Doris Gomez is a retired teacher of World History; she has her Masters in Counseling Psychology, and is currently researching issues related to modern romance novels.
What's Up with Women's Erotic Romance ? ? ?
Written by Doris Gomez
Okay, hey, it's all good clean sensual romance--a great way to let go of "frazzled" and get touch with your sexual side. But, what about those other books, those books some readers view with distaste? You know those BDSM romances where peeps get tied up and spanked? Yeah, what about them? Since I'm pushing sixty-five, I'm a bit confused over why BDSM fantasy is shoved to the back of the bus, especially when other once-taboo fantasies are hot in the romance marketplace. Modern dominance and submission games don't seem all that different from the 70's historicals that got labeled "bodice rippers" for obvious reasons. Those books were filled with rough sex that was far from consensual. In iconic, Sweet, Savage Love (1974), Rosemary Rogers gave us the spirited, but innocent Ginny, kidnapped and "ravished" by the dark, laconic Steve. The book shot to the top of best seller lists and became an all-time world-wide best seller, to the dismay of feminists who decried the "sadomasochistic" story.
Truth to be told, bodice-rippers are only the tip of the BDSM iceberg. Before Ginny and Steve, we had the boyish flapper, Diana, kidnapped by a desert prince and held captive until she was willing to call him "master". Valentino played the compelling Ahmed Be Hassan in the roaring 20's world-wide blockbuster, The Sheik, by E. M. Hull. Prior to that, there were generations of beast stories. In the 1830's, Hans Christian Anderson included one such folktale about a bear who married a woman, yet each night, when he got into bed with his wife he was a man. (Uh huh, heard that one before) In the mid 1700's a French woman, Villeneuve, reworked an old folk tale, "Beauty and the Beast", into a story written for adults. (Love that story!) In the late 1500's, Shakespeare, delivered a funnier, but still overbearing hero in Petruchio, who used an early form of behavior mod to tame the shrew. (The ending was pure male fantasy.) Moving from bodice-ripping to chiton-rending, Apuleius wrote the oral Greek myth of, "Cupid and Psyche", into one of his stories during the 2nd century AD. This tale had an invisible Cupid, kidnapping Psyche, marrying her, and then coming to her only in the dark of night for passionate love-making. (Yes!) Earlier in, The Odyssey, 800-600 BC, was the story of Persephone, kidnapped by the forbidding Hades, who raped her and imprisoned her underground. Later myths of Persephone show her willingly serving as the powerful queen of the underworld. Altogether this gives us almost 3000 years of silent, brooding men, conquering young innocent women and forming love matches. This story of dominance and submission transcends vast periods of time and major cultural differences in western civilization from BC times to the 21st century. So what's going on here?
Part of the answer lies in 200,000 years of human history, when larger, stronger males dominated smaller females. (Or, at least they tried to, *wink*). Modern ideas of human rights are as old as our 1776 constitution, but many of those rights didn't extend to women, unable to vote until 1920. Later, Women's Liberation made progress with economic inequities due to sexism. And, in 1983, The Gay Male S/M Activists coined the phrase, Safe, Sane and Consensual, addressing basic human rights for BDSM participants. Then, in 2000, The Psychiatric Association issued a text revision in their diagnostic guidelines, listing SM as a life style choice unless it impaired social, work or consensual behaviors. Bottom line is that as human beings we've had 199,900 years to stock pile, "You Tarzan--me Jane," sexual fantasies and only about 100 years to come up with something more "enlightened". Though some feminists, thought Jane would be better off if she dumped Tarzan completely, that didn't happened and love, at least in the world of romance, still seems to make the world go around. However, there have been improvements in women's lives and one of them is that "good" wives and moms can now choose their own brand of sexual fantasy and find it in a romance novel.
Ladies choice rules and women have been voting with their dollars. Having gained more power over their lives, women increasingly choose stories with a heavy dose of sexuality to go with their romance. In the last ten years this has resulted in new erotic romance publishers, like Ellora's Cave and formerly "sweet" Harlequin shows its hot streak in their Blaze line. What then is the problem with BDSM, since it so closely resembles some of our most primitive fantasies? I suspect that part of the issue revolves around women making their own choices. In the bodice-rippers the male dominated the situation and women supposedly weren't willing. In the new BDSM romances, women choose to submit, which gives them significant power in the relationship. In addition, women in these stories also choose to dominate, as in the, Vampire Queen, series by Joey W Hill, where there are five dominatrix, out of six books. It's no secret that our culture gets uneasy when women start making their own choices. This social anxiety about women with the power to chose is long standing and goes all the way back to Eve choosing an apple instead of a pear, but that's a story for another blog.
You can also find more comments and fun facts by Doris Gomez at Joey W Hill Fan Forum.