Friday, February 15, 2013

Feminist Guidelines for Reading M/M Romance?

In a recent post on the Dear Author web site, Lori James, Chief Operating Officer for All Romance eBooks, revealed that in company's survey of 6000 e-book romance readers, the top romance subgenre among ebook buyers in 2012 was not contemporary, or historical, or even paranormal, as I would have guessed. No, the top romance subgenre at All Romance was m/m romance. While All Romance is just one retailer, and thus can't characterize the entire e-book romance market, this statistic does speak to the growing popularity of a romance subgenre that few straight readers even knew existed before the advent of e-books.

In the comments section of an earlier post, I mentioned my worries about reading and reviewing male/male (or as it is more commonly known, m/m) romance. Is writing and reading about the love and sex lives of gay men problematic, I wondered (and still wonder), when the people doing the creating and the consuming of such stories are, as seems to be the case at this moment in history, primarily heterosexual women? No matter how well-intentioned, are such books just another case of members of a dominant group (in this case, heterosexuals) colonizing the "other" (gay men) for its own ends? And how could I, as a heterosexual female reader, begin to decide? (Last week's Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcast discussed the same issues, I just discovered: find it here).

The earliest feminist literary criticism pointed out the prevalence of such a dynamic in "high" literature, the way books written primarily by a dominant group (men) colonized the "other" (women), promulgating patriarchal assumptions and misrepresenting women's lives. In the 1960s and 70s, feminists spilled a lot of ink protesting male depictions of women in their literature, depictions they felt were demeaning, or reflected male fears and fantasies more than actual female experience. In the 1980s and 90s, many authors of color made similar claims, charging white authors with misrepresenting their lives and cultures, promulgating stereotypes and prejudices in the process. I'm not comfortable dismissing out of hand concerns expressed by gay authors about their depiction in other-authored texts, even while being sensitive to the fact that heterosexual women writers are not just part of a dominant group (heterosexuals), but also part of an oppressed one (females), and recognizing that some of the criticisms made against them stem from gay male writers' privilege as men.

All Romance's top 10 e-romance subgenres
Few feminist literary critics would argue that every book written by man from a female point of view must, by the nature of its creator, be sexist. And few authors of color would refuse to read a book with Latino, African-American, or Navajo characters simply because its author identified as white. The goal of feminist literary criticism, and of culturally-informed literary criticism, is not to ban books by certain groups, or prevent their being written. Nor is it to champion the rights of any and all authors to write what they wish, no matter their own identities. Instead, it is to approach all books, no matter who has written them, with a critically-informed interpretive lens.

What would such a lens look like for m/m romance? Before I begin reading in this subgenre, I really feel the need to develop such a lens. So, with apologies for the presumption of doing so, I'm going to propose some possible ideas here, and hope that others will chime in with additional suggestions to help me guide my own reading.

As a scholar with a background in children's literature, my first instinct was to turn to work done by those who are called to judge "multicultural" children's literature, to see if it is possible to adapt the questions and guidelines they use and apply them to a different set of insider/outsider distinctions. One article that I've found particularly valuable here is Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese's "Examining Multicultural Picture Books for the Early Childhood Classroom: Possibilities and Pitfalls," which includes a list of questions one might pose when selecting multicultural texts.

To help me think about how to adapt Mendoza and Reese's questions, I've been reading the links that Lawless523 was kind enough to post about the debate about women writing m/m romance (see comments section of this post).  This debate began in reaction to the 2009 announcement by the Lambda Literary Awards that entrants must self-identify as GLBT in order to qualify, a change that excluded works of m/m romance written by heterosexual women. Looking beyond the arguments about the award criteria, to the more specific criticisms of heterosexual female m/m romance raised by gay male writers, has informed the questions below.

Mendoza and Reese's questions, reprinted below in purple, are followed by a potential reworking for m/m romance, reprinted in blue. Following each question, I've reworked the language so it might apply to m/m romance, then listed some thoughts about the knowledge necessary to answer said question:


Are characters "outside the mainstream culture" depicted as individuals or as caricatures?
Are GLBT characters depicted as individuals or as caricatures?
In order to answer such questions, a reader/critic would have to be aware of the common caricatures or stereotypes of GLBT people. What caricatures/stereotypes would gay readers/writers point to as ones to watch out for?


• Does their representation include significant specific cultural information? Or does it follow stereotype?
• Does the representation of GLBT characters include significant GLBT cultural information? Or does it follow stereotype?
Ditto comment above; knowledge of GLBT cultures (plural) is necessary in order to make such judgments. What stereotypes about GLBT cultures are promulgated in heterosexual culture?


Who has the power in this story? What is the nature of their power, and how do they use it?
This wording of this question could be kept, or perhaps could be qualified by thinking about types of power commonly found in romance: sexual power, financial power, the power to make decisions for oneself and for one's partner.
Also, how is power manifested? Physically? Psychologically? Socially? Economically?


• What behaviors or traits are rewarded, and how? What behaviors are punished, and how?
Again, similar language, but perhaps with qualifications: sexual behaviors and traits; romantic behaviors and traits; relationship-development behaviors and traits.
You'd want to think here not only about characters rewarding and punishing each other, but also the way the text as a whole rewards or punishes its characters


• Who has written this story? Is he/she/they inside or outside the group(s) they are presenting? What are they in a position to know? What do they claim to know?
• Who has written this story? Does he/she/they self-identify as GLBT? A GLBT ally? If the latter, on what grounds does he/she/they make such a claim?
This is obviously a controversial one. It can feel a bit prurient, checking up on the sexual identity of a writer. The point here is not to be peeking into authors' bedrooms, or to disqualify anyone without GLBT cred. It is simply to recognize that someone who has firsthand knowledge is more likely to get the details right than someone who doesn't, and that it might be necessary to ask additional questions.


Some other potential questions, unrelated to Mendoza and Reese:

• Do the sex scenes function to develop/reveal character, or are they gratuitous? Are gay male bodies objectified, used primarily as sex toys? (See SparkinDarkness's post for more on this). If it is a work of erotica, is this a problem? (for a female reader, try flipping the sex of the characters, and seeing if you find it objectifying/offensive)

• How does the book depict women and girls? Are they demeaned or marginalized? Completely absent? Portrayed as villains?

Finally, a question raised by this insightful post by blogger VacuousMinx, which another reader linked to in response to Lawless523's post about the appeal of m/m romance being its freedom from gender roles:

• Does the story and/or its characters engage with heteronormative, patriarchal structures that shape our society? Or does it pretend equality between men is unproblematic?
  

What questions would you suggest might be useful in crafting a lens through which to interpret and judge m/m romance from a feminist perspective?


Photo credits:
Popular Genres in Romance: Dear Author
Lambda Literary Award Medal: Books Inc.
Heart Lens: Macro Photographer



Next time on RNFF:
Romancing Disability

 



25 comments:

  1. Hi, Jackie,
    Since you tagged me on Facebook, I wanted to chime in here. I write both M/M romance and heterosexual romance, though lately I've been doing more of the M/M. I don't know if I always get it "right", because I am a heterosexual woman, but I come at it from having grown up with three gay "uncles" who were in a committed triad, as well as having an honorary "brother" who was gay. Before I started writing M/M, I read extensively, focusing on books that I saw gay men recommending, and I was encouraged by an author who was a gay man.
    My books are primarily romances; there are explicit sex scenes, but my hetero romances have those as well. I focus on my characters as *individuals*, not as "gay" or "straight" or whatever. And there are women characters in some of my M/M; my M/M paranormal series Real Werewolves Don't Eat Meat has a female supporting character who is one of the stronger characters in the books. I try to present my characters as reastically as possible, living in a world that mirrors the "real" one (except for the existence of things like werewolves and vampires).
    I write M/M fiction because I'm far more comfortable with it than I am with heterosexual romance, and I try to write something I would be proud to show my uncles if they were still around.

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  2. Karenna:

    Thanks for stopping by. And I hope that my Facebook tag did not made you feel that you had to come and justify your own cred as a writer! I was just hoping to get some feedback on the idea of reading m/m books from a feminist standpoint from writers who work in the genre.

    It's interesting to hear that you find yourself more comfortable writing m/m than heterosexual romance. I've read about women's reasons for READING it, which are many and varied, of course (no competition from other women; no female bodies to be threatened; the appeal of an apparent freedom from male/female gender roles, and others). I didn't think of this in terms of a writer, but some of the same reasons no doubt apply to writers, too.

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    1. No, your tag didn't make me feel that way :) I just wanted to come share my thoughts because of being tagged, if that makes sense.

      I have a lot of abuse in my history (I've blogged about it; I won't go into it here), so I think my comfort level with M/M is that I don't have to identify closely with either character, so it gives me freedom to let the characters explore and have more graphic, um, encounters than I'm able to comfortably write in my hetero stuff.

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    2. Thanks, Karenna. I'm glad I didn't make you feel put on the spot.

      The question of reader (or in your case, writer) identification with characters is so much more complicated than it appears on the surface. It's always assumed that the reader wants to identify with the main character, but there are so many other positions the reader can or wants to occupy when reading, aren't there? That horrible new term, "relatable," as in "your characters should be relatable" really obscures the variety of ways that a reader can and does interact with a character, doesn't it?

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  3. I think your dilemma is going to be that the m/m genre runs the same range as m/f stories i.e. from sublime and well written to average, to bloody awful. In that range are stories that are very problematic from the perspective of your questions and then there are stories and writers of stories that do something pretty special.

    I am also wondering about your question on author identity. I know many women who write m/m are gay or transgender or bi. I am not sure that as a reader I have a 'right' to know that about an author or that I would read a book differently if I know that about an author.

    Another thing I have found with m/m is that there are often categories of sub-genre stories that are not available in m/f e.g. historicals set in different periods, more fantasy, recently more SF, etc. So I am interested in how the m/m genre seemingly may offer more flexibility and range than m/f in the type of story that can be told.

    It is interesting to me that if I read a contemporary romance these days it is almost always a category if an m/f or otherwise it is an m/m. This wasn't a plan but something I realised when I was checking my Calibre library. Sunita said this in her latest m/m post "m/m provides a respite from what women’s gendered roles in romance novels make us confront". It is a point that makes sense to me about what I am reading and why.

    Some authors to try?

    Josh Lanyon
    Tamara Allen
    Aleks Voinov
    Andrea Speed
    Alex Beecroft
    Sean Kennedy
    Vaughn Demont
    Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
    Abigail Roux


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  4. Thanks, Merrian, for adding your thoughts. Interesting that you are seeing more sub-sub-genres in m/m than in m/f romances. SF has traditionally skewed more toward a male readership, and so has certain types of fantasy; are gendered reading assumptions carrying over? What I mean is, since the books feature two men, are sub-genres that have traditionally appealed more to men seen as suitable places for m/m romances to play out?

    Yes, the whole identity politics of the author issue is a difficult one. I can definitely understand the "I don't have the right to know this about an author" standpoint. Why, though, do you think that knowing about an author's gender and/or sexual orientation identity wouldn't change how you read his or her work?

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  5. I doubt there will be Highlander m/m ;)except in the sense maybe of Connor Macleod slash but given that m/m emerged from slash writing which comes from SF fandoms, I think the sub-genres skew towards that side of things. As a romance and an SF and Fantasy reader I want my world building and the relationships to connect and have meaning that influences each other. I wonder if in m/m writing there may be more conscious thought given to the world in which the characters find themselves and more willingness by authors to make different sub-genre choices arising from that? I often think I read little contemporary m/f romance because the world is not critiqued or seen in play - the fish not seeing the water it swims in but in well written m/m this cannot be so.

    I don't think I read critically, I read for an immersive experience. I may have critical(in the literary sense)thoughts later and if I do I am likely to re-read to pull those out. That immersion can fail for reasons that arise from author skills/thoughtlessness but it is a failing of the writing first before it comes to the question of the author as a person.

    On the whole, though I think my critical responses emerge from my feelings and expectations, the things I bring to the book. I may judge a book and by consequence the authors success in their writing by standards including those that you have outlined above but that response is more about me than the author's particular identity.

    I have read m/m books that are exploitative and shallow and I have thoughts about those books where the 'twink' type seems to code as female and then I wonder about the submission you can have in a story that authors and readers won't let themselves read in m/f or why won't they read f/f for that matter. Then I have read books by female m/m writers that should win awards (e.g. Erastes for Junction X) so while I see the 'problems' I don't see them purely through an identity of author lens.

    I think the question of why at this point in time does m/m matter to female readers is really interesting. What are we processing through reading this genre (if anything?)?



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  6. Hi Jackie,

    I have been thinking about this interesting post all day. Your concerns about appropriation are certainly valid; I haven't read as much in the genre as Merrian, but enough to agree it ranges widely from problematic to excellent on this and other scores (like any genre, of course).

    I am not sure, though, that I understand your approach--that is, the need to prepare a "lens" in advance of reading. I think (as your lovely post on the graphic Wrinkle in Time suggests) that the most interesting and complex questions arise in the context of an individual text and how it works.

    A generic set of questions might make sense for teachers choosing books for use in the classroom with young children, but it seems to me less helpful for adults choosing pleasure (or other) reading, even if part of our pleasure comes from critical analysis of what we read. There's a good argument to be made for introducing very young learners to texts that get culture "right," although I'm not confident that there is often a single "right" way to get it. But there are also many beloved stories with excellent qualities that get some things "wrong." As a parent, I am fine with sharing those with my kids and talking about the problematic parts as it seems appropriate. Because our culture is full of stories that are both problematic from one point of view or another (or many) and wonderful. I love plenty of books I find problematic (and if you read romance, you probably do too). I want my kids to learn they can love something and be critical of it at the same time, because I've found that necessary in navigating culture.

    I guess I'm saying that you seem uncertain here in a way you don't reading m/f romance (do you have a similar set of questions for that?). I think you should plunge into reading m/m if you want to, and see what questions and issues you encounter in the books you try.

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    1. Liz Mc2:

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and adding your thoughts. Your comment that "you seem uncertain here in a way you don't reading m/f romance" is definitely true. My uncertainty stems from my own lack of knowledge, both about m/m as a genre, and about gay life and culture (since I've lived my life as a heterosexual female). Plunging in and discovering what questions and issues are raised for me by the books I read is the approach I take with f/m romance, because I feel as if I've internalized many of the questions/issues/problems that are likely to arise in the construction of heterosexual romance stories. But I'm not as certain I'll be able to see the problems when it comes to m/m romance, so I'm struggling to give myself some guidelines first.

      A worthy intellectual endeavor? A lost cause? An attempt to apologize in advance if I praise a book that turns out to be problematic for many gay readers? Probably all of the above, and then some.

      And thanks for the comment about the existence of books that you both love and find problematic. The topic for a future blog post, for sure!

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  7. Jackie, I'm breaking up my comment into two parts (sorry for length). "Must be at most 4,096 charatcers" Well with spaces, MS Word counts it as 4,071 characters, but clearly the two systems don't count the same way. Base 12?

    This issue has been addressed, less explicitly as a feminist issue, with Mary Renault's wonderful fiction. In a New Yorker magazine article of Jan. 7, writer Daniel Mendelsohn tells of his correspondence with Renault during his adolescence.

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/01/07/130107fa_fact_mendelsohn

    For Mendelsohn, as for many other gay men, Renault's novels were the first not only positive portrayal of gay male relationships and sexuality, but the first to represent them as having the same romantic intensity previously reserved for hetero relationships.

    In the issue of Feb. 4, author Agnes Bushell wrote in response to this article: "women of a certain age were [influenced] by Renault as well, and not always in a positive way. Renault, like her contemporary the lesbian novelist Marguerite Yourcenar, was a misogynist. Both writers seemed to despise their female characters, all of whom are either absent entirely or loathsome, but, unfortunately for young female readers, both writers were extremely persuasive in their depictions of heroic gay men."

    Renault grew up in a time and place (early 20th-century middle-class England) in which her "tomboy" nature and lesbianism were completely unacceptable both to her family and within the culture. Like many of that generation and earlier, she wished she had been born a man and disliked traditionally feminine women. Identifying as lesbian and rejecting the constricted role society allowed women to play became for Renault inextricably conflated with disliking women in general. In life and in her fiction, she identified with gay men.

    Like the other commenters here, I don't believe that all m/m romances are misogynist or that all are feminist, or that they never or always fetishize same-sex male activity. Like all fiction, they range from well-written and inspiring to a waste of paper or cyber space, but sometimes, as with all fiction, a writer's personal beliefs are lamentable while the writing is glorious, as with Renault.

    Like Mendelsohn, I read Renault's works when I was young. Just as he felt that she was the first person to give him a positive identity as a gay man, so I felt that here was a woman who was just like me, who saw men who have sex with other men but who, by virtue of the culture of ancient Greece, were naturally bisexual, as her romantic ideal *as a woman.* It never occurred to me that she wasn't female in gender, or attracted to men sexually. (I was young.) It was a severe disappointment to me to learn that she was in fact a lesbian and not married or in a relationship with a bisexual man.

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  8. [Part 2]

    In the listing for The King Must Die on Amazon.com, one reviewer takes an unpopular POV that the work was misogynist in mood. I have for a long time thought that this is Renault's best work, despite its having no significant same-sex male content. The writing is sublime, but the story, with cocky Theseus overturning matriarchy and female-centered religion, is "upsetting," to say the least. The scene of the Dionysian orgy turned human sacrifice, as women under the influence tear apart the 16-year-old boy toy of the 40-something queen is horrific, if subversively exciting to warped minds like mine :) As others explained in response to the reviewer's concerns, Renault was undoubtedly being ironic in much of her treatment of her male-chauvinist protagonist. But it seems clear to me that this is the character in Renault's fiction with whom she most closely identified.

    I think that if some m/m romances are misogynist, it's possibly because the author happens not to like women, and can't prevent some of his/her personal feelings leaking into the fiction. Writing fiction is an emotional act (for me, at least, and I suspect for others), and writing romance well requires, for me, imagining characters and situations that appeal to me personally, not just in the abstract.

    Liking women or not has absolutely nothing to do with whether a person is a good writer; all we can do is read what we enjoy and try to keep our minds open.

    Finally, in response to an earlier post, I also greatly admire Alex Beecroft's m/m romances, and I enjoyed reading the excerpts from Blessed Isle. Made me want to read it, which I will do as soon as I get through the next gazillion items on my must-read list.

    Beecroft's characters always seem like real people. I think it's the inclusion of issues of social class with the different attitudes to sexuality that make the difference. It's not just about "gay" but about upper-class vs. middle-class or working class outlook on life, just as in any relationship at any time or place.

    The female characters in her fiction, if sometimes peripheral, are presented and treated sympathetically.

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    1. Thanks, Ann, for all this info, and for the pointer to the New Yorker article & letter. I enjoyed reading your take on Renault, first from the point of view of a reader, and then, in this second post, from the pov of a writer. Oh, yes, personal feelings (and personal ideologies) inevitably "leak" into fictions. As a reader, though, I'm not that inclined to hang out with writers who dislike my gender, and express that dislike in their fiction.

      I've never read Mary Renault, but it sounds as if her misogyny would make her stories rather off-putting for me. Some authors I'm willing to put my ideologies temporarily aside for, to luxuriate in the pleasure of the prose (Kipling, anyone?), but others not so much.

      Definitely agree with your praise of Alex Beecroft's work. I'm looking forward to discovering other authors who write about male/male romance with such skill and insight.

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    2. It's hard for me to tell how oppressively misogynistic Renault's fiction is. I read The King Must Die when I was 12 and long before I had any awareness of the concept of misogyny. At age 19, I cried while reading The Persian Boy. It was (and still is) the most "romantic" story I have ever read. I mean that more in the sense of mood than whether or not the story fits any categories of the modern romance novel.

      I still think Renault is a wonderful writer, and the mood of intense romanticism she creates is a powerful, positive force not only for gay men, but for everybody, encouraging us to accord men the same sense of romance, not just sex, in their relationships, that is standard (or at least considered a valid ideal) between men and women.

      That is, the "goals" of gay (or m/m) romantic storytelling and feminism (or women reading romance) may not always run parallel to each other. How can they?

      Here's a quote from a review of Emily Bazelon's new book about bullying ("Sticks and Stones") that actually cites a different book to make what is labeled a 'reductive' but in my opinion important truth:

      "In 'The Bully Society,' published a year ago, Jessie Klein argues persuasively that the preponderance of bullying stems from the escalating social imperative for boys and girls to conform to oppressive masculine stereotypes."

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/books/review/sticks-and-stones-emily-bazelons-book-on-bullying.html?smid=pl-share

      Most of us (especially anyone middle-aged or older) grew up in a culture that labels "positive" traits as "masculine" and "negative" traits as "feminine." And it also tends to label feminine physical attributes like breasts and wide hips as less attractive than masculine ones like a lower body-fat ratio and broad shoulders and slim hips. Then all the psychological traits like stoicism vs. emotionalism and rational vs. intuitive are divided up along these gendered polarities, with the "female" ones derided and the "male" ones admired, and you get a situation where anyone, of any gender and any sexual orientation, wants to be the "good" masculine one and not the "bad" feminine one.

      Renault grew up in an extreme version of this cultural situation and was tomboyish and a lesbian as well. No wonder she ended up "hating" women. But does it mean her fiction is unpleasant to read because of it? I think as long as we're aware of where her views came from, and how skillfully she adapted them to portray an intensely female-disempowering culture like ancient Greece, her work is not only valuable but enjoyable and exciting.

      As she used to be quoted on the jacket-flap copy of her books, she would say that she loved the world of ancient Greece but knew as a woman she could not have lived then happily.

      In her contemporary fiction, notably The Charioteer, set during WWII, she discusses, through her characters' conversations and actions, the divide between stereotypically campy gay culture and the ideal of heteronormative masculine behavior. We're still arguing that, because some people find gay culture a natural fit for their personality and therefore value it, and others don't--because individuals are different.

      My gay boyfriend in college said once that he was tired of being asked if one man in a gay relationship saw himself as "the woman." "Being gay for me means loving another man *as a man*." But he also very much enjoyed being part of the emerging gay culture of the late 1970s. The two ideas were not in conflict for him.

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    3. Just wanted to add a defense of Rudyard Kipling. Please do not judge the young Kipling by the works of the older Kipling. And if you have not done so, you must read his novel Kim. Its protagonist is the ultimate cultural misfit and outsider, an ethnic Irish boy who has spent all of his short life in India and is culturally Indian. The scenes following his adoption into his father's regiment, expecting it to be his true home, are phenomenal.

      Like many people, Kipling changed and grew more "conservative" as he grew older. Losing two of his three children, one to WWI, probably made him a little crazy.

      We must always be on the alert for the unattractive subtexts of great writers--but if they are great writers, the worst thing we can do is not read them, just because we may not see the world the same way they did.

      As always, thanks for keeping the dialog going, and apologies for my wordiness.

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    4. Thanks, Ann, for keeping the dialogue going. Your championing of Renault makes me curious enough to want to give her books a try. Is there one that you would recommend as a good place for a newcomer to her oeuvre to start?

      And yes, I have to admit I've never read KIM. JUNGLE BOOKS, and JUST-SO STORIES, and the wonderfully awful imperialist boys school story STALKY & CO., yes, given my children's lit background. But not KIM. Another book to add to the ever-growing pile...

      "If they are great writers, the worst thing we can do is not read them, just because we may not see the world the same way they did" -- a provocative statement, one that leads me to a bunch of different responses.

      I love seeing the world through other people's eyes, learning from other points of view. But when writers denigrate something I value, it becomes problematic, because if they are great writers, they pull me in, so much so that I want to become their ideal reader, to adopt the same point of view, the same beliefs, as they convey in their story. A danger, unless I can keep my critical eyes open and resist the lure.

      And how does one decide who is a "best writer"? In particular, how do you decide, Ann? Style? Facility with language? Ability to make you think? Innovativeness? Ability to move you emotionally? Does an author's ideology come into the decision at all?

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  9. I read a ton of MM romance and you hit upon many of my concerns with the genre. Thank you for sharing your exploration of the genre with all us and providing so much to consider!

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    1. J9: You're very welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

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  10. I had a whole long comment written out the other day but Blogger ate it. Here I am trying again.

    Merrian and a few other friends have recommended I stop by your blog. I'm not sure I qualify as a feminist, though I'm certainly not anti-feminist. I guess I haven't thought that much about it. But there are so many fascinating discussions around that I wanted to join in. And I'm always open to learn new things.

    In relation to m/m, I agree with Liz - just dive in. As with most reading, I think it is likely your tastes and views will refine and grow/change over time anyway. There are always plenty of people on the internet to tell you if you get it wrong! :)

    I started reading m/m a few years ago - part of it was curiosity, part of it, I'm sure, was titilation. I tend to be a hero-centric reader and the more heroes, the better in my opinion (I'm not really a "placeholder" type reader - more of a "voyeur" although that doesn't quite describe it, it's the best available description. - so I don't have to identify with a particular character, just like them). Anyway, I didn't really know any gay people and had bought into the then media stereotype, albeit fairly unknowingly (definition of ignorance). In these books, I found that gay people are just the same as hetero people - there are good ones and bad ones, promiscuous ones and monogamous ones and everything in between (shocking I know!). In general, it opened my eyes and made me more tolerant and open minded which I think is always a good thing. Now I'm happy to talk to people about why we should all support marriage equality etc - I never would have done so before.

    When I first started reading m/m I didn't notice the secondary characters that much but I do now and I particularly note whether the females are only ever villains or whether they are fairly represented.

    It actually never occurred to me that one of the male roles in m/m was any kind of stand in for a woman - either I've read the "right' books or I'm just oblivious! LOL

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble. My first (eaten) comment was much more articulate.

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  11. Kaetrin:

    Thanks for stopping by, and adding your voice to the discussion. So great to hear how reading m/m romances has given you a more open-minded attitude regarding political issues. Books can and do change us, every day.

    I'm intrigued by your comments about how you identify with characters. I'm definitely going to be writing a post in the near future about this -- there are so many different ways people read and respond to characters in romance than the typical assumption that female readers all want to "identify" with the heroine.

    Do you think it is common to find m/m books in which all the women are portrayed negatively?

    Come back and ramble any time!

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    1. I'm not sure if it's less common or I'm just more discerning in my reading - but there's less of it in the books I read now. I've noticed that it is something bloggers are commenting on and the issue is getting attention so I think (hope) that will/has translate/d to change.

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  12. On the topic of "m/m books in which all the women are portrayed negatively" I've just seen a post by Sunita from Dear Author (she posts as Vacuous Minx at her own blog), who's reviewed quite a bit of m/m romance, about why she's been "reading fewer and fewer m/m books" and one of the reasons is:

    "I’m tired of the woman-bashing. Women are evil plot devices, BFFs of the narrator/main character who exist to be sounding boards or comic relief. Generally they can’t get a date or you don’t want them to. It’s lazy, stereotypical writing and no mature genre with standards would put up with it. And that’s if there are women in the books at all. I just finished a short novel in which there are no on-page women. Granted, that may be because the entire word count was taken up by sex scenes, but having no women in a contemporary romance is quite a feat."

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  13. Laura:

    Thanks so much for sharing this pointer. It's dismaying to hear that so many m/m books include the female bashing one might expect from a book published in the 1950s...

    Sunita's comments, as well as the debate she references on the JESSEWAVE review site, make for fascinating reading, not just about feminist issues, but about the state of publishing in general. It will be interesting to see how the chaos of the current state of the publishing world falls out over the course of the next five years; will any book publishers survive? Will all editors work freelance, hiring themselves out to the few self-publishing authors who value editing? Will quality control fall even more to reviewers, who will sift the chaff from the grain in the way publishers once did?

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  14. I've come to your BlogSpot through Wonkomance and since I've found it I've been checking it out weekly because I truly enjoy it. I've been going through your past blogs and came across this blog which touches a lot of my thoughts re m/m. I too am new to m/m but I did not think before reading I just read.

    In your blog and in the above comments, the exposure of women or lack of was discussed. I too had thought about this because I found m/m with no women at all, I found m/m with 'bad' women and I found m/m with 'normal real' women. Then I got to thinking, how much space is dedicated to women in 'regular' m/f romances apart from the main character. Sad to say, apart from an occasional best friend, sister, mother, bad boss, or good boss, the rest of the book is taken up by the main characters. In m/m the main characters are already male so the woman's spot is already taken up, so only the occasional secondary character is available. Some writers are able to bring this secondary characters come to life, others unfortunately just write stereotypical cardboard cut outs. We do have to sort out the chaff from the grain as you said.

    Thanks for letting me sound off.
    Best regards
    Sofia

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    1. Thanks, Sofia, for stopping by and adding your thoughts about m/m romance. You're making me think that a post about authors who are good at writing secondary feminist characters might be in order soon...

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    2. I would certainly look forward to that.
      Sofia

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