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Why is there so much slut shaming in novels written by...

Warning: The following is a commentary about rape and rape culture. Please avoid if you have triggers.

Recently in Swaziland, short tops and short skirts are being outlawed because they are deemed “rape inducing.”

Police in Swaziland are cracking down on rape—by putting women in jail. Authorities in Africa’s last absolute monarchy have issued a ban on “rape-provoking” clothing, including miniskirts, midriff-revealing tops, and low-rise jeans, the AFP reports. Women caught wearing such clothing will be arrested, and face six months in jail. “The act of the rapist is made easy, because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women,” a police spokeswoman explained.

Sound backward?  It really isn’t.  It’s a product of a rape culture that dominates most societies.  Witness one commenter on an Ohio football website regarding the Stubenville Ohio rape case:

I was discussing this with my 20 yr old and unfortunatly, he has been in similar situations where things got out of hand at a high school party. It happened to me. Although neither this bad, kids will be kids and no matter how grown up they want to be, their social skills are just not there yet. Who amongst us was not curious about a girls anatomy at that age? Who amongst us would not have at least thought about exploring that night? We throw stones and forget the bigger picture here and that is that they were kids. No excuses for rape but society needs to be blamed, curiosity needs to be blamed because alcohol and sex are everywhere.

Two weeks ago, the New York Times shined its bright light on a horrific gang rape of a teenage girl in Stubenville, Ohio.  Drunk, possibly drugged, a girl was dragged from party to party by Stubenville student athletes.  She was penetrated with fingers, sodomized, peed on, and possibly defecated on, all while being unconscious.  The entire event was tweeted, video taped, and instagrammed.  A blogger who runs http://prinniefied.com/ screencapped these social media acts of horror and began to rattle the cages.  Stubenville’s football team is so revered that local media did not cover this incident and as the news of the event began to trickle out, the town became divided.

The division was given voice by a local radio personality, David Bloomberg, who claimed that this was an attention seeking girl who was crying rape because she was embarassed she got drunk and had sex with more than one guy.

These girls at these parties, sometimes they drink a little bit too much, sometimes they get a little promiscuous, all of the sudden they’re being called, you know, a whore, what have you, and it’s really easy to say that you were taken advantage of rather than own up to the fact that ‘Hey look, I did what I did.’”

Bloomquist then went on to say that he thinks the report by the 14-year-old was “she said – he said” and was likely consensual.

“I guess the best way to sum up what I’m saying is this: It’s easier to tell your parents you were raped then, ‘Hey mom or dad, I got drunk and decided to let three guys have their way with me.’ “

Others, like the Deadspin commenter, decries the political correctness that is ruining parties for guys. If a girl doesn’t want to get raped, don’t get drunk. Don’t go to parties.

In a letter to an editor, Dan from Illinois writes:

To the Sports Editor:

Under-age drinking parties predictably lead to outcomes like this. Who are the adults who are buying alcohol for these high school students? And where is the local police department in enforcing the law? Shouldn’t the adults who facilitated these parties be held accountable as well?

Are you outraged?  This attitude pervades romances and young adult books.  I really got into it on Twitter with an author who was engaged in a ride along with police officers and commented how girls who dress provocatively are asking men to treat them poorly. Women in romance novels are often demonized for having more than one sexual partner (those sluts, always sleeping around, THAT HO) in contrast to the males who are being glorified for being rakes (those sluts, always sleeping around, GO BRO).  Women who wear short skirts are of questionable moral fiber.  They are the ones who cheat; who are avaricious gold diggers; who aren’t “nice.”  A woman’s worth in romance novels is often measured by their sexual behavior.

While slut shaming is a common theme in category novels, it is really a staple trope in the entire genre.  How many times have we read about the hero believing the heroine to be a shameless whore only to be shocked and delighted when she is a virgin?  Her virginity is the proof against his baseless accusations.  Without her virginity, the hero could go on believing she is every awful thing that he ever imagined her to be.

The party girl past is used to allow the characters impute all kinds of wrong behavior on the heroine.  In one book , the heroine is dismayed that her sister who is a flirt and has several affairs has never “suffered for it.” In another NYTimes bestselling romance book, the uncaring slutty party girl goes to hell and is redeemed by the assassin hero.  In the recent self published book, the hero who has one night stand after one night stand thinks that all the girls at the bar wearing short skirts want to have sex, likely with him. In a book I’ve recommended, the heroine calls herself a slut for sleeping with a guy only to find out that it didn’t mean as much to him as it meant to her.  Why does that make her a slut?

Why are women authors so anxious to devalue women based on what they wear and how sexually active they are?  Why do we readers allow this thinking to perpetuate?  If women in books written by women, celebrating womanhood, are constantly judging a woman’s worth based on their rape inducing clothing, their drunkness at a party, their willingness to have more than one partner and actually enjoy it, how can we ever be upset about the attitudes held by men quoted above.  Too much alcohol and of course you are going to get some guy raping some girl.  Too short of a skirt and of course you are going to get some guy raping some girl.  Too promiscuous and of course you don’t deserve to say you were raped.

The double standard is frustrating when the rake is elevated to near god like status and the sexually active heroine is all too commonly slotted into the evil villain role, but the persistence in holding to these tropes and re inforcing those beliefs in books is more than frustrating, it is dangerous.  Moreover, from a writing standpoint, it is lazy.  I would like to see more girl positive books.

Girl positive books would include not judging a woman by her attire or how many partners she has. Girl positive stories would include treating men and women by the same standards so we aren’t elevating the rake at the same time we are casting side glances toward the merry widow.  One author who really does girl positive stories well is Elle Kennedy.  In her books, the women are viewed with no shame for wanting sex no matter the positions, the number of times or the number of partners.  (Although even Kennedy has used the slut term as self descriptive of the heroine for lusting after a male character)

In Tammara Webber’s Easy, sorority sisters are contemplating whether to bring a rape charge against a popular fraternity member.  The president of a sorority looks around to the members and says

That dickwad hurt two people sitting at this table. And you’re worried about who’ll look bad if they tell? Screw that. Dean and D.J. and Kennedy and every frat boy on this campus can all go fuck themselves. Are we sisters or not?

Well, are we sisters or not?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

95 Comments

  1. Selene Kismet
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 05:15:04

    This. Times a hundred.

    It’s great that we have ways to empower women to fight back against real-life injustice, but it would be nice if we weren’t constantly fighting against the tide of lazy assumptions about roughly 51 percent of the human population.

    Where IS the male equivalent of “slut” or “bitch?” (“Man whore,” btw, doesn’t work. It is the equivalent of “white slavery” or “white trash;” it implies whores and slaves and trash are normally everyone else.) As far as sexualized insults go, I personally prefer “douche” and douchbag,” because the device often has a resemblance to both male and female genitalia. Your mileage may vary.

    To dig deeper, though, I think some of the issues that further complicate the trope of evil promiscuous woman are tied to mainstream Western cultural values. To be sure, not all love stories are romances, but I consider any story where the main element of the story is romance that has a HEA or HFN ending to be a romance, no matter what happens before the end. I part ways with a lot of people there, be it because they don’t like (or understand) polyamory, can’t abide a heroine who sleeps with more than one person in the story, don’t want to read about sexually free and dominant women, etc.

    That’s totally cool, to each their own. Still, I feel like the personal tastes of the perceived majority have somewhat limited the ‘big tent’ aspects of romance that drew me to it in the first place: the bright light at the end of the tunnel. With romance, I know I’m going to get there eventually. That doesn’t mean writers shouldn’t challenge themselves.

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  2. Ros
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 06:10:25

    Amen.

    I don’t know why women write like this, but I do know that as readers and reviewers we can keep calling them out for it.

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  3. Anne
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 06:24:44

    I wondered for a moment whether you are joking. Bitch-culture, sex-negativity and religious claptrap are up and healthy, it’s on the heels of that that slut-shaming and rape culture follows.

    Female authors slut-shame because that’s their basic mindset regarding these topics (I couldn’t care less whether they don’t reflect or reflected and went for it, the result is the same). It’s as easy as that.

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  4. Scarlett Parrish
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 07:09:35

    Surely “Girl Positive” books would refer to women as women (not girls), instead of infantilising female sexuality?

    Other than that, I’m in agreement with this post. It’s part of the reason I hate the tired old virgin trope in M/F. A woman is only worthy of being a heroine if she’s kept herself for her man. If she’s slept with anyone else, well…whatever happens to her is her own fault, right? Virginity is a prize to be bestowed upon her Prince Charming, because no-one wants a woman who’s been used.

    And that’s only a hair’s breadth away from saying if a woman’s slept with one man, she must be willing to sleep with anyone…even if she’s unconscious and being passed around from guy to guy while she’s ‘under’.

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  5. Mary Ann Vadnais
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:17:42

    Thank you for this post.

    Learning about sexist formal policies, learning that they are vigorously enforced and harming women and other oppressed groups, is one of the most hopelessly frustrating experiences of contemporary life. The loss of control and outrage I feel reading about Swaziland and Stubenville, Pakistan (where militants kill educators providing girls’ education) and the recent events in India, can be breathtaking.

    Like you, Jane, I’ve felt this way reading books, written by contemporary women, writing in a genre that has extraordinary opportunities to engage meaningfully with contemporary womanhood.

    I’ve been talking a lot on Twitter, lately, about tropes–I recently had a particularly interesting discussion about the “small town” trope and whether it, in the larger “trope” sense, exerts a conservatizing pressure. We wondered about why it was more difficult to think of examples of the hero who became enchanted with the big city lights and the powerful woman who lived in them and left his small town to be with her than it was to think of the “fast-living” big city woman who “settles down” in the small town or rural idyll with her cowboy/rancher/veterinarian. We winced at the implications of “settling down,” of the deep romanticizing of small town/rural life (where writers often infuse their fictional small towns with resources associated with the big city like arts & diversity), of ready “plot employment” for the heroine. There seemed to be something hinky–I wondered what it was, for example, that editors were calling for (exactly) when they called for the “small town romance?” Of course, in our discussion we acknowledged that plenty of writers write small town well, and their work and stories confront, meaningfully, the very issues that got us wondering. Were these writers and books an exception to the rule, though? Or were we borrowing trouble for a problem-free and well-loved trope?

    This discussion mirrors, I think, yours. When I am suddenly deep (or not so deep) in a book that is igniting that feeling of hopelessness and outrage, most often for sexually shaming its own heroine or the female antagonist, I really do think–is this exceptional? Or is this pervasive? In an offline conversation about this very thing, another friend and I “confessed” to each other our dislike with several generally beloved authors’ books who we felt had “betrayed” the strength of what you’re calling sisterhood. The conversation started with my helpless frustration that the term “cracktastic” has made its way into so many discussions of the genre and editorial calls (as a healthcare provider, and one for children and adolescents at that, I watch first hand how crack really HURTS people), and then developed from there into how casual acceptance, versus thoughtful confrontation, of many tropes and trends may mean that a lot of HEA and HFN just don’t feel that good.

    I still believe that the gates are wide, for both writers and readers, in this genre. And there is considerable power and opportunity for growth and change and cross-currents even if there is a truly pervasive problem. The conversations happening in the genre are encouraging, if not downright inspiring. I’ve been especially interested in “wish list” discussions that want to dismantle hero tropes as a way to recognize actual depth and breadth in men and as a way to recognize the contemporary power of women. I optimistically believe that every one of these conversations influences gatekeeping and/or chips away at the believe that tropes are ironclad or singularly marketable versus their more challenging, and satisfying, counterparts.

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  6. Shelley
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:18:20

    The best part about the romance genre is its ability to shape our cultural norms. The genre doesn’t have to cave to what’s already out there; it can re-form (and reform) what we think about romance, love, sex, and gender.

    Romance, for example, makes it clear that women enjoy sex and that it’s okay for them to seek out a partner who helps them find physical pleasure. The more romance I read, the less I understand our cultural shame around sex. So why can’t we take it one step farther? If our books say, basically, that it’s normal for women to feel and act on desire, then how does that square with slut-shaming? It doesn’t, really.

    So stop the in-book slut shaming. It directly contradicts one of the best parts of the cultural work done by the genre as a whole. And it’s anti-woman. And it’s lazy writing.

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  7. Violetta Vane
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:20:25

    This is why I only read erotica, erotic romance and menage. And a few historicals. The risk of encountering slut-shaming is too high, otherwise.

    I think there’s a simple two-word answer to the question poised here: internalized misogyny. It’s something we all have to grapple with constantly.

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  8. Suleikha Snyder
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:25:25

    Half the time, I think women don’t even realize they’re doing it, such is the ingrained nature of women’s roles in society. Not just in writing, but in general: You’ll hear it in conversations, assumptions made because of how someone is dressed or how high her hair is, etc. Somehow, somewhere, it’s become normalized to push fellow women off as an Other, as an alternate species. They’re Not Me. I Am A Good Girl. Good girls don’t go out drinking. Good girls go to church and temple. Good girls dress appropriately. Good girls don’t get raped.

    And all together, it leads to rape culture. Not just perpetuated by men, but by women as well. It’s a global societal failing, and I really wish there was a way to globally change it. Because the idea that a woman having any kind of autonomy makes her a fallen women, less than ideal, an easy target, etc…it’s unacceptable. What’s gone on in Stuebenville, in Delhi, in Patiala, in Guwahati, in Swaziland, in every nation in the world…it’s horrific.

    Until people figure out that we are all the same, worthy of the same respect and the same rights to safety — regardless of what we wear, how high-paying our job is, how much education we have — nothing will change.

    Flipping on the news, it’s a constant barrage of victim blaming, in sly tones from the media, in overt sound bytes from idiot politicians. I would love to flip open more books and find respite.

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  9. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:28:41

    I was thinking about this yesterday during a conversation with Rose Fox on twitter. She dislikes fated mates and forced seduction because both reduce the heroine’s choices, free will, ability to say no, etc:

    “But there’s no denying that coercion/nonconsent is a big part of the romance genre right now. I’d like that to change, is all.”

    Rose Fox @rosefox

    “Coercion/nonconsent is frequently seen/portrayed as “romantic” in the starry-eyes sense. I think that’s rape culture and bullshit.”

    I commented that there’s a difference between consent in reality and fantasy in romance. I know this post is about slut-shaming, but is reader-shaming another side of this coin? Slut-shaming puts the onus on women to not get raped, instead of blaming the rapist. I agree that we should call out female authors for internalized misogyny and perpetuating stereotypes. But should we also shame readers/writers who enjoy fated mates and rapey heroes? Are these women contributing to rape culture, or are we shifting the blame from the actual rapists once again?

    I don’t read much PNR but I can’t view fated mates as pseudo-rape. Coercion or outright force is another story, and I’m uncomfortable with it. There are some fantasies I consider harmful. Daddy-daughter stories, for example. I think it’s possible for incest victims to self-victimize and continue the cycle of abuse in fantasy life. I mean, it’s a theory I’ve thought about. I don’t put rape fantasy in this category and I don’t think it’s helpful to judge readers who enjoy a certain amount of forcefulness in romance.

    It’s a good question to ask, though, if this relationship model (dominating hero who won’t take no for an answer) is harmful to women and/or perpetuating rape culture, especially with younger readers.

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  10. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:31:20

    I think my comment is in moderation.

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  11. Mary Ann Vadnais
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:38:12

    @Suleikha Snyder: So beautifully said. It makes me wonder how this suggests craft? In other words, how to create objective filters that can “see” this during the writing process and work with how the story is served or not served. I’ve read some very challenging craft posts in the bloggoverse recently that have taken on writing/thinking issues as complex as this one.

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  12. Anne
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:39:56

    @Shelley:

    I’m not sure I agree. A genre which practically forces authors to write an ending which includes settling down with one man, (often multiple) marriage and children, perpetuates exactly the other side of the coin this article is complaining about.

    How can it be sex-positive and modern (about female choice) of a genre to have such a narrow idea of what is a Happy Ever After for women and then be astonished about slut-shaming or the fact that quite definitely not all kinds of sex are ok?

    Effectively it’s this which will quite forever nail romance to be the stirrup-holder of what is deplored here.

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  13. Scarlett Parrish
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:42:05

    @Violetta Vane: I’ve read slut-shaming in menage more than any other genre that springs to mind right now, besides BDSM. Too often the flimsy “plot-progression” consists of the woman thinking, “Gee, I’d love to sleep with these two men, but what will people THINK of me?”

    Unless they pay rent on her vagina, I don’t see what business it is of anyone’s whose cock is in there, but still, too many writers have someone secretly enjoying multiple partners, but keeping it closeted because ZOMG PEOPLE WILL DISAPPROVE.

    Then, of course, the Magical Peen of Multiples cures her of all doubts, and the two (or more) guys manage to persuade her to be with them when her own thoughts and sexuality could not, ’cause of course peen > woman’s own mind.

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  14. pamelia
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:44:05

    I think these are some deep-seeded cultural biases we are dealing with here. It’s simple to say that romances written by women should empower women by presenting a more ideal paradigm in which women are free to be real people with real desires and real wants and real actions without being judged as bad or wrong or tainted. I also think though that we have to write books which are grounded in the real world to change the real world. For instance: in a book where the heroine has sex (for whatever reason) and labels herself a slut make that the start. The book can then go on to dismantle that self-condemning sentiment. I think many of them do that and I think that is what is important. They show us that the self-proclaimed “slut” is not condemned to an unhappy life in which she is unworthy of the great HEA. This is an important step forward. In a few decades we will (hopefully) be decrying these sorts of stories as much as we now decry the “bodice-rippers” of the 1980s as being old-fashioned.
    If we start to write books which present our ideal (any ideal) then we run the risk of writing a text to which real people cannot possibly connect. There is a great scene in The Matrix where Mr. Smith tells Morpheus that the Machines originally designed the Matrix to be a paradise free from strife and trials and that it failed because the humans rejected that outright as “wrong”. They had to make the Matrix as unfair and awful as the real world in order to keep the humans fully integrated. Likewise authors have to write reality in order to change it from within. I for one will not buy into a story in which a woman happily sleeps with all the men she wants to in a small town and no one raises an eyebrow. Better to tell the story of how she overcomes that stigma and finds happiness despite society’s judgments. Tell that story enough and we show the pathway OUT from this mess.

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  15. Violetta Vane
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:50:25

    @Scarlett Parrish: I know exactly what you mean, but I’m REALLY picky about menage and can spot those stories pretty quickly from the blurbs.

    I really like stories in which women grapple with internalized misogyny and public shaming, work through it and come to realistic solutions. It’s when it’s present, but unexamined, that I won’t read on.

    I loved your “By the Book,” by the way.

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  16. Suleikha Snyder
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 08:55:06

    @Scarlett Parrish: the Magical Peen of Multiples cures her of all doubts, and the two (or more) guys manage to persuade her to be with them

    I think this is where the Ménage Utopia comes in. There is a plethora of erotic fiction out there where the characters suddenly live in a world where a woman and a bunch of dudes can live happily together without facing any real-world consequences whatsoever. It takes care of the nasty business of overcoming stigma that pamelia brings up in her comment and also removes a bulk of the responsibility from the female protagonist’s hands. She is SO desired, SO pursued that of COURSE she’s going to settle down happily with all these guys and get it on till the break of dawn. It’s the Disney version of erotic romance.

    Healthy exploration of one’s sexual fantasies? Sure. Helpful for sexual reality and gender issues? Probably not. Because, in reality, the outcome of a woman plus a group of dudes = FAR less idyllic.

    @Mary Ann Vadnais: I don’t honestly know if it’s a craft issue, if you can somehow “train” your voice not to go that way. Particularly if you ARE writing characters set in a specific time or who are in possession of myriad realistic flaws. Because there’s a fine line to walk between being sex positive and, again, turning it into a Utopia where acceptance is the norm and no emotional/psychological growth occurs.

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  17. Shelley
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 09:02:58

    @Suleikha Snyder: I think one place you’ve really hit the nail on the head (the whole comment does, but this struck me) is that women have to “other” the women who are raped in order to give themselves a (false) feeling of safety. “If I only go to church/dress modestly/get married, it won’t happen to me.” It makes us feel like we have some control over what happens to us.

    So yes, there is an element of internalized mysogyny to it, but I think just as important is the false sense of security women get from turning rape victims into “those other women.”

    And this, of course, plays right into the hands of rape culture, because it perpetuates the myth that women “make” men rape them, absolving men from the need for personal responsibility and contributing to the idea that men are, of course, entitled to women’s bodies.

    All women have internalized this narrative to some degree, but we have to find out how to challenge it. I LOVE romances where the female protagonist is fighting her own internalized shame over her sexuality. Thus, I wouldn’t be opposed to a heroine who refers to herself as a “slut” as long as this is part of her character arc– accepting her wants and desires, growing more comfortable with herself as a sexual being despite what she’s been told over and over again good girls don’t do.

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  18. Shelley
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 09:06:00

    @pamelia: Yes! I am in total agreement that there is huge power in telling the stories of women who live in the world of sexual shame finding ways to escape those judgments. I do think there’s room in the genre for both that kind of idealized (maybe) realism AND books that are sexual -judgment-free fantasy zones. But the struggle you suggest is a character arc I find very appealing.

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  19. Shelley
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 09:17:16

    @Mary Ann Vadnais: For starters, I think writers just have to be aware that this is a trap we can fall into really easily. The biggest problems seem to be writers who’ve never really thought about these ideas before using Those Other Women as shorthand–villains, rivals, morality tales. Or writers who parrot virginity as symbolic of virtue without questioning why that is.

    I think to some extent acknowledging the constraints our culture places on women’s sexuality within the text is a way to bring it to the forefront and destroy it, but I’m also not necessarily opposed to the Sexual Utopia model as long as it’s not the only one we see. I’m thinking in particular of YA author David Levithan, who purposefully writes LGBT books where the teens’ sexuality ISN’T a part of the conflict. He often sets his books in a sort of sexual-acceptance utopia on purpose, both to be able to explore character development for LGBT teens that isn’t all about coming out & associated trauma, but also to present an alternative to the world we live in.

    I’m thinking much harder that I should be for someone who just had her first cup of coffee. Jane, great post.

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  20. Julie
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 09:18:29

    How odd. I was just having a similar conversation to this with friends last night. A woman (even in novels) enjoys sex, she’s a whore. A woman has sex without being in love & envisioning a wedding dress and veil first and she’s a whore. A man sleeps around and it’s “boys will be boys.” A guy in his 80s wants to bone a 24 year old and needs Viagra to do it? High five for the old dude! It’s an age-old mindset, unfortunately, and I don’t see it changing. But when women themselves propagate this attitude? It boggles my mind.

    I think there’s a lot of reasons why this is becoming so brushed aside in current culture. As many have touched on above, there’s a lot of reasons for it. Politics (the mindset of some politicians that women are property, that they’re not equal, that they don’t even own their bodies but must be told what to do with it, that they’re too emotional to be logical, that they’re somehow ‘unclean’ or tools of temptation), religion (don’t think I need to explain more on this one but hey, if we bleed we can’t be equal), social messages, etc.

    I really hate to point fingers at, say, TV or music or film or book because it’s such easy scapegoat… but again, it was brought up in my conversation the other day because I do think they all play into a larger landscape. It bleeds a mindset into the culture.

    Do women have a responsibility (for lack of a better word) to look at a role and say, “this damages the mindset of women” or “this is a negative stereotype for a woman and shows her as an object, as stupid, as nothing more than a ‘whore’ and furthers that whole women should be ashamed’ mentality so I’m going to refuse it and even speak out against it” or do they just simple shrug and think someone’s gotta play that part so they might as well take the paycheck and move on, a job is a job and oh well?

    Reality shows in particular, I think, drive a huge part of this is current pop culture. The most popular roles are woman shown as air-headed drunks and lushes who live to do nothing but party and get out of cars with no panties so paparazzo can take pictures of their crotches. They can’t think they’re way out of a wet bag and the rise to the top of fame seems to always start with a sex tape.

    As Pink once sang: What happened to the dream of a girl president? She’s dancin’ in the video next to 50 Cent.

    Do we give a silent OK to this image by buying those books and watching those shows and going to those movies? Do we perpetuate the problem by not looking at our daughters, sighing, and sitting them down for that conversation each time something happens? Why don’t we band together (in the age of internet it’s easy!) for a presence in politics & social culture to speak out, petition, call & write when these things occur so that a dialogue is opened and change can actually happen?

    When we, as women, see or read or hear these things, should we not take a moment to pick up a phone, run off a quick email or even write a letter to that TV/Film studio or publisher to speak out against it? To point out what they’re doing or perpetrating? I think we should but do we? And why don’t we?

    Is it because we don’t want to be called a feminist? Because someone might get mad at us (lord I hate that reasoning! God forbid someone gets mad at us!) or call us emotional or unreasonable or label us difficult or a bitch. Why that’s just shameful. Be smart? Hold an opinion? Be angry over unfair treatment? Gasp! The horror!

    Then there’s my problem with violence against women (even fictionalized on tv or whatever). It’s become entertainment. The more graphic the better. Sexual crimes have become sport (again, even fictionalized). And yet the worse it gets the more excuses society finds as to why the woman is at fault or why it’s okay. After all, it’s “just” a TV show or “just” a movie.

    A male gets abused (and I’m not downplaying this because abuse is abuse and its repugnant) and the world erupts. Investigations are held. People are fired and jailed. There are repercussions (Sandusky comes to mind). But if they were women? What happens? Schools refuse to press charges. The cops shrug and look away. The girl is shamed into leaving. She’s a whore. She’s a temptress. She must have seduced the man into it in some way. After all, she does wear her skirt a little too short and, well, she’s a woman. You know how that is. Blame Eve. And if you get pregnant? Wooodoggie. Check with a man first to see if its okay for you to make your own choices about what options are okay for you.

    There is NO reason why rape isn’t covered under Hate Crime laws. None. If men were raped at the same rate as men (God forbid! what an evil, evil act, I’d never wish that on anyone!) the laws would catch up super quick. Unfortunately… *sigh*

    But I think change has to start with women. We are supposed to be a sisterhood. I’ve seen so many women step up and speak up lately, it’s inspiring. But even more troubling is the number of women who step BACK and remain silent because they don’t want to cause a fuss, don’t want to be blamed, thought difficult, thought a “feminazi,” a “bitch,” or difficult or “unlikeable” or – even worse! – undate-able because they have thoughts and minds and opinions on things as if “smart” and “active” were bad things.

    The comment above that mentioned “internalized misogyny” brings up a great point and I wonder about it often. It does seem like some women truly hate women.

    This is such a great topic and a conversation women should have so much more frequently. I could ramble on it for days.

    Thanks!

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  21. Scarlett Parrish
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 09:31:48

    @Violetta Vane: When I first got an ereader, I wondered if all menage stories were the same. There are pretty big names in the industry I avoid nowadays because of their “ZOMG I fancy two men/have shagged two men/want two men, therefore I’m a slut,” habits. In actual fact it’s more like “…have been shagged BY two men,” making the sex passive and something done TO a woman rather than BY her.

    I wish I knew how to find these woman-friendly menage stories ’cause they’re in short supply as far as I can see.

    I’m not saying I’m after a story that pretends la la la we all live in a sex-friendly world, because we quite clearly don’t, but I’d like to see a woman resolve her own issues using her own strength, rather than waiting for the permission and protection of her sexual overlords.

    PS: And thank you. :)

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  22. Mary Ann Vadnais
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 09:35:27

    @Shelley: Change really is here–both within the genre, and the genre’s ability to push back on the living culture and impress change. I’ve absolutely spoken with friends I’ve rec’ed books to with challenging themes who share with me that the book changed their attitude because the actual *act of reading the book* was a positive experience *with* the challenging issue. Many of us aren’t going to have personal experience with a lot of the themes in the books that we read, but reading is a live thing that works on us–whether the theme is presented within a utopia or not the attitudes of the book pervade and sit with us, changing us. I do believe that we can critically, as readers, recognize utopia for the device that it is–that it’s a device doesn’t make what’s presented inside the utopia less important or powerful. This, of course, includes empowering themes for women and characters, men and women characters, who reject shame and challenge our culture and address the doubts/fears/prejudices of the reader.

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  23. Violetta Vane
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 09:39:57

    @Scarlett Parrish: I’ve got a menage review blog that’s inactive now, but hopefully I can start it up again soon. Not everything on there I’d recommend, but check it out if you like :-D

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  24. Meri
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 10:41:42

    That scene in Easy is fantastic. This is something I really like about Webber’s books – so many romances have overbearing heroes who have no respect for women, and women who don’t seem to have much respect for themselves, and what Webber does is the polar opposite of that.

    I’m kind of curious about he heroine who was thinking herself as a slut; I think that could be read as either slut-shaming by the author, but it can also be used as an opportunity to explore why a character feels like that and how she works through it. I assume that was not the case in this example?

    Girl positive books would include not judging a woman by her attire or how many partners she has. Girl positive stories would include treating men and women by the same standards so we aren’t elevating the rake at the same time we are casting side glances toward the merry widow.
    Absolutely. And FWIW, for me this refers to the entire spectrum of sexuality and relationships – we shouldn’t judge the people who choose to have multiple partners, those who choose to have no partners, the monogamous, the monagamish, or anything in between. So long as it involves consenting adults (and in some cases, sufficiently mature teens) , nobody should dictate to anyone else how to express their sexuality and what choices they should make.

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  25. JennyME
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 10:49:42

    I wonder if it has to do with romance authors wanting a conservative anchor of sorts to protect against critics and others in the larger community who try to dismiss them as authors of smut, or shame them for writing about sex. My heroine’s not a slut, she’s a virgin! This isn’t about sex, it’s about lurrrrve!

    Maybe writing about virgins or good girls makes their books seem, on some level, less “bad.” I don’t think this is something that people would consciously set out to do, but perhaps it lurks in some authors’ subconscious minds.

    I don’t know. I’ve had to become extremely picky about what romances I sit down to read, because I have a lengthening list of tropes or pet peeves that will make me bail on a book. Contemporary virgins are on the list–I could not be less interested in virginity.

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  26. anon
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 10:57:36

    Not too far back there was a discussion here on DA that touched on this topic. I shared a few things and talked about”protecting” my daughters by giving them advice- don’t walk alone at night, don’t leave your drink on a table, etc. I got slammed for it by several people who said I was perpetuating the rape culture by putting the onus on my daughters for the outcome. I didn’t see it that way, I was only wanting to help them keep safety in mind. I still think safety is important. I give my sons similar advice about awareness of surroundings, and safe behavior.

    But the discussion did get me thinking about how such advice could feel to my kids if something actually does happen. I am still in a quandary over how to help keep them safe without making them feel responsible for the behavior of others. This isn’t theoretical, this isn’t an intellectual exercise. I have three daughters and two sons. They live in the real world and face situations that could harm them. As a mother I want to protect. This has led to several long talks with various family members. It’s been productive and allowed me to emphasize where blame for any action should rest–on the perpetrator.

    I’m the mother of two daughters that have been raped by a family member when they were 6 and 10. We didn’t know for years. The matter is made worse be the fact that the family member was also an adolescent at the time and also now has his own issues due to guilt. (Thankfully he is also in counseling for juvenile perpetrators.) My girls are both now in therapy and on meds to help with what is essentially PTSD. I was molested by my swim coach at 14, but didn’t even realize that’s what it was because I was basically cut from the herd and seduced. I was flattered at the time. I’ve spent decades having issues I never followed to the source until recently. Now I’m in counseling for PTSD as well.

    My youngest daughter, now almost 16, rarely talks about the abuse but a few weeks ago told me she felt like it was somehow partly her fault. I felt like someone had stabbed me. It led to a good talk about how the victim is never to blame for the perpetrators actions, no matter what. I gave the example of leaving your car unlocked and your favorite CDs inside. You aren’t to blame for owning the CDs and you aren’t to blame that someone decided to steal them, even if your car was unlocked. The CDs were yours and you didn’t give anyone permission to take them. Period. They had no right.

    I know many here have been abused and/or have family or friends who have. But for me, it will always come back to my day-to-day life of helping my girls recover. Watching them go through physical and emotional turmoil, depression, anxiety, cutting, inability to function at times for school, etc. I’m still torn between the mother bear and the woman who wants all women to be free to be themselves without fear or blame.

    BTW my daughter showed me a site that gives support for teens in crisis:
    To Write Love On Her Arms
    http://www.twloha.com/index.php

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  27. Emily
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 11:01:45

    Anyway I guess my thought Of course there are women who believe in the “Slut-shaming culture” and therefore propagate it. I think it’s a bigger mistake to assume that women will stick up for each other.
    It’s also important to realise that there are women who live their lives according to it.
    The point is these women are out there and these women are writing romance. I think at least some of the time this is the starting world view of the author which she incorporates into her books. They are not “girl positive” in real life so why would they be in fiction?

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  28. Mary Ann Vadnais
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 11:14:00

    @anon: Thank you for sharing your family’s story, it cuts right to the heart of why this discussion couldn’t be more important and why all of us have a personal stake in changing our community. So many of us started reading romance when we were girls and adolescents–a time when we’re so gloriously receptive to ideas and attitudes. We write and recommend and read books for ourselves, for each other, and for brand-new readers–what is it that we’re telling those brand-new readers about ourselves and our world?

    As a healthcare provider (for kids and teens) I volunteer services (including emergent forensic services) on behalf of girls who are living with you and your daughters’ experiences and are crime victims. I can tell you how strong these girls and young women are, but you know this. I can also tell you that many of the girls I’ve worked with cite reading, and reading YA and romance, as a way that they have escaped, coped, and dealt with the crimes perpetrated against them. It’s an amazing realization, and sometimes a sobering one.

    Have a peaceful new year, anon, thank you.

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  29. John
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 11:26:27

    That story that you opened with made me physically ill. I’m glad that I’m not desensitized to it, but sad that so many are. I’ve also seen that plot in YA novels (as discussed in my review of Leverage when I reviewed for DA) and it’s so depressing. The one nice thing is that YA’s boundaries of sex make it harder for it to directly perpetuate rape culture (although the teen commentary and usage of the word slut/whore sometimes feels worse.)

    Yet, it’s still there. Sisters Red is a novel that is a really clunky metaphor for girls getting back at rapists, but the main characters slut-shame without remorse and the metaphor just limits the rape-victims to women and the rapists to men, who are portrayed as animals/werewolves. It’s so twitch-worthy.

    Easy is what I wish more books were anymore, in YA, NA, and romance. There’s no slut-shaming. There’s someone in the text stating, “We are powerful and we cannot let these people off the hook for accepting rape, because it is 100% not okay.” It’s a book that I will gift to friends and will want to pass around because of that. More women and girls need to read things like that to show that we can become a culture that doesn’t tolerate it. Those comments bother me both in romance and in real life. If anyone else has a list of sex-positive/explorative romance, NA, and YA novels, I would love to see it and celebrate the books on it.

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  30. Alix Nowarra
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 11:28:06

    @Jill Sorenson:

    I find myself agreeing with Rose Fox. The first time I ever encountered fated mates (in a fantasy novel not an actual romance novel) I found myself slightly creeped out and went “What about choice?” Both characters didn’t really like each other but were “fated” and had no choice but to be together. I think I was even more creeped out because the writer in question was a kind of feminist fantasy writer who wrote about strong kick-ass heroines and suddenly there was this whole ‘fated – meant for each other’ thing.

    I find it even worse when it comes with the ‘genetic imperative’ to ‘mate’ and maybe even to procreate. That’s rape with enforced pregnancy. Fanfiction too is full of it (I blame Star Trek ;-) ).

    I can partially understand the lure, but in the end I always come back to the issue of not having a choice. Even in enforced marriages the characters have some kind of choice and can determine their own destiny, yet in ‘fated mates’ it’s preordained and who cares what the characters (female and male) wanted to do with their lives. Same with love. Even someone deeply in love can decide against that love and dump the other person.

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  31. Rebecca Rogers Maher
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 11:31:48

    Thank you so much for this post and for generating a conversation about this dynamic. I write and read romance novels, and the issue that makes me craziest in our books is the way rape itself is depicted. A heroine is almost raped in one scene and then happily has sex with the rescuing hero in the next scene, with no exploration of the trauma/fallout of what has just happened to her. Or a heroine is given a rape history for the purposes of characterization, as shorthand for a dark past, but without any real investigation into how that history would affect her or impact her current sex life.

    The message this sends contributes to the slut-shaming you’re describing. If, as Suleikha aptly says, the rape survivor is “other” (a woman who does bad stuff we would never do, which means we’ll never get raped) then she doesn’t deserve a frank look at the trauma she’s survived. At the same time, rapists are portrayed as sneering villains, and this is just entirely not true in real life. Men who rape can be friends, fathers, uncles, coaches, babysitters; they can be otherwise normal people who we know and sometimes love. If we never see heroines raped by men like this, then when it happens to us we think we have not been raped (because good, normal men are not capable of this crime).

    As a writer, it’s my responsibility to be honest about the fact that every sex scene contains real issues of gender, power and identity—whether I am conscious of it or not. Sex is a lightning rod for sociological and psychological conflict—it brings all those dormant issues to boil. So when we write sex scenes (and the romance that leads to and results from them) I do think we have a responsibility to be thoughtful about what we are saying and consider what message we are sending.

    This is not just a political agenda for me, although it is that. It’s a personal one. The women I know and love are sexually active, they are beautiful, moral woman and they do not need to read anything written by me that shames them for expressing themselves sexually. I also know a lot of survivors of sexual abuse, and I WILL NOT get behind any piece of writing that doesn’t respect the profound grace of these strong, strong women. I don’t think it’s reader-shaming or writer-shaming to demand something better for these women I love. We write books for women, about women, and it’s our job to make sure those books show women the respect we deserve.

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  32. wikkidsexycool
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 11:46:25

    “Well, are we sisters or not?”

    It depends. While I’m female and have been through many of the things other posters have mentioned, I’m also a minority. At times I’m all for being down for the cause, until I get bent out of shape, like when I saw a pic of SLUT WALK, when a sign with John Lennon’s line “Women are the N-word of the world” was held up without regard to how messed up that phrase actually is. The ensuing debate online became divided by racial lines, because some in the “sisterhood” didn’t see what the issue was. However, I’m old enough to know the actions of some individuals are just that. There ARE people who get it, and can reasonably object to concerns like the rape trope in writing being passed off as “romance.” Yes, we can converse about multiple issues, even though at times we can be our own worst enemy.

    I’m really intrigued with this discussion, as I’m exploring both race and rape in some of my writing. Jane, thanks for the post.

    Added: I’m an avid reader of scifi and fantasy, and there was one popular fantasy novel which had a female raped, and not more than a few days after she meets the hero, this character decides to make love with him, as if a sexual assault never happened. The author was male, and thankfully both male and female reviewers pointed out how absurd this premise was.

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  33. SAO
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 12:18:07

    I think a lot of the virgin heroine and man-stealing, slutty villianess is just lazy writing. Rather than show why the ex-girlfriend is wrong and the heroine right for the hero, writers use shorthand.

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  34. SAO
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 12:29:16

    @Julie

    I think the reason that society is horrified by the Sanduskys and not by men who prey on young girls is that people see it as normal for a man to be attracted to a female with a woman’s figure and plenty of 10,11, and 12 year old girls have bodies that are not out of the norm for adult women. And then there’s the overt assumption that adult drives come with the body and the unexamined assumption that the girls are capable of adult reasoning, rather than vulnerable to exploitative men.

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  35. Anne
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 12:40:55

    @John:

    That’s curious, I found Easy to be excusing and minimising rape and can’t for the life of me see, how anyone would think differently.

    The girl is shown to walk away from a near-rape and physical assault as if nothing had happened, she constantly slut-shames herself and this isn’t anyplace invalidated. After the assault she dates completely unperturbed and contemplates having sex with someone she doesn’t know.

    Very realistic and sending a highly curious message about what import near-rape and physical assault has, if only the ‘right kind’ of hero comes along with a rescue. She doesn’t go to the police, has no rape-kit taken, and it’s not even made a topic at any stage. Next she jokes along how sex-starved she is. The fact that she behaved like a hopeless dimwit most of the time wasn’t helpful either. Do you really think this is a positive depiction of that whole topic? Are we talking about the same book even? Easy by T. Webber?

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  36. Anne
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 12:43:38

    @Emily:

    Couldn’t agree more!

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  37. Jane
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 12:48:33

    @Anne: I couldn’t agree with John more that Easy (as are all of Webber books) girl positive. The story opens with traditional rape culture tropes and the characters evolve over time. It’s not an immediate change but instead takes a community of support for the women to stand up to the patriarchy (the fraternity) trying to assert itself over the rest of the campus. The development of the characters and their changing mind set is one reason why I think “Easy” is such a great example.

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  38. Meri
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:02:57

    @Anne:
    Sexual assault is an under-reported crime. So yes, I found it believable for Jacqueline not to report the assault. I found it believable for her to try to forget and leave it behind her, though not successfully (contrary to what you write), and to need a push from her friend to take active steps to protect herself. I found it believable for her to feel guilty when another young woman was raped by the man who had also assaulted her. Jacqueline wasn’t perfect and did not make perfect choices, just like people in real life. She was a young woman trying to figure out how to make her own choices and empower herself. If she slut-shames herself over the assault, I must have missed it; I don’t recall her slut-shaming herself over her new relationship either, though you pretty much did so in your post.

    If anything, I felt Webber did a great job in showing how difficult it is for women to step forward in the aftermath of a sexual assault, how they are judged by others, both men and women, and how important it is to have the support of others, especially other women – thus the impact of the sorority meeting scene.

    I am at a loss as to how anyone can read Easy and feel that it excuses and minimizes rape. And I disagree that the only realistic depiction of rape and assault victims is one in which they immediately seek medical help and go to the police. If only it were that easy.

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  39. Ridley
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:20:56

    The reason there’s so much of this in romance is because many authors and readers absolutely believe in it. I bet that many people here, in this discussion, also buy into it at least a little. I’d bet many of us think strippers, porn actresses and prostitutes are damaged somehow. Damaged in a “oh, you poor thing, let me get you some therapy” way totally counts for this exercise. I’d also guess that lots of us also pride ourselves at least somewhat on being “respectable” women who wear “tasteful” clothes that don’t telegraph sexual availability.

    There’s so much of this in romance because it’s absolutely everywhere. It’s in movies, video games, advertising, TV, you name it, and many authors don’t even realize it’s a thing, nevermind something that they should question. It’s as invisible as privilege.

    Then, to piggyback on what @SAO said, many of these authors – who aren’t visionary thinkers and writers to begin with – co-opt this messaging as shorthand in their books. It’s just like the “babylogue” where a baby is used to close the loop on the couple’s commitment because “everyone” knows a family isn’t complete without children. The Other Woman is a skank and a slut because “everyone” hates skanks and sluts, and an Other Woman with redeeming qualities would make showing the hero’s commitment to the heroine more difficult (“if he left one decent, respectable woman, what’s stopping him from doing it again?”).

    So, tl;dr version: this shit’s in books because a lot of authors are lazy writers and slut-shaming is just a natural assumption for many of them.

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  40. Jorrie Spencer
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:25:16

    @Anne I don’t at all believe the girl in Easy walks away from near-rape and physical assault as if nothing happened. I believe the book explores the aftermath of that and her choices in a sensitive way.

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  41. Kris Bock
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:31:34

    Thanks for continuing to bring attention to this issue. It’s a good reminder for authors to make sure we are not inadvertently buying into cultural misogyny.

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  42. Ridley
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:32:22

    @Jorrie Spencer, @Meri: You’re both being so brave to argue with Anne, but I really wouldn’t bother. I doubt she’s even read the book. She likes to rate as 1* any book DA or anyone associated with it has mentioned liking (or writing) and then troll discussions of it. She rarely has the details from the book past the sample section and she contradicts herself endlessly.

    The smart thing to do is just walk away.

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  43. Anne
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:45:28

    @Meri:

    She slut-shames herself repeatedly during the first third. I never said it was over her new relationship. I’d expect an author to invalidate this, that never happened. She’s never shown to react realistically, yet is also not shown to be of such a challenged emotional maturity so that her behaviour could be explained that way. An author who tries to sell me that someone gets brutally sexually assaulted who then behaves as if nothing had happened, without a backhistory of having been abused before, trivialises what happens in a major way. There’s never any inner dialogue explaining her behaviour either, though the character chatters away about a multitude of things inconsequential to what has taken place. The alleged hero jumping to her rescue doesn’t report what took place either, and he would have been a prime witness. Indeed, I kept wondering just for how long he had been watching the assault before he decided to become active. In view of who he later turns out to be his behaviour there is even less forgivable.

    But my main complaint is that this isn’t thematised in a way which would be helpful to teens reading this book, instead it is treated almost condoning and brushing away how and that takes place. I also don’t think it’s the right message to validate her via her new relationship, as if the important part of having been assaulted is to right away secure a boyfriend who graciously overlooks what happened and beats the rapist to a satisfying pulp. As a result she then gets the guy and to study what she wants and they rode into the sunset together on his white charger… hey pretty woman, you got your Dick Gere!

    I’m sorry, no I’m not sorry, but that’s what I am supposed to say to couch what follows: It’s precisely this which is wrong. All of it. This is what enables rape culture, what sends the wrong messages, and regardless of whether there are or aren’t any such girls out there (I do have my doubts), it sure is not what will change things. For things to change the story ought to have shown alternatives and most assuredly not romanced rape the way it did.

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  44. Jane
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:52:10

    @Anne: Yes, we did read an entirely different book because the alternatives are shown in the end when they all band together to speak out against the actions of the rapist. She is not validated through her new relationship. She makes decisions independent of her new boyfriend. Decides on a new school. Pursues an old dream. The entire story is about change, renewal, and rediscovery. This is precisely the type of book that shows evolution from shame and embarrassment to recovery.

    There is no brushing away or condoning of the acts of rape. They all confront it, expose it, at the very end and in doing so force the males around them to confront it and acknowledge the wrongness of it.

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  45. Sunny
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:53:10

    100% in agreement with the article and comments — there’s no good reason for it and authors have no excuses for it, and readers should continue to call it out as problematic (or downright awful).

    I just wanted to say that Dear Author is one of the sites that I can count on one hand, where not only can I read the comments and expect people to behave like human beings, but where I actually look forward to discussions like these and the large numbers of comments they engender because I know that overwhelmingly they will be good, thoughtful, and help restore a lot of my faith in people (especially those online). Thank you all for this.

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  46. Gwen Hayes
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:53:56

    @Anne: There is no realistic way to to react to being assaulted that trumps all other way to react to being assaulted. Every human is different.

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  47. New Year Stab | ccdenham
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:58:05

    [...] an interesting discussion going on over at Dear Author today, about slut-shaming in romance. I might also add, it’s a sadly common mindset among romance reading communities, too. And [...]

  48. Carrie G
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:59:55

    @Ridley: Ridley, you always challenge me. I mean that in a good way. I bash my head on the wall and have a knee-jerk reaction– but even so, you make me think. I haven’t spent my life running from people with a different viewpoint although at times I think life would be easier if I did.

    Are prostitutes and porn stars in the same category? Well, anyone who enters that life of his/her own free will is. They are adults, let them choose their life without shaming from anyone. If prostitution is the only way for a runaway teen to survive, then I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing at all. But hey. I could be wrong. I’m sure you’ll tell me if I am. ;-)

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  49. Meri
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 14:02:15

    @Ridley:
    Thanks, will do. I wasn’t aware that I was feeding a troll.

    As for your point about sex workers in the earlier post – well, obviously there are a lot of women who don’t choose to be sex workers, and they deserve help and compassion. Those who do choose to do sex work are another matter – I don’t see it as my job to pity or to judge people for making choices that are right for them, so long as they’re not harming anyone else. I’ve had people tell me that this attitude contributes to objectifying women, because no woman would choose to live her life like that. To be honest, I have no idea. It’s not an issue I have direct experience with.

    Speaking of labels – I think for all that we see a lot of idealized virgins in romances (especially historicals), it’s hardly desirable in this day and age to be a virgin, or to be considered a prude. I feel sometimes as though the label isn’t as problematic as “slut”, but it’s used to shame women about their choices and decisions nonetheless. Not everyone is interested in or capable of being open about their sexuality. I guess that gets me back to my original point – that the goal should be to respect everyone’s choices and not to pity, judge, or argue that certain behaviors mean that you deserve to be treated poorly.

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  50. Anne
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 14:16:01

    @Meri:

    If you read what I wrote it gets clear I read that book. Ridley has a problem with opinions which do not match her own. As we do not often agree…

    @Jane:

    That falls much too short. In a book thematising this topic I’d expect the victim to initiate prosecution, fight for evidence and testimonies, as that’s the sole thing really stopping rape and bringing the perpetrator behind bars or making him at least known.

    Instead we get a very unlikely romance twiddled together with a vigilante lover and a Hollywood-worthy showdown in which her hero clobbers the rapist. Of course she gets all she wanted at the start, because that’s also so totally realistic. Does anyone even notice how it’s Lucas who keeps saving her?

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  51. Jane
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 14:18:27

    @Anne: I understand that Webber simply wasn’t overt enough for your taste, but I appreciated her subtlety and her realistic treatment. And no, Lucas wasn’t always saving her. But again, we have very different views on the book.

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  52. Ann Somerville
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 14:32:21

    @anon:

    First of all, let me say I’m sorry as hell about your children, and what they went through.

    But their experience kind of illustrates the point. It doesn’t really matter what we wear, how we act, whether we drink or don’t drink, whether we walk home or take a taxi – the real issue is that rapists are out there, and pretending to ourselves that if we just dress right, take precautions, don’t make bad choices, then we’ll be safe, is just magical thinking.

    It’s like wildebeest calves. They can run fast, keep up with mum and the herd, do what they can to look fit and uncatchable, but the real problem for a wildebeest calf is that there are always lions and hyenas – and they don’t give up until they catch *something*. In the end, predators must have their prey, and until there are no more predators, the wildebeest calf is never going to not be at risk of being eaten.

    You’d think being on a bus in broad daylight would be safe – but it wasn’t in Delhi. You’d think being on a familiar street a hundred metres from your home would be safe – but it wasn’t in Melbourne a few weeks ago. You’d think being in your own home, being elderly and chaste and harmless would be as safe as it could be – but women in their 90s are raped in their own homes.

    Nondrinking virgins are raped.

    Women in burkhas are raped.

    Children in their own bedrooms are raped.

    Prostitutes, nuns, professional women, beggars, housewifes, party girls, little girls and grandmothers, pregnant women and the celibate, are all raped. There is no typical rape victim.

    There is literally no place where rapists won’t hunt, and nothing women can do to stop being raped, if a rapist has them in their sights.

    The only way women won’t be raped is if there are no rapists. Our ‘virtue’, our sobriety, our dress, our speech, our lifestyle, won’t ’cause’ rape if there are no rapists.

    So by telling your kids to take precautions, you might be protecting them against other risks (real, serious risks) that come from too much alcohol or unwise company – but you won’t keep them safe from being raped.

    If we want to stop women being raped, we have to stop rapists being made. And the first place to start is to stop commodifying women’s bodies so they’re not prizes to be won by force. If we raise men to treat women as human, equal, and not as fruit to be plucked as and when they want – if we teach men to respect boundaries, and integrity, and women’s inalienable right to live in peace – then we won’t be raising men to rape.

    That’s the message rape culture refuses to teach because it puts the responsibility back onto the rapist, and a society that makes rapists.

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  53. Ann Somerville
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 14:35:15

    @Anne:

    “Ridley has a problem with opinions which do not match her own.”

    At least Ridley doesn’t go onto Goodreads after she disagrees with someone here, and revenge downrate and hate shelve their books.

    Also, Ridley is smart and wise as well as argumentative. Her opinions are actually worth something.

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  54. anon
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 14:47:08

    @Ann Somerville: I agree with you 100%, but there has to be even more. Because not all rapists are taught to disrespect women, at least not by their families. We have to do this as a culture, but I don’t know the answers. What if I were to tell you online porn had a lot to do with why my daughters were raped? Should we shut down the porn industry? Much of the material objectifies women and perpetuates the “take it if you want it” mindset.

    The person who molested my daughters is my son, their brother. I know how he was raised. My husband treats me with complete respect– for my brain, and body. He respects my opinion, makes decisions with me, and never questions my money use or how I spend my time, even though I’ve been a stay at home mom for most of our marriage. He is never authoritarian with me or the children. We believe in allowing our children access to the internet, and although we put parental controls in place, our boys were savvy enough to go around them. My son does have some problems including severe ADHD (impulsiveness), yes he was young, too, but that doesn’t excuse what he did.

    The whole problem is complicated beyond belief. Rape is never, never right, but not all rapists are monsters, either. We need to have a zero-tolerance that also take into account the effects our culture has on young minds. The double-whammy in our family is dealing with both sides of it. It would be easier to hate the perpetrator, but I can’t. What would/should I have done differently? Hell if I know. I fight the blame daily because I actually chose to homeschool my children to keep them safe! Daylight on a bus! There is no safe place. I know.

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  55. Violetta Vane
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 14:56:35

    @Meri:

    I was never a prostitute but I have worked in the sex industry and I’m somewhat sensitive on this topic. I really dislike dividing sex workers into victimized and deserving of “help and compassion” and sex workers by choice who can be freely criticized, and, by extension, do not deserve help or compassion.

    The vast majority of sex workers are neither enslaved nor high-priced call girls who do it for the kicks. The field is nowhere near that black and white. The vast majority chose to do the work out of a field of limited choices. They do it for a short period of time, they get their money, they get out, and they rarely talk about it again because of the massive shaming.

    Would you blame someone who worked as a janitor the same way? Some of them are enslaved, and those deserve compassion, but anyone who chooses to do such a dirty job doesn’t need compassion? Sex work is work.

    I don’t mean to go off on you but the phrasing bothered me because the issue really isn’t about choice at all. One of the reasons sex work is so difficult and hard on women is that doing it makes you isolated, less able to band together and demand better working conditions… because of the shaming. The shaming should be separate from whether or not it’s a good career (and most of the time, for most women, it absolutely is NOT a good career).

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  56. Erin Satie
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 15:00:05

    I just want to say that these discussions, over the time I’ve been following them, have really helped me. I thought I was pretty on top of things, as far as feminism and gender studies went, because there’s a time when I was – or I was close enough to it. But that was a decade ago, in college.

    It’s taken time for me to realize that my views can’t remain static, that the longer I stick to opinions I developed in the past the farther and faster I fall into a conservative derriere-garde. This has been a revelation to me.

    I took a course on gender & sexuality in the Islamic world while I was in grad school. Taught by one of those amazing professors who’s at the top of her field, and it was a tiny graduate seminar with her, a coterie of acolytes, and me. I thought I was prepared because, at the time, I was on top of anything Islamic and I thought I had an above-average baseline in gender studies. And I did learn some amazing, cool things that I’d never have read about anywhere else – like a brief fashion for crossdressing in the Abbasid court, where the women would wear men’s garb down to fake mustaches; how cool is that? – but quickly became the scapegoat of the group. The prof & other students managed to convince me I didn’t understand anything at all, not the tiniest thing, about sexuality…but – and this is what one should expect in a graduate seminar, but it still left me feeling terribly resentful – never even hinted at what I should replace my misguided notions with.

    I left that course feeling ignorant, but also terrified to open my mouth and try to discuss how to resolve that ignorance. Nobody there owed me any kindness, or any tips, and maybe I shouldn’t have been there. But I sure would have appreciated it.

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  57. Meri
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 15:11:03

    @Violetta Vane:
    I apologize, apparently I did not make my point as clearly as I would have liked. Under no circumstances was I trying to suggest that people who choose to do sex work should be criticized and shamed, or that they are undeserving of compassion. I was actually trying to argue the opposite: that if this is someone’s choice, for whatever reason, then it’s not anyone’s business to judge it or to make them feel pitied. If it is not a choice, that is where we (as a society) should step in to help, because then we are dealing with victims. You are right, of course, that there are a range of reasons that could lead someone to decide to be a sex worker, and I imagine that it’s not something most people aspire to.

    I absolutely agree that by shaming sex workers and leaving them without legal protection, we are further isolating them and putting them at risk. As I wrote earlier, it’s “they” and “them” to me as I have no first-hand experience in this area.

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  58. Violetta Vane
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 15:38:49

    @Meri: Thanks for clearing that up… I appreciate it.

    For me, what it ultimately comes down to is that most sex workers are often victimized, but are not victims. For example, strip clubs that make strippers pay fees to dance there and class them as independent contractors in order to avoid paying benefits. Or porn performers who are cheated out of compensation with terrible contracts and exposed to STDs. “Victim” implies a permanent identity with no agency, as opposed to someone who actively wants to improve their situation, not simply escape it.

    But I don’t think of people who are enslaved as sex workers at all, because slavery isn’t work. Whether they’re enslaved and raped or enslaved for different kinds of purposes (commonly, domestic labor) it’s not work.

    I’m actually fine with judging anyone and everyone, as long as the judgement is applied equally and with a lot of thought. Sadly, it’s too often expressed as “whore = subhuman”.

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  59. Ann Somerville
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 15:53:38

    Browsing through my usual first thing in the morning reads, I found two highly pertinent links through Skepchicks:

    “just shut up. ”
    http://gyzym.tumblr.com/post/39004853136/just-shut-up

    “2012: the year when it became okay to blame victims of sexual assault”
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/2012-the-year-when-it-became-okay-to-blame-victims-of-sexual-assault-8432716.html

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  60. Fiona Marsden
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 20:18:25

    I am one of those sad sad readers who prefer virgins. I am vocal about it and it is quite possible that people think I am condemning real life women who are not. The fact is that the reason I read romance is to take me some place I have never been. I have never met a woman who has had multiple partners who hasn’t found it painful at some point. The simple fact is that if you do break up from someone you’ve been emotionally and physically intimate with it can be painful. I don’t want to read about that pain without my guarantee of a HEA. The only way I can get through reading that kind of pain is if I know, absolutely that there will be a HEA. Real life isn’t like that. Chick lit isn’t like that. I want to read virgins because their experience is nothing like my experience. Their baggage is nothing like my baggage. I don’t think I’m hypocritical because I don’t like sleazy playboy heroes either. I’ve put aside three books in the last week because the opening had the hero with a mistress that wasn’t the heroine. Now there is a slut shaming term. If there is something wrong with me that I prefer to spend my two hours of relaxation time with a heroine who is a virgin and a hero who isn’t shagging everything on legs that says nothing about how I feel about real women who have been less fortunate in finding a long term partner. Or even those who are not interested in finding a long term partner at present or ever but still want to enjoy their sexuality. I read and enjoyed bodice rippers back in the day (with virgins), I have read category trope ridden romance on and off for 35 years (still mostly with virgins but not so much in recent books). Recently I have started to read smut (I mean that in the nicest way) (Not too many virgins). I still read large quantities of vintage virgin romances. If you judge my attitudes to real women on my reading habits you are going to get very confused. I don’t actually know or associate with very many virgins. Not that I ask. Not even my adult daughters. Though I can make a good guess.

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  61. Jane
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 20:41:59

    @Fiona Marsden: I don’t think slut shaming is about virgins or non virgins at all. I like stories with virgins. There is nothing inherently wrong with love stories about virgins or even men who prefer virgins.

    The slut shaming comes when a woman is judged to be bad or undeserving of unhappiness or a position as a protagonist in a romance because of what she wears, whether she enjoys sex, or has had multiple partners.

    You can have a story entirely about virgins and not have slut shaming so long as the non virgin characters aren’t being judged by the fact that they lack the hymen.

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  62. Suleikha Snyder
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 20:50:37

    @Fiona Marsden: I want to read virgins because their experience is nothing like my experience. Their baggage is nothing like my baggage.

    Virgins have baggage, and it’s often just like anybody else’s baggage. Frequently it’s a matched set, complete with a handbag and a wallet. Separating them from any other kind of female heroine like they’re a rare, endangered species does sexually inexperienced women no favors and really only helps perpetuate the myth that they are somehow more worthy than heroines who’ve had partners. Like they’re clean, or pure, or unsullied somehow. I understand wanting to read a certain character type and all the tropes therein, but, honestly, whether fictional or real, women are women: We’re human, we mess up and who we have or haven’t shagged is the least of what makes us who we are.

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  63. Fiona Marsden
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 21:29:01

    Everyone’s experience is different. I can only speak from mine.

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  64. Kelly Jamieson
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 21:49:57

    Here’s an experience I had recently after sending a manuscript to a beta reader. In the story, the hero and heroine are “friends with benefits”, but determinedly “just friends”. Another man comes into the picture (hero’s friend). Heroine is attracted to him. They end up having a threesome. Because she’s attracted to this other man, and he to her, they go out together, and end up having sex – just the two of them. She also has sex with her “friend with benefits” – just the two of them. In the end, she’s only in love with one of them and they have their HEA.

    The feedback from my beta reader was that she was PISSED at heroine for having sex with the other man. The threesome was okay! But not having sex alone with the other man. I posed the question on Twitter: Is it okay for heroine to have sex with another man after she has met/slept with hero? The answer was a resounding NO.

    To me, it made sense that a woman could be attracted to two men and have sex with them both, while discovering her love for one of them. But readers don’t like it. Do we want reader feedback saying that they are pissed at heroine for sleeping with another man – in other words, thinking she was a “slut”? So THIS might be the answer to your question about why there is “slut shaming” in romance novels. And before you all jump all over me for supporting slut shaming, I want to say that I agree with everything that’s been said about rape and women not being judged by what they wear or how many partners they’ve have or liking sex, so please don’t anyone try to infer that I am in support of slut shaming. I am not. (I had a bad experience leaving a comment here and really hesitated to do this.)

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  65. Ridley
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 22:01:42

    @Kelly Jamieson: I think that has less to do with slut shaming than it has to do with genre expectations. I don’t want to see either the hero or the heroine dating/screwing anyone else with the hero/heroine off-screen. I want the focus on them and their relationship.

    What you describe would make for fabulous erotica, however.

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  66. Kelly Jamieson
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 22:31:00

    @Ridley:
    Yes. This is my point exactly. It is genre expectations.

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  67. S.
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 22:33:30

    Thanks for this post. I really needed to read this after trudging through some of the horrific PNR discussions on GR. It pains me to say this…even though most readers can distinguish fiction from reality, it is simply not so based on the comments/discussions I’ve seen on GR. In fact, they hold the same expectations towards women in RL as they do to fictional characters.

    In a discussion thread about a popular series, there are a few readers who outright proclaim their disapproval of having a ‘sexualized’ heroine because she’s promiscuous and manipulative. Another reader said she’s seen women in real life ‘give it up easily’ and trade sexual favors for upward mobility.

    Sometimes I wonder if we took one step forward while leaping three steps backwards in the women’s movement? I’m so sick and tired of these views, I feel like I need to take a break from the genre.

    If female authors continue to slut-shame our own gender, how do we expect change at all?

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  68. Ridley
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 22:54:34

    @Kelly Jamieson: Except when it’s slut shaming.

    Like my problem with your example isn’t that she’s a slut, it’s that I think your narrative’s going off on a tangent.

    But making an Other Woman look bad by making her pretty and sexually aggressive? Or fetishizing virginity? Or any part at all of Beautiful Disaster? That’s slut shaming.

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  69. Courtney Milan
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 22:59:21

    @Kelly Jamieson:

    I don’t think that’s slut shaming at all.

    There are a lot of ways in which I might criticize a book for sexual choices. But not all criticism amounts to “this woman is a slut.” Sometimes it’s just, “Holy cow, practice safe sex!” Or, “Eek, they’re having sex NOW and there’s a killer in the house? Really?”

    There’s a big difference between not being okay with a character having sex in a particular way, or with a particular person, or at a particular time, and thinking that the woman is a slut.

    I’ve been reading this discussion with interest, and I don’t have much to add except this: I’ve written a handful of books where the heroine has experienced some kind of sexualized violence, and they are always very difficult to write for precisely the reason expressed here: that even knowing that it happens, I naturally distance myself from a person who has experienced sexual violence. Even if that person happens to be a protagonist in my story.

    Every time I’ve written a story where the heroine has experienced sexual violence, I’ve had to take special efforts to un-distance myself. I know exactly what is happening, and I still do it. It’s a gut-level reaction–people naturally push aside the possibility that horrific things could happen to them–and so if you don’t specifically call yourself out on it, it’s VERY hard to combat.

    I don’t want this to turn into a debate over whether I do a good job of un-distancing myself or not–that’s not my point at all. Just that even trying to be aware, I have to do twice as much work to get to the point where I feel that I’ve been fair to the character.

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  70. Kaetrin
    Jan 02, 2013 @ 06:34:58

    I’m becoming more aware of and less tolerant of slut shaming and misogyny in my reading – must be something to do with hanging out with smart women online who make me think about things.

    FWIW I just finished reading the latest Elle Kennedy Out of Uniform book as well as the other three books in the series I hadn’t read yet. The last one I read (I get their names mixed up because many are very similar) was Annabelle and Ryan’s book and that was a perfect example of both Ryan and Matt being completely accepting and encouraging of Annabelle’s sexuality. (Although now I think about it, Annabelle’s self image was a reflection of Ryan’s attitude – that is, she was worried about being slutty until he told her it was okay – so what does that say?)

    I read ( and loved ) Easy and I think Anne read a different book than most of the other commenters here (myself included). I didn’t see Jacqueline jumping into bed with Lucas without thought. I didn’t see her not struggle with what had happened to her. I didn’t see the rapist not face legal consequences. I loved many things about the book, but especially how Lucas fit in with HER plans at the end – the opposite of the beginning of the book where Jacqueline had twisted herself into a pretzel to be “worthy” of Kennedy. I agree with Jane that it is an excellent example of a girl positive book. May there be many more.

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  71. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 02, 2013 @ 06:49:41

    @Courtney Milan: @Kelly Jamieson: I agree with Courtney. Readers don’t like it when the hero sleeps with another woman either. I think you can make the same scenario work if all three end up together because both men are the heroes.

    I’ve had readers complain about one of my heroines “acting like a slut.” Shay from Set the Dark on Fire has an on/off relationship with her ex boyfriend, who is married (but separated). I’m not sure if that was the problem, or the fact that she is sexually forward with the hero and dresses provocatively. For whatever reason this is my least popular single title. In my next release, Freefall, I have a subplot with a promiscuous heroine. We’ll see how readers react to her.

    Great comments on sexual violence, Courtney. I also distance myself, I think. Several times I’ve written about an almost-rape of a character. I decided not to include a scene like that in my current project. Not because I want to avoid the issue, but because I’ve done it before and I felt it wasn’t essential to this particular story.

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  72. Estara Swanberg
    Jan 02, 2013 @ 10:43:00

    I agree with Jane’s appeal and only have one thing to add – did you see the several female writers who posted a small meme with excerpts from their book called “consent is sexy”?

    http://beth-bernobich.livejournal.com/441149.html
    http://nkjemisin.com/2012/12/consent-is-sexy/
    http://marthawells.livejournal.com/521100.html
    http://jkathleencheney.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/consent-meme/
    http://lanerobins.livejournal.com/76809.html

    Maybe more romance authors could pick that up? Apologies for making you save that out of the moderation queue in advance.

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  73. Robin/Janet
    Jan 02, 2013 @ 12:46:22

    There’s so much to respond to in this thread, but I’m going to try to limit myself to two points. First, this comment from @Jill Sorenson:

    I commented that there’s a difference between consent in reality and fantasy in romance. I know this post is about slut-shaming, but is reader-shaming another side of this coin? Slut-shaming puts the onus on women to not get raped, instead of blaming the rapist. I agree that we should call out female authors for internalized misogyny and perpetuating stereotypes. But should we also shame readers/writers who enjoy fated mates and rapey heroes? Are these women contributing to rape culture, or are we shifting the blame from the actual rapists once again?

    I think that what you’re getting at here is the substantial and substantive difference between calling out issues in the genre and calling out readers who enjoy books with those issues.

    The thing is that we’re *all* shaped by social coding, and even being able to recognize and critique it doesn’t make it go away. Nor should it mean that we can’t enjoy books that contain elements that in real life would make us cringe (my positive review of Susan Donovan’s Not That Kind of Girl is kind of my own treatise on this). I don’t mind certain tropes as much as I what sometimes seems like totally unreflective repetition of those tropes — complete with certain perceptions of a woman’s “value” — through the genre.

    Still, no one is required to reflect on their own likes and dislikes in the genre, or the genre itself. But for me, this reflection is important, because in a world without slut shaming for example, I think the books we read might be very different, and I wonder what those books would look like. I wonder how we’d construct female sexuality in that world and how it would be represented in our media. Would our fantasies be different? I suspect so, and even if we cannot yet fully grasp that difference except from inside our current social climate, I think it can be a useful exercise to peer into that alternative worldview once in a while, and maybe be a little more mindful of what we’re reproducing to ourselves and others in this one.

    @Suleikha Snyder:

    Virgins have baggage, and it’s often just like anybody else’s baggage. Frequently it’s a matched set, complete with a handbag and a wallet. Separating them from any other kind of female heroine like they’re a rare, endangered species does sexually inexperienced women no favors and really only helps perpetuate the myth that they are somehow more worthy than heroines who’ve had partners.

    This.

    It’s not the virginity that’s at issue for me, it’s the symbolic representation of female sexuality as a measure of a woman’s worth. Virgin = virtue, sexually experienced = slut. Or how about the villainnesses who are portrayed as sexually “perverse,” somehow, just to show how really bad, how really unnatural they are. Wether it be Erotic Romance (some of which has struck me as even more conservative than it’s less sexually explicit counterparts) or PNR or historical or straight contemp, I just wish our fictional representations of female sexuality were normatively sex-positive. Individual women experiencing life in their own way, including their sexuality. Sometimes it will be problematic, sometimes purely celebratory or emotionally significant, other times, merely mundane.

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  74. paganalexandria
    Jan 02, 2013 @ 13:16:13

    The politics of slut shamming confuse me. In theory I don’t like it when the “bad girl” is demonized. In reality it’s a fact of life. Female writers aren’t immune. Let’s be honest the worst perpetrators of slut shamming tend to be other women. How many times have you been in a social situation when either you or a friend look at another girl doing and the words “slut or whore” are casually thrown out. I actually saw an episode of HBO’s Cathouse where one prostitute was implying the other was slutty because she actually had orgasms on the job. Even the “bad-girls” have levels they consider slutty. That’s mind blowing to me.

    I’ve recently joked with some friends about the fact I can no longer tell the difference between a “good-girl” or “bad-girl”. We are all in gray area. I’ve always been team bad girl with my love of a good time and never minding the loss of occasional clothing for a good time. Yet I’m perplexed on how to up my game when the soccer moms now take pole-dancing class.

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  75. Liz
    Jan 02, 2013 @ 21:38:42

    I think the idea of “internalized misogyny” is right on the money. Social Psychologists call that type of thing an implicit attitude, which more or less says that we hear stereotypes so much that we begin to believe them deep down even if we wouldn’t consciously think them. Researchers at Harvard have developed an Implicit Attitude Test (IAT) to see what it is we may actually believe about all different types groups. Of course there isn’t one (or there wasn’t the last time i was on the site when i was explaining the test to my cousin for a project she had to do a couple of semesters ago) comparing attitudes towards men and women. It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if the highest percentage of test takers preferred men over women because of these pervasive stereotypes.

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  76. Rosa
    Jan 02, 2013 @ 22:55:40

    I’m a reader, and I love it when the heroine has sex with someone and likes them but realizes she doesn’t love them. I love it less when it’s the hero, because (in historicals) it happens kind of a lot and it often involves some sort of ineffeble essance of glittery hoohah being missing with the other woman.

    But I liked Stephanie Plum just fine when she was first vacillating between her two men, and I like memoirs by women who have those kinds of histories, and I would love a novel with that kind of simultaneous but different relationship going on.

    I know I’m in the minority but I wish there was some way to find those books, other than running into disapproving reviews that mention that mention how the other relationship ruined the book.

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  77. Meri
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 00:22:58

    @Liz:
    IAT stands for Implicit Association Test, and it was developed by researchers from several universities, including Harvard. It is indeed widely used and I am sure there are adaptations of it to measure gender perceptions and stereotypes (as my own research does not involve the IAT, I am not that familiar with it).

    I agree that a lot of times the attitudes and perceptions that come across in an author’s writing can be more implicit and not necessarily something they’re aware of. Which is why feedback and discussion are so important.

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  78. Archetype vs. Cliche « Gem State Writers
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 04:05:28

    [...] are some very interesting discussions going on in the comments of this post at Dear Author on “Slut Shaming” in novels written by women. (I’ll get to my [...]

  79. Cathryn Cade
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 11:51:14

    Thanks for posting this–such an important discussion to have.

    Worth mentioning for the young women present is that romance has changed so much for the better just in the last three decades. Early stories by some of my favorite big name authors now strike me as near rape fantasies, but those stories were products of the times. Those same authors write in vastly more feminist fashion today, with strong heroines and heroes who respect them.

    In the 1970′s American women finally had access to good birth control, and thus access to a free-er sexual life, but we were deeply uneasy with that freedom. Thus the ‘he made me do it’ fantasies. The first erotic romances of the 1980′s reflect that. It wasn’t our fault we had that fabulous orgasm, he did it to us. We, or our surrogate romance heroines, were absolved of responsibility for acting like the ho our parents/churches/ etc would label us. Within the confines of the romance world, we could have our naughty fun and then walk away, free of guilt.

    Others here have spoken much more eloquently of how women-bashing pervades our society. I agree, we have far to go, but we’ve come far too.

    Be encouraged,
    Cathryn

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  80. Maggie Jaimeson
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 12:33:18

    This has long been a concern for me in the romance genre. Not only the rape or near-rape fantasies, but also the “slut” labels and forgiveness of rape. It also concerns me that sex, as a whole, is made to seem so easy and understandable. What we see in the protests in India today, among the ones already mentioned in this blog, are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve traveled in countries where I was told if I didn’t wear long sleeves and either pants or a dress to my ankles that it would be seen as giving permission for men to “handle” me. It is a frightening prospect and I did follow the rules in those countries.

    One of the reasons I wrote my book, Healing Notes, was specifically to give voice to women who are raped and portrayed as “sluts” both by society and who buy into the guilt themselves. It is easy for us to believe a rape really occurred when it is a child or an old woman, or when it is a horrific gang rape. But when the woman is somewhere between the ages of 15 and 50 (in the U.S. anyway) we ALWAYS question it and go looking for an answer as to what that person could have done differently to avoid being raped.

    I believe we do this, and some writers do “slut shaming” because we cannot handle the fact that rape happens all the time to women who don’t ask for it. If we actually accept that fact, then we also have to accept that it can happen to us. And that is very, very scary. To avoid that fear we create reasons that it happened to woman X and will not happen to us. That is where the “slut” idea comes in and is reinforced.

    It’s wrong and I wish more writers would deal with this in their books. I know romance readers don’t want to read about rape, but they will if you provide a character who is loveable and overcomes it and still finds an HEA. I believe romance authors are the ones who need to be a part of this message. We cannot hide in the “I only write to entertain” mantra when it is those stories that perpetuate the myths.

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  81. T
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 14:06:50

    We live in a culture in which we, as women are prey to the predators. The predators have allies in seats of power (police, DAs, judges, emergency rooms) who sympathize with the poor predator who can’t be held responsible for being a predator. It’s what he is. The most egregious case I can recall was when a judge claimed a 5 year old girl seemed sexually forward and so must be complicit in her molestation. Makes you want to cut off the bastard’s balls and feed them to him. We’ve made incremental progress in the courts, but not enough.

    Do you recall how quickly the Susan G. Komen Foundation backed off from its refusal to fund Planned Parenthood after the outcry in social media? Why is it that I’m just learning about the Stubenville case in this blog? Why isn’t it all over the social media? Why is it that the people who approve of the atheletes’ actions haven’t been outed on facebook and shamed into appologies and pressing of charges? Why hasn’t there been a facebook campaign to destroy the reputations of all these atheletes, some of whom likely hoped to go to college on atheletic scholarships? I’d share anything that came my way about a case like this. I’d be willing to participate in destroying their lives just as they destroyed the lives of the young woman they raped. And yes, of course it was rape. If you’re unconscious you can’t give consent.

    Now, as to fiction:
    I’ve read a few menage books, but have stopped because the woman is always sexually submissive to the males. Often the menage books feature BDSM. The way BDSM is handled in the erotica I’ve read is that the woman falls for the seemingly normal guy, he becomes the Dom, she “loves” him so she becomes the Sub to keep him happy, and lo and behold, discovers she likes it. I’ve only read one book in which the male was the Sub, and he went looking for a Dom. Still not a fan, but I at least knew he entered the relationship with his eyes open. I don’t like my heroines submissive.

    I remember the books in the ’70s and ’80s in which the woman actually was raped by the hero and subsequently fell in love with him. Hated it then, hate it now. Or the books in which the man treated her like crap the whole way through but she loved him anyway, only to find out he was a wounded soul (awww, aren’t we sorry for him…) Hated it then, hate it now. Heroines in books today are so much stronger than they were ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

    I disagree that current romance novels perpetuate the slut-shaming, rapist-excusing culture we still live in. What I read are books in which women know they can stand on their own. They know they deserve to be treated well and won’t tolerate anything else. They are willing to walk away from a relationship rather than cave if their deal-breakers are broken.

    Romance novels are selling romance. Happily ever after. It’s a contract between the writer and the reader. That implies a settling down, a choosing of commitment, of mono-/duo/trio-ogamy.

    There’s a place for novels about women who choose not to settle down, who enjoy sex, enjoy different partners, enjoy the freedom from settling down and make no appologies for their choices. Perhaps these novels should be categorized as women’s fiction rather than romance. I certainly wouldn’t feel inclined to slut shame a woman who lived this life if her character was fully realized.

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  82. Fiona McGier
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 15:41:39

    I won’t read books about virginal heroines because I have no interest in reading about how a female’s purity makes a bad boy a good guy. Whether or not a female has an intact hymen has no bearing on the kind of person she is. Long ago I stopped believing in what I called the “Harlequin heresy”, that if you only love a man enough he will change for you…a really dangerous line of bs!
    But I get made fun of even by my own daughter and 3 sons, along with my husband, because I complain when there are no females in movies (Yeah, Hobbit, I mean you!), or the only females are there for eye-candy and so the males have someone to vie for the favors of. I’ve been insulted for being too feminist when I use the term “slut-shaming”, and told that since I write erotic romance, I’m borderline bad anyway. Sigh.

    I write realistic books about real people. When I included a heroine who had been raped in the past, she was still fighting to get over it. Then when she gets into a bad situation again, she takes action and stops it from happening again, thus reclaiming her own sexuality and freeing her to love the hero who has been patiently waiting for her to come to him on her own terms. This is a free book on Smashwords.com because my then publisher wouldn’t touch a “book with a rape”, even though there is nothing graphic or glorifying about it. But reviewers have blasted the book for having rape. The heroine takes action and reclaims herself, as many women would like to do! I thought it was a way for readers to enjoy reversing the power play.

    I don’t know how we are going to “fix” this in the world. As long as there are scared men who feel diminished by the females around them, or feel that females are “lessor beings”, there will be rape and violence against women. People are complaining now about more women being in college than men. Instead of calling the men lazy and instructing them to step up their game to keep up with the formidable intelligence of the women around them, some are saying that making the playing field equal in education was a mistake. So are men really that incompetent that they need a skewed field in order to be successful? And is it really the fault of the females around them that they are not doing well? When will men take responsibility for their own actions, including controlling their own sexuality, and not expecting women to control not only their own desires, but the men’s also?

    This is an ongoing problem with no solution, I fear. As a writer I create characters that act responsibly, because I want to live in a world like that. Unfortunately, I don’t.

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  83. Judith Ashley
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 17:33:03

    @Ann Somerville:
    I totally agree that as long as there are rapist, women are in danger. As long as their are pedophiles, children are in danger. As long as we pretend we are safe, we are in danger. As long as we ignore the signs that we are in danger, we increase our risks. Great discussion!

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  84. Liz
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 20:28:15

    @Meri: Thanks for the correction. I always seem to do that when I talk about the IAT.

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  85. Suleikha Snyder
    Jan 04, 2013 @ 07:19:36

    @T:

    Why is it that I’m just learning about the Stubenville case in this blog? Why isn’t it all over the social media? Why is it that the people who approve of the atheletes’ actions haven’t been outed on facebook and shamed into appologies and pressing of charges? Why hasn’t there been a facebook campaign to destroy the reputations of all these atheletes, some of whom likely hoped to go to college on atheletic scholarships?

    Actually, the Steubenville rape case was cracked via the blogosphere and social media and has since gone viral and been picked up by mainstream news outlets — which is why more and more people are talking about it. Hacker collective Anonymous even unearthed horrific cell phone video footage of drunken teenage boys mocking the assault.

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  86. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 04, 2013 @ 07:32:20

    @Robin/Janet: Thanks for your response, Robin. I agree that criticizing a trope isn’t the same as shaming a reader or author, but I also think that our fantasies, the books we write, and our reading preferences reflect on who we are as women. It’s a highly personal thing. Which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be examined or criticized, of course.

    Your Donovan example aside, critical reading does take the pleasure out of certain fantasies in my opinion. I’m really bothered by interracial romance as titillation, for example. I won’t find that type of Othering sexy because I’m critical of it. I’m also annoyed that many of the same problematic tropes that are railed against in m/f are given a free pass in m/m. No internalized misogyny there! /sarcasm

    So I have many feelings attached to this conversation. I want to read and write strong female portrayals, but support a broad range of reading choices. And I’m still frustrated that women are criticizing each other instead of men, and bearing the brunt of the responsibility for rape culture.

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  87. Rebecca Rogers Maher
    Jan 04, 2013 @ 08:14:37

    @Jill Sorenson: You make an excellent point about the risk of shifting the onus of responsibility for rape culture away from men and onto women. But I think of it less as a burden and more as an opportunity. Our books reach millions of women. They generate thinking and conversation among millions of women. If we all—authors and readers—retain varying degrees of internalized misogyny and self-blame, then our books provide an opening for interrogating that and talking about it.

    You mention interracial romances as your limit. Your critique of sexualizing Otherness makes them less enjoyable. But isn’t that critique important? We should look at the complexities of racial relationships if we intend to be responsible and thoughtful about the way we portray them. I have a limit when it comes to force, because sexualizing or minimizing force has real consequences for real people. For our audience, it could mean causing a rape survivor to feel that it might have been her fault or that she should just get over it already.

    I can work for race/class/gender justice in all sorts of ways, including confronting individual men and fighting against our patriarchal culture and policies. Another immediate, powerful way I can work for it is in my own writing. I can produce work for women that shows respect for our bodies/spirits and that helps us move forward. Again, I see that as a gift.

    This stage of being critical of past work is important, but the real source of power here is what we do next. We can write pro-women, pro-survivor stories. Many, many romance authors do this already. Our discussion here is useful in helping us determine where we want to be and how to get there.

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  88. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 04, 2013 @ 08:51:48

    @Rebecca Rogers Maher: Really great points, Rebecca. I hope I haven’t given the impression that critical analysis is unwarranted. You’re right–this is an opportunity for change, and I don’t take it lightly. I have a big issue with trivializing and/or romanticizing force, but I’ve also read comments in threads like this from women, some of whom are rape survivors, who enjoy exploring these fantasies in a safe place. So I hesitate to make an assumption of harm, although my personal choice is to read and write about consensual sex.

    Also, just to clarify, I like interracial romance. It’s sexualized racial stereotypes that I have a problem with.

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  89. Rebecca Rogers Maher
    Jan 04, 2013 @ 09:26:17

    @ Jill Sorenson: I agree that it’s tricky. Readers and writers should be able to explore sexual fantasies. There’s lots of great erotica and erotic romance that deals with consensual negotiations of force and submission, and that too is healthy and should be part of this discussion. I have no interest in censorship of any kind, even of books that I personally find offensive. They have their audience too and that’s none of my business. I know there’s an argument to be made that pushing the boundaries in fiction gives readers and writers an opportunity to play out fantasies they would never enact in real life, and even if they did so (consensually), it would be nobody’s business but their own. (My teenage self made this exact argument many times in defense of metal bands I loved, like Slayer.)

    But there are plenty of places where writers can choose to reflect on our own assumptions and be actively thoughtful about what we’re saying about women and sex. I think that can enhance enjoyment, actually, in the same way that an astrophysicist’s study of the universe increases her appreciation of the night sky.

    As for the interracial romance issue – I figured as much! I’m glad you brought racial stereotypes into the discussion, though, because I think it’s a comparable issue. If the personal is political (and what’s more personal than sex and romance?) then we need be accountable for what our stories say about race, class, gender and sexuality.

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  94. James Romines
    Feb 03, 2013 @ 18:02:35

    As a man (not just male), I take full ownership for all my behavior, good or bad. That means that I also reap any accolades, or suffer any and all consequences resulting from my behavior. These situations make me wonder just how weak a human male has to be to pass the blame for his behavior on to his victim. Since when did this cowardly shirking of responsibility for one’s bad behavior become acceptable for males? Regardless of what the media says, or how they portray this sick, spineless vileness, human males must be prepared to own their behavior if they expect to be truthfully labeled, ‘men’. Men hold themselves to a much higher standard of behavior than this. Women, to be worthy of the title, rather than merely female, will do their best to be sure that any ‘man’ they want to enter into a relationship with is in fact a man, taking full ownership of his actions, including his lack of action in situations where it is needed. Men, though we will never fully understand women, should be open to communication, listening, and being willing to try different ways of relating to our mates. We owe it to ourselves to do our best to meet their needs as best we can. Only when we all hold ourselves individually accountable for what we do and say, will rape, and sexual assault, be treated as the heinous, vile, awful acts against humankind that they truly are.

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