Hint, dear publishers: “no” means “no.”
Be forewarned: this is not the pleasant, light reading you usually find on this blog. No, this is a rant inspired by my recent perusal of How to Write Romance Novels That Sell, a writing guide from 1983. If you've ever read any romance in your life, please do the scribbling women a favor... read this post, read the comments, and join this important discussion.
I was glowing with excitement when the vintage writing book fell into my possession—after all, I love gendered advice books from bygone eras. Sadly, though, some of the writing advice was so distasteful that I couldn’t even label it as “quaint.” Instead, it angered me. For instance:
The most innocent of romances implies that the hero, if he so desires, can rape the heroine. The reader must be aware that the hero is free to do with the heroine as he likes. His size in comparison to hers helps to remind us that he is in control. That he doesn’t take advantage of her characterizes him and shows how truly he loves her.
Um… excuse me?! So, the hero should somehow score nice guy points because he doesn’t commit a degrading and illegal assault on the heroine? I don’t think so! Picture me vomiting. Then picture me reading onward with increasing horror as I was advised:
The reader must not feel disgusted by the actual rape scene. Early in the “bodice-ripper” romance plot, the heroine is usually raped by the hero; and we must remain sympathetic with both characters…These rapes are more acts of passion than of violence, and we mustn’t feel as we would while reading about an actual rape.
Newsflash, people: rape is rape. It’s never okay, and I can pretty much guarantee that if your novel contains a forced sex scene, I’m going to spend the rest of the book waiting for the heroine to press charges and slap the "hero’s" ass in jail.
How’s that for disgust?
To be fair, I think the genre has come a long way in the twenty-plus years since this writing book was published. But reading this dated, appalling “advice” only serves to remind me that we still have work to do. I’m still reading too many stories about sissy heroines who find their hero’s domineering ways appropriate, attractive, and manly. I’m still reading about supposedly hot “anger sex” that treads a fine line between consensual and… well, something quite icky.*
Alpha males are one thing, folks, but reinforcing dangerous stereotypes and behavior—that’s something else, entirely.
* * * * *
 Marilyn M. Lowery, How to Write Romance Novels that Sell (Macmillan Publishing Company, New York) 1983, p.75.
* My definition of supposedly hot anger sex: Usually occurs in a historical when the hero comes home from some sort of physical altercation. His blood lust is up, he basically ravages his wife, then goes into a total shame spiral only to discover that the little woman “likes it rough.” She, of course, would never think to ask for a tempestuous quickie… she merely participate when her husband initiates. Is it just me, or is there a squick factor here?