Saturday, April 14, 2007

Not That I Feel Strongly About That....

That's what I'm thinking of titling my blog. I told one of my friends and she almost had a hernia. "Who, you?" she demanded. "Have opinions?" Yeah, okay. You know I do. It's a fine old tradition in our house. My mother was notorious. My dad couldn't get through a meal without staring a debate on something; anything. My brother and I get into shouting matches. And if we begin to agree, we switch positions and play devil's advocate, just to keep the debate going(once one of my son's friends came in while my brother and I were leaning across my kitchen counter finger-waving and shouting at each other over...oh, I don't know. Gun control. Nuclear disarmament. Exactly what part John Wayne played in the psyches of the males in the US. "Good grief," he said to my son. "Do they always do that?" Kevin shook his head sadly and said, "You should see what happens when her sister shows up.")

I was raised in a family that's lousy with Jesuits. We were steeped in the tradition of debate and discussion. And, yeah, I hit my formative years in the 60s, when anything was fair game for a good round of argument. There's nothing I love better. It is not only a learning experience, but the best exercise I can think of for the brain--certainly better than soduko, which makes my eyes bleed. I think debates clear the air. They open the door to new ideas and demand a person defend a position with tenacity, all the while allowing her (or him) to remain open to the discovery of new ideas. They sharpen a person's verbal skills and teach her to crystallize concepts.

My last post evidently started a very active debate. Passionate in some quarters. It ended up fitting into a dandy discussion going on over at Laura Vivanco's blog, Teach Me Tonight(the post on Elizabeth Thornton's Fallen Angel). I didn't agree with everything said, and I certainly wasn't agreed with by everyone. But I couldn't be more delighted. I think the idea of violence against women in the romance genre is one that should continually be examined. And I think that the discussions I read have been passionate, thoughtful, insightful, and intelligent. Should we label romance to indicate issues that might disturb? Would limiting content be censorship, if the same book can be published elsewhere? Is the observation being made in CTC valid? I still feel strongly about my position, but I can see valid points in many of the dissenting views.

I don't like censorship any better than anybody else. But I do believe that genres, by definition, have boundaries. I'm intrigued by the labeling idea. Some think it would be demeaning. I'm not sure. Nobody considers Harlequin to be patronizing by clearly marking their lines and what the parameters are for each. It's not censorship so much as marketing. It's something to think about I wouldn't have considered if there hadn't been a debate at all.

Which is why they're so much fun. Just ask any Jesuit. Or my mother.

eileen\kathleen, the evil twins.

70 comments:

Lindsay said...

i agree. first it's all angry, and then you slowly debate and talk and learn new things. while my position hasn't changed- i still hate the message- my ideas on how it should be handled have.

i do the devil's advocate thing too. it's important to know the issues to both sides and to know how people are thinking on both sides. it's also important to be able to argue your side.

labeling isn't censorship. it's not saying "if something has this label, you cannot buy it"; it's saying "if you don't like this, don't buy it"

Lindsay said...

argh. blogger is screwing with me.

lindsay=orangehands

Eileen Dreyer said...

lindsay, ah, evil twins like me. It's great to hear from you, and neat to find another debater. The debate over on Laura's blog has been brilliant, hasn't it? I'm just sad I've been too busy to check in more frequently. There are so many points I want to think about, and they're already past them.

Robin said...

I don't like censorship any better than anybody else. But I do believe that genres, by definition, have boundaries.

But should those boundaries be formalistic or ideological? That the genre isn't ideologically neutral does not, IMO, mean that it has to be -- or should be -- ideologically homogeneous. You may hate rape and I might hate women CEOs who give up their seven figure salaries for a cabin in the woods and ten kids, so who's going to make the list of what's appropriate beyond the broad formalistic boundaries of the genre?

In a sense, you could argue easily, I think, that Romance, as sort of updated classical comedy (which always featured a wedding at the end as a way to solidify social order and harmony), is fundamentally conservative in origin, in that it preserves social stability by promoting romantic love, marriage, and the family. That we now talk about female empowerment *could* be cast as a subversive element in the genre, in that an empowered woman might not always be the woman who gets married and has 2.5 kids. Maybe she doesn't want kids, and is that okay in Romance? Or maybe a book doesn't end in wedding -- Romance?

Personally, I love subversion, but the thing about it is that it doesn't always arrive in the form one expects and it isn't always recognized as such by every reader. What I see as limiting when a heroine falls for the alpha hero and becomes his slave, I mean, wife, someone else might see as empowering because the heroine tamed the beast, and doesn't that ultimately give her the most power.

Eileen Dreyer said...

Robin, excellent points. I wanted to think about them before answering. I believe that the industry imposes formalistic boundaries on the genre. I believe the genre itself demands a certain idealistic boundary. I believe any genre does. I think, too, the boundary is a lot less specific than Alpha males suck or no rape, no time. I think the boundary, as anything else, is a matter of shadings, of focus and of language.

I've done a lot of thinking about this--although not in a scholarly vein, I admit. Nurses learn to stick people with needles, not dissect Medea. I never felt that lack so strongly as reading Laura's blog. I imagine my logic system is more organic, from what I bring away from and what I bring to a genre about which I'm passionate.

I think for me that the message is hope for the human race. It doesn't necessarily mean childbirth--although you do see that as a recurring theme--and that hope is a burden that has always been carried by women. Because we are, in the end, the future of the race. It's why I don't think you'll ever see a heroine having an abortion in genre romance. Not for any political or religious reason, but because it is contrary to the basic message of the genre. I also think that the idea of a relationship we know is going to be destructive, is not a fit into that basic theme.

AS for likening it to classical comedy, I think you might be limiting its scope. I think the theme belongs to a much broader plane, including the the very basis for most major religions.

As for conservative, I think it that only in the fact that a)hope is established and b)there is a commitment of some kind that will ensure point a). My personal belief is that the marriage\money fantasy is only a reflection of how historically unstable the real lives and expectations of most women are, and how they yearn for not just a relationship, but one that won't desert them and leave them with the baby and the bills. But that's another discussion altogether.

As for what women bring away from the books, I think that it is difficult to do the kind of intellectual reflection of the place of forced seduction within the confines of basic romance, because it is still a place people go to find something recognizable and reinforcing. Just as with mystery readers seeking to reinforce their belief in justice, romance readers(and I am certainly one) go to romance for the comfort of having my beliefs about my place in the struggle for a bright future reinforced.

I do not believe that the more difficult thematic books should be censored. I believe it should be acknowledged that they stand outside that basic theme. I've been thinking about what was said over at Laura's about some kind of coding system, and I don't believe it even needs to go as far as an MC rating. Publishing has all kinds of codes already to designate something outside of the standard, be it size of the book, to cover, to back cover copy. Classic examples are books by Robin Shone and Julia Ross. I know those books will be just that much beyond the norm, but because I've been warned, I know to leave my genre expectations behind when I read them.

I believe that in the wider world of women's fiction, which has certainly been broadened to admit almost anything(although most simply widens the protagonist's world to include family and community in the equation of working together for hope), this kind of investigation is worthy and appropriate. Just let the audience know that this is something different.

I guess I think of it as product identification. It's the reason I write my romance as Kathleen Korbel and my suspense as Eileen Dreyer. There are themes I address as Eileen that I don't think belong in romance, and themes as Kathleen I specifically target for romance, not only because it is a women's genre, but because I need to assure my audience of hope before I take them to very difficult places.

Do my Kathleen fans read my much harder, darker, bleaker Eileens? Yes. Because by my product identification, I've let them know that this isn't genre romance they're reading.

(as for alpha males, I'm with you on that one. The only time I want to see an Alpha male is with an alpha female. Could you ever see John Wayne with Donna Reed? Please. But that's another discussion, too)

Lindsay said...

i have about five personalities, but the lindsay=OH one is coming out because of blogger SUCKING. (sorry, blogger and i are having issues. we're going to therapy soon).

i love the debate at laura's (which has geniuses), but have been lacking in looking at the stuff there. i've been more focused on Jenny's blog, but again, i'm still trying to formulate a point to one issue and they've moved fifteen comments away from it. :)

the thing about genre boundaries is i see them as fluid. i agree that romances do seem conservative in nature (love, marriage, family, which i don't really enjoy because i don't see marriage and/or kids being the next step in a romantic relationship), but i think they are growing away from that too. slowly, sure, but growing away from it.

i've been thinking about the definition of romance. something i found fascinating was this site:
http://www.google.com/search?q=define%3A+romance&sourceid=navclient-ff&ie=UTF-8&rls=GGGL,GGGL:2006-33,GGGL:en
(sorry, i don't know how to make a link). who decides what goes into romance, what changes in it, what comes out? i guess, again, it comes back to the readers. i don't like when the woman CEO gives up her job to go raise 2.5 kids either. which is why i try to find authors who stay true to their characters, and don't buy books by authors who have already shown me they'll have the woman give up a nice job to raise the family, even if that wasn't in her thought processes at all throughout the whole story. they're still on the shelf because other readers do like them. just like rape isn't going to be kicked out of romances because some readers hate it, because there is already a base that enjoys the stories, or at least doesn't mind them. i do hate the message, i don't understand why others enjoy it, but it's their choice. i think where i keep coming back to is that i want the choice to easily avoid those novels.

"I guess I think of it as product identification."

i like this. must think of this vs "labeling"

i'll be back

Lindsay said...

to get to the link, go to goggle, type in the search engine "define: romance" (no quote marks)

Robin said...

I think for me that the message is hope for the human race. It doesn't necessarily mean childbirth--although you do see that as a recurring theme--and that hope is a burden that has always been carried by women. Because we are, in the end, the future of the race. It's why I don't think you'll ever see a heroine having an abortion in genre romance. Not for any political or religious reason, but because it is contrary to the basic message of the genre. I also think that the idea of a relationship we know is going to be destructive, is not a fit into that basic theme.

Do you think there's already a basic message for the genre as a whole, or are you talking about a message you'd like to see the genre represent? Because I have to tell you that going on just the Romance novels I've read, I don't think there's a)one basic message, or b) that a message of hope for the human race isn't one I could identify in multiple genres, including literary fiction.

In fact, I have no problem identifying that theme in Claiming the Courtesan -- after all, you have a man who recognizes that he cannot force a woman to fall in love with him, who heals his own psychological and emotional wounds to become a loving partner, and who protects his lady love from an evil interloper, with the added bonus of blending class lines (collapsing that rich-poor dividing line) and offering a happy ending for the "fallen" woman. A man and a woman who are broken heal, find love, and change for the better. So how can that book not be genre Romance, even within the terms of your message?

What it feels like to me is that you want more control or limits on the *terms* by which the genre delivers this particular message (assuming I accept its existence and its ubiquity and its legitimation). And that strikes me as destructive to the genre itself, as well as unfair to the intelligence of women and our ability to see beyond the words on a page. Some women might find hope in a story of two people who don't have to struggle against one another for happiness, while others might find hope in a relationship that does not start out as all hearts and flowers -- and what's more, why is it a foregone conclusion that the *message* we might glean from a book is immediately adaptable (or should be, even) to our own real lives?

I think it's fabulous that you strive to make your books meet your own particular vision of the genre, because as an artist, that's your calling. But I don't think it's fair or true to suggest that women who read Romance don't understand that whatever messages we might glean from fiction are *symbolic* and not how-to life lessons. And when you propose to limit the content of the genre, I think that's the implication, intended or not.

Robin said...

Oh, and I just wanted to add that when you wrote your 1999 RWR article, I loved the way you talked about the fallacy of the historical justification for rape in Romance, a particular pet peeve of mine (just fess up, readers: we need the psychological distance, but the supposed historical distance is a surrogate for that, not an accurate use of history). So I am all in favor of having these discussions, especially when they get us to the point where we can get at all the nuances in the genre and in our responses to it. Personally, I think that happens best without the side of inflammatory rhetoric, but in any case, I agree with you that these are serious and legitimate issues to consider within the genre.

Eileen Dreyer said...

>>Do you think there's already a basic message for the genre as a whole, or are you talking about a message you'd like to see the genre represent?>>

I believe there is a message that is intrinsic to the genre. I came to this belief as a reader, long before I wrote. It's why I still love writing romance, because that message is so powerful, especially in this day and age. It does not have to be the acknowledged theme of the book, but it is the underlying engine that drives it.

I freely admit that I consider Jayne Krentz's interpretation of the genres to be the most cogent: that they are the retelling of our most basic and enduring mythologies. That's why I believe that within a genre we must, as authors, fulfill the message of that genre. Because that's what readers come to the genre for.

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