Tuesday, January 8, 2013
IS ABUSE BEING MADE TO LOOK SEXY?
Please note, this is a sensitive area of discussion and I'm sure there are those who may not share my opinion, so please accept my apology beforehand. I do not intentionally mean to offend anyone (in particular my friends who write the edgier stuff) and certainly respect your right to disagree with any part, or all, of my take on this subject. This is my personal opinion and not meant to be taken out of context, but is a topic I have strong feelings on, and dear to my heart on a personal level. With that said . . .
I ran across this blog from Twitter the other day and it is exactly what my editor (whom I adore emphatically) has accused me of with my male characters in Designer Genes. Wow! First it felt like a slap, but then more like a bonk on the head to get me to realize . . . damn she's right!
In the above article posted on "The Blog" from the Huffington Post, Vanessa Van Edwards makes some alarming points to support this concept many authors are guilty of (moi included, unfortunately). She targets the Twilight Series mainly because this is where the shift in Young Adult romance happened . . . or I should say exploded.
A note here. I write Young Adult Romance through many sub-genres from futuristic/dystopian (which is the platform for my"Designer Genes" trilogy), historical/time travel, to contemporary love stories. This blog (or soapbox) was meant to focus on the Young Adult/New Adult (whatever the hell it is) fiction books. However, some of the Adult fiction novels stealing the limelight, may be guilty of the same things discussed in the Huffington Post blog. While BDSM is a lifestyle choice, it is being portrayed through the literary platforms as the "norm" for sexual relationships. "Sexy." (Wait . . . don't stone me yet.)
The scary thing is young readers (our children and grandchildren) read books far older than their age and may get a false impression that this lifestyle is what will be expected of them in a physical relationship. And this isn't just our girls. Boys are reading this stuff, too, and the messages they receive are confusing. Do girls want this? Should I do this? Do I want to do this to a girl? The list goes on-and-on and I've never been more grateful that my kids are grown because if I had hormone-crazed teenagers maneuvering this phase of life, I'd be scared as hell. We'd be having many long rides in the car. (This is what I did with my teens when we needed to discuss delicate matters - they can't jump from a vehicle traveling 70+ mph down the freeway).
In my books I have the sexy, flawed heroes and heroines who surrender their hearts (and sometimes a little more . . .), but I didn't realize that some of the strong character traits I gave my heroes may, in fact, reflect unsolicited dominance -- a form of abuse. When I found my new editor/therapist/literary trainer she immediately called one of my stronger male characters a "douchebag." She even said I should just "throw glitter on him and stick him in the sun." Yeah, I had to lick my wounds on that one. Now when I send her revisions, I specifically make reference to having hopefully removed all "douchebaggery-stalking-injunction-worthy traits."
But to me, what I wrote sounded romantic and sexy. Wrong. Here's the points Van Edwards touched on, some that I was guilty of and my editor suggested I change. These are only highlights, with my personal slant. The blog goes into further detail using examples from the Twilight series and movies.
1. "Love scars are cherished." Bella proudly wore her bruises as badges of her lover's strengths, admiring them in the mirror, and in the movie, each black & blue dot holding a "cherished memory." Recently, I've ran across a couple YOUNG ADULT BOOKS that associated physical pain with sexual arousal. Yep, rubbing shoulders with Harry Potter on the bookshelf, are stories written about other "special powers." I am proud to say I'm not guilty of this one in my teen reads. Now there are books that refer to cutting, hair pulling, and other drastic measures used to relief emotional pain, and these are real life, sadly, but they're not projected with any sexual connotation . . or shouldn't be.
2. "Smothering behavior is romantic." Okay, this is where my editor caught me. I had my male character following my heroine out of a sense of wanting to protect her . . . but she wasn't really in danger. It was more from a misguided issue of jealousy, which I had not established grounds for in the story. "Douchebaggery-stalking-injunction-worthy" behavior. By showing my heroine spineless and blindly accepting my hero's stalking and dominating behavior as romantic, she looked "weak," not "vulnerable," which is what I didn't want. Weak characters are boring and death to a story.
3. "Dangerous sentiments are romantic." Whew. Dodged that bullet. I never fell for this line of crap as a teenager, so it never crossed my mind to write it in this context. Van Edward's recall of Jacob's behavior ("Eclipse") is a prime example, though, and I had one of those "I could-have-had-a-V8" headsmack moments when I realized as a reader and Twihard fan, I thought this was acceptable, if not adorable! Poor Jacob! Gag.
4. "The most desired women don't eat." Again, I was found "not guilty." Anyone who has suffered, supported, or been through the emotional trauma eating disorders cause (and death is a consequence of starving your organs) knows how dangerous this thinking is. Again, Van Edwards points to Bella never eating in front of Edward...always having butterflies that stole her hunger, blah-blah-blah.
"Skinny is sexy." "Boys don't like fat girls." "If you gain weight, you'll lose him." Garbage! And any girl (or woman) who succumbs to this convoluted way of thinking needs their head examined. Also, any boy (man) who would dump someone they care about because she gained weight, and then believes such shallow, selfish crap justifies their d**k-brained behavior, needs serious help. It's shameful and disgusting.
5. "Lying to parents is justified and unpunished." I'd even add to that "lying is justified and not accountable." Van Edwards again points the constant instances where Bella is always sneaking around and lying to her father...and not getting caught? Life-threatening situations (um, she ends up in a hospital because she just happens to run off to Phoenix without a word; disappears for 3 days and there's no "Amber Alert" even though she's a minor; and in "Eclipse" where she's camping overnight on a mountain side in freezing temperatures while her father is investigating suspicious deaths and yet Bella can only think about her "douchebaggery-stalking-injunction-worthy loverboy") and yet again, we Twihards accepted the whole package . . . and swooned.
Yes, I was found guilty of this, but not pistol-whipped by my editor because I do show my characters getting caught and suffering consequences for their bad choices. I also show my characters learning something from their mistakes that help them when faced with a crossroads in the future.
A lot of today's popular Young Adult/New Adult (and some adult) romance fiction do not portray "learning experiences." In fact, there's usually entire chapters where heroines, especially, repeat the same mistakes and then stand there, usually scantily clothed, scratching their head and wondering "how did this happen?" And the reader thinks "oh you sweet thing, he just loves you so much."
6. "Violence is shown as acceptable behavior and a sign of masculinity." A romantic symbol of strength. Isn't the world we live in violent enough? Do we really need to paint it as a revering quality in our characters? Yes, Romance's greatest conflict is the love triangle and when you're dealing with hormonal overloads and raging jealousy that clouds commons sense (and I'm talking teenagers, although adult men seem to revert to adolescent behavior under the same circumstances) there's going to be the fist fights; the parking lot brawls. But these should be the result of defending another's honor or a shield of protection for an immediate danger, not as a way to "keep" someone close to the heart.
Peer pressure used to be the mainstream in YA, but now it's boyfriends' (and girlfriends') manipulative/dominating influence, and while there are great stories that show how young adults come to recognize this behavior as unacceptable and get help ("Dreamland" by Sarah Dessen; "Stay" by Suzanne Colasanti), lately more stories portray it as the preferred, "sexy and loving" behavior girls (and boys) should WANT in a romantic relationship.
So here's my point to all of this. First, I'm grateful to my editor for catching me adding to this dangerous, yet popular trend, and while she never forces me to change anything in my writing (always, "it's your story"), she made me realize this isn't something I'd find acceptable in a relationship, or would want my daughter, granddaughters, or friends to believe acceptable behavior either, so why would I write it as such. It's not sexy. It's dangerous on many, many levels.
Second, I wholeheartedly believe, support, and defend an author's "right to write" anything. ANYTHING. I do NOT agree with censorship, boycotts, or vicious criticism of any author's work, and will rally to defend any of my writing comrades who fall prey to such simple-minded antics. While that might sound a bit contradictory to what I've posted, it's not. I'm not opposed to what someone writes, I just worry how it's being portrayed, especially to young readers. A very thin line, and as I've discovered in my own writing, one that's a faint gray and easily crossed.
Authors in general are not moral gatekeepers, but as a Young Adult/New Adult author I personally feel a sense of responsibility to portray romance through the emotionally charged phase of life where kids morph to adults, in as positive light as possible and still keep it realistic. "No glitter" and definitely no abusive behavior represented as an acceptable form of "love." Again, there are certain lifestyle choices, but they are just that -- "choices" and should be written as courses mutually decided and consented to within an already meaningful relationship -- not forced or manipulated, and not represented as the "only" way to have a satisfying, "sexy" physical relationship.
Personally, I don't believe it should be ever be written as a character's "first" experience either. I think they should be shown stumbling through clumsy, awkward, sometimes heartbreaking, but more innocent romantic scenarios before choosing anything alternative. Again...just my opinion. It's "your story."
Okay, feel free to "stone" me. I've thrown my hunky "douchebag" in front of me to take the blows. Isn't that romantic? Sexy?
As always, thanks for stopping by.