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Physical Violence Poll

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I was reading two Harlequin Presents published in the 1980s. One was by Susan Napier and the other by Charlotte Lamb. In both books, the heroine slaps the hero in a rage and the hero hits her back. I think Jo Beverly had a very controversial book wherein the hero hits the heroine. It sparked a huge debate on AAR on the issue of whether physical violence by the hero should ever be considered acceptable in romance books. Even if slapping is not considered kosher these days, plenty of books contain spanking (both sexual and non sexual) and the threats of spanking. Why is hitting someone on the ass more acceptable than on the face?

In any event, I was kind of shocked reading those scenes in the books. I prefer my heroes to be non violent but is there ever a place for physical reaction? Is it wrong to call the slapping “violent”? Should heroines who slap at the heroes expect the same in return? The following is the hero poll. We’ll see how the results shake out.

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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

61 Comments

  1. MB (Leah)
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 12:02:41

    Why is hitting someone on the ass more acceptable than on the face?

    Although I’m not so much into the spanking thing for fun or punishment, for me, spanking on the butt is easier to take because it’s more in the realm of sexual, less personal, and doesn’t seem to carry intense emotional feelings behind it usually.

    If someone slaps you in the face, that’s very personal and a more emotional statement against the person I think.

    It would depend on how it’s written, but I would most likely loose interest in a hero who slaps a heroine. However, I may be a bit sexist here, but I think it’s perfectly fine for the heroine to slap the hero if he’s acting like an ass.

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  2. Nadia
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 12:05:29

    Why is hitting someone on the ass more acceptable than on the face?

    Maybe ass is less sensitive? *flippant*

    Okay, seriously…maybe there’s some kind of shame factor of going outside with a bruised face. (You don’t usually show your ass in public.) Or at least that’s what I think. I may be wrong about that though.

    And also what Leah said may hold true as well. When you spank someone, you aren’t looking at their identifying features. But you do when you slap someone.

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  3. Lori
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 12:20:40

    Huge difference between say a Regency that has a hero striking the heroine and say an Urban Paranormal romance that has a heroine kicking the crap out of the Demon hero and the hero smacking her back. I’ve read lots of the paranormals where the heroine hits/stabs/beats-the-shit-out-of the hero and I’d never flinch if that heroine gets hit back.

    My preferred reading is contemporaries and I think if either the hero or heroine hit in a modern story line I’d find it extremely distasteful.

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  4. Monique
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 12:30:05

    IMO, if it is ok for the heroine to slap her man in the face, it is ok for him to slap her back. Sorry, anything less is a total double standard. He may choose not to, but it has to be his choice.

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  5. Shannon Stacey
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 12:30:22

    If I ever hit my husband, I’d expect him to hit me back. (I don’t think he would, but he’d have the right in my book.) But I don’t like the hero hitting the heroine in my happily ever afters.

    With the exception, I should say, of the spanking scene in Outlander, which sparked a lot of outrage around the ‘net, but which I found not only acceptable, but ‘right’ in the framework of the scene/story.

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  6. jmc
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 12:44:39

    If I hit someone, the message that I am sending is that violence is acceptable, and that it is okay to hit me back. Whether or not a man hits back is entirely dependent on his socialization — is it okay to hit a woman? Is there a difference between striking back at a woman vs. a man?

    A smack on the bum can seem playful, depending on context and the force applied. A smack in the face? Not so much. (Sexual spanking is completely different, IMO.)

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  7. MoJo
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 12:46:08

    IMO, if it is ok for the heroine to slap her man in the face, it is ok for him to slap her back. Sorry, anything less is a total double standard. He may choose not to, but it has to be his choice.

    I agree.

    To me, it also depends on the balance of power between the male and female. A woman who can dish it out as well as she gets it is fair game and, IMO, she should be insulted if she thought he was holding back because she was a “girl.”

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  8. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 12:55:12

    Huge difference between say a Regency that has a hero striking the heroine and say an Urban Paranormal romance that has a heroine kicking the crap out of the Demon hero and the hero smacking her back. I've read lots of the paranormals where the heroine hits/stabs/beats-the-shit-out-of the hero and I'd never flinch if that heroine gets hit back.

    My preferred reading is contemporaries and I think if either the hero or heroine hit in a modern story line I'd find it extremely distasteful.

    Lori said it perfectly.

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  9. JulieLeto
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 13:41:09

    Definitely depends on the book. DEFINITELY. And the situation. And the characters. I can think of scenarios where the hero hitting the heroine is way out of line and other places where it might be necessary. And vice versa.

    As for face versus ass…the face is a place of intimacy, even moreso than the butt, believe it or not. The head (and of course, the brain) are essential to survival, whereas the posterior is not. So hitting in the face is much more of a physical attack than the backside. IMO.

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  10. Sharon Cullen
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 15:23:18

    Not only do I think the hero should not strike the heroine, I don’t think the heroine should strike the hero, either. I hate watching a show on TV or a movie and a female character strikes a male character. If it’s not appropriate for the male then it shouldn’t be appropriate for the female. No double standards, in my book.

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  11. AndreaS
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 16:07:17

    What a question. So, my initial reaction is it’s totally okay for a heroine to hit a hero, but he may not retaliate. I understand it’s a double standard. But that’s how I react. I’m going to add some qualifiers.

    If we’re talking any book where the hero and the heroine are giving as good as they’re getting, I’m fine with it. Let’s take the Kate Daniels books, I have no problem with the violence between Kate and Curran.

    But if we’re talking a historical (maybe a Henley) where the male holds all the power and the female has little chance… I have no problem with our heroine shooting the hero. And he should not retaliate with violence. Outsmartting or other mental games are fair play.

    So I guess my real answer is it depends on the book and how it’s layed out. I think I identify with the power struggles. If the power level is equal, I’m okay with it. If the power is tipped in any direction, the person with less power can respond violently and I am totally okay. But if you’re in the position of power, violence is not something I am okay with.

    And that doesn’t even cover the casual slap on the butt…

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  12. Keishon
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 16:23:53

    Some men are more hesitant to hit a woman and that’s the way I prefer it in fiction. In reality, you slap someone, yeah, look to get the same thing handed back to you.

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  13. Nonny
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 16:47:55

    I don’t think that consensual BDSM is on the same page, much less the same book, as non-consensual physical violence. I’ve read books where the “hero” assaulted the heroine for no good reason, and man, they make my blood boil.

    At the same time, I’ve read urban fantasies or paranormals where the heroine attacks the hero first and he retaliates. I don’t have as much a problem with that, depending on how it’s written.

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  14. Jill Sorenson
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 17:33:56

    If I hit my husband, I would not expect to be hit back. Call it a double standard, but he’s quite a bit larger and stronger than I am. We are not an even match, physically. For me, that makes a difference.

    Another question…what if the female character (or whoever) is hysterical? Seems like that used to be grounds for slapping. From a medical standpoint, does slapping someone across the face make them “snap out of it”?

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  15. MaryK
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 17:34:52

    Why is hitting someone on the ass more acceptable than on the face?

    Hitting someone in the face is more complex. It’s a personal affront, rage making and, in the past, a challenge to physical combat. (Though hitting on the ass isn’t exactly peace-making. I think it’s infantilizing, actually.)

    Should heroines who slap at the heroes expect the same in return?

    Absolutely. If she wants to be treated equally, she can’t in all fairness expect him not to retaliate. I would hope he’d rise above the impulse, but he’s only human. (I’m not sure her actual equality makes a difference – she should act the role of an equal as much as she can if equality is what she wants. Sort of like dressing for the job you want not the one you have.)

    I have to say though that there are heroes (and heroines) who deserve to be slapped and have no retaliation rights. I guess it depends on whether or not the reader and hero accept it as deserved punishment. Very complex and totally “depends on the book.” :)

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  16. Kat
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 00:01:39

    For me, it would depend on context. A few years ago, I probably would’ve agreed to the double standard, but after reading Anne Stuart’s Ice series, I had to rethink my position (I was actually aware of having to come to terms with this because I remember stopping to think about it while reading each book). What I’d probably look for is some kind of indication that the hero does it for a damn good reason (no anger management problems) and if it comes down to it, he holds back on his strength enough to show me that he’s not out of control or needlessly violent.

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  17. Kaetrin
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 00:47:01

    I read An Arranged Marriage by Jo Beverley and while I didn’t “enjoy” the scene where the hero struck the heroine, I did understand it and why it was there, in the context of the book, the time, the hero and the history of the pair. The hero was immediately and totally remorseful afterward, even regardless of right and wrong and the couple discussed and resolved this issue in their marriage going forward.

    So, I guess it depends on the book.

    Oh, BTW, a great book by Mary Jo Putney is The Burning Point where the background to the story is domestic violence. So, hitting a woman was kinda necessary to the story. But, albeit in a different way to the Jo Beverley story (after all, this is a contemporary story and the violence was repeated), the pair worked it out. The hero dealt with his issues in an honest way and the couple worked their way back together (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to give away the HEA). In the context of the book it was necessary, not gratuitous and it was addressed in an appropriate way.

    I guess that’s what I’d be looking for if there was violence by the hero to the heroine in a book.

    Of course, that probably also brings up Stormfire by Christine Monson – I gather it has caused much controversy over the years. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but in the context of the individual book, I got it and it was an early part of the hero’s character journey.

    just my opinion…

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  18. Robin
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 01:23:54

    I have to say that I’m surprised by the women here who say it’s okay for their boyfriend/husband to hit them back. Okay, I’m stunned, actually.

    While there are certainly many states that recognize domestic violence as perpetuated by both men and women (precipitating arrests of both genders pursuant to a DV call), IMO it’s NEVER, EVER okay for someone to hit back after being hit, be it man or woman. Domestic violence is an enormous problem, a profoundly under-reported problem, and one that affects both men and women. However, statistics continue to reflect a full 85% female victim rate in DV cases, making it a very dangerous proposition, IMO, to suggest that it’s okay for men to hit women, even if they’re striking back.

    What, for example, constitutes a hit? How are strength differences being accounted for, as well as the context and substance of the contact? Nope, just can’t find it in me to authorize any hitting back, but especially not male to female physical retaliation. Not with the massive domestic violence problems we’ve got already, the culture of which makes women ashamed to report it, children traumatized victims, and courts still reluctant to deal effectively with either perpetrator or victim.

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  19. Ann Somerville
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 02:00:36

    Well said, Robin. Unless a man and a woman are enemy combatants, I can’t think of any way a man can strike a woman except in play/kink, and have him not be an arsehole.

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  20. Monique
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 07:16:40

    Domestic violence is an issue in society. And if you think it is under-reported for women, what do you think it’s like for men? Try grossly under-reported. However, that is not the issue here. If a person slaps another person, they should expect the same back. There is no excuse for violence and that goes for women too. Sorry, women do not get a pass for violence because they are “weaker” or have less body mass than men. It is still a hit, still violence, still unacceptable.

    I don’t believe in double standards and so long as we get angry over some (sex for men and women for example) and refuse to over others (violence), we as women will always be hypocritical. I prefer not to be a hypocrite and simply get rid of all double standards.

    It seems to me that in the examples cited, if a woman slaps a man in a rage, she is the one with anger management issues.

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  21. Keishon
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 08:15:27

    I’d have to disagree Robin. Defending yourself does not constitute domestic violence. I don’t even want to bring domestic violence into this discussion because I consider it a wholly different animal. I don’t believe in double standards and not all men, if they were rasied right, would strike a woman even if she hits him first. I’m saying if a woman hits anybody, be it another woman or man, yeah, expect to get hit back. Yes, if you hit me, I would hit you back. Just sayin :-) Why hit in the first place? And yes, I didn’t find Diana Gabaldon’s spanking scene offensive at all, just thought I’d throw that out there, too. I’m gone.

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  22. Sparky
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 11:21:56

    Some genres lend themselves more to violence than others. Historicals and period pieces and even fantasy/urban fantasy (especially badguy-becomes-preternatural-sextoy) themes lend themselves strongly to violence in actuality or potential. More than a few urban fantasies keep the idea that one side or other may actually kill the other on the table for some time

    And by spanking are we talking consensual here? Or the hero literally threatening/abusing the heroine through a spanking? If the latter then in some ways I find it WORSE than face slapping. Face slapping is worse because of the level and severity of violence. Spanking is worse because it is demeaning. This is the chastisement of a lesser (again, excepting consensual scenarios) andis used not just to hurt the victim but humiliate and degrade the,

    Naturally consensual violence (if the word violence even applies) wopuld fit in the right themed book :) Yes please in fact

    As for heroine violence vs hero violence. Maybe it’s old fashioned but though I don’t like either and both are wrong, I find a man hurting a woman much worse than the reverse. Partly it’s societal prejudice and partly it’s because I think, if push came to shove, most men are physically capable of stopping most women from doing them actual harm. With woman on man violence there is usually an element of inherent limits in that a victim can, to a degree and in most circumstances, physically put and end to it (though societal, mental and emotional factors may be barriers to this and often are in cases of battered husbands).
    It may be sexist and unpopular to say but it’s a simple matter of body mass and upper body strength – there’s a reason why atheltics and other sports are gender segregated – so unless a woman is unusually strong or unusually skilled, a man will be able to physically overcome her.

    When it’s man on woman violence the victim is more likely to be physically overwhelmed and rely more on the attacker to stop rather than being able to set the limit herself

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  23. Robin
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 12:01:55

    Defending yourself does not constitute domestic violence.

    That’s true, but has this discussion really been about self-defense? Cause I didn’t read it that way at all. IMO it’s one thing to say that someone has a right to defend themselves against violence and another to say, ‘if I hit him, he can hit me back’ (or vice versa). Between intimates, I find that even more troubling, frankly.

    But then I have a very low tolerance for aggressive physical contact in Romance, too. Sex play is one thing, but if it’s outside that context, I don’t really like it if either the hero or heroine believes it to be okay to strike out physically (for one thing, it’s assault, and I just can’t get that out of my head), but I especially don’t like the casualness I see in regard to hero aggression toward the heroine. That doesn’t mean I’ll hate a book in which the hero bullies the heroine, but it’s a tough sell, especially if the heroine doesn’t find it objectionable herself.

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  24. Moth
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 13:45:23

    I’ve been with my boyfriend five years and I’ve slapped him three times. They were isolated incidents years apart where he had done something really wrong like WHOA and knew it. He allowed me to slap him each time. (First time he saw it coming and didn't stop me. The other two times I had warned him explicitly I would and he braced himself for it). At the time I felt totally justified. He did not retaliate and there was no expectation he would. My boyfriend is a big guy (a bouncer, in fact) and is MUCH stronger than I am. He could have stopped me.

    Later, the more I thought about it the worse I felt. He'd been wrong and done something bad but me hitting him was wrong too and didn’t make me feel better really. Later I apologized and told him I wouldn’t do it again. And I haven’t and I won’t.

    Still, I am in the “depends on the book camp” too. I don’t like when contemporary, normal people hit each other. Women shouldn't slap men just because there's the expectation it's all right. I agree with the other examples put forth about it being ok for kick-butt Urban Fantasy heroines but not in a Regency, etc.

    As for the spanking thing: I would have a problem if the spanker did it in a mean, demeaning way and never apologized for it or received a comeuppance. However, I keep thinking of that scene in Kiss Me, Kate where Fred spanks Lilli onstage. It's totally appropriate for their raucous relationship and she's given him a couple knocks too. I have no problem with something like that where it's comparable payback for what the other person did.

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  25. Jane O
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 15:32:30

    I come from a family where no man would ever, under any circumstances, have raised his hand to a woman. But then, the women wouldn’t have hit the men either. (I don’t count children under the age of six.) So I’m in the “it all depends” category. For example:

    1. There’s the slap in the face that’s more like a tap and is akin to a whack on the shoulder or the side of the head and means “How could you be so stupid?”
    2. There’s the serious slap that means “You are doing something truly dreadful and you need to stop NOW!”
    3. There’s the slap that means “I’m in a snit, and boys aren’t allowed to hit girls but I’m allowed to hit you.”

    The first two don’t call for retaliation. The third? Slap back. She clearly doesn’t understand that actions have consequences.

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  26. DS
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 16:53:22

    I had to think about this overnight before I could respond. Violence between intimates is unacceptable. I’m not thinking about defense. But even defense has a rule I approve. You should defend yourself only with the degree of violence your opponent uses considering your relative sizes and martial skill level.

    I also agree that nonsexually consensual spanking is infantilizing.

    Finally, the Putney book received quite a bit of criticism, as I remember, because the male protagonist found it rather easy to be cured of the problem; whereas, in reality it is a deeply entrenched response to stress in a relationship. I thought it equal to how alcoholic protagonists are easily cured by the magic hoohaw of a good woman.

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  27. Mike Briggs
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 17:16:42

    Interesting conversation. A slap to the face is an attack. Depending on how it’s delivered it can be extremely painful or even damaging (easy to break a jaw or rupture an eardrum). In martial arts, a slap is often used instead of a strike when the intent is to disorient and disrupt the other person’s concentration. I have a hard time imagining a playful slap to the face — even it done very lightly it’s an unmistakable warning, a threat of impending violence.

    A swat to the bottom can be much more playful, but that’s usually in a sexual connotation, not as a serious attempt at discipline. I would NEVER slap my wife in the face, but I have been known to swat her bum as she sashays past, “just because”.

    Outside of a flirtatious swat, however, I find any violence between mature adults is a serious turn off. Grown ups don’t need to resort to violence to make themselves understood; certainly not within a healthy relationship.

    In the far distant past I was reasonably well acquainted with violent behavior. Not pretty stuff, and nothing I would ever want brought into my marriage, or any relationship for that matter. I’ve been happily married for 23 years now, and I’ve never struck my wife, nor threatened to do so. She knows she can speak her mind, and disagree with me strenuously without fear of physical reprisal, and I think that’s a very important facet of a healthy relationship. When an author asks me to believe that a couple can find happily ever based on fear, violence and intimidation, my B.S. detector goes off loudly.

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  28. CD
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 18:27:23

    Unless a man and a woman are enemy combatants, I can't think of any way a man can strike a woman except in play/kink, and have him not be an arsehole.

    Anne basically summed my views – the only exceptions for me would be in very deep meaty historicals like Gellis’ Roselynde series. It’s all about the upper body strength, people. Most women can’t do that much damage with a slap done in the heat of the moment, but men are a completely different kettle of fish. Although it is a double standard, it’s up there with maternity leave being longer than paternity leave.

    I do agree with Mike that violence, whether male or female, shouldn’t have a place in a contemporary healthy relationship but not all relationships are that healthy – if you’re driven to slap your man, that’s probably a sign that your relationship is not.

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  29. jmc
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 19:04:02

    Robin, I can’t speak to whether others were addressing self-defense, but when I posted above (rather glibly, I’m afraid), I was not. At least, not specifically. My comment addressed body language and violence between myself and any other person, significant other or stranger.

    Violence is not acceptable behavior. Having said that, it is possible that I could lose my temper and act in a way that violates my own moral code. And if I do so, I will have to bear the consequences. The consequences of striking someone else (male or female, regardless of size or strength) include being struck back. I would not expect someone I have assaulted (because a hit or a slap is an assault IMO, regardless of who is doing the slapping) to not retaliate just because they may be a man and may have been socialized not to hit back. That would be expecting the person I struck first to behave better than I have. Maybe he/she will be the better person. But if she/he responds to me in kind, it is because I have opened the door to that behavior.

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  30. cecilia
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 19:14:58

    I’m with the people who are bothered by the notion that it’s ok for a man to hit a woman if she hit first. First of all, I think that slaps in the face generally are pretty vile, whoever is dishing it out. I can’t think of any situations where it would be a defensible action at all. If a person is annoyed/offended, there are better ways to express it. If a person is seriously under attack, then I think other measures are called for.

    However, men typically are bigger than women, and in the context of romances, A LOT bigger than women, not to mention muscle-bound, etc., and can do way more harm. If a man feels so assaulted by a slap, to the point he’d need to “defend” himself from the woman, then he should call the cops and press charges, not escalate the situation.

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  31. Robin
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 21:13:33

    JMC: while I accept the surface level rationality of your argument, I can’t accept your position — for myself — as reasonable. And it comes down, I think, to your last sentence:

    But if she/he responds to me in kind, it is because I have opened the door to that behavior.

    I think, for example, about how we speak with children about violence, and while I think many parents want their children to know how to defend themselves for safety sake, do parents really see it as desirable to inculcate their children with the idea that if they strike someone they should expect to be struck, or if they are struck they should feel the right to strike back? I may be completely out of it here, but I don’t think that’s the view of violence we encourage for kids in this society, especially if we’re trying to encourage better behavior. Further, we don’t find it at all acceptable for children to hit their parents in retaliation for a spanking (and this will probably be a surprise, lol, but I oppose spanking, too), which IMO says something important about the way our society associates physical aggression with power and authority.

    But even in an adult context, especially in a male to female context, I just can’t bring myself to embrace the idea that it’s okay for a man to hit a woman in retaliation. First of all, we have such a problem with male to female DV that IMO men should feel more pressure not to resort to physical violence against women, no matter what the provocation (assuming we are not talking self-defense, in which case the rule is same measure of response). I’m not at all ready to relax this apparent double standard given the proportionate numbers in DV cases. I know that there are many women who are as strong or stronger than their male partners, but I don’t think that’s the norm, and I am not comfortable with setting a standard of tit for tat given persistent differences in physical command.

    I totally understand the idea that if one person can’t keep their temper they cannot fairly expect that the other will be able to, BUT I still do not really think this should be extended to a tit for tat acceptance when it comes to violence between intimates (especially male to female but in other combinations, as well). This is just one area where the seeming equality in the argument itself does not translate into a RL scenario I can embrace as *fair* or as *just* in a practical sense.

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  32. Miki
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 23:17:55

    My acceptance of a hero responding with physical violence depends on the book – and the couple. My first reaction when I read this question was to cringe, but there have been a few examples listed above where I had to realize that, yeah, I read that and was absolutely okay with it.

    On the other hand, I never like spanking scenes. To me, it says the man thinks the woman is less, more like a child than an adult. (I’m not talking about Mr. Brigg’s “swats”, I’m talking about punishment spanking). Spanking has made more than one book a “wallbanger” for me.

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  33. MaryK
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 01:32:00

    But even in an adult context, especially in a male to female context, I just can't bring myself to embrace the idea that it's okay for a man to hit a woman in retaliation.

    I don’t think it’s “okay.” I don’t think women and men should hit each other in anger. The excuse is usually that she was provoked, but hitting someone is pretty powerful provocation itself and for a woman to offer it and then be outraged that a man sinks to her level is not reasonable or fair, IMO. I certainly prefer heroes who have the self-control to resist the provocation.

    This started out as a discussion about fictional behavior and has blurred into a discussion of what’s acceptable in RL. I don’t think fiction = RL. I think what we accept in fiction is often very different from what we’d accept in RL. Sometimes we accept things for the sake of the story and sometimes fiction is a way to explore situations that might be outside our realm of experience.

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  34. Mike Briggs
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 11:27:38

    This started out as a discussion about fictional behavior and has blurred into a discussion of what's acceptable in RL. I don't think fiction = RL.

    I mostly agree with this. Certainly in fiction I’m willing to accept magic, time travel, strange technology and cultural norms that have probably never actually existed, all for the sake of a good tale.

    However, violent heroes don’t just violate my “prudish 21st century moral sensitivities”. It’s not just political correctness, it’s about believability. Do I believe that there have been (and still are) relationships where the man uses his superior strength and mass to force compliance on a woman? Certainly. Are there relationships where violence is an everyday occurance, a way of expressing disapproval? Sadly, also true. But I can’t, however much I try, believe that those are happy relationships.

    A happy relationship depends, fundamentally, upon equality. Given the sexual dimorphism in our species, the male has a distinct advantage in a fight. Many of our social norms are designed to discourage the male from using that advantage to coerce others, at least overtly. Those strictures didn’t develop by random chance, they developed because they encourage more stable social interaction, and more stable family units.

    In fiction, whether we’re talking Star-Wars or Roman Legions, we’re still dealing with people, and I don’t see us being that different in any age. For me, altering something as fundamental as the underpinnings of social interaction just rings false. But hey, bring on the psychically-enhanced, mutant plant-women from Mars, I have no problem believing in them! *grin*

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  35. Lori
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 11:53:59

    But hey, bring on the psychically-enhanced, mutant plant-women from Mars, I have no problem believing in them! *grin*

    What if they hit?

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  36. Robin
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 13:02:17

    Regarding the RL/fiction split, I think that’s what shocked me — that women are saying they’d expect hitting back in RL. And that’s why I responded the way I did.

    My own answer to the poll was “it depends on the book,” and in fiction I am both less and more accepting of extreme behaviors. I am less accepting of characters who behave a certain way without logic or explanation within the world of the novel; in other words, I don’t go for the ‘people act irrationally all the time in RL’ argument to justify how characters in books act (unless, of course, the character is rationally drawn to be all about irrationality). However, I am more accepting of extreme behavior that makes sense to me within the context of a book, and while I do not always find the ‘transformation born of love’ convincing, I think one could argue that it’s subversive of the RL dangers and vulnerabilities people (especially women) face.

    Another however, though, is that I get frustrated by the historical justifications for violence against Romance heroines. While it is true that women held different positions in history, it is also true that those roles and positions are unique to the social context in which they existed. And in most historical Romance I’ve read, the author takes all sorts of liberties with history and social context to make the story work for a contemporary audience (or because the kind of research that would require such understanding standing is perceived as too in depth or extensive). So arguing that history put these women in a position to accept violence rings hollow to me. Besides the fact, of course, that not all men were violent. The fictional historical distance may make the reader feel more remote from the violence, and that might be its purpose, but I find the historical justification itself to be reallllly problematic.

    What I find interesting is the way violence in Romance seems so casually included — that bullying heroes are so often revered. I do NOT think this is at all a mirror for RL. But the prevalence of violence in Romance has always made me wants to understand better why it’s there and what purposes it serves for the story and the reader.

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  37. Susan/DC
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 13:05:18

    I’m with the “depends on the book” crowd. In the context of Jo Beverley’s An Unwilling Bride (not her An Arranged Marriage), I understood why Lucien slapped Beth and that this would not happen again. In a paranormal where the hero and the heroine both have extraordinary powers, I can also accept it. In an erotic novel where the physical aspect is consensual, it may work. But in a regular contemporary, I don’t care for either hero or heroine to hit each other. If the heroine hits or slaps, she looks uncontrolled and childish. If the hero retaliates in kind, he looks uncontrolled and therefore less heroic. These are not people I want to follow into RomanceLand.

    Part of believing in the HEA is that the relationship involves two consenting adults, and I’d hope that by the time we’re 21 we’ve learned other coping skills to deal with aggression, frustration, etc. A tit for a tat or an eye for an eye seems like it would not be a good basis for a Happy-for-Now, much less HEA. Not to mention (as several others have), most romance heroes are described as unusually big and strong, and a 200+ pound man hitting or slapping a 100-something pound woman is not a fair fight.

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  38. Kim
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 14:23:17

    I’ve read stories where the hero spanks the heroine because she was acting like a child. These might be the older books as I can’t recall any recently where that’s happened. I’m thinking Night Bird by Asaro but I’m not sure. For me, it was okay if the heroine, by her childish, selfish actions, put herself, the hero or someone else in danger. In a totally unsexual context, that was fine for me. She acted like a child and she got a spanking (for those of you who think corporal punishment is horrible, I’m not advocating spanking).

    However, I’m not into BDSM of any kind so if the hero or heroine were turned on by the spanking, I’d not finish the story.

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  39. RfP
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 14:38:16

    I've read stories where the hero spanks the heroine because she was acting like a child.

    I don’t recall running across that, but it sounds despicable to me. I feel play and kink between adults are fine; seriously-meant punishment and infantilization are not.

    First off, how do you classify someone as acting “like a child”, rather than a whiny/etc adult? Was she sucking her thumb or saying “Pleeeeeeease daddy”? Are you *certain* you’re not interpreting her actions as childish because she’s a woman? I’m not pointing a finger exclusively at you; I have to ask myself that question all the time. One way to settle it, I think, is: Would you expect her to spank the hero for behaving the same way, or would that seem absurd?

    Secondly, even if she was incontrovertibly acting childish, she’s *not* a child and it’s not his place to rear her.

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  40. Monique
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 15:32:11

    @ Robin: My comment *was* in the context of both RL and romance books. If I were to slap someone, anyone, in the face, I would expect to get slapped back. In romance, I expect the same.

    No longer @ Robin, but in the general context of the discussion:
    In reference to those who are discussing the relative upper body strength of most men versus most women, I agree that in general a man is going to be stronger. But, no one is suggesting he put his entire body behind the slap. And I find it interesting that this is an acceptable reason why a man should not slap a woman. I thought that reasoning went out when the idea of equality came in. Again, if the sexes are equal and there is no physical reason that a woman can be denied a job even if she is not a strong as a man, then I don’t think it can be used as an excuse here.

    Would slapping be more or less acceptable if it were within the context of a gay or lesbian relationship? I don’t think it would be any different. But if the argument is that it is not acceptable because he is stronger than her, does that mean that a man can slap his boyfriend and that is ok? Or a woman, her girlfriend? There neither has a gender size advantage. In short, does it only count if the protagonists are of different genders?

    Personally, I have a very strong distaste for the idea that a person should be prohibited from doing something because of the their gender, and that is what we are saying here – that because he is a man he should not be allowed to engage in the same behavior as a woman. Even worse, we are saying that this kind of violence is ok from a woman because she has a weaker body and couldn’t possibly hurt the man as badly as he could hurt her.

    I would also say that I am not addressing spanking in any form here. I am only addressing the specific examples as given of a woman slapping a man in anger.

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  41. Robin
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 16:01:18

    Personally, I have a very strong distaste for the idea that a person should be prohibited from doing something because of the their gender, and that is what we are saying here – that because he is a man he should not be allowed to engage in the same behavior as a woman.

    I don’t think it’s okay in any context, but given the cultural problems with male to female DV, I especially don’t think it’s okay in that context.

    The point you make about equality is difficult, at least for me, because while I recognize the equality argument as logically sound on the rhetorical level, I find it almost backwards. In other words, I’m not sure it’s really equality that’s at stake in arguing for male retaliation in response to female physical aggression. Equality doesn’t really seem like the value at stake there, at least not to me. Because the argument can be tweaked in this way, too: if women can restrain themselves physically, so can men (since it’s so often argued that men are more inclined toward physical violence than women). That’s an equality-based argument, too, but one that, again, IMO doesn’t really get at the central issue here, which to me is the whole notion of *retaliation* as the type of *consequences* people embrace or find acceptable or logically expected. I think that’s where I’m having a lot of problems in okaying the tit for tat logic.

    But to take on the gender equality in employment issue for second, that is also not as straightforward as people might expect, because there are physiological differences between people that make that kind of equality unachievable, and the law recognizes this. For example, in Dothard v. Rawlinson, an Alabama ban on female prison guards in close contact male prisons was upheld by the US Supreme Court, even while a height and weight requirement was rejected as discriminatory. If an employer can prove a “bona fide occupational qualification” that ends up disproportionately cutting out most of one gender, it can be upheld even though it does not conform to our standards of theoretical equality. The goal in the law is often seen more as *equity* because of the way differences much be accommodated in ways that don’t translate straight across genders (like employment laws that affect pregnant women, for example).

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  42. GrowlyCub
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 16:07:40

    I agree that violence is a bad non-solution to a relationship problem. That said, I still think that 6’4″ guy better not hit his 5’4″ woman back regardless of provocation. I’m aware that’s a double standard, but I don’t care.

    What struck me more about the poll though were the people who thought it was okay for the guy to spank a women as a punishment. That just blows my mind.

    If I get slapped in the face I’m still at least considered an adult. If a guy puts me over his knee and spanks me for my own good or because he thinks I’m childish, he’s taken my status as an adult away and I’d consider that totally and utterly relationship ending (the slap in the face would be, too, but the spanking would be worse because it would relegate me to a person with no rights aka a child).

    Books that are predicated on that concept hit the wall (anybody want to remember the bad old days of Lindsey? I recently found out that she perpetrated a 3rd abomination in that series that was all about spanking and withholding sexual release to women for their own good and in punishment for perceived childish behavior of the females).

    As for The Burning Point, I never made it past the first few pages, because the concept of a woman going back to the guy who abused her because she cannot get her daddy’s company otherwise, just made me so mad I wanted to spit. I have two issues with the premise a) any woman who would allow herself to be manipulated like that by her father does not engender any kind of respect, especially since she was an expert in her field and could have found a job right away or founded her own company and b) the idea that an abuser could just turn himself around.

    I’m all for redemption, but my deep visceral reaction to that idea was to think ‘just imagine a woman in a shelter reading this book and believing that her abusive husband will change, too, and going back and getting herself and her kids killed…’

    To further the double standard, I may have been able to read this if it had been a historical, but in a contemporary? No way.

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  43. Monique
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 16:25:33

    @ Robin:

    I lived my entire childhood life unable to retaliate against those who hurt me (my peers, this was *not* child abuse) because I was taught that it was unacceptable to retaliate and that I should just “ignore it and it will go away”. As an adult, I am painfully aware that had I retaliated just once, it would most likely have stopped. This informs my opinion here at least partly.

    I understand that the issue of domestic violence is important to you here. I think one of the reasons we seem to disagree is because I am not associating a retaliatory slap from a man as domestic violence. At the very least, both could be charged with domestic battery here so this is not a case of continued abuse on the part of one spouse. Nor do I feel that because DV is an issue in society, that all men should be more careful (as it seemed that you were suggesting in an earlier posting; I could be wrong.) for fear that they could be called abusers.

    This discussion in general, not specific to you in any way, just happens to have touched a hot button issue with me, which is the general demonization of men as violent predators and the suggestion that women and children are perpetual victims of said men. My own personal experience tells me that when we allow ourselves to be drawn into that way of thinking, we also take power away from women by making them victims. In my opinion, a woman being slapped by a man she slapped is not a victim – not even of domestic abuse as she is the one who began the violence.

    I think the most important thing here for me is that the man has the right to retaliate but does not have to make the choice to retaliate. It is the right to do so, not the act of doing so, that is the most important thing to me here. He can always choose not to, but he should always have the right to do so.

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  44. Robin
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 17:02:10

    I lived my entire childhood life unable to retaliate against those who hurt me (my peers, this was *not* child abuse) because I was taught that it was unacceptable to retaliate and that I should just “ignore it and it will go away”. As an adult, I am painfully aware that had I retaliated just once, it would most likely have stopped. This informs my opinion here at least partly.

    To me, though, this is a very different situation than the kind we have been discussing in this thread. The situation you describe is closer to the situation in which a battered woman ends up killing her batterer and then winds up jailed for homicide if her actions don’t fall into the traditional self-defense elements. Your example, in other words, seems to fall more into the area of what we think of as self-defense, even if it doesn’t line up that way legally. And I’m not sure I’d advocate the “ignore it” position as a particularly effective response, either, at least not if the point is to end the violence (which is another reason I can’t embrace the slap for a slap logic between a couple, either).

    Battering, bullying, and the like can be perpetrated by men or women, and I don’t think it makes women more of a victim to suggest that men should not hit them back, any more than I think it makes men more of a victim to say that women should not hit them back (excluding self-defense). I *do*, absolutely, believe that men have a higher bar to meet, not only because they might be labeled as batterers, but also because IMO our society is way too tolerant of violence exhibited by men in all contexts. I was struck by the recent study indicating that war deployments can contribute to childhood aggression (the vast majority of these kids involved fathers in war). That’s one of those “whoa” moments for me, especially given the way we IMO often romanticize certain types of nationally-sanctioned violence and connect it to a certain type of masculine authority.

    Now research on girls is showing that they are becoming much more physically violent, too, and that our gender norms are in the process of changing in that respect. I don’t, of course, see that as a step toward equality for the reasons I gave in my earlier post, but I do think it will change the way we see these issues over the next generation. Maybe if the proportionate exchange of violence between men and women was more even, this discussion would be different, but I don’t know. As I said, I don’t condone physical aggression shown by either gender. That doesn’t mean I see men or women who have hit someone else as horrible or undisciplined or even necessarily as batterers, but I also can’t go to the point where I see the answer to that aggression as more aggression.

    One thing I do wonder about, though, is how readers feel toward more physically aggressive women in UF, paranormals, Rom Sus and other areas of Romance where the heroines have taken on a more “kick-ass” physicality. Are the rules the same as applied, are they different, are the characters constructed differently because they’re women, etc. In other words, do readers respond differently to physically aggressive heroines than they do physically aggressive heroes?

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  45. Kim
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 17:06:04

    Hell yeah, I’d expect her to do the same (if she could) to the hero. And I don’t mean childish by sticking out her tongue or whining or any such thing I’d expect a child to do. Maybe the right word is unforgiveably selfish and dangerous – if the heroine (or hero or anyone for that matter) does something so irresponsibily lacking in common sense that she harms someone. I’ve read heroines I thought should be taken over the knee of the hero because their actions were stupid and risked more than their own asses. Or, if not spanking (I agree there has to be other ways to handle) then the person screwing up needs to have accountability. And if that screwed up the relationship then fine – how does an unforgivable dangerous action that is ignored make the relationship any stronger?

    Again, my caveat is I don’t know that I’ve read about this happen from the “new” breed of authors. I just know I’ve read this in the past even if I can’t put my finger on a book or author. I’m certainly NOT condoning any kind of violence even the kink sex violence of spanking. It boggles my mind how people who would not consider striking someone can do it with sex involved as if that justifies the behavior.

    In nearly twenty years, my husband has never struck me although once in the early, early part of our relationship, I gave him reason to. I was such a bitch and frankly, I would have deserved a slap. But he didn’t. Because he’d been taught by his father that striking a woman just isn’t done. Ever. No matter the reason. Does that make him less a man? Nope. Would it have made him less of man if he had? Nope. I would have deserved it – I was immature and childish and so, so wrong (and no, we weren’t married by then). But, he doesn’t believe in violence (even as a member of NRA and having been a military cop) and never against a woman. To him, that’s unforgiveable. Double standard or not, he believes his job is to take care of and cherish me. Even when I don’t deserve it.

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  46. Monique
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 17:20:26

    @ Robin:

    I’m only going to address the question of “kick-ass” ladies in romance here because I need some time to think about the other things you’ve said. Personally, I love the kick-ass ladies. I don’t think I respond differently to a kick-ass woman than I do to a “kick-ass” hero, though I do think that such a woman needs a man who is alpha to match her. Two strong personalities and bodies coming together is great!! I think of Marlena and Stash or Amber and Hawk in Into Danger and The Hunter, respectively, by Gennita Low. I also think the rules are very different there. Retaliation in kind or some other way is expected and the norm. And when a guy doesn’t retaliate physically, you know that it’s gonna happen some other way, like probably in bed or up against a wall or on a table. But then, I come from a fantasy/sci-fi background and tend to be more used to kick-ass ladies as a result. In fact, I do not like at all girly-girl types or fashionista types. That probably has a lot to do with why I rarely read contemps and avoid chick lit at all costs.

    But yes, I think there are very different expectations in the Rom Sus, urban fantasy, and other subgenres where the woman is tougher physically.

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  47. MD
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 17:25:02

    I would like to see physical violence written as unacceptable in any context for either gender, with serious consequences for a character who reacts with violence toward another character.

    The acceptance of it in the real world is too alive and well.
    I know a bright, sweet young woman who recently graduated from college. She’s been dating a guy for over a year now. In all that time, he’s been losing his temper and hitting her. She broke up with him once, then got back together when he promised to get therapy.

    For the time being, he’s still hitting her. They’re going to get married next month. Her friends have tried long and hard to talk her out of it. No good.

    Understand I’m not blaming novels alone for this. Society’s created and perpetuates this problem. But why contribute to it overall with a heroine (or hero) who tolerates abuse?

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  48. Monique
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 17:37:18

    @ MD: That is very sad. I hope that someone will be able to talk her out of it. And if not, that she will get the help she needs.

    I am just using your post as a jumping off point for the rest of this so it is not aimed at you specifically. I feel that the issue of domestic violence and abuse is not the issue that was originally brought up by the question or the examples from the books read, but a single slap and a single retaliation. Therefore, it is not the real issue here. It is a separate issue that keeps ending up in the discussion. IMO, the issue is simple: Does a man have the right to slap a woman back if she hits him? I think yes and I also think that this does not make him an abusive husband or a anything like that. I also do not think that accepting violence in romance novels makes a woman more likely to be accepting of an abusive relationship, if that is a fear. I am more concerned that my husband and I can joke about the “Boy rapes girl, boy gets girl” plot that was once so prevalent because that seems worse to me than a single slap or even a spanking. I have worked hard to come to grips with events that were near rapes in some of the books I have read. Frankly, the only rape I was ever comfortable with (and that took a while) was in a fantasy novel where the entire book was an allegory. Therefore, the woman was really an aspect of the man who raped her and it was really a figurative rape of a part of himself.

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  49. Moth
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 20:02:15

    One thing I do wonder about, though, is how readers feel toward more physically aggressive women in UF, paranormals, Rom Sus and other areas of Romance where the heroines have taken on a more “kick-ass” physicality.

    Interesting questions. I don’t read TOO much UF and the romantic suspenses I’ve read the heroine is usually the D.I.D.-type. My frame of reference is mostly Buffy and how her and Angel had a few dust-ups before they had ironed out he was a good guy. I don’t have a problem with something like that. Where they accidentally beat-up the guy, if it continued once they were in a relationship that would be an issue for me. I think with a kick-ass heroine I wouldn’t have a problem with the slap for a slap idea because she knows how to take a hit, she’s tough. It’s hard to articulate this but to me the hero might be acknowledging her strength in some way by hitting her back.

    I don’t know. I think I’ll let others hash that out… so onto my thoughts on spanking…

    Ok, my take was the spanking is ok in cerain situations. In my earlier comment I gave the example of Kiss Me Kate. Fred and Lilli are actors, divorced and each with hot tempers and oversized personalities. Prior to the spanking scene Lilli has elbowed Fred in the ribs, mistreated him, humiliated him and thrown a tantrum on stage in front of a Broadway audience. She’s a pill. Fred snaps and takes her over his knee. He spanks her in front of the cast, the audience and all. Painful and humiliating, yes. But she’d been putting him through much of the same already. To me, this scene is acceptable because it totally fits with their interactions with each other. Also, I think Fred himself knows he wasn’t doing it for her own good, he was sinking to Lilli’s level.

    The two of them are over the top, crazy people and even the spanking doesn’t slow Lilli down. She milks it for the next act. (And Fred acts like she’s crippled him for life). They’re both drama queens and, for me, him spanking her was fairplay.

    If its something like this, I have no problem with the spanking. Am I alone in this?

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  50. GrowlyCub
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 20:12:40

    Moth,

    I’m curious, if Lilli had put him over her knee and spanked him to humiliate him instead of elbowing him, would you have figured that was okay? Or would that have completely emasculated him in your eyes? And if so, why would the same action that reduces Lilli from a woman to a child be okay?

    I know I won’t change your mind and I’m not trying to (much :). I’m just really curious about how other people’s minds arrive at their feelings.

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  51. MD
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 02:37:58

    The two of them are over the top, crazy people and even the spanking doesn't slow Lilli down. She milks it for the next act. (And Fred acts like she's crippled him for life). They're both drama queens and, for me, him spanking her was fairplay.

    If its something like this, I have no problem with the spanking. Am I alone in this?

    I don’t know if you’re alone, but that particular scene in the movie I found offensive (despite knowing the mentality regarding gender relationships in the 50′s) and though I love that movie, I generally skip that scene whenever I watch it again. I also don’t like the ending, where (spoiler!)…

    she finally yields as Kate but also as Lily, going on about her duty to serve and obey her man. Lily and Fred realize their love, but it isn’t a coming together of equals. She has to submit to her “lord”, for it to be acceptable.

    I know both the play and the movie should be viewed in their time periods in regard to their attitude toward women, but it causes a modern gut reaction in me so strong, I don’t even like to watch it play out in fiction. It reminds me of I Love Lucy, some episode where Ricky spanked her. Comedy, yeah. But something in me just didn’t find it all that funny. I squirm every time I see it.
    So do I just need to lighten up? I don’t know. But that was my reaction.

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  52. Kaetrin
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 04:52:04

    sorry about the wrong Jo Beverley title. My bad…

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  53. RfP
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 10:56:59

    Robin:

    One thing I do wonder about, though, is how readers feel toward more physically aggressive women in UF, paranormals, Rom Sus and other areas of Romance where the heroines have taken on a more “kick-ass” physicality. Are the rules the same as applied, are they different, are the characters constructed differently because they're women, etc. In other words, do readers respond differently to physically aggressive heroines than they do physically aggressive heroes?

    You’re describing a genre that probably has a world following very different rules, so yes, I respond differently. If the fictional world is one with fundamentally *and systemically* different mores, all bets are off for what I’ll accept. E.g. I thought Kit Whitfield’s Benighted made a strong case justifying the heroine’s physical violence and general misanthropy; both men and women, and both weres and nons, were affected by the world they lived in. Even more notably, men and women were *similarly* affected; I think that’s unusual in romance.

    In contrast, if the fictional world appears to tweak only *some* mores–e.g. expectations of the hero’s behavior–but not others, I may not be convinced that the world is thoughtfully and systemically different from reality, and I judge the interactions much as I would in a contemporary. As you point out, in historical romance often certain elements are retrograde while others are modernized:

    I get frustrated by the historical justifications for violence against Romance heroines. … in most historical Romance I've read, the author takes all sorts of liberties with history and social context

    That doesn’t convince me that those behaviors are *necessitated* by the fictional world; it looks more like the author is using the world as a flimsy excuse for the behavior. Similarly, I’ve read quite a few paranormal romances in which the fictional world seems to make men larger than life and women lesser (as if personality’s a zero-sum game and developing one sex detracts from the other). Those setups sometimes seem facile in a manner that makes me suspect the world was tweaked only enough to justify the author’s preferred male/female power dynamics.

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  54. CD
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 13:13:49

    Damn – have to repost…

    Two points:

    1. I think we’re confusing the issue when we talk about domestic violence in the context of this discussion. Yes, there is an undeniable relation, but just as smoking pot doesn’t mean you necessarily become a crack addict (look at the current President-elect for one), slapping your partner doesn’t automatically constitute domestic violence. Equating the two demeans the seriousness of real domestic violence.

    2. I am generally against men retaliating, whatever the provocation and I don’t see it as a double standard at all. I agree that slapping a guy for being an arsehole is probably not the most healthy reaction to a relationship crisis, but men generally have more physical power so have more of a responsibility to control it. If a woman was a martial arts expert, she should not slap or hit her partner even if his behaviour REALLY deserved it – I would not respect her at all if she did. If a cyclist behaves badly on the road and rams into you, you don’t retaliate the same way if you happen to be in a car – you have the responsibility to control yourself more.

    3. If both are combatants and feel the need to work out their differences with a fist fight then, though I could question the healthiness of their relationship, it’s not an issue for me. I had many issues with the Buffy/Angel relationship but none about the physical violence. The Buffy/Spike bothered me more when Spike physically couldn’t hit back.

    To me, this scene is acceptable because it totally fits with their interactions with each other. Also, I think Fred himself knows he wasn't doing it for her own good, he was sinking to Lilli's level.

    Same here – I loved that scene. I generally hate spanking in novels, even in kink. There it worked because, as Moth says, he’s not disciplining her or acting as her parent, but basically sinking down to her level by retaliating the way he did. They’re both behaving like two toddlers with crushes on each other who express it by shoving each other into the sand bank.

    On the subject, another TAMING OF THE SHREW that works really well, and is actually pretty romantic to boot (I swear!) is the recent BBC Shakespeare Retold with the very very very hot Rufus Sewell and the fantastic Shirley Henderson. Here’s a clip. It works for the same reasons – two very disfunctional people with the combined maturity of a ten year old but crazy about each other. They actually kept the last scene but made it work really well.

    Frankly, the only rape I was ever comfortable with (and that took a while) was in a fantasy novel where the entire book was an allegory. Therefore, the woman was really an aspect of the man who raped her and it was really a figurative rape of a part of himself.

    Monique, which book was that? I first thought Michael Moorcock’s GLORIANA but it doesn’t seem quite right. What you’re saying does seem to ring a bell, though…

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  55. CD
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 13:16:10

    Opps, here’s the clip. Damn, for a very macho man, Rufus Sewell looks good in drag… FYI, he does threaten to hit back but ends up just flicking her nose. This, of course, pisses her off even more ;-).

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  56. Moth
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 14:19:43

    I generally hate spanking in novels, even in kink. There it worked because, as Moth says, he's not disciplining her or acting as her parent, but basically sinking down to her level by retaliating the way he did. They're both behaving like two toddlers with crushes on each other who express it by shoving each other into the sand bank.

    Thank you. That was the point I was trying to make with my example. And, actually, it would probably be pretty funny if Lilli spanked Fred. *shrug* I’m not for spanking children and in a more seriously-themed story I would probably have a problem with spanking, (or if the heroine were not behaving as badly as Lilli does) but I can’t get that upset over it when used for comedic effect like in KMK. I mean, Lilli is a pain in the ass. She really is. So, serves her right to experience something like that for herself. Literally.

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  57. Robin
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 16:04:00

    1. I think we're confusing the issue when we talk about domestic violence in the context of this discussion. Yes, there is an undeniable relation, but just as smoking pot doesn't mean you necessarily become a crack addict (look at the current President-elect for one), slapping your partner doesn't automatically constitute domestic violence. Equating the two demeans the seriousness of real domestic violence.

    I agree with you that hitting a woman in retaliation for a hit and battering (DV) are not the same thing; if I wasn’t clear enough when I said that in previous posts, let me say it again: one hit does not equal battering.

    That said, I do not think that it demeans DV or is inappropriate to discuss it in this context, because we are, in fact, discussing physical aggression between intimates. Before I spent some time studying DV, I probably would be more cavalier in my responses here, but having spent only the limited amount of time I have on the various issues associated with DV, I am much more cautious about okaying physical violence in any RL intimate relationship (I’ll get to books and movies, etc. in a minute). But from a male to female direction I’m going to apply an even higher level of scrutiny to any instance of smacking, hitting, pushing, etc., *because* of the overwhelming statistics on DV (in the US, estimates are now at 1/3 and expected to go to 1/2 of ALL women expected to face DV at some point). With the prospect of 50% of women dealing with some form of DV (and it doesn’t even have to be physical), I just can’t be so okay with physical aggression between intimates no matter who initiates or retaliates. But in the case of male to female hitting, just one hit would concern me if a friend came to me and told me her boyfriend/husband struck her, even if it was in retaliation for something she did. If that’s a double standard, I’m comfortable with it for now.

    As for books, movies, television, etc. I can be much more accepting, because I think there’s often another narrative going on. In kick-ass UF, paranormal, RS heroines, for example, there is often a secondary narrative around justice that makes the aggression more symbolic than realistic. Sometimes there’s the “women can be just as strong as men” vibe at work, or a revenge fantasy for some kind of violation perpetrated against the heroine or someone she loves(d). Sex play has a whole different set of things going on, which can make the physical contact work on a different level, too. So my responses to fictionalized violence are often quite different.

    That said, I *hated* the scene where Ricky spanks Lucy in ILL, because to me it was a paternalistic show of authority over an infantalized wife, a means of punishing Lucy for transgressing boundaries her husband set for her, boundaries not necessarily any more rational than her defiance of them. IMO there was a world of masculine domination in that spanking, and I cannot watch it without cringing and feeling creeped out. OTOH, I think the scene between Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Adam’s Rib, where he slaps her and she kicks him, was very well done, because it directly and overtly addressed the issues of authority and the male-female power struggle between the characters and the law (vis a vis the case they were trying on opposite sides).

    In a representative medium, it’s all about context for me, while in RL, I am warier of context as a means to justify physical aggression. That doesn’t mean I think anyone who strikes another is horrible or that they are on their way to battering. I am just less able to see it as normalized or as expected within an emotionally and/or physically intimate relationship.

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  58. Monique
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 16:41:57

    @ CD:

    Monique, which book was that? I first thought Michael Moorcock's GLORIANA but it doesn't seem quite right. What you're saying does seem to ring a bell, though…

    The book is one of the 3 from Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I believe it occurs in the first book, Lord Foul’s Bane.

    ReplyReply

  59. DS
    Nov 09, 2008 @ 11:48:26

    Moorcock removed the rape from Gloriana. I confess I haven’t read the new version but I do remember cringing at the original although up to that point I had enjoyed the book.

    ReplyReply

  60. MD
    Nov 09, 2008 @ 13:16:05

    I mean, Lilli is a pain in the ass. She really is. So, serves her right to experience something like that for herself. Literally.

    Yes, but Fred is a pain in the ass, too, and yet he is never demeaned with a spanking or even made to seem to be in the wrong–even though he frequently is–nor made to humble himself at the end in a subservient way. Fred’s dalliances and everything–oh that’s okay because he’s a man.
    It’s just not equal treatment, even in comedy.

    ReplyReply

  61. Cruel To Be Kind? | Romancing the Blog | Romance Authors and Readers Who Blog
    Nov 14, 2008 @ 06:11:02

    [...] I've been thinking a lot about this song lately, in light of the ongoing discussion at Dear Author about physical violence between Romance protagonists. Like most of the readers polled, I fall into [...]

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