Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Thoughts on #metoo

If all women who have been sexually harassed/assaulted wrote "Me too" we might get a sense of the magnitude of the problem.


I write that hashtag with very mixed feelings. Because I know acquaintances, friends, and family members who have been sexually assaulted, and I'm wary of diminishing their pain by lumping their trauma together with the far lesser one of being verbally harassed that I've experienced. And because, perhaps because I've worked most of my adult life in female-dominated professions (publishing; teaching; romance writing), I've not experienced the micro and macro aggressions of daily sexual harassment that many of the people using the #MeToo hashtag write about. I want to support other women in speaking out about their experiences with rape culture, but I don't want to co-opt their struggles or their pain, or claim that I've been its victim except on a small scale.

Yet, I do have memories of being sexually harassed. The one that resonates the most for me is from my early teen years, when I went over to the house of my friend and neighbor on Christmas to check out his holiday haul. Ralph was part of a large Italian family, and many of his relatives had gathered at his family's house for their traditional holiday dinner. As he and I headed upstairs, away from the holiday hubbub, I heard one of his older uncles call out, "Hey, way to go, Ralphie!" The implication being that Ralph was taking me upstairs to make out, or score with me sexually, reducing me to an object of his nephew's desire. This memory stands out for me because it was the first time that I was aware that what I was experiencing was the result of sexism, rather than some out of the blue aggression, someone talking about me as a sexual object, right in front of my face. The incident was upsetting and demeaning, but I felt like I gained some control over it by being able to name it, to label it, to understand that it was not (or not just) about me in particular, but about this larger malignant belief in our culture, this belief that male experiences were of more value than female ones.

So, I'm wondering—when do you first remember not just being the victim of sexual harassment or abuse, but when you were able to understand that you were on the receiving end of a specifically sexist act?

I've also been thinking about being sexually harassed indirectly, through the pages of romance novels. Twentieth-century romance novels have a long history of romanticizing rape, holding up as heroes men who commit violent acts, and women who equate so-called alpha male behavior with caring. Men who beat up the purely evil villains who rape their beloved heroines are the ones that really get on my nerves here; I'm sure you have your own pet peeves. Many proponents of the romance genre argue that it is inherently feminist, because it is a genre for women, by women, and about women, a genre that centers female experiences and concerns. But it is also a genre that has many, many examples, not only in the Old Skool past but also in the present, of idealizing behaviors for which many using the #MeToo hashtag are taking others to task.

In her piece on the #MeToo movement in The Guardian earlier today, Jessica Valenti argues that it's time for women to start making and sharing lists of the perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault, rather than speaking out yet again about their experiences of being on the receiving end of such harassment and assault.

I've always tried to emphasize the positive on this blog, but perhaps it's time to start making a list of romance novels that do the same.

What books would you put on such a list?


  1. I am currently reading Meghan March's Dirty Girl. The hero is an alpha who is beyond controlling. There has been consent so far, but he also says, (I'm paraphrasing) I'm going to have her whether she wants it or not. Awkkkkkk. I want her to run as fast as she can away from this guy.

    Maybe this will be part of his arc - he'll learn not to be such a controlling dick. I'm listening to it on Hoopla, and there have been a few places where I nearly bailed. We'll see how it goes.

  2. It's an older book but Hidden Currents by Christine Feehan. I was so disturbed by that book that I wrote a letter to the author (something I never do) and have refused to read anything by her since.

  3. I liked later books in Meljean Brook's Iron Seas series - steampunk romance - but I read out of order and when I came to the first one, the hero was a major alphahole. He forcefully kissed her while she was stuck in an elevator with him and literally thought, 'how can I isolate this woman from her existing relationships so she'll just have to rely on/sleep with me.'


  4. Oh...so many books are on that list. For the last couple years, I just cant do even a smidgen of sexual hassament or sexism, for that matter. Not even a hint of it. Which means finding a new author or a new book is like I'm disarming a bomb. I read the book, holding my breath, wondering if the hero will act like the heroine is a petulant child rather than a human being. I'm constantly flinching, waiting for the hero to be a jerk or the heroine to think that her goals are secondary to any man's, etc. So, yeah, it's a lot of stress, which why I now take regular breaks from reading romance, which is such a bummer because I love this genre so much.

  5. Young men read romance novels too. They read them in an attempt to learn what women want. Unfortunately, what those young men may come to believe is that women want alpha males who don't ask for consent. They learn that women want to be taken. They learn that "no" doesn't necessarily mean no. Young men might also ready books like Nancy Friday's "My Secret Garden" in their quest to learn what pleases women. Women telling of their fantasies that in no way include a man seeking her consent. The MeToo movement should not only include a discussion about the need for men to change, it should include a discussion about how women should change not only in how they communicate their feelings and make it clear they do not consent when they do not, but also how men respectfully asking for consent is romantic and sexy. This is a problem that is deeply rooted in culture of both sexes as it is in the romance genre. Yes, this is a man writing. I got here by searching for things that have been written about the romance novel genre related to the MeToo movement and found this blog. I am doing that because I strongly suspect that some, not all, of those men who have been accused of inappropriate behavior did not at the time it happened know that it was inappropriate. They may have believed, as wrong as it is, that that behavior was what the women desired. They would have had reason to f they learned it from romance novels and books like Nancy Friday's that suggest that. I would like our sons and daughters to internalize that idea that asking for consent and respecting a woman's verbal response is what makes a man a hero in a romantic hero. I hope that becomes what women fantasize about.

  6. I’m in the process of dumping a lot of books I am now calling #metoofuckingbooks. How many millions of dollars did these female authors make while denigrating our own? It’s complicated but we all need to move forward without judgment as best as we can.