Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Stepping Up to the Plate

I'm here to talk Twilight again. Yes, I'm aware of how unwise it is and how what I say right now might make me a little bit unpopular. Let me explain why I'm willing to plunge into the mess I'm about to create.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a class being taught at the University of California-Davis about Twilight. Yep. An actual class about Twilight. The woman who teaches the class, the lovely and gracious Amy Clarke, happens to be a fellow soccer mom. After we had a spirited chat (fine, it was a hissing spitting rant on my part) on a soccer sideline about Twilight one Saturday, she invited me to stop by her class to hear some presentations and perhaps add my own (horrified and horrible) perspective.

I heard two presentations; one on the history of werewolf and vampire depiction in film and one titled "Edward: The Perfect Man." Yep. The guy I think is an abusive boyfriend (and BTW, I'm not alone on this one, click here for a very interesting discussion of same) was being held up as the perfect man by three completely darling and impressionable young college students.

I was so relieved when their presentation wasn't about how they personally saw Edward as the Perfect Man, but was instead an interesting discussion of how he fits the mold of so many heros in so many books and movies and television shows. They had a little check list that included the hero hating the heroine at first and then loving her, that she was the only one to whom he revealed his emotions, that he was often difficult and arrogant and unpleasant to the heroine and it was up to the heroine to "fix" him. They compared Edward to Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff and even dudes in Korean television shows, all of whom display these same characteristics that also make them abusive jerks that you would never want your sister/daughter/friend to date.

After comparing Edward to a lot of very specific characters, they then put up a montage of romance novel covers and said he pretty much was the same as the heros in all those books. I was horrified. Especially when I realized that the kids were kind of right.

We all do this. We need a reason for our hero and heroine not to jump into bed together by page 10 (depending on what we're writing) so we make him mean or dismissive. We need them to get past the conflict so we make them The One for each other so she's the only one who can heal his wounds with her good, pure love and if she doesn't, it's somehow her fault. We trap her in a relationship that might well suffocate her at best and choke the life out of her at worst.

Let's make a stand here. Let's not make our heros abusive jerks. A guy can be an Alpha male and not physically subdue our heroine when she disagrees with him or belittle her or make her responsible for his emotional well-being. Let's not perpetuate a myth that endangers women.

I know what we write is fiction and isn't supposed to be reality. It does, however, embody our world views. Let's espouse one that is healthy for our sisters and daughters and friends and, yes, our selves.


Molly O'Keefe said...

Well said Eileen! Amen!

While home with my folks I watched some John Wayne movies (shows in a steady loop at our house) one was McClintok! In the end, this man chases his wife through town with the town following them, while she gets dunked in troughs, crashes through windows, her clothes get torn off and she gets publically spanked. It was a comedy. I was totally mystified. And then I thought, well - all that's changed. But not so much in romance land - obviously we've come a long way from the forced love making scenes (read rape) but there are a lot of books in which a forced sex scene seems like it would fit and thats so wrong.

And while I think the popularity of these books has more to do with women wishing they didn't have to control every aspect of home, family and work - you're right, we need to provide the fantasy and escape in a way that's responsible.

Eileen said...

OMG!!! Those ubiquitous spanking scenes! We have come a long way. Maybe that's why I was so surprised.

Can you imagine wanting to stay with a man who had publicly spanked you?

You are right, though. There's an element of giving up control, of having someone take care of you that those relationship imply. We're all juggling so much and we're expected to do all of it at such a high level. I know I always feel like a failure because my house is so messy. But really, should my self-worth be tied to how sticky my kitchen floor is?

Stephanie Doyle said...

Eileen - all I can say is if you thought the first book was bad in it's depiction of an abusive relationship... you ain't seen nothing yet. New Moon takes it to a whole new level when dear Edward dumps Bella (to protect her from him of course) and leaves with the parting words... please just don't kill yourself.

And then she tries to... but not really... but sort of. Then she goes "catatonic". Then she is lifeless. Then another man comes along (a warewolf) and BAMMM she's saved. Sort of.

I wanted to shoot myself reading this book. I want to speak to that classroom.

As for nice Alpha heroes... I don't know. Part of what we love about them is the arrogance/confidence. Does that mean they have to be jerks... no. Does that mean they most likely are... probably.

I recently re-read old Elibeth Lowell category books. OMG those guys were AWFUL. The modern day woman in me said ... you've got to be kidding.

The fantasy reader in me thought... sigh... I think because by the end - after they are done being so awful to the heroine... they love her that much more.

It's the intensity of the love which sets books apart. That is what I think people see in Twilight.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Oh Eileen - if my self worth were tied to my sticky kitchen floor I don't know what I'd do.

There was a lot of spanking in that movie. also a lot of drinking. Strange movie.

Steph I know what you mean about those Lowell catagories - I cut my romance teeth on them and I still read them - but wow. Wow. But she changed her alpha male and her later books are still keepers for me and the men are far less a-holes. IT's finding that balance in the hero and heroine - don't make him so arrogant and don't make her such a doormat...

Maureen McGowan said...

I really hope my stories reflect my world view... but then again, none of my romances have sold. LOL.

I think keeping them evenly matched, as Molly said, is key. Because readers don't want to see the heroes emasculated, either...

I do think those Twilight books send a negative message to girls, but clearly it's a message they want to hear. But I could never bring myself to play a part in bringing it to them.

I'm currently revising my Cinderella story where the heroine is not at all interested in marrying a prince. (But of course, falls in love with him, anyway.) I do fear I've made him too beta... but the story's about the heroine, not him. Jury's out whether anyone will want to read it.

Sinead M said...

Oh, seriously, sticky kitchen floors, let's have a competition!

I had serious issues with the Twilight books, because they were written recently. And despite his overbearing tendencies, he had no bite.. ha ha!

Our books should reflect the times we live in, and a story that sells me a subservient woman and a dangerously overbearing hero has no place in today's society..

Stephanie Doyle said...

Yes - but she sold millions! And millions. The one thing I took heart in was how completely obvlious she was to subtext. In her interview w/ Oprah - she says she had never written anything before. Not so much as a short story. This idea came to her and she wrote it down and VOILA... but I do think we have to look at what it says about 13-20 something year old girls when they go this ga ga over a guy.

Now I will say I had WAY more problems with Bella being a wimp than I did with Edward being a jerk.

But girls identify with this heroine. What does that mean? Not in terms of society - which could be a huge issue - but in terms of how we go about selling stories that people want to read.

Eileen said...

I am hopelessly madly in love with just about all of the heroes in Suzanne Brockmann's books. It's hard to be more Alpha than a Navy SEAL, but (with the possible exception of Sam Starrett on occasion) they are not a-holes. They love their women smart, capable and kick-ass.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think you can have a jerky hero if the heroine is tough and strong and poking him with a stick about something. If the conflict is rooted in something between them other than there being some kind of misunderstanding or ridiculous species arguement (I'm a vampire I have to save you from myself...) and it's funny but we were just talking about Suzanne Brockman creating great heroes who are sometimes jerks, but have heroines who are sometimes jerks too.
It's the balance...maybe.

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