Check out this article: Why Young Readers Don’t Like Romance Novel Rapists. It’s talking about romance novels of the 70’s, which often involved “forced seduction” (a.k.a. rape) of the heroine by the hero. Apparently young readers tend to mock these novels now, a fact which romance novelist Moriah Jovan laments.

But I think it’s a good thing. Below the cut, I’ll discuss why I think such novels were appealing to readers in the 70s, why they are less appealing today, and why I think that represents progress. This post might not be safe for work.

Question #1 is why rape fantasy is appealing to women at all. Despite some rapists’ claims that “she asked for it,” I will state the obvious: women do not want to be raped. So why does rape turn up so often in female sex fantasies? Two reasons, to the best of my knowledge (this is a subject it’s hard to get much information about):

 

1. Rape fantasy doubles as dominance/submission fantasy. Most women are sexually submissive and are turned on by a dominant partner. Consider for a moment how unlike true rape a rape fantasy actually is. The woman constructing the fantasy chooses the partner (and he’s certain to be hot)–unlike actual rape in which the partner is someone she does not want to have sex with. The woman constructing the fantasy has total control over what happens in the fantasy, unlike actual rape where she has none.

2. Rape fantasy has particular appeal to women who, because of cultural conditioning, believe on some fundamental level it is wrong for women to want sex. Consider the dilemma such a woman is in. She has a sex drive, often a powerful one, yet she believes if she acts on it, she is sinful, she is a slut. Rape fantasy is her way out of this dilemma. In the fantasy, she gets to have sex, but it’s not her fault, because it was forced on her! Therefore she is not a slut and she is not sinning. She is still a Good Girl.

It’s reason #2 that I believe is involved in the difference in attitudes between young women of the 70’s and young women of today. Young women today are far less likely to think negatively of women who are comfortable with their sexuality. Thus rape fantasy is no longer needed to get out of the dilemma of “good girls don’t want sex”. For these women, there is no dilemma–good girls DO want sex, and they want it on their own terms–so “forced seduction” in romance novels feels squicky and disturbing.

Incidentally, forced seduction in romance novels hasn’t gone away entirely. It probably never will, because reason #1 will always exist (and reason #2 still exists for a substantial portion of the female population). It has simply changed form. Forced seduction is now found in paranormal romances, where it is frequently disguised as the “soul bond” concept. This is the idea that certain supernatural beings (vampires, werewolves, etc.) have a destined life-mate that they are searching for, and when they find that person they will be irresistibly sexually attracted to them. These novels are very similar, structurally, to forced seduction novels. Usually the female of the pair is unwilling at first, and the male is rather brutish and forceful, and eventually they work things out. A major difference is that while there is still no consent, the consent is not being taken away by the hero, it’s being taken away by the supernatural element (or, more accurately, by the author :). I still find it squicky. I like romance novels where the heroine owns her sexuality and chooses her partner. But I know lots of people like this sort of novel, and I think it’s at least a small step up, progress-wise, from the forced-seduction novels of the 70s.

As for the young readers mocking those old novels? Let ’em laugh. It’s a sign that more and more women are ready to own and embrace their sexuality. More power to them.