label is that you can count on that HEA (of HFN in some books that are part of a series).

  34. Gina
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:19:48

    With the world at our fingertips getting more than the back copy of a book is fairly easy to do these days. If a book intrigues you but you just need that reassurance that the sex won’t go beyond your boundaries go to the authors website, peruse reader blogs, see who’s talking about it, you’ll know soon enough. Making an informed decision about anything saves everyone a lot of grief.

    As for censorship, inviting the morality police into the world of romance is a dangerous game. They won’t stop at labeling books with “forced seduction”; they will measure every sexual innuendo against their own moral level. By being fans of the romance fiction, we already know we don’t want to be judged for our reading taste despite how often we are. Be informed, censor yourself if you must, but don’t invite judgment on the entire industry.

    Personally if something bothers me in a book I’m adult enough and capable enough to skip over it or close the book. My own moral compass points my way and I have no need to hold anyone to my standards or lambaste an author’s hard word for deviating from my comfort zone. If I didn’t make an informed decision when I spent the money then I am the only one to blame for being surprised by what I got.

  35. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:33:30

    No thanks on labels. Read the reviews before purchasing if you’re a sensitive reader. The last thing books in this country need is a ratings system that a government trying to distract its base from the shit job it’s doing can easily turn into a mandated, controlled system. Just look at what the ratings system’s done to video games and movies. Want violent entertainment with high production values and talented acting? No problem! Want something erotic? To the virus-laden corners of the internet with you! All a standardized labeling system would do is push publishers out of erotic fiction, leaving readers with low production value stroke fiction as their only choice.

  36. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:35:31

    @Gina: Okay, sorry, still here, I honestly dont see how the warning which would say “sexual violence” can be considered moralizing or spoilery in any way. As I said before, in the world of mm romance which I read mostly, these warnings are already utilized and rather widely, so it is not something I am just making up, and believe me, I read so few het romance books that I honestly dont care whether there are warnings there or not, I usually read review here (and IMO most reviews here do have a lot of spoilers, which is great for me) and if it suits me, I buy the book, if not I read another review here and buy the book. I actually sometimes force myself to go and get what I call my montly dose of het romance, because I do want to enjoy it instead of running away from it. All I am saying is that IMO what Violetta Vane said is true, it works very well and it helps both groups of people who want to read this stuff and who want to avoid it. Of course there is a way to phrase it and way to phrase it, I totally agree that “forced seduction” is a judgmental and moralizing way to phrase it by the way.

    As to skipping what bothers me, erm, thats part of my point, if I feel that graphic description of the rape is essential to the story, I can deal with it, but you cant skip *the whole story* – it is the story which is being told – he was my rapist first and then I fell in love with him is what bothers me. I cant skip the whole book unfortunately.

  37. Merrian
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:37:10

    @Violetta Vane:

    I was thinking about Loose Id’s tagging conventions and my problem with them is that m/m is tagged as “This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices, violence.” That is far from neutral.

    Also for me it isn’t dubious consent/forced seduction itself that is a problem it is how this is presented and handled by the author, so tags don’t solve the issues raised by commenters here.

    I’m also coming back to feeling that the concerns to do with rape and consent and how it is woven into the genre’s very being (that are raised in the article) are reduced somehow by thinking of dubious consent/forced seduction/rape as a kink to be labelled.

  38. Robin/Janet
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:42:33

    I’ll come back and respond to individual comments later, but reading through the discussion on labels, I keep coming back to the same objection I have to comments like ‘it’s dangerous to read and write forced seduction/rape in Romance,’ namely that for me it *overdetermines* the text and subtly (or not) directs, guides, defines, and otherwise prescribes the reading of a text.

    At their most benign, I’m afraid that labels diminish books and make them all about their parts (and therefore possibly scare readers away from books that might be a rewarding and enjoyable read, even if a bit challenging); at their worst, I think they can shape and chill what is pubbed, especially as mainstream fiction, where fear of “offending” readers seems already to be a somewhat common reason for not including certain things or writing certain types of characters, etc.

    I remember a recent Twitter discussion about the most recent Mackenzie book by Jennifer Ashley. Hart had been portrayed, in earlier books, as having a dark sexual bent. And yet in his own book, I felt that had been watered down quite a bit. There was speculation on Twitter that perhaps the decision had been made to blunt that aspect of his character as to keep from offending readers. That we, as readers, even have to wonder that concerns me, and the idea of a label on that series confounds me. Who would be responsible for it? What would it warn of? Would it matter that you never saw much of the “offensive” behavior on page? etc. etc.

    I know there are many readers who do not want to read book that have negatively triggering material, and I’m not trying to dismiss those concerns — I have my own triggers, as well. And I get that labels are conceptualized to be helpful to readers, not shaming. But at the same time, I see labeling as burdened by all sorts of prescriptive and proscriptive moral judgments that are not as overtly visible as other types of warning language.

  39. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:46:02

    @Merrian: Agreed, that “mm sexual practices” are objectionable is the warning that is annoying to put it mildly and IMO should not be there at all, but I think all their other warnings are pretty good. While the warning for sexual violence/dubious consent would not necessarily tell me what I want to know (is there a rape between two MC), I am okay with more general warning being balanced against other people’s needs not to know spoilers. As long as I know that there is rape in the story, I will know to do even more in depth research than what I usually do, but if I dont have even general warnings and no reviews, why would I even care to research in depth?

  40. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:50:56

    @Merrian:

    I’m also coming back to feeling that the concerns to do with rape and consent and how it is woven into the genre’s very being (that are raised in the article) are reduced somehow by thinking of dubious consent/forced seduction/rape as a kink to be labelled.

    I wonder why these discussions always have a censorship theme to them. If it’s not “no one should read them,” or “it’s irresponsible of authors to write them,” it’s “I should be protected from reading them inadvertently.”

    What about forced seduction and rape fantasy prompts this reaction? Why can’t people just roll their eyes and DNF a rapey hero the way they would a martyr heroine? Aren’t both a product of patriarchy?

  41. Jill Sorenson
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:52:47

    @Dabney: Do you mean, would we ever need an article that cautions women about approaching strange men who might be threatened by them?

    @CourtneyLee: Thanks for the link. I’ve read the article many times and it’s mind-blowing.

    Nice post Janet. I’m not sure I understand this part: “as women, we know we can be vulnerable…in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish violence and sex.” Still mulling over the rest!

  42. Violetta Vane
    May 01, 2012 @ 11:58:11

    Actually, I really don’t like the way Loose Id does that. The “that some may find objectionable” is the kicker. I don’t think prejudices against real groups of people should be given that sort of consideration.

    I just can’t agree that labels diminish books. Books are already labelled extensively by writers, publishers and readers. People love, love love labeling books! Witness people’s detailed and highly personalized systems on Goodreads. Labels definitely have issues with moral judgements, but then again, what doesn’t? I’d rather argue those issues out, put them all on top of the table, than not have the argument in the first place. For example, I feel pretty strongly that labeling for the slightest presence of female sexuality in m/m is a really messed up practice, but labeling for the presence of rape or torture is not.

    Every cultural product is labelled already, for the purposes of selling the maximum amount of copies. Adding a more thoughtful layer to the dollar-driven system doesn’t strike me as inherently problematic.

    I rely on labels heavily as a parent. Because the MPAA sucks so much, I go to commonsensemedia.org to determine if the movies my kids watch have too much violence or negative messages about consumerism or sexism or racism. But I rely on labels even more when it comes to porn. I want to find the stuff that gets me off fast. Labels there don’t serve to moralize, and they’re as shameful as people decide that they are.

  43. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 12:09:38

    @Violetta Vane:

    Labels there don’t serve to moralize, and they’re as shameful as people decide that they are.

    Why can’t publishers just work that information into the back cover blurb? Why do you need an involved rating system? Can’t you just read reviews? Why do you need to be protected from buying certain books?

  44. Linda Hilton
    May 01, 2012 @ 12:20:49

    one of my favorite topics. Everything that follows is JMHO.

    1. Thanks to everyone for the links to further reading. Always good stuff, whether I agree 100% or not.

    2. I don’t like warning stickers beyond the basic implications of a description of the book. Frinstance, if a publisher’s “line” or “category” or “imprint” signifies a level of sexual or other content, that’s fine because it’s at the publisher’s or author’s discretion. Requiring them is Not A Good Idea because there will always be someone somewhere for whom the warning wasn’t strong enough, explicit enough, and they’ll get all riled about it. (“You didn’t warn me you were going to kill off that minor character who isn’t even named!”) There is always going to be SOMETHING someone will object to and wanted to be warned about.

    3. I think there should be a distinction made in the context of the discussion as to whether the rape/FS in question is committed by a love interest or by a villain/stranger/other. It’s always been my contention that most of the time (but not always!) when rape is committed by the hero(sic) on the heroine(sic) or vice versa, the reader knows what the relationship is and implicitly gives consent, which means it isn’t “really” rape. I also firmly believe that the act of reading essentially puts the reader into the story, with absolute power to halt the action (by not reading) and thus protecting herself as well as the vulnerable character/victim from whatever it is that’s objectionable/upsetting. In other words, if you as a reader have certain elements that REALLY bother you, it behooves you to make sure those elements aren’t in the books you choose to read. And if you don’t make sure, then you have to live with the result.

    4. I personally dislike depictions of violence, and I’m the first to turn away from graphic blood and gore in film or other visual media. And sometimes if I don’t turn away quickly enough, it haunts me for A Very Very Long Time. There is a much-honored motion picture of the 1990s that I am very glad I saw but which I cannot even hear the very recognizable theme music from without being traumatized because of the violence and especially the deaths of innocent characters the film had invested me in. Likewise, there is a novel by one of my all-time favorite authors that contains a scene in which one character describes the deaths of children — the deaths themselves do not occur on stage — and I had nightmares for years about it. To this day, it disturbs me. But even so, I do not advocate warning labels or explicit spoilers; I simply have to be careful and selective and deal with my personal objections.

    4a. As an author, I have written scenes and characters that might, in some opinions, have violated my own preferences. I have described deaths and even violent deaths. I have included deaths of innocents. If challenged, I would no doubt have justifications and explanations (and maybe even excuses!), which might or might not exonerate me in some eyes. But by the same token, I have to accept that other authors will do the exact same thing: Write what they think works best for their story, their characters, their historical setting.

    5. I’m not going to like every book I pick up to read. Not everyone is going to like the books I write. I think it’s fascinating to discuss the overall treatment of an issue in the romance genre, and I think it’s also fascinating to examine how an issue is treated in an individual book. But I don’t feel comfortable with projecting any one person’s individual response to any one element in any specific individual book onto the effect that the genre has on the society, if that makes any sense whatsoever.

    5a. I do think there can be cultural impacts from popular culture, and I think those authors who wish to express their ideas and observations through their books should feel free to do so, even if I don’t agree with their ideas or perspectives. I would probably have a stroke reading some of these billionaire sheikh/virgin stablegirl things because I just can’t personally wrap my head around that being “romantic.” I would probably wish or maybe even suggest (but never force!) that the people who do enjoy that kind of story might consider reading something more liberating ;-) but that’s my personal opinion. If readers enjoy that sort of thing, well, okay fine. And because I personally get a great deal of enjoyment from the snarky bitchy analysis of some of those books, I can’t prohibit others from taking the opposite opinion — as long as they don’t try to restrict my reading portfolio.

    6. Some months ago, before the publication of TBTSNBN, there was another book discussed here with some passion in part because of the way it treated “rape” — including “real” rape, rape=>love as romance, rape of one character as titillation for another character, and even the idea that a book whose very title highlights rape as an integral and valid element of romance should appeal specifically to women readers. I don’t think anyone here advocated that that book not be published or not be available for readers, but many people did post warnings via reviews that the subject matter might not be suitable for some readers.

    As a reader and as a writer, I do feel I have some responsibilities to my fellow creatures. I have my own moral code and I think I’m probably going to invest my writing with that moral code, probably more implicitly than explicitly but it will still be there. I honestly can’t imagine a writer who does otherwise. So if I come across a book I feel really violates my moral underpinnings, I’ll probably let people know. And likewise if I read something that supports my perspectives on right, wrong, good, evil, love and honor and integrity, I’m probably going to share that, too.

    And I would expect my fellow readers and writers to do the same. That’s the basis of community, after all, isn’t it?

    All that being said, I think this topic cannot be discussed enough. There will always be additional examples to analyze, new perspectives, new studies.

  45. Teddypig
    May 01, 2012 @ 12:21:55

    “This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices, violence.”

    I am so fine with that. Loose Id is simply making a statement of fact while catering to their customers. It acknowledges the world we live in warts and all. Some people are well adjusted but there are tons of idiots out there who are not.

    It is never a failure to cater to your customer be they either/or and over describing the contents of a book in generalized terms with the idea of making a sale. It is simply good business in my opinion.

    It is not “giving undue consideration” to state the facts about prejudice and the society we are currently living in.

    Silence or “ignoring the hate” may be “nice” for some folks so they can pretend they do not live in the reality I live in but it still equals death. We cannot afford to stop pointing that out or using appropriate labels where they are needed.

    Labeling a book plainly Gay Romance or Rape Fantasy does not equal censoring it’s contents it equals informing the customer about a purchase.

  46. ReadingPenguin
    May 01, 2012 @ 12:24:11

    Wow, this is certainly a lot to think about.

    The only word that I have on this topic at the moment is that I don’t like to see any form of expression silenced. Rape fantasies aren’t my thing, and I’m not necessarily 100% comfortable with them. But I think that those inclined to write them should go on writing them, and those inclined to read them should go on reading them. Whether they reflect reality or not. Whether they are “bad” for readers or not. These thoughts and fantasies clearly exist, they have their place, and I don’t think it’s something for readers to be ashamed of.

  47. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 12:24:12

    @Ridley: Sure, but then wont people be upset that it is a spoiler being shown to everyone? Any way I can get what I think is necessary for me information I will take it. I mean, labels and ratings are something I even dont care for, I like warnings better, but as long as publisher lets me know somehow, I will be happy. As to why I need to be protected from reading certain book? Because I prefer not to waste my money on the book I will hate? Because I dont like getting angry when I read romance? Of course it is not a guarantee that I will love the book even with the warnings, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike the book, even if it does not have the subject I will avoid, but I *know* I will hate the book no matter how well written if it has subject I want to avoid, so why not?

    Again, please note I am not insisting on anything even if I had the power to implement it, in the genre which I read (in the general fiction I do not seek warnings) as I said, those warnings are already there, it may be imperfect as example shown above, but for me it mostly works, I was just attempting to explain that IMO it may work, thats all.

    One of the books which prompted my avoidance of het romance for years and years was “Whitney my Love” actually. I hated the hero so much, I wanted him to die slow and violent death, and I thought the heroine was the biggest idiot ever walking the Earth – I am exaggerating a little, but not much, I am sure most people here read it, so I dont need to go into plot in details. Why would I want to subject myself to story like this if I can avoid it?

  48. Violetta Vane
    May 01, 2012 @ 12:26:04

    I hate MPAA-style ratings systems. I just like indicators and labels that are reader-oriented and give people the information they want. I’m going to bow out here, though, as I think there are some pretty big reading-culture differences at play, so I’m probably missing something. I’ll just say I’m not coming at it from a moralizing or shaming perspective—I’ve read and written eroticized rape for publication—and leave it at that.

  49. Isobel Carr
    May 01, 2012 @ 12:35:20

    It’s not so much that I feel the need to be protected as that I resent wasting my time and money on them when one small disclosure would have prevented me from doing so. And frankly, I’m not always patient enough to wait for reviews.

    Toscano’s article was really interesting and very well done. It made me realize that dubcon isn’t always a deal breaker for me (as I loved Carolyn Jewel’s LORD RUIN and would never have thought to label Cynssyr a rapey hero). It also made me think about how I write seduction and how I deal with my heroes’ desire to know the Other. I found the section on The Rape of Coercion , or “Forced Seduction” particularly interesting and enlightening. Toscano perfectly sums up what I attempt each time one character seduces another here (I say character, because I’ve written both heroines and heroes as the active party): “The idea that once can force a seduction suggests that there are seductions in which no force is necessary. It implies that seduction is akin to temptation and, therefore, a kind of persuasion. The connotation of this is that both seduction and temptation are actions made through discourse and require the complicity of the person being seduced.”

  50. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 12:49:18

    @Sirius:

    As to why I need to be protected from reading certain book? Because I prefer not to waste my money on the book I will hate? Because I dont like getting angry when I read romance?

    See, this is what I was trying to get at with Violetta. Since she’s decided to flounce instead of think about it, I’ll ask you instead: why should we warn readers off some themes but not others? What makes forced seduction something readers should be protected from and not, say, violence? I’d imagine violence and its aftermath is as triggering as rape themes, but I’ve never seen a book warn me about it. Why not, do you think?

  51. ReadingPenguin
    May 01, 2012 @ 12:57:44

    @Ridley:

    On the subject of labels: You cannot possible anticipate everything that might be triggering to some people. As a kid, I had cancer that didn’t get caught right away, so when it was discovered a barrage of painful and scary medical procedures began. It lasted for years. For the longest time, anything medical related, even in a book, could trigger a panic attack for me. I could avoid books with obvious medical themes, but what happens if a character in a romance gets in a car accident or something and lands in the hospital?

    My point is, unfortunately, no amount of labeling is going to protect people from things that might be, for them, personally traumatizing.

  52. hwm
    May 01, 2012 @ 12:58:22

    I’m amused by the “you’ve only got yourself to blame” stance. Even if you do your research, it’s impossible to avoid every trope you don’t like – especially if it concerns rape fantasies, forced seduction, misogynic über-alpha-males having to eat humble-pie etc. – because a lot of readers and reviewers are not sensitized to these issues.

    Sometimes I can’t believe I’m reading the same book as the reviewers did. The Iron Duke by Meljean Brooks was such a book for me. As I remember the criticism for this book started to trickle in only slowly and for a long time I was the only reviewer on amazon to make an issue out of the rape scene in it and the way it was presented. (According to my country’s laws what Rhys does to Mina is considered rape, so please, don’t involve me in an arguement about this).

    Since then I’ve learned a bit more about rape fantasies and they don’t bother me that much anymore, but I’d still like to avoid them whenever possible.
    I also appreciate lables like on loose-id. They are not a cure-all, but chances are much higher that you’re getting what you’re looking for.

  53. Mlle. X
    May 01, 2012 @ 13:14:07

    This article started off amazing and then petered out into nothing. Introduced an awesome subject, framed the conversation, brought up multiple points of view in a balanced, intelligent way.

    But after this great introduction…what’s the point? Feelings are important? Readers can close the book if they wish? Rape survivors do have submission fantasies? These are good points and seem to nudge against the people who argue that writing non-con material is irresponsible, but I’d have liked to see the author take the argument a little further. It felt a little safe and academic to me.

  54. SAO
    May 01, 2012 @ 13:17:15

    This conversation seems to assume that all fictional rape is forced in a way that the rape in 70s “old skool” romances frequently wasn’t. While some was what I’d call rape (and which I hated), a lot was have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too rape. A woman who wanted sex but, in a virgin-whore dichotomy couldn’t “want” sex, got what she really wanted, all the while maintaining her “good girl” status. As long as you were in the woman’s mind, knowing that sex with the “forced seductor” was what she really wanted, to me, it was fine.

    You could argue it was a version of the zipless fuck — no guilt, no consequences. Pure fantasy. In real life, women are often aware of a choice. There’s often some guy out there, with whom they can have a hot affair — with the risk of devastating consequences to their marriage and family. Sensible women know that it’s not worth risking their long term commitment to a marriage that is good (although maybe at the moment more focused on sharing diaper changing and picking the tot up from day care than wild monkey sex) for that fling that looks so tempting when going home means changing some diapers and doing some dishes.

    In real life, no, you don’t want anything of the sort, but if I want to read about, say a Brad Pitt look alike getting a glimpse of a frumpy, dumpy mother with two whining toddlers clinging to her, see the real her, the woman she is inside and falls instantly in love. While frump-dump is greatly tempted, she does the RIGHT THING and sticks with the better or worse commitment she made to her husband, but Brad Pitt look-alike is so overcome with love that he breaks into her bedroom rapes her to their mutual orgasmic pleasure and then realizes that she’s never going to leave hubby and kids for him, consoles his sorrow with second best Angelina Jolie, okay, why can’t I read and enjoy that without someone telling me I am sick or I want to be raped.

    If I comment on how nice it would be to gorge on chocolate-laden sundaes, whipped cream-drenched strawberries, cake with thick frosting and never gain an ounce, no one ever states that this means deep down, I have a craving to be diabetic. No, it’s a simple wish-fulfillment fantasy.

  55. Mlle. X
    May 01, 2012 @ 13:23:40

    @Ridley: I’m not the responder you asked for but –

    (a) I have definitely seen warnings about violence in reviews of romance novels, if the novel is particularly grim or dark, so they do exist.

    (b) People pick up romance novels because they want a romance, and usually they want a particular kind of romance. So the nature of the relationship is essential to whether or not they will be satisfied by the book. In a lot of romances, most probably, whatever violence intrudes upon the plot has no effect on the sex.

    I’m a fan of non-con. That’s how I found you on Goodreads & I love your reviews. I don’t think I should have to be ashamed of my tastes, but I also think it’s fair to post warning signs where varsity level kink is involved.

  56. Shiloh Walker
    May 01, 2012 @ 13:32:24

    @Teddypig said…

    “This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices, violence.”

    Personally, I love these sort of warnings. Samhain uses them and uses them well.

    I have one on a book that does have rape fantasies and I did it simply because I know that the book will be triggering for some. I worked as much of the product info into the blurb as I could, but considering that book’s subject matter-the heroine did have rape fantasies, then she was raped and it ripped her apart and eventually she wants her life back. I knew it would be a sensitive matter for a lot of readers and I didn’t want to lose the trust of those who bought it without realizing what they were buying.

    re: using reviews to make decisions instead of relying on warnings etc…not everybody is as tied into the online world as some. Some only see the material that is on the website or the book itself.

    Does it serve to satisfy everybody? No. Of course not. But nothing satisfies everybody.

  57. Dabney
    May 01, 2012 @ 13:53:09

    @Jill Sorenson: No, I mean would we be comfortable with an article that basically said it’s fair to look at all women in one way.

  58. Dabney
    May 01, 2012 @ 13:54:30

    @Jill Sorenson: “t: “as women, we know we can be vulnerable…in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish violence and sex.”

    I, too am not sure what that means.

  59. Jan
    May 01, 2012 @ 13:56:00

    @Ridley, we do see violence warnings in movies and TV. In books, people tend to warn in reviews for isolated incidences. Though I avoid the entire genre of crime procedurals because they almost always have a brand of violence I cannot stomach.

    Warnings for me are vital for reading certain scenes. I don’t need them to be standardized or official; for the most part I read reviews and those always mention rape, torture, etc if they’re present. Coming upon certain things unawares is much more likely to be a trigger that throws me into the past. If I’m forewarned it usually is not. However if I know a book in question is about rape or contains torture, I can prepare myself and choose. It doesn’t always work, but it does more often than not. I walk a fine line, as most of us probably do.

    I enjoy some rape fantasies, oddly those that push the envelope. Hmm, maybe it’s that danger of seeking a thrill as I push myself close to the edge that is the real attraction for me. But it’s always hand in hand with complete control of what I’m doing, which requires some foreknowledge.

    Reading is always a personal experience, but in this area of sexual fantasy we add some of the most personal parts of ourselves, those we often keep hidden from others, even sometimes from ourselves. Society is generally more comfortable with it staying hidden, but I’m glad for fiction that lets people who want to, explore and face these sides of themselves.

  60. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 14:06:27

    @Ridley: I definitely do not think that we should do anything, I was trying to explain why I like whats already there and why I want to see it get better (the warnings I mean). I definitely do not think that “forced seduction” deserves stronger warning than violence, because in the fictional construct of forced seduction even I sometimes can see the degrees of consent and nonconsent, I have read few stories where I did not think of it as rape, and few where I thought of it as rape. In fact I do not think that warning should be phrased as “forced seduction” at all, I find this phrasing judgmental. However, I want to be warned for rape, but even generalized warning of “sexual and physical violence” is more than enough for me – it will prompt me to do further research, knowing that it may or may not include my disliked trope or it will be just too violent for me. As I said I do read violent books, but only when I feel that it is relevant to the story, but there is such thing as too much violence for me, absolutely.

    My personal reasons why I love the warnings I already addressed in my previous post – do not want to waste money and do not want to get angry at alleged good guy when I read romance. Hope that answers your question.

  61. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 14:10:47

    @Teddypig: You know, as much as I like their other warnings, I had been uncomfortable with this one for some time, but your post is probably one of the best justifications why it exists. Thank you, it definitely made me think.

  62. Isabel C.
    May 01, 2012 @ 14:18:19

    @SAO: A woman who wanted sex but, in a virgin-whore dichotomy couldn’t “want” sex, got what she really wanted, all the while maintaining her “good girl” status. As long as you were in the woman’s mind, knowing that sex with the “forced seductor” was what she really wanted, to me, it was fine.

    Ah, see, that’s what sort of creeped me out the most about those books.

    I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, or the fact that I was raised pretty sex-positive, or what, but I’ve never had any problem either saying that I wanted to get laid or reading about heroines who did. The good-girls-don’t mindset, therefore, gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies, and I avoid books featuring same.

    I myself tend to either wait for reviews/Wiki or flip to the end, unless I’m familiar with the author. (I also tend to be wary of trilogies or TV series for that reason: too many people are fond of punch-you-in-the-face “twist endings”.) Labels would mean less waiting, and easier impulse buying, but aren’t really a huge deal to me.

  63. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 14:28:14

    But why is it more important to warn people off forced seduction but not adultery or secret babies or amnesia?

    Why does every discussion of rape’s role in romance turn into a discussion of how to protect people from its dangers?

  64. Isabel C.
    May 01, 2012 @ 14:35:19

    @Ridley: I don’t have wildly strong feelings about it, but, well, you have to draw the line somewhere. Might as well draw it at the thing that’s actually a crime in real life.

    The implications depend on phrasing, of course, but I don’t think that labels in the mediums where they’re currently used are intended to “protect people” from the dangers of rape scenes any more than, say, the ingredients list on the back of a candy bar are intended to protect people from the dangers of caramel and nuts. Some people may hate caramel; some people may be allergic to nuts; it doesn’t hurt anyone to provide more information about the thing they might be spending money on.

  65. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 14:39:42

    @Ridley: I am talking about what is important to me. Maybe for other readers it is important to be warned about other storylines and I am completely okay with that, again see Riptide warnings system – A LOT of info is under spoiler cut, those who want to see may find. I can get overload of violence and I hate that trope, I want to be protected from reading it. Again, see Loose ID warnings, I am still not feeling quite okay with the first one, but otherwise I love it. I think also that adultery, secret babies and amnesia may be too specific warnings and thus spoilers, but again, I am the wierd reader who loves spoilers, so I have no problem knowing it in advance. So,no I do not think that one warning is more important than another – *to me* it is, but to other reader other things may be important, I know that graphic violence is something that more than one person would like to be warned about, but as shocked as I was, I know that probably just as many readers hate adultery for example (I dont. I know I sound like a parrot, but I am not inventing anything – it is already in place, I just want it to be better. I dont know the answer to your last question.

  66. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 14:45:55

    @Isabel C.: Thats a great answer to Ridley’s last question actually. I think I may agree with it.

  67. SAO
    May 01, 2012 @ 14:47:06

    For me, it was all in the execution.

    I guess what bothers me the most is that judgmental people who interpret pretty basic wish fulfillment as a desired for some level of BDSM. I knew someone who got born again to wash away her past and allow her to be a sort of reborn virgin for her 4th husband (a few marriages got washed away in the baptismal font, too, leaving her calling him her second husband). Sounded to me like she wanted to escape the consequences of some of her choices and start over again.

  68. Jan
    May 01, 2012 @ 14:48:47

    @Ridley, Seriously? You don’t understand why a rape/forced seduction scene’s potential effect on women is different from the effect of with secret babies or amnesia? When’s the last time you ran into someone who suffered from PTSD caused by secret babies in romance (no jokes intended)?

    Perhaps the reason why discussions always evolve into talk of foreknowledge of forced seduction is because readers overwhelmingly feel the need for it?

  69. Linda Hilton
    May 01, 2012 @ 14:51:35

    @Ridley:

    But why is it more important to warn people off forced seduction but not adultery or secret babies or amnesia?

    I think the reason — which I don’t agree with btw — as that conventional “morality” focuses on sex in and of itself as the standard by which okay/not okay is determined. The disembodied conventional morality assumes the sexual content of the material carries more potential for offense and/or harm than anything else.

    Why does every discussion of rape’s role in romance turn into a discussion of how to protect people from its dangers?

    Personally, I saw the title of the post and thought the discussion was going to be about how to (or how not to) read/interpret/categorize/understand/contextualize rape scenes, but I guess merely posting the works “rape in romance” directs the discussion into the direction of “I like, I don’t like, save me save me.”

    I agree with Isobel Carr’s saying that “forced seduction” is an oxymoron, and it’s not at all the same as rape. To me — and I may be the only one — “rape” as a term implies an absolute assumption of power-over. The victim is treated by the perpetrator not only has not having the right to protest but also as not having the right to BE. “You are my victim, my possession, and I have the right to do whatever I wish to you, with you, or even to erase your existence if I so choose.” If the fictional victim is left, by the “rapist,” with any vestige of power that can ultimately be used against the rapist, then the perspective can be altered. If the fictional rapist usurps all power from both the victim and the reader to alter the perspective, then it’s really rape.

    And I don’t think most romance novels, even going back to Woodiwiss — and more strongly to Rosemary Rogers — went all the way to that total usurpation of power-over.

    But that’s a discussion of one way to “read” rape, and I don’t think that’s what this discussion has been about.

    tl/dr, I know. (And apologies if I didn’t get the formatting tags right.)

  70. ReadingPenguin
    May 01, 2012 @ 14:54:43

    @SAO:

    Just to play devils advocate: If we agree that wish fulfillment fantasies are okay, are harmless (and I do more or less agree with you), doesn’t that mean that rape fantasies are okay for men to have too? That it’s okay for men to fantasize about raping or forcibly seducing women? Or is the fantasy only acceptable if it’s from the point of view of the victim? Because it’s this issue that makes rape fantasies uncomfortable for me, and is the reason I don’t like reading them.

  71. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:00:23

    I guess I just find warning labels particularly arbitrary and slanted towards the sex. They list every sexual situation deemed more risque than hetero missionary, but rarely if ever mention deal-breakers like violence, killing off secondary characters, TSTL martyr heroines, offensive appropriation themes, etc.

    Why do those who are sensitive about sexual themes get a heads up while everyone else is on their own? Is it just because it’s easy to list sex acts but harder to judge how much violence is too much? Or is it because we’re hung up on sex in this country?

  72. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:06:54

    @ReadingPenguin:

    If we agree that wish fulfillment fantasies are okay, are harmless (and I do more or less agree with you), doesn’t that mean that rape fantasies are okay for men to have too? That it’s okay for men to fantasize about raping or forcibly seducing women?

    Works for me. I loved Flynn in Willing Victim.

  73. Isobel Carr
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:07:43

    @Linda Hilton: I’m guessing that was Isabel C., cause I don’t think “forced seduction” is an oxymoron (though it is a problematic description) and I DO think it’s rape, every bit as much as date rape is rape.

  74. Dabney
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:13:03

    @Linda Hilton: I completely agree with you. In fact, I’ll go a step further and antagonize millions, I think not everyone has the same definition of rape. There are acts that, today, are defined by some institutions as rape–look at the honor codes of many a high end college or university–and you can see rape defined in ways I personally don’t consider rape (Consensual sex with someone who isn’t sober, for example.) But, as you point out, that thread is a digression from Robin’s initial thoughtful points.

    @ReadingPenguin: Absolutely. As I wrote at AAR, I believe that:

    The ability to distinguish between an act and a fantasy is an essentially human one. All of us, no matter what turns us on, should indeed treat others with respect. And, all of us, no matter how dark, should be able to have the secret thoughts we do.

    It is our real life actions–and those of men–that matter to me.

  75. Isabel C.
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:18:26

    Nah, not me either. Not sure who it was.

    For the record, I would also like labels like “dark” or “major character death” or
    “explicit violence” or “angst”. For that matter, I’d want to be warned for secret babies, or indeed any pregnancy plot, because ye gods do I not want to read that. I’d *love* to be warned for damsel-in-distress heroines or possessive asshole heroes, or horrendous stereotyping, but those things are subjective enough that I don’t think anyone would put said warnings on their own books.

  76. Sue T
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:29:43

    @Jan:

    Exactly, Jan. Thank you!

  77. Isobel Carr
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:30:20

    For me the difference between a warning about the hero committing rape and a warning about a plot I may not like such as amnesia or secret baby is that the existence of the latter in the book doesn’t make the hero a rapey asshat and ruin the believability of the HEA.

    My desire for a heads-up about a rapey hero has NOTHING to with my being prudish about sexual issues. As long as it’s not the hero raping a non-consenting woman, animal, or child, I don’t care when, where, how he fornicates and frolics. I’m pro-erotic rom, pro-erotica. SMUT by Tom Lehrer is totally my theme song.

  78. Isobel Carr
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:31:23

    @Isabel C.: LOL! No idea then.

  79. Jan
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:38:28

    @Ridley, well, warnings basically come from two sources, the writers and the readers. Writers probably aren’t going to warn for TSTL heroines and bad writing. We need to depend upon readers for that, and I’ve never found readers to hesitate to complain about these. That’s yet another thing that sites like Dear Author are good for.

    As for the others, coming from a fan fic perspective, I expect warnings for anything normally considered traumatic, like torture, death, rape/non-con, racism, child abuse, and insist upon them in my community. We don’t focus on the sexual.

    Though I take your point, that yes, were we to discuss for example Takashi Miike’s movies or perhaps some James Patterson novels, I doubt that any warning discussion would come up though it definitely should.

  80. Linda Hilton
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:43:21

    @Isobel Carr: My apologies for being too damn lazy to go back and verify who I was replying to.

  81. Linda Hilton
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:54:48

    @Isobel Carr: It was JoanneL who wrote:

    Forced Seduction is an oxymoron. It’s a trope that makes me turn away from any story no matter how well it’s written. To entice someone into behavior that they would normally avoid is not, not, not the same as strong-arming someone into that behavior.

    I mentally linked it with you because you wrote about readers thinking you had written FS when you didn’t think you had.

    I’ve had readers tell me I write FS, which frankly really surprised me, because I don’t think I do. I write seduction. Yes, the guys are pushy, but they always make it clear to the heroine that they have a goal and they always give her a chance to say no, to back out, and they always stop if she objects. The power play between the two characters is what makes the seduction and the growing relationship interesting (to me anyway).

    Again, my apologies to all for any offense. Sheer rude laziness on my part.

  82. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 15:59:14

    @Isobel Carr: But a secret baby makes the heroine a self-centered control freak who withheld a child’s father from a child, which massively affects the believability of the HEA as well. The sort of woman who places her pride before her child’s well-being isn’t much of a keeper either.

    There are lots of story elements that make an HEA unbelievable and many others that can be triggering. How do we decide which ones come with a warning?

    For the record, I don’t like forced seduction in romance at all. I like non-con erotica a ton, but it’s a totally different beast. So it’s not like I think people are being over-sensitive for not wanting to read forced seduction. I just can’t see why it, more than anything else, needs a warning label. Shitty books happen.

  83. Isobel Carr
    May 01, 2012 @ 16:15:48

    @Ridley: I agree that many SB plots do ruin the book for me, but I’ve read a few that didn’t (mostly historicals, or books where the dad was lost at sea or something, so it wasn’t that the mom was being a douchey martyr). Mostly, I just think the more disclosure there is, the easier it is for everyone to find the books they want and avoid the books they don’t want, which IMO is a good thing.

    @Linda Hilton: No offense. Just couldn’t remember saying that.

  84. Isobel Carr
    May 01, 2012 @ 16:18:23

    To be clearer: I’m not looking for a WARNING so much as I’m advocating for some kind of movement towards more visible trope/plot/theme disclosure (like with tags).

  85. Jan
    May 01, 2012 @ 16:26:52

    Ridley, this isn’t about shitty books. This is about people being hurt by what they read. Surely you understand what triggers are, and what they mean to the people who have to deal with them going off. I don’t mean triggers in the sense that something pisses you off the nth time you read it. I mean triggers in the sense that you’re thrown back into a traumatic incident and made to relive it. I may be wrong but it doesn’t sound like you’ve experienced this, or you wouldn’t be asking questions like this. There are typical types of incidents that cause this — think of what causes true trauma. Those are the warnings that are useful for people to have.

  86. Jill Sorenson
    May 01, 2012 @ 16:39:17

    @Dabney: Maybe we interpreted the article differently. The author doesn’t accuse every man of being a potential rapist. She suggests that women in certain situations (dark alley, deserted parking garage) will consider every strange man a potential *threat*. Why is it unfair to clue men in on this? I realize that I’ve veered off topic from rape in romance, which I have no issue with. But I think this is important because in the AAR thread and elsewhere, the focus is always on women–our behavior, dress, mindset etc. How we can prevent rape. One link to a very reasonable article directed at MEN and male behavior, and it’s criticized as being unfair? Say it ain’t so.

  87. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 17:08:28

    @Jan: So you see warnings specifically as trigger warnings, noted. Not everyone was arguing that. Most people were justifying warning labels as ways to avoid books they don’t like.

    Assuming we label triggering themes, which triggers get a warning? Like someone said upthread, they’re not the same for everyone, and can be things that seem completely benign to others. Is a forced seduction scene necessarily more triggering than romance’s favorite hero motivator, the attempted assault that the hero interrupts? How specific do you get?

  88. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 17:32:04

    As fun as this warnings conversation is, I feel bad that Robin wrote this great post and we’ve derailed it completely.

    Sorry, Robin. Maybe I’ll atone later by trying to explain why I dislike forced seduction in romance while really liking non-con erotica. That would at least flirt with being on topic.

  89. Dabney
    May 01, 2012 @ 18:04:01

    @Jill Sorenson: I don’t think it’s necessarily unfair. In fact, I think it’s full of reasonable points. That said, I am inherently uncomfortable with the idea that it’s OK to say that all men, because of the physical power of their gender, can be seen as possible rapists. I think we are careful in the way we talk about race, religion, and sexuality and often less careful about the way we talk about gender.

  90. Jan
    May 01, 2012 @ 18:15:41

    @ Ridley, My rule of thumb (in fanfic) is that if you’re doing something traumatic to a character that would cause him serious repercussions in real life, then you should warn people of that trigger. If you miss that something’s a problem for some people, someone will tell you and you’ll know for next time.

    If you’re writing for publication I don’t expect warnings, but many reviewers say if there’s a traumatic event in a book so I pay attention to reviews.

    I don’t think Robin’s discussion has been derailed. All the comments here enforce much of what she’s saying. Reading fiction affects people if it’s decent writing, but its consequences are all different for everyone. There is some common ground (rape in romances bothers a lot of women), but not enough to speak in more than broadest generalities, and never ever enough to ban a portion of the spectrum.

    I don’t think that the rewriting of these stories is specifically problematic. It isn’t any more problematic than any other work of art. A writer’s POV is always her own, not universal, and not Truth, and what we see of value (or the opposite) in her work ultimately comes from within ourselves. And that’s only problematic if we forget that.

  91. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 18:17:27

    @Dabney: Everyone I don’t know is a threat to me until I have reason to think otherwise, especially men. Maybe you’ve always lived in safe areas, but in my life lived in E. Mass, everyone I don’t know is a potential thief. That’s why I lock my car, have a house alarm and make sure my purse is always under my control. It hardly seems unfair or a leap in logic to also assume every man *could* rape me.

    I get that you’re fond of your sons, but men are not the disadvantaged party. They really aren’t.

  92. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 18:35:36

    @Jan: Definitely – I always warn in my reviews for excessive violence of any kind and will continue doing so without hesitation, I dont think such warning – violence is a spoiler at all, although honestly even if review does not reveal major spoilers , I think you are bound to learn something about the book if you read reviews. But if I feel like I have to mark my review as Spoilery for other reasons, I may do some more specific warnings. I think, I dont remember for sure, but I think in a couple of my reviews I did warn for adultery, knowing that for so many people it is a major dislike and/or trigger, but I think this I would do only if I put a spoiler warning.

  93. Dabney
    May 01, 2012 @ 18:38:53

    @Ridley: This I understand. I’m not waving the white male privilege flag. I’m fairly obsessive about personal safety. And–I brought this on myself–this is not about my sons or my daughter. I do think our culture’s focus on fear is a negative one. That’s my belief and I’m sticking to it.

  94. Susan
    May 01, 2012 @ 18:47:20

    Wow, I haven’t read all of the comments–and, in fact, I’m still trying to digest this rather meaty post. But I have to admit that my head pretty much exploded when I got to the labeling idea.

    Labeling books for subject matter and themes that might be offensive to some readers is one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever heard of–and that’s saying a lot. So, who gets to decide on the list of offensive acts and themes? How long can the list be? Who enforces the application of the list, and what are the penalties for books that don’t carry the appropriate labels? Can we make the Label Panel members wear funny hats, big white collars, and buckle shoes while they carry out their duties of painting big red As (or Rs) all over everything?

    And, don’t forget, this isn’t exclusive to just romance novels. Labeling needs to apply to every single book in every genre–fiction and non-fiction–just to make sure we cover all the bases and don’t inadvertently damage someone’s fragile little psyche. Heck, the scene that probably traumatized me for the rest of my life appeared in a mainstream mystery published in 2002 (yes, I looked it up), so we definitely need to include mysteries in this scheme. That L&O:SVU show? Totally slap every label we can come up with on that sucker.

    Like most people in the world, I’ve had bad things happen/done to me. But I’m an adult woman who doesn’t need someone else to shield me from things that I consider upsetting or painful reminders. I’m responsible for myself. If I read or view something I don’t care for, I quit reading/viewing and move on without getting pissy that someone didn’t warn me that my triggers were going to be messed with.

  95. lazaraspaste
    May 01, 2012 @ 18:47:36

    What I find fantastically ironic about the majority of these comments (no offense, ladies!) is that they are pushing the very concept of reader response that Robin is arguing against. Namely, that there is or that there ought to be one universal response to a particular text or scene, in this case the rape scene. Or that those readers who have a negative reaction trump those readers who do not and their demand for labels, warnings, restrictions–i.e. a kind of protection from the potential harm of reading–will benefits ALL readers.

    For example, women writing, reading, and discussing Romance fiction within a patriarchal cultural context can affect our conscious thought processes. How does it affect our unconscious processes? Can a book force a seduction on its reader? If anything is “dangerous,” perhaps it might be making universally shaming prescriptions (and proscriptions) about how fictional narratives speak to any of us.

    Why dangerous? Because it conflates reading as a shared activity and reading as a personal activity. Because it folds reality into the experience of the book in a way that might not be accurate, certainly not for the totality of readers.

    I would like, for a moment, to argue the benefits of a book “forcing” a seduction upon the reader. Because in this case a book does not only provide an outlet for sexual fantasy, but also for political, ideological, and social fantasy. When we force our students to read and engage with texts, we are also forcing them to read and engage with ideas they may be antagonistic to. Yet, isn’t this seduction by the text the heart of education? Isn’t this seduction of reading, the heart of its danger? The possibility that any individual reader will read a text and interpret it in a way beyond the control of the author, of social norms, of taste? Beyond even the control of their own previous understanding of the world? That a book could seduce the reader into a different way of thinking?

    And, of course, when we imagine that the book is seducing the reader into our way of thinking then we also would like to believe it is a good thing. It is only when a book may be seducing readers into a way of thinking that is out of our own comfort zones and perspectives that we want to restrict access to seductive power of reading.

    I think, though, that this restriction is far more dangerous; that to try to control this seduction, to use prescription or proscription as a means to mediate between the book’s seduction and the reader is both futile and harmful. I agree with Robin that it often conflates the different levels of reading and interpretation, of the shared and the individual, of the real and symbolic, because it presumes to be able to guess how readers will read, what readers have thought, and what readers will think. It also presumes that there is a one to one correspondence between the stories we read and the ways that we live. If I could get rid of one presumption about women readers, this idea that somehow novels cause us to act their ideas out, would be it.

    So is it any surprise that in a world made unsafe for women by men that women might find ways to rewrite that story? Is the textual recreation of that story problematic? Perhaps, but I would argue that it’s a problem that will never have only one solver, nor one solution. Which, like the submission fantasy itself, is what makes it so potent with possibilities, and so fundamentally and stubbornly resistant to literalization.

    Yes, yes, yes. This. I wholeheartedly agree. As long as we insist upon a single reaction and a single solution to problematic scenes and books, then we close our conversations off to the very potentials and possibilities that reading these stories allows for.

  96. Kate Sherwood
    May 01, 2012 @ 19:04:06

    @lazaraspaste, are we reading the same comments? I’ve read a lot of people expressing very personal reactions to these scenes, not claiming that there is a universal response. I haven’t read anyone arguing for anything more active than clearer warnings, which I think are being presented as a way to protect certain readers, rather than benefit all readers. And I haven’t read anyone claiming that there’s a “one-to-one correspondence between the stories we read and the ways that we live”.

    And while your use of ‘seduction’ in the context of reading is clever, I’m not sure that it’s helpful. When teachers ‘force’ students to read something, the teachers are, according to most models of education with which I’m familiar, expected to have selected the text with care and sensitivity toward the needs and capabilities of the reader. Who is the ‘teacher’ in the second part of your analogy, in which rape scenes are being read by independent adult women? The novelist, who has no connection to the reader and no knowledge of their needs? That makes no sense. I don’t think there IS a teacher in the second part of the analogy, which makes the first part fairly pointless. But possibly the readers themselves could be put into that role – they certainly should be experts on their own needs and capabilities, but they lack the expertise into the available texts that would allow them to find the ones they need. Which, I suppose, leads back to the suggestion that labels would be useful.

    I don’t think labels are necessarily the answer. But I don’t think making up strawman arguments (ie. that people are trying to restrict access to “the seductive power of reading”) is the answer, either.

  97. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 19:16:39

    @Kate Sherwood: Thank you, you expressed it so much better than I ever could. I only want to add that while I did not even tried or wanted or want to argue that readers who want to read rape fantasies should be tramped by the readers who dont want to, I think that arguing that the readers who do not want to should be forced to do so is doing exactly the same way only in the opposite. I come from the country (Soviet Union) who censored books for decades, I remember how during perestroyka times I could not get enough of reading the books which could not be printed for years and years. Censorship of any kind scares me silly and the fact that here in the United States there is a restricted access to the books some people think are offensive to their sensibilities upsets me and sometimes upsets me a lot. But shouldnt I have the same choice – to read or not to read the certain themes if I dont want to? I mean it is a rhetorical question, obviously I think I should. I am not a rape survivor so I do not think I should even say that when the violence in the book is too much for me, it triggers me, no it does not, but it can easily give me nightmare or two. Yes, I know, it is embarassing, too much involvement with the text and all that, but it does give me nightmares.

    As a rule,I also avoid horror movies and books (even though I will read some horror along the lines if the story about something else sometimes, really depends). When I see the name Steven King, I run and fast. But actually this is a great example, I read widely in many genres, but I avoid horror genre basically completely, as I said, I dont count some crossovers (very rarely). I mean, I get that this is the name of the genre – horror, but to me even this is usually a sufficient warning to either research deeper or to avoid the book completely. I just dont see how it is a bad thing, if some books may have something similar – not may have, they already have.

  98. Linda Hilton
    May 01, 2012 @ 19:32:47

    @lazaraspaste:

    As long as we insist upon a single reaction and a single solution to problematic scenes and books, then we close our conversations off to the very potentials and possibilities that reading these stories allows for.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that this is pretty much what we’ve been doing here, isn’t it? Even if not consciously or intentionally, haven’t we been sharing our individual reactions to specific romance novel tropes and concepts as a way of seeking some common ground for discussion while maintaining our individual autonomy?

    But I’m not sure that the “seductive” capacity of a text is necessarily restricted to ideology, and I think that’s what some readers are trying to express. Yes, we all have our comfort zones and yes, we tend normally to want to stay in that comfort zone. So all the negative reviews on books with explicit sexual content appear to be expressions of the reader’s individual experience but they are, in fact, a kind of “forced seduction” into another ideology. That’s one thing. But I’m not sure all the reaction is necessarily political or ideological. Do I want to encourage people to read out of their comfort zone and into an area where violence is a norm? Where sexual violence is an appropriate expression of “love”? Are these ideological? Are we taking moral relativism too far? Is there no longer any room for personal preference?

    I don’t want to be forced to have sex with someone against my will in real life, and I don’t want to FEEL forced to read about it and FEEL forced to accept it as just another cultural expression with equal value to mine. That’s not to say I want to keep other people from doing so. I can argue their right to read it, to write it, to enjoy the reading and writing, and still argue my right to do neither.

    By the same token, I think there is a point where we have to recognize that this entails some risk. And by that I don’t mean we have some obligation to minimize the risk at all cost, but rather that we have to examine the risks as well as the rights and understand that they have costs. There will always be those individuals who see a text as a stamp of approval for their own behavior. And in some cases it may, in fact, be just that.

    But the real danger, as I see it and as I think you and Robin have tried to express, is this expectation of universality in reaction and, pun intended, in expectation. As authors, we CAN’T guarantee how each and every reader will react. As readers, we CAN’T all react in the same way to any given text. Each of us brings a lifetime of experience and emotion to the reading and the writing and the discussing of both.

    How would the conversation change if the issue were different? If we talked about “Is there a right way to read violence” in romance novels or “Is there a right way to read class” in romance novels, or race, or gender or anything else. Too often, I think, the conversation centers on issues of sex and sexuality, as though that’s the only area where there is controversy, but the comments here have shown that there are other hot buttons.

    JMHO, of course.

  99. Jan
    May 01, 2012 @ 19:32:57

    @lazaruspaste Is anyone really arguing that such warnings are of benefit to ALL readers? I haven’t been following all the threads here, but didn’t see that. I certainly am not. I think it’s a case of a lesser of two evils, potentially warning off some readers versus potentially harming others.

    It’s not like a warning is the only thing between the work and the reader. There are countless things that mediate between them, not the least of which is any review written here, because otherwise they wouldn’t know of the book. So they’ll form some impression based upon some text they’ve read prior to picking up any book, be it from a blurb, a friend or a class’s syllabus. I don’t think it would make that much of a difference to most readers to add in something else like *contains graphic torture* so readers have a choice.

    Because in real life, not schoolwork, readers do have a choice, and there’s nothing wrong with them making an informed decision about what they read. For me personally, an informed decision allows me to approach works in a frame of mind that lets me learn from them, rather than throw them into the trash because I was suddenly traumatized (which has happened).

  100. Ann Somerville
    May 01, 2012 @ 19:35:08

    “In the overwhelming majority of cases, adults know the difference between fantasy and reality”

    Do they though? What I took away from that fairly horrible discussion on Leigh Davis’s post was women earnestly discussing whether fictonal rape was contributing to real rape, while almost completely ignoring a disgusting, in your face example of real life rape culture perpetuation by our favourite eponymous commenter:

    . Dress is also a matter of cultural values and some dress does seem to imply invitation. No one, of course, has to accept the invitation, but in my opinion, it is common sense not to offer it, to not count on someone else’s control.

    Ridley’s brave attempt to focus people’s attention – *women’s* attention – on the turd in their midst was largely met with ridicule and threats to delete comments because of ‘personal abuse’.

    This was *after* Davis abjured us all to “Speak out against attitudes and behaviors that contribute to a culture where violence against women is condoned and often encouraged.”

    Almost none of the commentators were able to recognise a “behavior that contribute to a culture where violence against women is condoned and often encouraged” when it’s shoved in front of them.

    So I have to wonder exactly *how* much the people participating in the conversation, blithering on about whether romance books contribute to acceptance of rape, actually understood how the real rape culture works, how real rape happens, and what lies behind real rape?

    I’ve never been raped. I have rape fantasies. I haven’t read a het romance book with a rape scene, real or fantasy, but the idea makes me squirm. I’ve read m/m fantasy rape which turns me on like nobody’s business. In real life I am strongly against rape culture and victim blaming.

    I think most people can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. What I think most people – male or female – *can’t* do, is clearly identify rape culture in action, and how it’s reinforced in *real* life. Romance novels are aimed at and largely read by women. Women, by and large, don’t rape. dick’s repulsive comments didn’t result from an excess of fantasy rape reading.

    It would be nice for once if women stopped blaming themselves and other women for something that *men* choose to do. Nothing *women* do in their personal lives will stop a rapist raping.

  101. Author On Vacation
    May 01, 2012 @ 19:41:05

    @Ridley:

    It may comfort you to know you’re far more likely to be assaulted, attacked, or robbed by someone you know than by people unknown to you.

  102. Ann Somerville
    May 01, 2012 @ 19:57:42

    @Author On Vacation:
    “It may comfort you to know you’re far more likely to be assaulted, attacked, or robbed by someone you know than by people unknown to you.”

    Yeah, because being beaten or raped by a *friend* is just so much better, and likely to induce trust in humanity generally.

    Your trolling is usually pretty offensive, but you’ve outdone yourself this time.

  103. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 20:06:33

    @Author On Vacation: I wasn’t in need of comfort. Taking a cautious approach doesn’t imply that I’m living in fear.

    @Ann Somerville: The victim blaming in that thread was breathtaking. dick breaks out that comment, yet *I’m* the one who got told her “tone leaves much to be desired.” Blame women for their own rape = ok, show any sort of anger at this = “personal attack.” WTF?

  104. Lazaraspaste
    May 01, 2012 @ 20:32:28

    @Kate Sherwood: People haven’t been saying it directly, but as far as I’m concerned, every conversation about readers presumes that there’s some kind of direct relationship. one to one correspondence or influence between fiction and reality, where fiction simply regurgitates reality for readers. Just because you have mildly suggested warnings, doesn’t mean that is not restrictive because it is. It may not be restrictive in some Stalinesque Orwellian kind of way, but the idea that labels on books do not affect the choice readers make about what they read, what is available in certain stores, what is accessible in libraries and where, is totally absurd.

    With all the discussion of reader shaming, don’t you think it may be equally shaming for a reader to check out a book at the library or buy it at the grocery with a label that declares what sort of sex happens in the book? Perhaps that is not an issue anymore because of the rise of digital publishing, but it still concerns me.

    Who will be the arbiters of these warnings? Who will decide when it is a rape scene and when it is just dubious consent? You? Me? Who, exactly?

    And while your use of ‘seduction’ in the context of reading is clever, I’m not sure that it’s helpful. When teachers ‘force’ students to read something, the teachers are, according to most models of education with which I’m familiar, expected to have selected the text with care and sensitivity toward the needs and capabilities of the reader. Who is the ‘teacher’ in the second part of your analogy, in which rape scenes are being read by independent adult women? The novelist, who has no connection to the reader and no knowledge of their needs? That makes no sense. I don’t think there IS a teacher in the second part of the analogy, which makes the first part fairly pointless. But possibly the readers themselves could be put into that role – they certainly should be experts on their own needs and capabilities, but they lack the expertise into the available texts that would allow them to find the ones they need. Which, I suppose, leads back to the suggestion that labels would be useful.

    Thank you. I am clever. I appreciate it when people notice that. It’s like being told you have pretty face. Hmm, well, I was thinking about professors and college students, many of whom are independent adult women. And yes, they are forced to read books in which rape and violence against women happens. Lolita, Clarissa, 120 Days of Sodom, I’ve read all of those at the college level and it is likely that I will one day teach them. And since there are several professors who now teach romance novels, there are certainly are instances when students are forced to read the very “forced seduction” scenes under discussion.

    @Sirius: But who is forcing you to read it? Once you come across the scene or begin to feel that perhaps the book is disturbing you, why do you keep reading it? I mean, yes, sometimes you get surprised, but usually there are hints in the book or the reviews of the book to let you know. I’ve DNF’ed plenty of books because it was too much for me right then.

    @Linda Hilton: But again, I’ll ask, who is forcing you? Who is forcing you to read one once you realize that the book is disturbing? How would you even go about forcing someone to read a book? Even in an educational situation, the teacher cannot force the students to read anything, as proven by the millions of students who do not crack any of their books during the entire semester.

    The risk of reading a book you don’t like or that disturbs you is not the same as force, nor was that what I was trying to argue. I recognize I was being abstract. Mostly, I was trying to respond to Robin’s original post and trying to come at the issue from a different angle by thinking about it in terms of other scenes or problematic tropes.

    @Jan: Yes. They are. You just did. You are arguing that the labels help readers (the implication being readers generally, not specifically those who may be harmed by reading the book) make informed decisions. That would be a benefit then to all readers. However, I do not see that labels are a benefit. I think they are reductive and an insidious way of censoring without actually censoring. It is a way of stigmatizing something. It is a way of making moral judgments about something WITHOUT actually having to read it for yourself. And yeah, that BOTHERS me more than the actual rape scenes. Because unlike the rape scenes in the book, labels do something. I think that they narrow what a book is down to ONE thing and ONE thing only. So regardless of what is going on in the rest of the book, no matter how powerful a novel it is, no matter its other possibilities of value or meaning, the greatness of its prose, the original nature of its plot and characters, all it is “mommy porn” or “gratuitous violence” or “forced seduction.” And many, many people will then only judge those books by their covers.

  105. Author On Vacation
    May 01, 2012 @ 21:01:34

    @Ann Somerville:

    Yeah, because being beaten or raped by a *friend* is just so much better, and likely to induce trust in humanity generally.

    I’ve always taken the facts to mean I ought to be very selective in my acquaintances and friendships. But I suppose it could be seen your way, too.

  106. Linda Hilton
    May 01, 2012 @ 21:27:19

    @Author On Vacation: Not all women have the luxury of being “selective” in their acquaintances.

    I’ve been sexually harassed by a boss, so I guess I should have been more selective and that makes it my fault?

    A friend was repeatedly raped as a child by her grandfather and no one would believe her when she told them. I guess she should have been more selective and it was her fault?

    The people we know are not necessarily only the people we choose to know. An uncle, a brother-in-law, a co-worker, a business partner, a neighbor, a spouse: But I guess it’s always the victim’s fault for not choosing wisely?

    No, sorry, I don’t buy that. The person responsible for a rape or other form of sexual assault is the rapist. Period. I personally believe that normalizing sexual abuse through popular culture enables a rape culture. I personally believe that too often women who consume popular culture — books, movies, tv, music, advertising — in which women are dehumanized and turned into sexual objects and deprived of sexual autonomy then internalize that victimhood. They come to believe that they are indeed responsible for their own victimization.

    Do I think they should be deprived of that type of entertainment? No, I don’t. But I do think that any discussion of that type of entertainment, including romance novels, should include discussion of all the possible/potential effects and implications, positive as well as negative. One can be aware of the reality and still indulge in the fantasy. But if one is deprived of the ability/opportunity to even recognize the reality, all that’s left is the fantasy.

    Can most people tell the difference? Probably. But first they need to know that there is a difference.

  107. Lynn S.
    May 01, 2012 @ 21:41:45

    Is there a right way to read rape? Is there a right way to answer this question? Are we complicated? Might as well ask are we breathing. Also might as well ask how this devolved into a warning label debate.

    The presentation of rape, force/seduction, submission/dominance in any story should be viewed on an individual basis. Authors can use the device as a plot moppet of the most gremlin variety or as an actual point of conversation between themselves and the world as they see it. And to label it as being about power or not about power or as offensive or enlightening, only serves to weaken the impact of the individual writing and reading experience. Also, since fiction is fantasy, couldn’t it be conversely argued that, within the world of the book, the sexual situations are a reality and this might be why they sometimes have such an impact on readers.

    I have problems with Nancy Friday’s thinking, or perhaps I’m misunderstanding her regarding relinquishment of power and the submission fantasy. The real world offers much in the way of responsibility and, while many people desire control, power, and the control it represents, is hard to come by and quite easy to lose. In the giving of submission, you cast off responsibility yet take control. Very arousing when your sexuality is allowed omnipotence.

    I also have problems with the idea behind reader consent. The heroine exists on the page regardless of my consent; she is there for the author, she is there for other readers. The heroine isn’t my proxy and a lack of consent on my part doesn’t effect anything and certainly doesn’t give me power.

    Regarding your paragraph on context, the actuality of being involved with, or married to, a man who can’t keep his pants zipped isn’t an empowering experience. If a woman got involved with a rake in the 19th century, she was probably stuck and the sensational and sentimental fiction of the time was rather folkloric in trying to scare young women straight. In contemporary times, escape from almost any situation is an option, so why not experience the fantasy. I don’t see them as equivalent and, although the Romance version allows for more personal freedom, I’m not sure the why not mentality does us any favors.

    Interesting that you mentioned the Twitter discussion on Jennifer Ashley’s latest MacKenzie book. I’m wondering if this wasn’t a case of the author being uncomfortable with the subject matter as I certainly thought The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie seemed uncomfortable with the BDSM elements it introduces and then The Duke’s Perfect Wife reimagines the character of Hart as some sort of “Woman Whisperer” and put the blame for any out-of-bounds behavior he may have had in the past on his procurer/mistress, Mrs. Palmer. To me this blaming of male behavior on all those “other women” of the world is much more problematic than what is being discussed here. But since these characters are Ashley’s fictional creations, not ours, what might have been is moot, unless someone wants to take it into the world of fan fiction. 100 Kilts or More perhaps?

    Finally, given all the patriarchy invoked here, do you think a matriarchal society would somehow lessen the violent propensities of humanity (both male and female) and do you also think that men are solely responsible for the “unsafe” world in which we (both male and female) live?

    Thanks, as always, for giving my brain something to chew on.

  108. Jan
    May 01, 2012 @ 22:01:21

    @Author On Vacation: Wow. Just… wow. That’s the first truly ignorant thing I’ve read here all day. I really expected it sooner given the topic, but Dear Author’s readers have proven themselves better than that.

    Feel free to now invoke Godwin’s Law, and some meme from /b/. Then the trifecta will be complete and we can get on with the discussion.

  109. Ann Somerville
    May 01, 2012 @ 22:08:44

    @Lynn S.:
    “@Author On Vacation: Not all women have the luxury of being “selective” in their acquaintances.”

    And don’t forget, you can totally tell a rapist by what he looks like, so all you need to do is make sure none of your friends, co-workers, bosses, neighbours, tradespeople, or fellow church goers look like rapists, then you’ll be completely safe, unlike those careless sluts who can’t distinguish nice men from rapists (because nice men never rape anyone.) Of course, if you happen to be one of the third of careless sluts raped by total strangers, that’s also your fault for dressing slutty, and walking in those unsafe neighbourhoods.

    I feel sick for even typing that out.

  110. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 22:31:42

    @Lazaraspaste: I suppose I can see how the reader could be reluctant picking up a paperback book which says, I dont even know what would be the best example – just straight rape warning? Rape fantasy warning? Forced seduction? Whatever it is, I can see that as bad thing that reader may be ashamed to read paperback with such warnings in public because of societal conditioning and shaming, but with ebook? Sorry, I cant agree – I think the reader who seeks it out will be more likely to pick it up, not less.

    I am used to doing that on a regular basis, after all, checking out those warnings and picking up what suits me. But lets forget about sexual warnings, could you explain to me how the reader would be ashamed to read the book which warns for “violence”. Lets not even put the sexual violence there, so no, not buying that anybody could be ashamed picking out a paperback which says “violence” somewhere on the cover, I am talking in the abstract here, because as I said before, I am very happy and grateful to the mm publishers who already do that, my main purpose in this discussion was to talk about how those warnings could work better, not to offer something new, but since we are discussing abstract warnings for the books which do not have those warnings, how does the warning for “violence” makes any kind of moral judgment? How does it reminds of censorship or restrictions of any kind? I truly dont get it. Do you think that readers who may need some hint that book requires further research should be denied even this hint? Warning for violence I mean.

    Now, who forces me to read the book which is disturbing to me? Of course nobody does, I mean, I used to have a thing about finishing all the books I started, but I do not have that thing anymore. However, I get very resentful thinking that I spend my money on the book which I would have never bought knowing that there is not a chance that book would be to my taste. I would much rather spend my money on the book which I at least have a chance to like – if I dislike it because of bad writing, shallow characterizations, etc, of course I am okay with that. I would like not to spend my money on the books which I know I would hate. That warning for violence would at least made me look much deeper into whether the book is for me or not. I buy a lot of books every month as I am sure many readers here do, so while as I mentioned before I do a careful research when I know that there is a slightest chance that book may be disturbing to me, but I do not have time to do it for every book, and honestly .

  111. Author On Vacation
    May 01, 2012 @ 22:34:35

    @Linda Hilton:

    What is the point of your outburst? I never said victims of crimes — any victims of any crimes — were at fault. I mentionned the fact that people are more likely to be victimized by people they know than by strangers. A sensible conclusion is that it’s pretty smart to exercise some degree of discretion in choosing one’s company or in choosing company for dependants, such as minor children as per your example. Worrying too much about random strangers on the street is a waste of time and energy if your nice next door neighbor is a registered sex offender.

    Assigning blame has nothing to do with it.

    As to whether I believe in a “rape culture … ” I’m not sure what I believe or if I agree with you. I’ve read romance fiction featuring rape, “forced seduction,” “dubious consent,” etc., and all I can say is that, although these tropes are a “tough sell” to me, I can appreciate them when they are well-done, BUT it’s also very tough for me to articulate why one book or scene “works” while another misses the mark.

    I don’t think well-balanced, well-brought-up people, male or female, will read or watch “Gone With the Wind” and take away the notion every woman wants her angry, drunken, jealous husband to carry her, resisting and protesting, to their bedroom and forcing sex on her. Hopefully, they would view it for what it was; dysfunctional behavior in a dysfunctional couple. But yeah, Rhett losing it and forcing himself on his withholding (not necessarily unwilling) wife is kind of sexy in fictional escapism. It’s also appropriate. Rhett’s not a nice guy.

    If people walk away from GWTW fostering a “rape=good” idea, I’d have to wonder what real-life examples or experiences of adult romantic relationships the individuals have.

  112. Sirius
    May 01, 2012 @ 22:35:13

    Gaaaa, finger slipped in the middle of the sentence.

    The sentence meant to end “and honestly, I dont think I should”. I will always read reviews on Amazon and Good reads if there are ones, but if there are no reviews, should I go search author’s blog for every book I buy in hopes of spoilers? What if there is nothing there, at all? I per use review sites as well, but again, what if there is nothing there, what if I am just attracted by the blurb and story does not even hint at what I dont want to read about?

  113. LisaCharlotte
    May 01, 2012 @ 22:44:26

    Not in favor of labels or tags or warnings or whatever you want to call them. If certain situations in fiction are triggers for a reader, the onus is on the reader to do their research to avoid those. If you don’t want to wait for reviews or spoilers to protect yourself, you take your chances just like the rest of us do.

  114. Ridley
    May 01, 2012 @ 22:59:23

    @Author On Vacation:

    As to whether I believe in a “rape culture … ” I’m not sure what I believe or if I agree with you.

    Rape culture isn’t a term some of us just made up. At least read the basics before declaring what you “believe.”

  115. Linda Hilton
    May 01, 2012 @ 23:14:36

    @Lazaraspaste: I’m not sure where to start. In the middle, I guess.

    Being “forced” to read selected books for a college or even a high school class is not even close to the same thing as selecting a book for pleasure reading and finding that it is not to one’s personal taste. Of course one can put aside a book when one determines it’s not to one’s liking; no one is forced to read when the reading is for pleasure. A text that is assigned in a class is, as someone else has pointed out, selected by an instructor who is then going to act as mediator between the student and the text. (Students may be adult women, but as students they are not entirely “independent.”) The student has the opportunity to obtain additional information prior to reading the book, or even refuse to read the text if there is objectionable material in it, and if the teacher is worth her/his salary, she/he will know enough about the student to know if there is material in the texts that will disturbing. More than likely, a good teacher will warn the students ahead of time. And the teacher will be there to help the students analyze and discuss events or themes or issues in the book that the student finds disturbing.

    That’s a whole lot different than the reader who buys a book and believes, based on the back cover blurb, that it’s your typical romance novel, handsome hero, lovely heroine, some complications, and then HEA. Halfway through the book she comes to the scene where the house burns down and the newborn baby is trapped inside and dies. . . . . and she wasn’t prepared for it and it’s traumatizing. And she can’t unread it. It’s there, it’s done, and the image is going to stay with her because it means something and she has to get through that on her own, and she can’t blame it on being “forced” to read it. Even if she stops reading right there and doesn’t finish the book (since no one is forcing her to) she can’t unknow what she knows, or unread what she’s read. And that’s very different from a text that’s assigned in a class. It’s not just the potential difference in the reading material; it’s the difference in the entire reading environment.

    As far as “labels” benefiting or harming readers, we deal with implied labels all the time. We generally know ahead of time if the book we’re choosing is a contemporary or historical, sweet or sexy, gay or straight, drama or farce. These, too, are labels, even if they aren’t bulleted on a little red-bordered box on the cover. And while I myself am not inclined to support official Labels as such, I don’t see anything wrong with reviews or discussions or anything else of the nature of reader-to-reader communication/community doing so on an informal or unofficial level. And if publishers (or self-publishing authors) choose do to so as a way of GAINING readers, does that make it inherently wrong?

    Again, we do this on so many different issues already, totally unrelated to rape or sex at all. We do it on the basis of the quality of the writing, the accuracy of the historical research, the believability of the plot, the expectations based on having read the author’s other works. If we can’t examine or evaluate or label any novel by means of any remark at all about its sexual content lest we reduce all romance novels to “mommy porn” (including those that have no on-stage sexual content at all), how can we discuss character motivation or plot consistency or social commentary? The sex is just one part of the whole book, but it is still a part of it. Or maybe the sex is the whole book, and isn’t that appropriate for discussion, too?

    And while it’s fine to be “abstract,” that doesn’t really hold a whole lot of water when you’re talking about real people and real books and real lives. Do I want labels on books for sexual content, violence level, etc., etc., etc.? No, not really. Do I think they might help some readers? Yeah, undoubtedly they would. Do I think they might keep some readers from reading books they would otherwise enjoy and appreciate and learn from? Well, of course. But so does the price of books! There are a lot of books I might enjoy and appreciate and learn from, but the label that says $45.99 means I know I’m not going to be able to. Essentially, that label is saying “This book is only for people who can afford it. Po’ folks don’t need it and/or wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.” That’s restrictive, too.

    And that’s a “different” trope for you to analyze: How much of romance enables classism? Or do all readers know the difference between reality and fantasy on that one too?

    Or is it your contention that the reading of popular fiction really has no effect on the real lives of real people? Do we all just read the books, set them down, and retain absolutely nothing of their content, their emotional impact? It’s all just fiction and it’s all just fun and it really means nothing so it doesn’t need any labels and if you’ve read one you’ve read ‘em all and they don’t need to be well written because they’re not going to stick in the reader’s head anyway?

    I think they DO stick in the reader’s head, for good or ill, and to dismiss that effect is insulting to the readers and the writers. I didn’t write in my previous post as clearly as I would have liked, and I’m afraid I came across as believing that all readers who read books with submissive/victimized heroines or rapey heroes or whatever, that all those readers will inevitably and invariably internalize that behavior and/or become enablers of a rape culture and/or self-blaming victims. I don’t believe it’s inevitable, certainly not, because I give the readers (if not always the writers) a little more credit. But anyone who is bombarded with the same, unchallenged idea will probably come to believe at least some of it as true. That’s the purpose of advertising, after all, and it’s pretty effective, and it all depends on people retaining the ideas and values they’re bombarded with, over and over and over and never challenged.

    I don’t agree with everything that’s been said in this thread, but I think I’ve tried to respect the comments that came with sincerity. I’ve done my best to respect the different perspectives and different preferences of the posters when it comes to what they like to read, what they don’t, and how they feel about their individual likes and dislikes.

    But as a writer and a reader, I don’t like feeling that it’s all just some abstract analysis of discrete texts that have no relation to the real people who wrote them or the real people who read them.

    @Author on Vacation: You’re the one who wrote that one is more likely to be assaulted by someone one knows than by a stranger and one should therefore be “selective” about one’s acquaintances, as though EVERYONE knows that and EVERYONE can implement that kind of selectivity. I was just pointing out, rather passionately, that that’s a rather simplistic and imho unrealistic expectation. Not all sex offenders are registered. Some of them, as Ann Somerville (I think) mentioned, look like nice guys and act like nice guys. . . until they don’t. Sometimes they’re very good at appearing trustworthy. . . .until they aren’t. They live next door, they’re the babysitter’s father, they’re the substitute teacher, the scout leader, the minister or priest. I don’t think too many people CHOOSE to be around sexual predators; suggesting that we can simply choose not to be seems a bit naive.

    When you put the burden on the potential victim — exhorting her to be “selective” in her acquaintances — you are blaming her before the fact. And anyone who suggests that a woman who finds herself in a potentially dangerous situation should just get out is someone who doesn’t understand the reality of abusive relationships.

    I’m done. I’ve probably pissed a lot of people off tonight. Angela takes pride in being clever; I just have to admit I’m a bitch.

  116. jan
    May 01, 2012 @ 23:18:47

    @Lazaruspaste I see. So you want to remove all labels and classifications from books entirely. That should make going to the library interesting. Or do you just want the kinds of labels that help *you* find what you’re interested in?

  117. Ann Somerville
    May 01, 2012 @ 23:45:30

    @jan:

    “do you just want the kinds of labels that help *you* find what you’re interested in? ”

    You don’t see a different between genre labelling, and people demanding they be warned for anything that is potentially disturbing? When what is disturbing can’t even be agreed upon? (Fandoms regularly erupt into warning wars, and each and every time, people who have PTSD, have been raped, or have been through other horrible experiences, are on both sides of the divide. There is no universal rule that can be set.)

    You have people demanding that they be warned for vaginal sex in m/m stories. Is that reasonable?

    As for triggering material, I remember one PTSD sufferer explaining that no one could *possibly* warn for what triggered her, because she could never predict it. She could happily read the most gruesome, graphic rape and murder scenes, and be set off by something innocuous like someone’s hair colour.

    Warnings can act as advertisements, because one woman’s squick is another’s kink. But I would much rather *not* have Loose ID describing perfectly ordinary gay sex and relationships as “possibly objectionable” for an audience of adult readers who can bloody well get over themselves if gay people bother them. No warning at all is necessary for the presence of characters of alternative sexualities in a story.

    People who are triggered, or can’t handle certain plot points (like major character death) as I can’t, learn to read reviews and take advice before trying an unknown author. I don’t expect authors to take it on themselves to spoil readers (although I don’t expect them to mislabel their work either). I expect readers to take charge of their own reading safety. I’ll label my books to the degree I’m comfortable with. More than that, I refuse to go.

    This is soooo far away from Robin’s original post. Warnings wank is always so very boring too.

  118. jan
    May 02, 2012 @ 00:29:35

    Ann, I don’t think genre labelling is any more clearcut than warning labels would be, no. What’s romance? Why is there some in all other genre sections including mainstream books? A book’s classification is determined by some marketing or editing person somewhere. It’s arbitrary. And yet it’s useful, because it does allow us to narrow our focus from something that’s an unmanageable size to a browseable group, even though we might miss books outside of that classification.

    Of course there can be all kinds of triggers and warnings for them. But everyone knows the main ones. Sorry for the typos, I’m typing on my phone and it can’t edit in these small boxes. Anyway, I wasn’t even originally suggesting putting labels on published book. I just think the argument someone else was making above that labels are bad is disingenuous, considering the labels we’re already putting on them, and finding quite useful despite their lack of clearcut definition.

  119. Amber Lin
    May 02, 2012 @ 00:32:02

    @Isobel C. The problem with the “well, it’s illegal” is that no one’s suggesting putting tags on plenty of other illegal things. Murder, for one, happens all the time sans tags. Torture, theft, espionage, white collar crimes, whatever. And plenty of what counts as FS and dubious consent in books is NOT actually illegal. So if you made legality the rule, you’d tag every romantic suspense and leave all those FS historical romances bare.

    To my mind, rape and other taboos are singled out for no other reason than that they are sexual and they make people uncomfortable. There are plenty of other things that are illegal and immoral, things that can and do trigger people, that don’t receive that level of venom.

  120. Loreen
    May 02, 2012 @ 10:48:00

    I am entirely in favor of a labeling system. In fact, in the context of the Book That Shall Not Be Named, I think that henceforth all spin-offs should be labeled, “Warning: contains lengthy, repetitive faux legalese and endless emails that are about as titillating as your average “getting to know you pre-coffee date” exchange on match.com.” How else will I be saved from the triggering effects of the forthcoming Fifty Shades of Preparing Your Tax Return, or Fifty Shades of Replying to Freshman Comp Emails?

    Seriously, I think it is helpful to ground this conversation a little by specifically talking about the kinds of scenes we are, in fact, reading now. I don’t remember anything like a forced seduction in Fifty Shades (she signed a freaking contract so they could have sex!) Did I miss something once I started skimming to shield my sensitive eyes from any more mentions of “inner goddesses?”
    When I started reading romance back in the 90s I encountered a lot of rapy heroes à la Johanna Lindsey, but it has been many years since I have seen anything published that contained truly non-consensual sex outside of erotica that is pretty explicitly labeled as BDSM.

    There seems to be a real continuum that goes from completely consensual to forced seduction to rape. I think the first “forced seduction” scene I read as a teen was in The Fountainhead. It certainly disturbed the heck out of me, but it also forced me to be a more active reader in order to articulate why I found the book so awful. I remember that Ayn Rand described the scene as “rape by engraved invitation.” The reader is privy to Dominique’s thoughts and feelings and knows that she is thrilled to be physically tossed around and “taken,” but unless the character, Howard Roark, is a mind-reader, he has no way of knowing that she consents.
    As troubling as I find that scene, I do think we have to trust readers to know the difference between fantasy and reality, forced seduction and rape. While that particular scene is not to my taste, I don’t think there is any shame in the fantasy of being “taken” by a lover who is overwhelmed with passion. I can tell the difference between my boyfriend pinning me down playfully during consensual sex and date rape against my will.
    I suppose the difficulty is when we try to impose that fantasy on real life in a literal way. Of course, women who fantasize about forced seduction and enjoy reading it in romances don’t actually want the handyman who came to repair the fireplace to sneak back in the middle of the night to rape them.
    Very few fantasies can be transcribed on real life without robbing them of the essentials that made them erotic. A lot of heterosexual women read M/M romances and are turned on by descriptions of gay male sex. Does that mean that they would be thrilled to find out that their husbands were making passionate love with other men? I doubt it.
    If we started to see a return to the “I love you so must rape you” romances of the 80s, I would be disturbed, but there is really nothing in the fantasies of current romances that makes me think that they are anything but healthy expressions of a common erotic fantasy about being desired by the right man (or vampire, angel, wolf etc)

  121. Isobel Carr
    May 02, 2012 @ 17:12:14

    I fell like my comments on wanting tags got completely hijacked and misconstrued into some kind of pearl-clutching “save me from rape” BS. It’s not about saving people, it’s about letting people find the books they want. Some people LOVE secret babies, widows, virgin heroes, etc. Some people hate them. But if we had some basic disclosure on included themes/tropes/plots, then both groups could find the stuff they’re more likely to enjoy. I just don’t see how this makes me, as Susan so nicely put it, an idiot.

  122. Susan
    May 02, 2012 @ 17:47:32

    @Isobel Carr: Nope, totally misconstrued my statement. I’ve never called anyone here an idiot. I said that the idea of labeling is idiotic, and impractical. And I strongly believe that it is. To be uniform and inclusive, the scope of the labels and the material needing to be labelled would be so large that it wouldn’t even be useful–the system would collapse of its own weight. Basic book descriptions and reviews–which come from such a wide variety of sources/perspectives–should be adequate to alert other readers to themes that are objectionable to them. But if something gets missed, so be it. I understand that you, and many others here, disagree with that, but I respectfully think you’re wrong.

  123. Sirius
    May 02, 2012 @ 18:07:20

    Susan, but why does it have to be uniform and inclusive? Just look at mm publishers – Dreamspinner does not warn for pretty much anything, Loose ID and Samhain issue warnings which I like ( mostly anyway when I need to look at them) , amber allure warnings are so detailed and annoying that I would put spoilers alert on most of them and their blurbs. I don’t think uniformity is possible or needed. There are situations where I don’t bother with the warnings – if trusted friend recommends me the book she knows my tastes and knows how far out of my comfort zone I may want to step, but researching on my own of course I will look. I keep saying it – that system is already there on mm romance – it is not perfect and not uniformed, but I don’t see it collapsed, so why do you think it would collapse if implemented in het romance? I think at this point I am merely curious – as I said if somebody would tell me that they have a magic wand to take away warnings in mm romance I would try to fight them tooth and nail – as much as it in my power,lol. But you don’t want warnings in het romance? I really don’t care – it could probably make me a little more avid reader of het romance, but the absence of warnings is certainly extremely minor reason of why I read so little of it. So at this point I am just curious why people are so sure that it will not work, if it is already working in mm publishing. No, nor for every reader obviously and I would love to see improvements to it myself but it is there and for some people it does work.

  124. Susan
    May 02, 2012 @ 19:06:18

    @Sirius: I think we’re just at different places on this. I read a fair amount of m/m, but I pretty much ignore whatever labels/warnings there are. I can honestly say that I’ve never bought, or not bought, a book based on the labels, but I have bought or passed over books based on the product descriptions or reviews. I don’t think the labels serve any valuable purpose, and wouldn’t care if they went away.

    But if labeling were to be expanded to books outside of the current m/m/romance/erotica area, what other kinds of books should be included? All erotica/romance books, but nothing else? Other genres that have disturbing themes/tropes, such as mystery, thriller, sci fi, fantasy, horror, etc? (As I noted earlier, the scenes in a book that have had the lasting effect on me were in a 2002 mainstream mystery. Only a few days before this post, I got all freaked out again thinking about it. I doubt it would get a label, tho.) And what are the things that should be labelled? Rape? Dub con? Murder? Torture? Animal mutilation? Anything involving children? (Lots of books in different genres–mystery/thriller, historical fiction, fantasy, literature, etc–include scenes like this, including stuff with children.)

    I’m obviously not for any labelling. But if there is labelling, why would romance be singled out for special (ie., stigmatizing) treatment and other books get a pass? And how big would the list of labels need to be to encompass everything that some readers might find objectionable? To me, it just sounds like it’s veering into the realm of the ridiculous, like the product label on a window AC unit I once bought that warned me not to drink the condensation that dripped off it.

    But “East is East, and West is West. . .” and I doubt I’m saying anything that will sway labelling proponents. And vice versa. But it’s an interesting discussion–and DA’s gotta have at least one a week like this!

  125. Sirius
    May 02, 2012 @ 20:05:09

    @Susan: Sure, I do not remember buying the book based on the warning alone either, but certainly few times warnings stopped me in my track, or I ignored them, because person or people I trust recommended it, or I was in adventurous enough mood, etc, but I am glad that they are there in the first place. By the way, when I say warning, I do not mean only labels, often publisher warns loud and clear in the blurb and that is more than enough for me.

    As to what to warn for, I suggested it upthread, but I will say it again – I do not understand how general warning for “violence” of any kind is stigmatising. For me it would be a compromise, but sufficient enough compromise to look at the book with more depth, if nothing else already warned me – blurb, reviews, etc. That would prompt me to see if there is sexual violence involved, if there is graphic violence of another kind which could be too much, etc, but I just do not see what the warning that general would stigmatise.

    Now, what about other genres? I read a lot of mysteries and fantasies, and for me no warning of such kind needed, because I do expect violence in those books and would check them closer then general romance in the first place. One of the reasons I love mm so much is that to me it is much more umbrella term than a general romance, even though I definitely love purely romantic mm/gay books myself. But if I pick up the book that says mm/gay fantasy or gay mystery, I have entirely different expectations than just mm romance. I am perfectly okay with the story having just a mystery plot and gay couple being there, in love and saving the innocents, saving the world. The thing is if I go there, for me violence would not be a surprise at all and I will either take it or skip it, purely depending on the book.

    Here is a good example of how much warning helped me to enjoy what I think of as amazing book. Few months ago I requested for review a book which said romance (it was definitely just a romance, I just do not remember labeling of the genre by heart), but also a blurb from the publisher warned loudly for the graphic scene of violence/gay bashing. I decided to risk it. For me the appropriate mindset sometimes matters a lot, so I pretty much talked myself into having to read this scene, because the blurb had several other things which interested me very much. Oh my god. To say that this scene was painful for me to read would be an understatement of the year. I don’t even know how to describe it? Just “beating” would not describe the horror of it, beating with intent for the person to die slow and horrible death would probably be just about it. And it seemed that it would never stop – every kick, every scream of pain was described with painful precision. It lasted probably ten or fifteen pages and I can tell you that much – I will never ever reread that scene again. But here is the thing – after those ten pages what I thought I read was one of the most romantic, tender, sweet books that I have ever read. I loved every second of it and since it was a story of the recovery and the other guy was standing by him, there was no violence whatsoever. Had the publisher not warned me, I would have never made it through those pages, I of course could have skipped that scene and thats what I did upon reread, but when I read for review, I do not feel that I can skip a single page. So, of course I am not attempting to persuade you, I just like talking about these things I guess? (About books I mean), I am just trying to explain how wonderful and helpful I find these warnings to be for *myself*. I also put the warning about violence and that it is only one scene in big red letters and described my reaction to it. I know that several people were grateful for that (I am sure there were those who were not, but I did not hear from them thats why I cant be positive).

  126. Susan
    May 02, 2012 @ 22:30:44

    @Sirius: I get you. I’m certainly OK w/ the publisher voluntarily addressing issues/themes in their description/blurb. I agree that the more description that’s provided the better so that readers will know if this is the right kind of book for them or not. And I think it’s great that reviewers discuss things that made them uncomfortable about a book.

    I’m just not in favor of mandatory labelling being imposed on publishers. Or labels so generic they don’t really tell me anything (“violence”).

    For the book you read for review, it’s fine that the publisher chose to include a warning that you found helpful. And it’s great that you addressed the violence that you found troubling when you wrote your review. If I were a potential buyer, I would appreciate having this information available. (And, see, you’ve made me curious about the book.) But, again, it should be optional, not mandatory.

    I recently read Harper Fox’s Last Line. This book was amazing and I heartily recommend it, but it was incredibly intense and very difficult for me to get through. Reading it literally caused me physical pain, and I had to set it aside for awhile. I just now went back and looked at Loose ID’s warning notice for it:

    “Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Dubious consent, male/male sexual practices.”

    I don’t remember reading the note when I bought the book, but there’s nothing here that would have given me pause. Yes, this is all true, but it in no way conveyed the true, harrowing nature of the MC’s ordeal for me. I’m not really sure what Loose ID COULD have said to prepare me. And if the publisher had chosen not to include any warning at all, I wouldn’t have faulted them for it. Since I first bought the book, readers have posted some Amazon reviews that give a more accurate impression–and I think that’s how it should be.

    All that said, I’m sure your point of view will prevail and warning labels will be put on ALL books eventually regardless of what I think. Sigh.

    (And I’m not sure I’M always prepared for the level of violence I come across in other genres. Reading about someone being tied down and having their spleen cut out without any anesthesia pretty much hits all my eeek! buttons regardless of any violence warning. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. =:-O )

  127. Sirius
    May 03, 2012 @ 07:33:07

    @Susan: Okay, this is way off topic now, I apologize for that, but I just need to clarify this. My point of view is mostly being happy with status quo as to the warnings in mm publishing. I most certainly do not advocate creation some sort of Big brother type commission which would uniformly impose on publishers to do anything. I do not believe anybody impose on them what they are doing now. Their warnings are different, I mean Loose ID and Samhain are close enough, Amber Allure’s are often different, Dreamspinner does not warn for anything, they do whatever they like, whatever they think would be a good business for them (even if some of those warnings are not to my taste) and this is how IMO it should be. So, my POV is merely being happy with status quo, and saying that something like that could have worked in het romance, but not that I care much one way or another for het romance.

    I cant finish Last Line, tried several times, but could not. However, to me the words “dubious consent” imply a lot of things, from fairly innocent (in fictional construct, because I just cant see even dubious consent being innocent in reality) to terrible and I would always expect terrible things to happen when I see such warning, even if they are not.

    But sure, even if all publisher does is warning in the blurb I am totally fine with it and of course “violence” warning does not really warn much, but for me that would be a good enough compromise to point me that book needs a closer look and I cant be buying it now before reviews, etc.

    And sure, I am not always prepared or enjoy for level of violence in another genres, I am just saying that I go in there knowing that it may happen. Mysteries to me imply murders, and I know that murders could be graphic, so if I go there, I go there with my eyes open, even in mm mysteries. And as I also mentioned upthread, for horror books I do not need any other warnings except genre name – I avoid them almost completely, both books and movies.

    So, any kind of warnings is good for me, even if there is no special labeling, really. And while I had been buying much less Dreamspinner books because of gazillion other issues I have with them, I still buy them, since there are authors I like. But I think Dreamspinner is being quite obnoxious with their genre labelling actually and while that part does not bother me, I know people had been upset with them and deservingly so. As I mentioned before I love gay mystery where romance may have 5% of the plot just as much as I love pure romance, but why in the name would the publisher that claims to be romance publisher would print books like this and still claim that it was romance? Anyway, way off topic, sorry, but I had to clarify that I am not advocating any sort of forcing anything.

  128. Natalie
    May 03, 2012 @ 08:18:57

    Didn’t read most of the comments yet. However, as someone who was almost raped in my teen years, I can still read rape/force seduction in the romance if it’s done tastefully. As someone (wasn’t it a man?) said that being aroused against someone’s will is extremely powerful. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’re too many authors who can handle this well, To Have and To Hold is about the only one with this theme I liked.

  129. Anne
    May 03, 2012 @ 12:19:55

    @Amber Lin:

    You said it in a nutshell. I’m one of those allegedly sick souls who gets off on rape fantasies, I like them brutal, vicious, torturous, violent all the way and back. I’ve never been raped or assaulted, so that’s that. I feel I’m in good company, lots of female friends like the same kind of stories, it’s roughly 50:50. But because this is mainly a female sexual fantasy grabbing and suddenly owning something “dangerous”, namely sexuality, it appears this needs to be censored.

    What about all those horrific tales of war and violence that men love to watch and read? No problem, eh? It has always killed me that a naked nipple threatens the whole of the USA, but it’s no problem slaughtering whole towns in mainstream media.

  130. Robin/Janet
    May 03, 2012 @ 23:34:22

    @Merrian: I haven’t had a chance to read Angela’s paper yes, so thank you for the link.

    @Kate Sherwood: What are the steps being suggested by the anti-rape-reading side? Are they suggesting that such books be censored? boycotted? or are they like me, just looking for a clearer way to label these books so they can avoid them personally?

    I got into a pretty heated debate a few years ago with Eileen Dreyer, who argued strenuously that she did not believe rape had any place in the Romance genre. She even wrote a blog post about it: http://www.eileendreyer.com/blog/2007/03/eileen-angry.html. I do think that calling the device “dangerous” is, at best, an attempt to chill any enjoyment, let alone use, of the device. Which is one of the things that spurred me to write this post. Not everyone goes that far, of course. But I do think it’s difficult to speak negatively about this particular trope without having the readers who enjoy it feel shamed and frustrated. Not that I think that should chill criticism — just that I think we need to be more mindful about how we talk about these tropes. I also advocate more mindfulness in their use, but then I feel that way about every trope in the genre, pretty much.

    @Merrian: Yet I do feel that we have to face that these stories are about the negotiation and reality of social power, who has it and how it operates.

    Yes! I have always felt that the genre — at its core — is about power, even more than love (or perhaps as one and the same?). It’s why I’m so fascinated by it and why I am so devoted to analysis of its tropes.

    @Amber Lin: Here is my biggest problem with labels: why the HECK does “dubious consent” deserve a label when “death of a child” does not???

    Because only one is still considered a “kink” or some kind of deviation from “normal” behavior? I think that’s one of the things that scares me most about labeling beyond genre categories, review tags, and the likes. I really, really worry it will further marginalize tropes that are not considered normal or acceptable.

    @Violetta Vane: Reading is also a very social process, and there are so many more ingredients than the text and the reader. People get influenced by friends, family, reviewers, publishers, book prices, artists who do cover art. They react to support things and against things. They’re affected by things like their race and economic class and religion and disability or lack thereof. So yes, they have the ultimate power, but so many other forces also have power, too, and that influences their (our) decisions.

    I agree with all of this, but I don’t think it negates the need to look at readers differently; in fact, I think it reinforces my argument that the relationship between reader and text is incredibly complex, and even when we read ‘as a community,’ we don’t all read the same way or even have the same experience of the text. We might be able to draw some generalized statements, but I still think we need to be cautious in trying to move from trying to understand how readers read to using anecdotal experiences to prescribe/proscribe certain texts or textual devices.

    @Jill Sorenson: I’m not sure I understand this part: “as women, we know we can be vulnerable…in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish violence and sex.”

    All I mean there is that while we legally recognize rape as a crime of violence, the fact that it’s perpetrated sexually has expansive implications for how a survivor may experience her sexuality afterward, even though the crime itself may not have been ‘about sex,’ per se. Not to mention the ways in which we still shame and blame women for being too sexually “loose” and somehow “asking for it,” which confuses sex and violence even more, IMO.

    I think this is one of the reasons the trope is so controversial in Romance — because the genre emphasizes the sexual aspects of force, rather than the violence, which for some readers distinguishes it from real life rape, while making other readers deeply uncomfortable.

    @Isabel C.: I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, or the fact that I was raised pretty sex-positive, or what, but I’ve never had any problem either saying that I wanted to get laid or reading about heroines who did. The good-girls-don’t mindset, therefore, gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies, and I avoid books featuring same.

    Have you read Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and the World Without Rape, a collection of essays edited by Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman? It’s the book I always recommend to anyone who wants just what you express here, and I think it does an amazing job of sharing that wisdom. Because, as you know, this is not the normative position in our current social moment.

    @lazaraspaste: I would like, for a moment, to argue the benefits of a book “forcing” a seduction upon the reader. Because in this case a book does not only provide an outlet for sexual fantasy, but also for political, ideological, and social fantasy. When we force our students to read and engage with texts, we are also forcing them to read and engage with ideas they may be antagonistic to. Yet, isn’t this seduction by the text the heart of education? Isn’t this seduction of reading, the heart of its danger? The possibility that any individual reader will read a text and interpret it in a way beyond the control of the author, of social norms, of taste? Beyond even the control of their own previous understanding of the world? That a book could seduce the reader into a different way of thinking?

    I think this is a somewhat different process, one in which requires intervention of a third party on the relationship between reader and book (in some cases trying to force that relationship). Which, as you know, can sometimes backfire, especially if students feel forced to read certain texts in certain ways. Which is interesting, when you think about it, because despite the perception some have of teens being impressionable, I think the fact that these situations often happen during those ‘testing authority’ years can, perhaps, solidify a certain amount of independence in the way the developing reader approaches texts. I think that’s how it was for me, at least. Although in some cases it may be quite the opposite.

    @Lynn S.: I also have problems with the idea behind reader consent. The heroine exists on the page regardless of my consent; she is there for the author, she is there for other readers. The heroine isn’t my proxy and a lack of consent on my part doesn’t effect anything and certainly doesn’t give me power.

    She may not give you real world power, but your ability to consent or not gives you power over the text and, to some degree, over your experience of the text. And that’s what’s important to me, because I think one of the biggest problems I see in discussions of FS/rape in Romance is that they often seem to assume that the reader AND the heroine lack agency. That the heroine is passive and that the reader consumes the book passively. And I think this is an incredibly problematic position, and one I’m trying to challenge from different angles.

    Regarding your paragraph on context, the actuality of being involved with, or married to, a man who can’t keep his pants zipped isn’t an empowering experience. If a woman got involved with a rake in the 19th century, she was probably stuck and the sensational and sentimental fiction of the time was rather folkloric in trying to scare young women straight. In contemporary times, escape from almost any situation is an option, so why not experience the fantasy. I don’t see them as equivalent and, although the Romance version allows for more personal freedom, I’m not sure the why not mentality does us any favors.

    The most wonderful thing about the history of women readers is that they demonstrate quite a bit of diversity and independence in their relationship with texts and their reading habits. Cathy Davidson does a great job of talking about how women read, often in groups, and how they used books as the basis for discussion about some of these very issues. Not in submissive acceptance, but in articulate debate. And as women like Lori Merish and Sharon Marcus have shown, women were not ubiquitously and uniformly passive victims of fiction, of sexuality, and of the growing consumerism of the 19th C. Just look at some of the bestselling books of that period, books like The Coquette, which was incredibly popular, not because women were reading it as a moral primer, but because it salacious aspects made it a rollicking good read.

    @Ann Somerville: So I have to wonder exactly *how* much the people participating in the conversation, blithering on about whether romance books contribute to acceptance of rape, actually understood how the real rape culture works, how real rape happens, and what lies behind real rape?

    One of the reasons I did not get much into the rape culture issue here is that I wanted to focus on the sexual fantasy and the process of reading. And I agree with you that there are a lot of assertions being made about women and sex that are simply not based in fact (and a lot that are open to debate). But I also think there’s a whole slew of stuff that people believe despite it’s being untrue that remains distinct from, say, sexual fantasy. There are definitely connections to be made, but I think one of the problems with the original piece at AAR is that it conflated several “narratives” in service of delivering a warning message about real life violent crime and victimization.

  131. Jade Middleton
    May 27, 2012 @ 06:43:08

    @Amber Lin: I couldn’t agree more with your reply. You’ve said what I wanted to say better than I could have myself.

  132. Life During Wartime
    Apr 16, 2013 @ 04:01:25

    […] can easily (if unintentionally) impugn and shame those readers who enjoy rape fantasy (and research consistently shows that the percentage of women said to enjoy this sexual fantasy exceed 50%, so it’s hardly an […]

  133. Reptile Romance – The TL:DR Edition | Love in the Margins
    Nov 08, 2013 @ 19:37:28

    […] RR – When I first entered the romance community I was chastised for questioning the function of rape in genre. Told to read Nancy Friday STAT. Which I did, and I began to get a different perspective. I have very complicated thoughts about this (I have written about it too). […]

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