The Romance Novel vs. Reality

As I’ve been working to finish my Master in Library and Information Studies, crying in a ball underneath my favorite chair about how “I’ll never be a librarian and I don’t want to join the military!!!!!”, I’ve been losing myself in escapist fiction. I have little attention span for television and movies, so the only way I’ve been able to pull myself from my own irrational, hyperventilating internal monologue has been with romance novels. Of course, this has just added to the mantra with “I don’t have time to date and even if I did, I wouldn’t give guys any real chance and I’m going to die alooooooone!” Nothing’s sexier than a girl sucking on an inhaler in an empty bathtub, wearing leggings and an oversized butter-stained Ice Age 3D t-shirt from her fat days, amiright?

panic attack
Chicka chicka yeah…

I’ve not previously been a romance novel gal and I used to mock them mercilessly. My interest started with Nicky Charles’ Law of the Lycans series last summer (because it was free) and moved forward with J.R. Ward’s The Black Dagger Brotherhood series. I read a lot of paranormal romance, because what’s hotter than a hot naked alpha male? The answer is… a hot naked alpha male with a barbed penis. I had a brief foray into erotica, though there’s just not enough plot there for me. Lately I’ve been engrossed in romantic suspense of the hot-spec-ops-guy-saves-girl-from-Somali-pirates variety. I’m not kidding. I just finished that one yesterday. My MLIS has taught me that all literature has value, so I regret the days I mocked romantic fiction. I feel it’s increased my vocabulary significantly and it’s just fun to escape my brain, which is pretty much like having 533 windows open in a browser at all times. That being said, I have noticed some recurring themes in romance novels and they annoy the crap out of me. I’m not even talking about the traditionally ridiculous names of the male leads, but rather..

… the best friend that I hope dies screaming, while strapped down spread-eagle and disemboweled.

Too graphic? I’m gonna give a shout-out to my Gail here and state that I just have the best best friend in the whole world. She may be a little (lot) paranoid, but for the most part, she respects my life choices. She’s the voice of reason in my head and often just my conscience in general. She’s my Jiminy Fucking Cricket and I’m her Tinker Bell whispering in her ear to shoot Wendy out of the sky with her bow and arrows. We balance each other out and for the most part, we do so without any touchy feely crap. It’s awesome. Maybe that’s why I hate most of the best friend characters in romance novels. They just don’t measure up. Yeah, Gail. You ruined my fiction. Go fuck yourself.

tinkerbell

I only recently noticed this trend when I tried to read the This Man series a couple of months ago. It was recommended to me for the alpha male bit I find so appealing in fiction-only-fiction-ever, but it was just too much for me while somehow still managing to be too little. Oh my gosh. My favorite? The part where he was a bag of dicks and then nothing happened. Ooh! Then there was that part where he more or less ass-raped her and then nothing happened. And sa-woon, the part where… holy shit I cannot actually come up with anything else to say before nothing happened because nothing happened.

Some of the review titles:
This book made me fear for an entire generation.
Just… really bad.
There is only one E.L. James. (Yeah. Thank GOD for that, but seriously, she’s saying this was worse than Fifty Shades?)

This Man may not have suited me in general, but I absolutely hated the best friend. Main Character Ava was pretty awful, but at least I could pity her as the victim of both the male lead and her bestie roommate. There was actually a scene where Best Friend Kate leaves her van parked on a busy one-way street, causing Ava to be manhandled by an angry driver. Kate takes her sweet time, then comes out and does not freaking care. What the crap?!?! Gail would never do that… well period, but she’d be especially contrite if I were harmed because of her actions. I didn’t actually finish this book, because there’s this one part, at about 60%, where nothing happens and I just couldn’t take it anymore.

After This Man, I realized that this is just a thing. Maybe Kristen Ashley just has really pushy and obnoxious friends like all of her supporting female characters. It throws me a little that she writes such unlikeable friends when I find her main characters generally pretty relatable. Maya Banks has the same problem. In Jennifer Armintrout’s analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey, she suggests that E.L. James attempts to villainize the best friend so we’ll be rooting primarily for the main character… to die in Anastasia’s case, but you get the idea. Maybe this is just a bad effort to make readers favor the lead, but it always leaves me thinking THIS IS WHY I DON’T SPEND TIME WITH VAGINAS! A GIRL ONLY NEEDS ONE! The best friend characters of romance novels are supposed to be concerned, but they often come off as disrespecting the lead by refusing to acknowledge that they are adults who’ve been making their own decisions for years. They nag them and repeatedly insist that this relationship is a bad idea, despite the lead making it clear that they’re going to see things through. When Gail dated the most terrifying postal worker ever, I expressed my concerns regarding specific stories and waited it out. She’s a big girl. She’ll decide when she’s had enough and I’ll be there when that time comes. Pissing her off and alienating her isn’t going to make any headway. Other times, the best friend characters are supposed to be supportive, but they often come off as gluttonous alcoholics encouraging their friends to cope poorly or ignore their problems. When I got divorced and drank a vat of Long Island Ice Tea, Gail slept in my car with me because I couldn’t get up the stairs, but she didn’t encourage the behavior in the future. I suppose the real problem is that these characters just aren’t Gail.


7_2502200
The This Man series… only instead of paint, it’s anal blood.

… the size of the men.

I am 5’5.5” tall and weigh 175 pounds. I don’t look like a supermodel or a teapot. I just look pretty average at a size 8/10. I, however, totally understand the appeal of feeling like the dainty little woman and recognize that writing big tough alpha male characters is a reflection of this common desire. It works, too… within reason. My paranormal romance phase involved a number of male characters who were described as being larger than most humans. It made sense, because they were supernatural vampiric warriors and I never gave it much thought. I started with paranormal romance, but as I moved to stories that took place in the real world, I realized that the main characters were still 6’8”. I’m into tall and have said a few times that I won’t date beneath 5’10”, but come on. 6’8” is no longer attractive, but rather something to get past. I’m not saying I wouldn’t date a guy that size, but I consider that abnormally tall. “Abnormal” is never hot, just endearing at best.

In addition to being the tallest men in the world, these guys are always freakishly built as well. In Kristen Ashley’s and Julie Ann Walker’s novels, they’re often described as not having an ounce of fat on them and are compared to professional wrestlers. How is there enough space in the room for our lead heroine when a redwood is standing next to her?!?! Honestly, I don’t really find professional wrestlers attractive. I’d give Alcide Herveux a rim job if I had the opportunity, but he’s hardly got the build of a WWE fighter. I never want to be with someone morbidly obese again, but I want someone I can cuddle. It’s tough to cuddle the Statue of David. The guards tend to chase you off.


Redwood
This is my husband, Rogue.

… the way people smell.

Gail doesn’t typically read romance novels, because Dave Ramsey is never the lead, but she recently had this idea to read the most disturbing erotica we could find on Amazon and discuss. I read
Comfort Food, by Kitty Thomas which was very well-written and also gave me nightmares. Then I got distracted with school and Gail was left to read Tender Mercies, which apparently involved a tailed butt-plug, all alone. Shucks. I missed out. Having read very few romance novels, though, Gail understood exactly what I was talking about when I texted her the following yesterday.

PEOPLE don’t smell like a day at the beach.

Brock always smelled like that time at the lake when I fell asleep in the sun and got lightly burned and then woke up and realized I had a handprint tan line on my chest and then the dog leapt into my lap and scratched my thighs and then I washed the blood off in the lake, so I had to ride back on a towel to protect the interior of his truck.

We’re so oddly in-sync that she immediately responded with:

Lucas always smelled like that time I went shopping for the kind of shoe strings that curl instead of tie and that guy left his dog in the car, but I didn’t call the cops because it wasn’t really all that hot outside, even though it was almost June.

When men describe how women smell, however, it’s always something tangible. For example, she smells like lavender. What 9′ body builder with a concealed carry license knows what lavender smells like?!?! don’t even know what lavender smells like and I’m girly as fuck. If I’m with a man who can pinpoint lavender and honeydew, my 15th anniversary is gonna suck when I find him knee deep in another dude. Seriously, if he tells you you smell astoundingly like nutmeg, buy him an ascot as a parting gift.

fred scooby doo
He thinks you smell like warm cashmere.

 the virgin sex that is the best sex ever.

I’m not gonna lie. The idea that men like inexperienced women is pretty encouraging since I don’t know what a penis is anymore. What bugs me about this is the propensity for women well into their twenties to be inexperienced, while the men make a huge freaking deal out of how awesome it is. She’s a virgin, not a damned unicorn princess.

princess-unicorn
Believe it or not, I write this shit and then find the pictures. Call me Google Master. Do it.

The men in romance novels are always, always, always so experienced that we don’t get a number, while the women have been with either no one or few enough people to keep count on one hand. When Heroine has just not been with a lot of people, she catches on really quickly and shows a lot of enthusiasm and the sex is awesome. That gives me hope and I consider that one reasonably realistic, because while inexperienced, I would not call myself prude. However, if Heroine shares that she’s a virgin, Hero is totally freaking psyched that no one has squeezed this peach before him… even though she’s like 25 and people only wait that long for pretty much one reason: so they can share the experience with someone who means a lot to them. For realz, that’s a bit daunting.

When Hero finally twirls his mustache and steals Heroine’s virtue, it is absolutely the most mind-blowingly not awkward sex anyone has ever had. As a general rule, sex is never awkward in these books. No woman bounces too high, causing him to pop out and bend uncomfortably when she lands. No one’s distracted from their pleasure by the weird snarl the other person just made. No one ever sneezes or does anything else not sexy with their bodies. I get that. We’re reading idealistic sex and that’s the point. I don’t need to read about how Christian Grey has trouble finishing, though that would clearly be because he’s at it for nine hours a day and somehow still maintains his fortune at age eleven, but whatevs. I’m totally comfortable with skipping all fart-in-bed scenes forever. Writing virgin sex as anything but emotionally charged and sweet, though, is just unrealistic. That shit hurts and continues to hurt for a couple of days. Anastasia isn’t waking up and hopping on pop Dr. Seuss style. You may as well write unicorn princess sex. There is not a Google image for that. 

isbn9781846165177-1x2a
I lied.

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Women in Fiction, I’d Like A Word With You

I’ve been going through a romance phase for a while now: paranormal, suspense, mystery, the ocassional erotica (a word I just recently had to define for my Gramma). I’d still rather sit through a rectal exam than watch most chick flicks, because the acting is never up to par or I just fucking hate the heroine. Really Ally? Noah should have let you get hit by a car when you were lying in the street. Don’t even get me started on Rose and Jack… again. Maybe I just need to get laid, but I love my romance novels. I can put whatever inflection I want in the dialogue to make it less dramatic and the lead male is never unnattractive… and almost always Alcide Herveaux.

alcide
Sigh. Wouldn’t you just love to bathe him with your tongue like a mama cat?

When the circumstances are right, I love me some alpha males in my fiction and even in reality, I’m a traditional gal. The boy asks, opens doors, pays. That’s what works for me and I don’t mind one bit that it’s not what works for some, like my sisterfriend Rosie the Fucking Riveter. I cannot help that some of her feminazi crap bleeds over, though. On that note, fiction, what the hell is up with:

Putting Necklaces on Your Lady

This seems to be a recurring event in movies and television. From Stefan Salvator to Don Draper, it’s a gallant man who puts on his gal’s necklace. To be fair, I made a post bitching about this on Facebook one day and literally the next day had to ask my Gramma for help putting on a necklace. However, I think that was the one time I’ve had to do so. In all my years of marriage, I never asked my ex-husband to put on a necklace for me. Get a job, don’t kill our pets, quit stealing from me, yes. Help me put on this necklace, no. Wanna know why? Because it’s not held on by a damned Rubix Cube. I know the clasp is behind me, where I can’t see it, but are we women really so uncoordinated and inept that we can’t work a clasp without looking? If we’re going with gender stereotypes, am I not the one with the dainty lady fingers that have the dexterity to embroider pillowcases, sew on buttons, and work diaper pins? Wouldn’t these fingers more likely have nails to catch the lever on said clasp? Bracelets, I understand. I only have one hand free. But I have both hands for this necklace endeavor, unless it’s a really complicated piece of jewlery. Maybe nipple clamps and shackles are involved? I don’t know.

putting on necklace 4  putting on necklace 1

putting on necklace 2putting on necklace 3
Elena is having a particularly difficult time with that necklace.

I get the the appeal of the damsel in distress thing in books and movies. Even Samantha Jones once went on a crying jag about how she just wished a man were there to care for her when she was sick. Lorelei Gilmore once wept because she’d ocassionally like for someone to wait for the cable guy. It’s not even a sexist thing. Everyone likes the idea of having someone take care of them when they need it, or even when they don’t, just to be sweet. I might even place the necklace bit in the last category if it were an action that I ever even think about. But I don’t. Because it’s just a stupid necklace. Asking and waiting for assistance is going to take more time and effort than just doing it myself. If I’m going to ask him to put on my necklace, why not ask him to tie my left shoe, blow on my soup, or squeeze the toothpaste for me? It’s weird that this is even a thing. Wanna do something sweet? I’ve got the necklace. You go change my oil.

necklace
Mkay. I think I’m gonna need some help with this one.

Requiring Tiny Feet

When I was five, I used to sit in the bathtub and turn my feet to just the right angle so they’d look smaller and daintier, because women have tiny feet dammit!!!!

Fine. I was a weird kid. Regardless, go watch Cinderella. When you get to the part where the king’s men try the glass slipper on her step-sisters’ feet, what happens? They’re so gargantuan that the shoe barely covers the ball of her foot. When they try to force it, the slipper is flung across the room and shatters. Think about it. It’s a shoe. What are the odds that no one else in the kingdom had the same shoe size as Cinderella? Sure, they were made of glass and that didn’t leave a whole lot of room for give, but it’s not like they’d have been comfortable anyway. So her feet just had to be freakishly sexily small.

glass slipper step

Meanwhile…

glass slipper

Horseshit. I’m not buying it.

foot binding

That’s what her foot really looks like.

As an adult, I’m less self-conscious of my shoe size. I’m only 5’5″, but wear a 10. No one else does, so the cute boots on sale come in my size. Score. However, lately, I’ve read a ton of books where the women’s feet are quoted at size 5 and size 6 over and over again. Even Anastasia Steele was a 5. The average shoe size of American women, however, is an 8*. You wanna tell me I have big feet compared to a size 8, I’m cool with that. I’m only 2 sizes above normal. You wanna tell me I’m double the normal size? Go fuck yourself, fiction. Go fuck yourself.

Carrying Her Everywhere

Okay, this one is sort of an all-encompassing issue regarding weight and the idea that women are only sexy if they’re tiny and vulnerable looking. Bella Swan was quoted at 110 pounds and 5’4″, which I’d like to mention is just above underweight and really not very healthy, despite having been described as being “soft somehow.” Maybe this is an evolutionary issue where we women want the largest and strongest caveman, so we want to at least feel teeny, but throughout all genres and formats of media, from my paranormal romances to the latest chick flick, women are light as pretty pink feathers. Once again, however, I’m able to defend paranormal romance, because The Black Dagger Brotherhood and Eric Northman had fucking superpowers. That was the whole point. It still doesn’t explain why they carried their gals everywhere. There’s no real rationalization for the other occurrences, either, because I’m pretty sure even sexy women have weight, y’all. Maybe we harbor totally unreasonable expectations of it in this country, such as when Gail’s ex-fella announced “She was huge. She must’ve weighed like 150 pounds or something”, but that doesn’t change the reality of hoisting another human being into your arms. When I go to my Gramma’s and my niece is over there, without fail she screams “AUNT BELLE!” and I pick her up and spin her around. Then I put her down, because she’s fucking heavy… at four.

I remember the first time I noticed this weird trend. I was a teenager and absolutely obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I was awesome, and everyone just carries Buffy around any time she’s hurt. Sure, Angel and Spike have superpowers and Riley is a soldier, but high school Xander and Giles? The former was portrayed as awkward and gangly and the latter was in his mid-sixties. Ron carries Hermione after she’s tortured, but was the guy really known for his brawn?  Charlie Swan is an aging man carrying around his 18 year old daughter, because she’s sad over a breakup. While Edward Cullen was reasonably able to throw Bella on his back and scamper up a mountain, Robert Pattinson pulled a hamstring doing it, because WOMEN HAVE WEIGHT, Y’ALL.

carry bella 2 carrying bella 1

carrying bella 3 carrying bella 4
Seriously? Can the girl not walk? I thought her spine healed.

Rationalizing Child Molestation

When Desperate Housewives first aired, Jesse Metcalfe was 25. His character, however, was 17. I’m not shaming the women of America for looking at a 25-year-old in a 17-year-old costume and thinking he’s attractive. I’m shaming the writers of this show for assuming that I would relate to Gabrielle Solis when she commits statutory rape, because he was just so yummy that it made it okay. Maybe I find this offensive because I work with teenagers, but when I first watched this show at 24, I looked at Jesse Metcalfe’s character and I saw a child. A 17-year-old boy thinks like a kid and reasons like a kid and processes emotion like a kid, because that’s what he damn well is. Gabrielle Solis committed rape and just because she did so with a vagina, rather than a penis, does not suddenly make it sexy rape, because that’s not a fucking thing. Implying that the women of America are gonna be all “YOU GO GIRL!” over baby rape is just as disgusting and offensive as suggesting that all men are going to be rooting for the sex traffickers in Taken.

sex trafficking
Chicka chicka yeah…

Apocalyptic Menstruation

One of the few chick flicks I truly enjoyed and actually own (bought used) is No Strings Attached. I enjoy it, however, despite one of the most obnoxious scenes in the history of film, in which Natalie Portman and all of her roommates are lying around the apartment groaning in misery. Is it cholera? Ebola? The Zombie apocalypse? No. It’s the horrors of WOMANHOOD! These women are all supposed to be in their medical residency, but none of them can take care of a few cramps and all of them have the time to hole up like wounded animals and whine about it? Let’s not forget the whopping cliché of them acting like bitches and fighting over junk food, because all women love chocolate. I probably eat 10 Reese’s a week and I gave up chocolate for Lent, because it would be a legitimate effort and sacrifice for me… because I like chocolate… not because my vagina does. Also, I don’t know about other women, but when I’m on my period, I… you know… work. For a day or so, I feel miserable and don’t want to eat at all and have the inconvenience of a gunshot wound between my legs, but I still get my ass out of bed, pop some ibuprofen and earn that puppy food. I’m a grown ass woman, no one else is going to take care of the bills, and this happens every month. Honestly, though, the most offensive part of this is the suggestion that a woman gets a free pass on treating people like shit because her body does stuff. Maybe I’m a little more irritable around my period, but other people still exist and have feelings. I don’t get to snap at them and tell them to fuck off because my uterus is leaking. Implying that I can’t control the urge to do so is seriously underestimating a gender famous for unhinging their pelvis to crank out a human being every now and then.

snake eating egg
It’s like that, but backwards.

Bashing Men

When Gail and I get together, much of the conversation does revolve around men, though not nearly as much as modern media might have you think. Sure, we giggle about and mock The Musician and his drug-induced flirting or that guy who bought me a drink and started massaging my shoulders, but neither one of us is in a relationship with these people. When Gail mentions A, she might lovingly joke about the vehicles I’ve nicknamed The General Lee, but it’s nothing he hasn’t already heard. Just like I would expect my beau to speak respectfully of me, I wouldn’t say things to Gail that I wouldn’t want him to hear… unless I were on my eighth LIT at Hudson’s and weeping about my abusive husband, in which case… Happy Thanksgiving! Pretty much every episode of Sex and the City involves the girls sitting around a table complaining about how much their men suck. Newsflash, ladies: you don’t have to be with these guys. Way to portray powerful and self-sufficient women, by having them fret over men all of the time. Samantha could’ve left Richard; Miranda could’ve ditched Steve; and Charlotte could’ve told Trey to fuck off. Carrie was far too in love with herself to notice anyone else in her life, of course. I’m waiting for a Sex and the City/Cloverfield crossover event, where Carrie gets eaten. That’s the third movie.

carrie bradshaw
I loved this guy. Remember when he accidentally hit her? He was the best.

Of course, there’s always the romantic (and in this case comedic) fiction where women are just as horrible to men in person as they are in private, such as in Knocked Up. I love Seth Rogan and adore this movie, don’t get me wrong, but the scene where Katherine Heigl’s sister yells at Paul Rudd for not being able to Wizard away child molesters is a horrible representation of women… along with the one where she’s insulting Rogan for being overweight, rather than expressing any legitimate concerns about his use of illegal drugs or lack of a job… aaaaand the scene where she screams at her husband for playing fantasy football. Pretty much all of the scenes with Heigl’s sister in them imply that women have a right to abuse men. So does the one where Heigl, herself, screams at her baby daddy for disagreeing with her before leaving him on the side of the road. Heigl has pretty much zero incentive to be with Rogan in this movie. He’s funny and… um… that’s kind of it. I wouldn’t have even told the guy I was pregnant. That, however, is not a valid excuse to leave him in the street. It’s a valid reason to break up with him. Paul Rudd was like the dream husband and father, but it was supposed to be funny when his wife treats him like crap? Is that the same way it was funny when Archie Bunker humiliated and belittled Edith? Or is it the same kind of funny as when Sally Fields had to sneak out of Iran with her daughter? Oh, wait… it’s not abuse unless it’s committed by a man. Gotcha.

*http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/10/16/size-8-is-the-new-7-why-our-feet-are-getting-bigger/