Come on romance genre, you’re above this

So recently, my favorite romance author came out with a new cover for an older book of hers. I hadn’t read this book, hadn’t even known about it, so I snapped it up (I’m a loyal reader, folks). And then I had my heart crushed.

I won’t name names as to the book, because you see, I was disappointed. Usually, I love her stuff. She writes strong women and men who aren’t that stereotypical “male alpha pounding his chest and protecting his woman” stuff I get so tired of in the romance genre. In other words, she writes character-driven romance stories. I can get behind that.

Except this one…this one…

It’s a historical romance set in the late 1800’s with our heroine, Amanda1, coming to Kansas to marry a fiance she’s never met but only corresponded with. While she’s at the station, a “roguish gambler”2 overhears her tell her tale of never meeting her fiance to the station master and he thinks, Well, she’s hot, I wanna get some, and preferably not with a prostitute this time. Seriously! That’s his thought process! I wish I was joking. I may have added the modern slang, but he does think, “Gee, I just don’t feel like a hooker today, I want to bone a ‘higher class’ sort of lady.” He then realizes he has blue eyes and dark hair, just like her unknown fiance. Idea!

So yeah, he impersonates her fiance. But, you know, when you wanna bang a “higher class sort of lady,” you gotta do some work. I mean, she just won’t willingly sleep with you and give away her virginity. She ain’t a hooker, folks! So, he takes her to the fanciest hotel in the town and plies her with booze.

Yes, you read that right. Plies. Her. With. Booze. Let the implications settle for a minute. This horrendously naive, virginal3, historical romance heroine who thinks this man is the one she’s been corresponding with for a year or whatever and has agreed to marry, is taken to a hotel under the pretense of “staying a night before they journey to his home” and during lunch just given drink after drink. By the way she acts at the beginning, I wonder if she’s ever had alcohol before (she says things like, “I like how this lemonade is both sweet and bitter.” Really, Amanda? You’re from Chicago), and of course she quickly gets drunk.

Ah, the stage is set.

Mr. Roguish Gambler wastes no time. He pre-pays for the nicest room in the hotel, even though he already has a cheaper, smaller room. Yes, he books the honeymoon suite and even asks for chilled champagne4. He smooth talks her out of her clothing (cooing things like “we’ll be married soon” and “why wait when our wedding night is just a day away?”), takes her virginity, and then leaves a note basically saying “So, yeah, I’m sorry I lied, but it was great having sex with you and hopefully you won’t hate me too much but see, I’m a dick so…yeah. Player’s gonna play. Hope you find your real fiance.” Then he hops on a train and heads out of Kansas.5

At this point I considered putting the book down because I was pretty disgusted. I hope the reasons for my disgust are obvious, but I’ll get into it more in a moment. In the end, I kept reading because of one main reason: I wondered to myself, How the hell is she going to redeem Mr. Roguish Gambler? Because right now, he’s basically a rapist.

And, to my favorite romance author’s credit, she came very close. Yes, (spoiler!) the fiance does show up. Yes, the heroine does marry him and keep the secret of her one-time “affair” (as she calls it). Yes, (spoiler!) she gets pregnant and has no idea who the father is. Over the course of a year, Mr. Roguish Gambler comes back for Reasons6, and helps her through her pregnancy when her husband is conveniently laid up with injuries that keep him out of the way for most of the book (he basically does all the farming chores, which are frequently described as back-breaking and difficult). But Amanda isn’t a ho! She stays loyal to her husband even as she’s secretly having the hots for Mr. Roguish Gambler7.

Long story short: Amanda has the baby, every hint without a DNA test is given that the baby is Mr. Roguish Gambler’s, he turns out to be a really good father-type, husband conveniently dies, and Amanda ends up with the guy who took her virginity.

Aaw, all tied up in a nice bow.

And here’s the thing, even though I’m lambasting this book…by the end I wanted to like Mr. Roguish Gambler. I wanted to like the guy who tried to redeem himself; who worked hard on the farm doing manual labor and helped Amanda through her pregnancy and labor and tended to her injured and sick husband. When they end up together, I almost did like him! Which I think is more a testament to the author’s writing skill than anything. But, the thing is…Mr. Roguish Gambler is a date rapist and the way the story justifies his act makes my skin crawl.

At one point, Amanda thinks to herself, as she muses on her feelings, that she’s “now” able to admit she was “partly responsible” for the things that happened in the hotel room.

Um, no you’re not, Amanda. Mr. Roguish Gambler is straight up responsible and here’s why:

  1. He posed as someone you knew (through letters, but still) and trusted, someone you had a relationship with and were planning on committing yourself to because he knew it would make it easier for him to get what he wanted (sex).
  2. You were ignorant of the fact he wasn’t who he claimed to be, but had no reason to distrust him.
  3. He gave you a drug (alcohol) without your knowledge or consent for the purpose of making it easier to have sex with you.
  4. Due to your sheltered upbringing, naivete, etc., you were not wary when he insisted on staying in a hotel and offering you food and drink, which were the only suspicious things he did to you before suggesting sex. However, even if he had done something super creepy or sketchy, that still does not give him the right to fraudulently pose as your fiance or drug you.
  5. Naivete, innocence, or a trusting nature is not a valid excuse to be victimized. That’s like saying it’s OK to rob paraplegics because it’s not the robber’s fault they can’t walk.

Why would Amanda think she’s partly responsible for her date rape? Because she accepted the alcoholic drinks that made her more compliant? Because she willingly went into the hotel room? Because she acquiesced to Mr. Roguish Gambler’s requests to take off her clothes? Because she felt pleasure when she had sex with him?

And that is why I had to rant about this book, and about how sometimes I feel the romance genre is still perpetrating horrible and detrimental stereotypes and mindsets towards women, their sexuality, and their safety. There’s this idea that if, in any way, the woman isn’t screaming “RAPE! RAPE! STOP!” from the get-go, it isn’t rape — and it isn’t wrong. I also think that because Mr. Roguish Gambler marries her in the end, all is supposed to be forgiven — another horrible idea.

Afterwards, I went to the author’s website because I was, frankly, surprised she wrote something like this. And considering the whole dialogue that’s going on about date rape thanks to the horrendous acts of a certain famous actor we all thought we knew, I was surprised she chose this moment to edit it and republish it. On the author’s website, she does admit “she probably8 wouldn’t write [the story with that premise] today,” so I think she realizes Mr. Roguish Gambler isn’t Prince Charming, at least (I hope).

But, come on, in 2015 how is date rape still the valid premise for a lasting, romantic relationship packaged as a “happily ever after” in the romance genre?!

Unnecessary(?) Footnotes:

1. Which, right there, I had my first eyebrow raise. Amanda seemed like a weird name for someone in the 1800’s, so I checked and yes, Amanda is a very rare name before the 1930’s. You might think this was pedantic of me, but the name, in my mind, was just too modern. It kept pushing me out of the moment whenever I read it.

2. I’m beginning to think that in the romance genre, “Roguish” as a qualifier is a nice way to say “really an asshole but we want him to be redeemable.”

3. I say “virgin” because there’s a trope for historical romance virgins, and I think if you read enough historical romance novels, you’ll know exactly the type I mean when you read my description. Completely naive beyond just sex, historical romance virgins are also naive about life outside their home sphere, as well.

4. Was the honeymoon suite a thing in the late 1800s? Anyway, regardless, I think our takeaway from this is supposed to be he’s not a complete asshole? Least he’s gonna take advantage of her in a nice room and give her more expensive booze, not just cheap hard lemonade. What a guy!

5. Least he didn’t stick her with the bill, am I right? What a gentleman.

6.Basically Karma smacks him across the face and he attributes all his ill-luck and other things to this one “misdeed” he did, gets obsessed with the amazing sex they had, and decides he really loves Amanda and must be with her. Yeah, I know.

7. Who, apparently, is just better and more passionate in bed than her husband ever was. That one time, was just soooo good! But no, she’s angry he tricked her! Grr! Him and his Magic Man-parts!

8. Probably. Probably.

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4 thoughts on “Come on romance genre, you’re above this

  1. Was it more or less acceptable than “50 shades of grey”, which is being sold as a “romance” novel? The movie version came out on Valentine’s day in Australia, which I thought was pretty unbelievable…

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    1. Not sure what you mean as “more or less acceptable.” If you meant is it worse, than I would say hand’s down 50 Shades is worse. At least Mr. Roguish Gambler did some penance for his actions, which puts him in unhappy and uncomfortable situations, and admits that what he did was wrong. The author never pretends what Mr. Roguish Gambler did was right or a good way to start a relationship, and tries to redeem him the best she can. I’m not saying this makes it OK, though, I’m just saying some effort was made. (I might do a companion post to my rant about whether or not Mr. Roguish Gambler can be redeemable, since my rant got me thinking about that. Ha.)

      I’m more disappointed in the fact that 1) the date rape is still a romantic premise in 2015 which 2) highlights the duplicitous and erroneous victim blaming that is inherent in our society and 3) used by an author who I, ultimately, thought was better than that.

      In 50 Shades, it’s all construed as ultimately romantic and no time or energy is spent on the creepy things the hero (Christian? It’s been a while since I read the book) does. Some might argue that fact, but I stick by it. Any suffering, navel-gazing, or character changing he does because of his actions are really token in nature. But don’t get me started on 50 Shades of Gray, it deserves it’s own rant-y blog post.

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      1. I can’t comment because I did not finish reading “50 shades”. Once I got to the “contract” bit, I threw up everywhere and had to throw the book away…

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      2. Yes, I forced myself through the first book, so I should say I don’t know if he (Christian?) managed to redeem himself by the final book. But, the problem with these kinds of stories is when you have such a horribly, completely, utterly naive/virginal female character with a “worldly” male character (and Christian has the added “benefit” of being wealthy), these men come off as simply predatory, not “alpha” at all.

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