Monday Musings, Romance vs. Sexual Exploitation

I wanted to talk about something fun today. Wanted to talk about re-reading Wicked Woman and getting it ready for re-release. But I can’t. Today, no happy fluffy feelings.

There’s a controversy going on in the romance community about a book that crosses the line. I haven’t read the book, but the gist of it is this: A couple has two children, a boy and girl. The son dies tragically and the couple can’t seem to get over the loss. To save their marriage and their family–now consisting of father, mother, daughter–they move into the woods to live in isolation. The wife dies, the man and his daughter end up in a torrid affair, and it’s all “fine” in the end because–wait for it!–they are not related. She is adopted.

This is not acceptable.

No, that’s not strong enough. THIS IS WRONG.

People have a right to write what they want. They have a right to publish it. People have a right to read it. They can call it romance.

I have a right to say that it is WRONG.

Amazon and other retailers have a right to say no, they won’t publish it, which they did. This is not banning. This is business practice. “Banning” would mean not allowing it to be read, as in keeping it out of a library. To be crystal clear, if my town library banned this book, I would be okay with it. People have a right to ban books they believe are dangerous. This book promotes a sexual relationship between a 40-year-old man and his teenage daughter as romance. That is dangerous.

And this woman is selling her book that way on her website, as “dangerous” and “taboo”. Which is perfectly legal. She has a “you may not have the strength to handle something so taboo and titillating as this book” trigger warning. That’s not so much a trigger warning as it is a veiled insult to people who believe a sexual relationship between a 40-year-old man and a teenager, who is legally his daughter, is something to be shunned. I have read people saying that if the trigger warning were better, it would be all right.

It is WRONG.

Have I read the book? No. I haven’t read Mein Kampf either. I know what Hitler promotes is toxic. I don’t want to fill my head with those toxins. I don’t want to fill my head with the poison of the sexual abuse of a teenager in the guise of romance, either. I know the sun is hot without touching it. I know a scorpion’s sting hurts without having ever seen one. I know I’d run away from a man walking down the street with a bloody shirt and bloody knife in his hand because I make judgment calls for the sake of my health and well being.  Don’t tell me I can’t judge a book without reading it. I can. I will. I have.

It’s fiction, I hear, as if that makes it all right. As if we haven’t seen throughout the course of history how much power fiction has to change minds, to alter perspectives, in writing as well as in performance art. Laws have been written because of fiction. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was so explosive in its time that it ignited the abolitionist movement, which started a civil car that ended slavery in the United States.

Words are power. Fiction is powerful. It is not a “mere” anything. We have to stop pretending that something wrapped up in “fiction” has no impact. IT HAS IMPACT. The impact of fiction is enormous, and the writer who wields it has a responsibility.

Will this book be that powerful? No, not on a global or national scale. It’s just a book sold on a website. But it does have an impact. First on the women (and men) who have been the victims of sexual abuse, particularly if that abuse was perpetrated by a family member with the implied or actual power of his/her of a supervisory role. These people are scarred for life and although they live, breathe and enjoy their lives, the scar is still there, the hurt is still there. Calling this kind of relationship “romantic” and implying that it is consensual is devastating. I’m not such a victim, but I know that for years they have had to combat the voice in their head, often from the abuser, that says “you know you like it” or “but I love you” and the terrible second guessing that makes them wonder if they are responsible for their abuse or if it wasn’t so bad.

I am going to take a few sentences to directly address these people: YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE. It was that bad. It was not romantic. You do not have to justify your feelings. The perpetrator is a criminal even if the law has not deemed it so. You have my compassion and my respect for continuing to live your lives and not letting your abuser destroy you. This concept is wrong. Period.

Back to everybody. The problem is people will read this book, toss it aside, and go on to the next believing they were not impacted because he/she would never do this, would never allow it, would vote against it, would fight it. Are you sure of that though? Positive? Will there not be something in your subconscious the next time you hear/read about the sexual assault of a child that makes you wonder if they “wanted” it, like the teenager in this book thinks/says? You should consider that.

The bigger problem comes from the people who read this book, who are sexual predators. People who may have yet to abuse a child but who, upon reading this book, believe their feelings and their plans are justified. Who are told by this book that the twist of their minds is not sick. Who might then act upon it. Will it happen a lot? I don’t know. But if it happens once, that’s enough.

I do understand that the vast majority of people who consume erotica and porn are not predators. They’re just everyday people who want something a little spicy in their lives. And in that, I am torn. I am struggling, and maybe my opinion will evolve over time, but this is where I now stand :

1) This book is not romance, should not be sold as romance, should not be promoted by anybody else as romance, and if you do, I am suspicious of you. I can’t help it. I question your morality.

2) Honestly, I question your morality if you promote it at all. I won’t question your morality for reading it. But the promotion, yeah. I do.

3) A trigger warning should not, in this book OR IN ANY BOOK, be written in such a way that you are insulting a reader. If you do that, you’re an ass.

4) When you’re done reading it, you should have a little conversation with yourself to remind yourself that THIS IS NOT ROMANCE. In the real world, this is WRONG. In reality, a sexual relationship between a parent (and genes do not matter–it’s the family structure and the parental bonds that make a parent) and child is immoral, illegal, toxic, poisonous etc. You should do this to counteract whatever subconscious message has wiggled its way into your brain.

5) Romance writers should be standing with the women (and men) who have been abused, not with the woman who wrote this. I can’t believe I have to say that. OUR SISTERS (AND BROTHERS) WHO ARE VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS COME FIRST. We are writers, yes. We believe in freedom of speech. But we are human beings first. Who we are, how we treat others, should always be most important.

Deep breath.

I’m going to end with this. I have written books that have questionably abusive moments between hero and heroine. I own that. I have tried to redeem those relationships. I believe, strongly, in the redemptive power of love. It’s the reason I write romance. Maybe I don’t always get there, but I try.

But love cannot redeem everything. And the sexual abuse between an adult family member and a child (and in my mind people fall into this category even beyond teen years) cannot be redeemed by “romance.” It ain’t happening. Not. Ever.

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4 Responses to Monday Musings, Romance vs. Sexual Exploitation

  1. Great post, Dee! Right on!

  2. Denise Eagan says:

    Thanks Charlie. I really didn’t want to write it because I just don’t want to sink into that much toxicity. But it’s been preying on my mind since it blew up last week. I had to say something. Maybe now I can sleep again.

  3. This reminds me of the argument I have about so-called romance stories with vampires who use mesmerism or their “powers” to seduce women. It’s not romance. It’s domination.

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