Posted by on 28th November 2017

Writing Steamy Romance Novels in the Age of #MeToo

Recently, I read a fascinating article: “3 Cult-Classic Films That Reveal the Depth of Sexual Assault Culture in America”. One of the movies mentioned was Saturday Night Fever. I remember watching it as a kid, liking the music and dancing, and wondering what the big deal was with John Travolta (So not my type.).

What stuck out the most when I re-watched it a few years ago was the horrifying rape scene. How did this not make me, and millions of others, deeply uncomfortable before?

And why the hell was I watching this at eight years old? What weird ideas about how men should treat women was I internalizing at that young age?

Of course, in the late seventies, societies rules about the treatment of women were different.

Sexual harassment and assault on women have been considered normal in our culture since long before I was born. I worked in more than enough male-dominated fields over the years to accept that it came with the territory.

The romance genre is no different. Many of the popular “bodice-ripper” romance novels included rape scenes that led to true love between the rapist and the victim—who was usually far too pure to have engaged in sexual intercourse voluntarily. It was her excuse for having sex (the “He made me do it.” defense), and it worked at the time.

Over the years there’ve been plenty of workplace romances where the male boss seduces his female employee—even when she knows it’s probably a bad idea at best. Even when she doesn’t like him at the start. One way or another he uses his greater power to convince her to sleep with him.

Looking at all these scenes and scripts and scenarios through the lens of now, the ones that make me uncomfortable are more about power than partnership, sexual fulfillment, or finding true love. I try my best to write developing relationships in a way that’s believable, respectful, and hot. I’m not always successful.

What’s changed for me, as a romance author?

Before this whole sexual harassment/assault box got opened, I had a male lead character in an early draft of my third ski romance novella, Never You, that my critique partner HATED.  I mean, absolutely could not stand him, and his overly-flirtatious dialogue, and his desire to get laid. Not even when his heart of gold was revealed.

I’m glad I rewrote him to be a little softer. He was never meant to be an Alpha asshole in the first place. Now that the whole landscape of sexual harassment has changed, I would be even more mortified to put the original version of my hero into the world (I swear he wasn’t an asshole in my head!).

A few weeks ago, I started rewriting a novel I hadn’t touched in almost a year. When I set it aside, I’d been adding in my hero’s point of view. Upon rereading, I realized every one of his scenes made him seem like a crazed stalker. ACK!

How did I not notice at the time? Would I have felt the same rereading it before #MeToo?

I’d like to think so, but I know I’m more sensitive to that sort of thing now than ever before. And hopefully other readers and writers are too.

That’s why I vow to:

  • Pay more attention to times when my heroes are too pushy, too demanding, too flirty for comfort.
  • Read, and write, strong female characters who aren’t afraid to take charge and instigate sex and relationships.
  • Flip the power equation in professional, personal, and sexual relationships whenever I can.
  • Read, and write, men who are sensitive and caring and multi-faceted, and who don’t need to use their power to prop up their egos or be in control.

What do you think…

Has #MeToo changed how you view certain books, movies, or characters? Is implicit consent important to you in a steamy romance? Are you over traditional Alpha males as heroes?

 

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