snarky ecardThere’s a chance I might get blasted for this, might lose readers, or any other number of bad things, but it’s something I’ve been tossing around in my head and need to get off my chest. Ready?

So yesterday I read a couple of blog posts about slut shaming in romance, and how it’s apparently really prevalent. These blogs were written by romance readers, too, so this isn’t criticism coming from outside of the romance community (which often happens). The argument is that in a lot of books, the antagonist is often an attractive woman who’s sexually liberal, whereas the heroine is somehow pure and thus the obvious choice for the hero.

And this is a bad thing.

At least, the way I’m reading it, it’s a bad thing that this trope happens AT ALL in romance novels.

Nevermind the fact that it’s pretty damned accurate to the way we women actually think and behave in real life. Because, let’s face it, we women can be catty bitches sometimes. Even the nicest of us, the sweetest women ever can be catty every now and then. I’m not excusing that behavior, because, yeah, it’s not very nice. But it’s true.

And even if we’re not talking about the fact that women can be catty in real life, there’s the simple fact that to a lot of women there is a huge difference between a woman who embraces her sexuality and one who embraces her sexuality…and the sexuality of every man she comes across. And a woman who uses sex as a bargaining tool or a means of payment? I’m pretty sure that falls under the definition of whore, which is often synonymous with slut.

I guess this topic just yanks my chain, mostly because I got a pretty good verbal slap on the wrist in grad school when I was writing Big Girls Need Love Too. Molly often thinks of other women who are very free with themselves (and their vaginas) as skanks. I was warned that Molly’s thinking was derogatory and shaming and that it would really turn readers off. Once I was done writing the book, I re-read those parts and yeah, Molly was a little judge-y. Molly also wasn’t a prude, and wasn’t exactly a virgin herself, and pretty much believed that if a girl was known to have had (and passed along) STDs…multiple times…then that fully qualified her for the title of “skank.” (I also find it absolutely fascinating that out of all of my books, Big Girls Need Love Too sells the best AND has readers constantly saying they identified with Molly…hmmmm….)

Talk to a lot of women, and you’ll generally find that they think the same way.

Here’s the thing: as human beings, we’re all judgmental. Even if we don’t want to be. Even when we realize we shouldn’t be. We judge and we form an assumption. Whether it’s the first time you meet someone and you judge the strength of their handshake, or you judge someone (male or female) who’s known to have had A LOT of sexual partners (and let’s face it–everyone’s definition of “a lot” varies widely due to upbringing, religious beliefs, personal beliefs, their own experiences, etc.). We judge. That doesn’t make it right or wrong, just fact.

And I think that’s where my problem with this slut shaming in romance argument comes from. Romance is fiction, yes. But contemporary romance is also steeped in reality (for the most part…I’m pretty sure there really aren’t that many women falling in love with their billionaire Navy SEAL alpha stepbrothers…because societal norms and ewwww and there aren’t that many billionaire Navy SEAL alphas in the world…just sayin’), and the impetus is on us as writers to make our characters believable and relateable. If I’m writing a heroine who grew up in a conservative small town with conservative parents who has conservative values of her own, you better damned well believe she’s going to see a woman who’s incredibly sexually aggressive and who’s had 25+ partners as a slut. If I’m writing a heroine who grew up in the city with a more liberal upbringing and with a mom who was one of the first to burn her bra…she’s probably going to have a different viewpoint.

And there are tons of viewpoints in-between.

Is it necessarily “fair” that in romance it’s accepted and okay to have a super-experienced hero and a heroine who’s either virginal or only been with one or two other people? Not really. Nor do I think it’s all that realistic in today’s day and age (even though society does still see that guy as “virile” and a “stud” and “alpha” rather than something more negative).

I try to write realistic characters. That means I write characters with flaws and with varying life experiences. For some of them that means a bevy of sexual partners, for others that means none at all, and everything in between. Some of my characters are a bit judge-y, others are very, “whatever…to each their own…not my business.” I’ve never used the sexually aggressive woman as an antagonist trope, and I honestly don’t know that I ever would because it’s a bit cliche, IMO, but it doesn’t bother me to read it because let’s face it, there are people out there who will do whatever it takes to get their way and to get what they want, even if it hurts someone else (Darcy Burke’s When We Kiss is coming to mind here, since I just finished reading it and this trope is actually done REALLY well, IMO). That goes for men AND women.

But I have written secondary female characters who were sexually aggressive or sexually liberal (or as Molly would say, skanks), and there were reasons for that. In the case of Big Girls Need Love Too, it was because that was how Molly thought and what she believed and showcased her discomfort with overt sexuality. In the case of Baseball and Other Lessons, Heather was a jersey chaser who also stalked Matt (to the point where he had to get a restraining order), and in Between the Seams I used actual websites and news stories (okay, so Deadspin can’t always be called news) to highlight revenge porn and how it’s not just damaging to women but also to men. And in Hair Trigger Heart I played with the idea that perceived promiscuity isn’t always reality.

My guess is that liberal feminists would probably have issues with each and every single one of my books because of those things and would say things like:

  • “Molly’s such a slut-shamer.” (Big Girls Need Love Too)
  • “What? Women can’t talk about their sexual experiences online but men can? That’s sexist.” (Between the Seams)
  • “So just because Heather wants Matt and has sex with baseball players that makes her a jersey chaser? Ugh. That’s such a derogatory term and does nothing but slut-shame women who just happen to enjoy having sex with baseball players and who embrace their sexuality.” (Baseball and Other Lessons)
  • “Why doesn’t he just own the truth about his sexuality rather than perpetuating the misogynistic view of the virile man? He’s totally caving to the patriarchy.” (Hair Trigger Heart)

To which I would say: what the fuck ever. Then again, my guess is that liberal feminists would have issues with my books for a lot more reasons than that, especially the Devils Ranch Series because, um, guns and hunting.

If I’m being honest, the thing that bothers me the most is that the conversation about romance novels has been hijacked by feminism. Sometimes in a good way (I firmly believe that romance novels are feminist in nature in that they’re books BY women, ABOUT women, FOR women), and sometimes in a bad way, as can be seen by all of the discussions surrounding slut-shaming. And it’s not the type of feminism I first learned about–the type that involved Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton–but rather a type that takes offense to every. single. thing. and is trying to force everyone to fall in line or else. And if you don’t toe the line or speak in the approved manner or believe the approved beliefs? Well, you’re obviously a woman-hater, not a feminist, a misogynist who’s only holding the patriarchy up, you care nothing about women’s issues or advancement…etc etc.

And it’s all bullshit.

Not to mention incredibly close-minded to try to force people into such rigid sets of beliefs and ways of behaving. We live in a society where it’s perfectly okay for Amy Schumer to pose nude and openly call herself a slut and she’s lauded for it, and then as soon as some dorky teenage boy makes a really bad joke alluding to HER OWN assertions about herself, he gets ripped for it. Because, slut-shaming. I’m sorry, but if you’re going to put yourself out there like that, you better be able to take the heat. But people clearly can’t. And that pisses me off.

I try not to get too political, because that’s not what my writing’s about. But as a woman. As a conservative woman who leans pretty damned libertarian, I get so tired of fiction getting hijacked by liberalism. Liberal writers. Liberal readers. Liberal media. Art used to be something that was revered. Books were considered to be art, an escape, a way for the people’s voice to be heard. Sometimes it seems like these days the only voice that’s “allowed” to be heard is one that falls lock-step with liberalism. From the whole Sad Puppies debacle to the push for readers to only read books written by people of color (and my God I hate that term–we’re ALL colored, dammit, and the color of your skin shouldn’t fucking matter as long as you can write a good book…I mean, seriously…do readers even CARE as long as they’re getting a good story?), to this shift towards criticizing romance for slut-shaming, it’s becoming clear that voices like mine–voices that don’t give a shit about feminism or being PC or inclusive and who only care about telling a great story and writing relateable characters–aren’t welcome at that particular table. Characters who reflect the views of the majority of romance readers (who, last time I checked, tend to be married women and tend to lean slightly conservative but who also tend to be well-educated) aren’t welcome. Our heroines must all view sexually aggressive women as awesome and champions of women’s sexuality rather than women who may simply enjoy sex (which is fantastic, because sex is fantastic) or who might be having a lot of sex as a disguise for some pretty serious mental and emotional issues. Or, y’know, who might use sex to get what they want because no one in the history of the world has ever done that. (Note: that was sarcasm. I hope you got that.) And maybe I’m crazy, but people who fall into that latter group don’t seem to be very ethical to me. Just sayin’. And yes, people who fall into that category would probably be called sluts by some people–male and female alike, because let’s face it, women aren’t the only ones who can fall into that category.

Here’s the thing: as a writer, the only thing I care about is writing a good story. That means writing realistic characters. Which means flawed characters. Which means not perfect. Which means readers may not like everything about those characters. And that’s okay. Because that means I’m doing my job because nobody can like every single person, and no one person is liked by everybody. Writing realistic characters also means writing men and women with varied sexual experiences AND beliefs about sex and sexuality. Because, news flash: we all have different experiences and beliefs. We’re kind of cool like that, and it helps make human beings super interesting, IMO. So no, I won’t toe the line and neither will my characters.

If Molly wants to think of a girl who’s had dozens upon dozens of partners and multiple STDs as a skank, Molly’s going to think that because–gasp–that’s realistic. If women–WHO OPENLY CALL THEMSELVES JERSEY CHASERS ON INTERNET FORUMS–want to pursue baseball players just to have sex with them (and potentially get pregnant and thus get money), and then post about those experiences online, I’m gonna write about it because I write baseball romance and it’s a very real issue baseball players have to deal with, especially with the proliferation of forums and social media. And if I want to write a hero who’s a virgin? Well by God, I’ll write a hero who’s a virgin, even though it flies in the face of societal norms because–news flash–sometimes men don’t have indiscriminate sex with every woman they come across and sometimes the woman IS the more experienced partner in the relationship. And you know what? If I want to write plus-size heroines or Hispanic characters or gay characters or black characters, I will. Because, reality.

But I will not apologize for my characters being realistic. I will not apologize for writing characters that could be real human beings, and that readers relate to. Which means I won’t apologize for characters who look down upon women who sleep around. Because it happens.

And to try to force writers into NOT writing certain characters and NOT writing female characters who look down upon “slutty” women is the very definition of intolerance. Shaming writers who write characters who supposedly slut-shame is just as bad as slut-shaming itself–except you’re trying to silence two voices rather than one. And that’s not cool.

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