Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 33 - Romanticising Sexual Assault

When does a strong, masculine Alpha-male hero become a sexual offender?

I just started reading The Rogue's Disgraced Lady by Carole Mortimer. Sebastian, the 'rogue' from the title, has decided that he wants to seduce a beautiful widow who is rumoured to have killed her husband. He makes it abundantly clear that he has no further intentions than sex, and in fact he has only ever seen her once from across a room. The lady in question, Juliet, attends a house party he is at. So what does he do?

He arranges to be given the room next to hers - and there is an adjoining balcony. A few minutes after being introduced to Juliet, she makes it quite clear she is not interested in a fling with him. Undaunted, Sebastian continues to make overtly sexual comments to her and later enters her room uninvited through the balcony and refuses to leave when requested. The next day, he says he will only stop pestering her if she goes for a drive with him. She reluctantly agrees, and when he AGAIN makes uninvited, unwelcome advances and refuses to stop when she becomes distressed she knees him and walks off.

To this point, Juliet has given Sebastian absolutely no indication she is interested in him at all.

That evening, at a party, Sebastian stands behind Juliet on the balcony while she is watching the evening's entertainment and unbuttons her dress, kissing her down her back. She asks him to stop and he begins digitally stimulating her until she changes her mind and becomes aroused.

He makes it clear she should not move because everyone will see her dress is undone and she will be ruined. She is upset that she has no choice, but then (she asks herself) does she really want one?

Is that romance? Or is that sexual assault?

I'm not against sex in romance novels. I'm not against rough sex or BDSM in romance novels. I am against the  disempowerment of women through the trivialisation of sexual assault. The Rape Crisis Centre defines sexual assault thus:
Rape/sexual assault is not about passion or sexual desire. It is the use of power and control by one person over another person using sexual means.
Your alpha male characters can be strong, even dominating, while still engaging in consensual sexual intercourse. Look at Han Solo - he is standing with Princess Leia in the corridor. He is the overwhelming physical presence, but at every point she has a choice. And she is able to use that to leave, knowing that he will not break into her room and continue to force his presence upon her.

In fact, I'd argue that a part of the role of the hero in romance is to engage and seduce the reader as well as the heroine. I personally find it hard to connect with a hero who has so much trouble taking no for an answer that he just takes what he wants regardless of what her feelings may be. I mean, EVEN if you said that her deeply buried inner desire for Sebastian was enough to make in consensual, he had no knowledge of it. Her desire, or lack of it, didn't feature into his decision. And that is enough to take away his hero status for me.

I'll finish with a passage from A Daring Passion by Rosemary Rogers, where a girl masquerading as a highwayman is picked up by a man in a carriage who, realising she is a girl, claims her as his mistress, ignoring her pleas to be allowed to leave:

"," she breathed. 
 A thin, cruel smile curved his lips as he lowered his head to stroke his cheek over her curls.
"Your first lesson, meu amor, is that you never, ever tell me no," he said in a low, rasping voice. "A mistress is always pleased to accommodate her lover, no matter what his request."
Raine was wise enough not to struggle against his hold. When you were cornered by a dangerous predator you did not continue to bait him. 
She trembled even as she struggled to deny the sensations already coursing through her body. 
 "I will be no man's slave." 
He merely laughed as he tugged open the cloak and his arms encircled her waist.
"You belong to me, Raine Wimbourne (...) There is nowhere you can run, nowhere you can hide that I would not find you."  

In disgust, word count - 0

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