I ended last week’s This Author’s Life #Thursday with this question:
So how does that increased sexual assurance translate into a twenty-first century feminism and female and empowerment?
And now it’s time to talk about it.
I’ve been a feminist all of my life, though that ideology has taken a variety of forms, and some purists might argue that I’ve deviated from the path now and then. However, in the strictest sense of the word–that feminism is all about advocating for and believing in the rights and abilities of women–I’ve always been a feminist. I believe women have the ability to do whatever they desire.
However, while I know that women and men should be treated equally, it doesn’t necessarily mean the same. While I know that I can hold a job, lead a government or fight in a battle, I still want to have doors held for me. I still want a man to treat me like a lady, and I am more than happy to treat him like a gentleman. Equality does not negate gender roles.
In 2015, we pay nice lip service to equality. There is a still a gender gap in wages, and there still exists some sense that women cannot be responsible or strong as men. We’ve passed laws to make changes, but laws don’t change hearts and minds.
Women who are strong and take charge are still thought as bitchy, while men who do the same are admired.
Women whose comfort with their sexuality might lead to multiple partners are considered sluts, while men who sleep with multiple women are called studs.
Let’s stop and consider this: if we persist in this way of thinking, we are not only slowing the evolution of women’s rights, we are in effect creating a class of women who can never be anything but so-called sluts. If we allow that men having multiple sex partners is okay–but the same is not true for women–there must be a group of women having sex with the studs whom society will shame and deride.
Do you see the level of unfairness here?
How does this, any of this, relate to books and writing? Well, I believe strongly that how we depict people in fiction has an enormous impact on how we view and related to them in real life. So when we only create characters who make ‘good’ sexual choices and reward them accordingly within the story, we’re saying that’s what we expect of girls outside literature. When we choose to punish characters who make what society might consider questionable sexual choices–through consequence or simply by portraying them as less than desirable–we’re saying that women can only expect those same results in real life.
Let’s take the book I’ve been talking about all week, Sarina Bowen’s The Shameless Hour. If you haven’t read it and you don’t want to be spoiled, please stop now. I can’t delve into this topic without talking about specifics.
We all good? Spoilers are okay?
Bella is a character who, it is clear from the beginning, has made sexual choices that are very different from those we usually see in our heroines. Bella likes sex. She has a lot of it. She’s friendly and tactile with her friends on the hockey team, and she’s mistrusted and not liked by other girls. Bella doesn’t have girl friends.
When she meets Rafe, he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend on the night they were slated to have sex for the first time, both of them virgins. Bella comforts Rafe, and then, as it’s second nature to her, she has sex with him, not knowing that this is his first experience.
Rafe’s guilt for sleeping with a girl he doesn’t know well and for indulging in what he sees as casual sex makes him leave in the middle of the night and avoid Bella for weeks. Bella, for her part, feels the rebuff as judgment on Rafe’s part. It hurts, even though she doesn’t regret her actions.
She does end up regretting a night with a football player not long thereafter, because the jerk gives her chlamydia. When she goes to tell him, so that he can be treated, too, he drugs her drink and with his frat brothers, writes horrible and derisive words on her body, takes pictures and puts them up on a website.
Now Bella is broken. She’s alone, devastated that this could happen to her. Rafe comes to her aid, and over the course of the next months, he helps her to recover both mentally and emotionally, with the help of a new friend–Bella’s first female pal.
What’s different about this book is that we are on the side of the shamed female. We’re not seeing this story through the eyes of the hockey player’s girlfriend, the ‘good’ girl who hates the slutty team manager. We see Bella as a real, whole person, not a caricature. And Rafe, in all his undoubted masculinity, is this time in the role we so often see saved for girls: he wants sex to mean something. He wants a relationship with Bella, not just casual fun. He’s willing to wait and deny himself in order to have that. It’s a nice change to see a man portrayed with such feeling.
Bella is a strong, powerful character. Part of that strength is her sexuality and her comfort with it. I feel that Joss in Undeniable is the same, and even Meghan from The Last One. I’m happy that we’re seeing more of these women populating our books.
Until we’re ready to accept strong sexualized females in our favorite stories, we won’t be able to accept them in our society.
And now I’m climbing off my soap box. Next week we’ll talk about something far more frivolous and not at all weighty. I promise.
Now is that a blog title or what?
This might seem a little weighty for a Thursday morning, but it’s been on my mind for a while, and I think it’s worth talking about.
When the New Adult genre first began to emerge a few years back, there was considerable confusion in both the author and reader worlds about what defined this type of book. Was it age of characters? Age of readers? A specific type of situation? Or, as some began to insinuate, was it the enormous amount of sex happening in these NA romances?
The answers have been slow to come out. Most of us agree that NA means the main characters are post-high school and pre-30. That’s a fairly wide gap, so we might further define it via situation: the characters are usually either in college, just out of college or in a situation (job or otherwise) happening in place of college. Age of readers is immaterial; as in YA, the readership for New Adult romance spans from pre-teen (yikes) to senior citizenship. As for situation, most of these books showcase characters in transition, either physical, academic, emotional or relational.
Sex? Yeah. Most–not all–NA tends to feature a lot of that.
But for me, it’s not the amount of sex in an NA book that’s intriguing. It’s how the sex is handled. I’ve discovered that in my favorite stories, the female leads have one thing in common: a healthy sexual attitude and appetite. Thinking about that led me to another line of questioning: why is it that until recently, a healthy attitude about sex in a female lead who was under 30 and/or unmarried usually signified a character flaw in that woman? We were okay with the heroine fawning over the hero’s eyes or voice or his take-charge attitude, but most of the time, she wasn’t checking out his other, ah, assets. On the other hand, they male leads were all about the curves in their love-interests; it was perfectly okay for the hero to exhibit obvious signs of sexual interest in the girl, but rarely did we see likewise from the women. Her heart might pound, or she might feel butterflies in her stomach, but we didn’t delve too far into what was going on in other body parts.
And most of these books also faded to black during love scenes. The only female characters with overt interest in the bedroom activities were the ‘bad’ girls, and you knew damn well those gals weren’t getting the guy–he was reserved for the dewey-eyed good girl.
I’m happy to see that changing. Nowadays, we’re seeing female leads who take charge of their own choices, including sexually. They’re comfortable with their bodies and with finding pleasure. Most are mature in their decisions, being both responsible and sensible.
Now, I’ll say right here that I’m not coming out as an advocate for premarital sex or suggesting that the choices made in books are necessarily right for all girls. The only one who can make a good decision for a young woman is that young woman, hopefully with the guidance and counsel of her mother or other wise relatives/friends.
My point is that books are now offering a wider option of role models. There’s no longer only the virgin or the slut; New adult has opened the door to the advent of the sexually-confident and responsible female. While we can find these women in a growing number of wonderful books, I’ll spotlight a few that have impressed me recently.
Sarina Bowen’s The Ivy Years series is a terrific example of healthy sexuality, explored in a matter-of-fact setting. If you’re a fan of NA romance, you really must read these books. My favorite is probably the one I just finished, The Shameless Hour, in which the female lead is unabashedly sexual and sexually active. Over the course of the book, she experiences numerous attempts by others to change this in her, and how she deals with it was extremely well-done.
My own journey as an author of NA romance has been a learning experience. When I began writing, I wrote young adult books, and I was happy not to have to tackle the sex topic. I’ve been married to the same man since I was 20; we’d been dating since I was 17. I have three daughters, and I wanted to write a story that they could read (and even though they’re older, two of them don’t read books with sex!). I had no doubt that Tasmyn and Michael would wait until they married, and that decision worked for them . . . until we came to Restless and Rafe got in on the action–figuratively speaking. Rafe is probably one of my most sexual characters, and for him, being with Tasmyn and sensing her reluctance to touch him was a blow. Tasmyn’s experience with Rafe played into her relationship with Michael in Endless, where both of them are tempted to take their physical bond to the next level. Of course, they don’t, because these are YA books.
Best Served Cold was my first NA romance. I struggled with the right balance for Julia; she was undeniably attracted to Jesse and they did have a sexual element to their relationship, but it wasn’t actually consummated until the end of the book, mostly because Julia had been burned by Liam. Through flashbacks, though, we learn that their sex life was probably the healthiest aspect of Liam and Julia’s relationship.
But it was probably the process of writing Undeniable that opened my eyes. Joss, Rafe’s love interest in that book, was an unknown quantity for me at the start. I knew what her role was, but I didn’t really know her. Once I began writing the story, suddenly Joss blossomed into a main character whose assertiveness and independence helped shape the plot line. She was the perfect foil for Rafe, the hot guy who’d just spent a summer sleeping with a different woman every night in his attempt to forget Tasmyn. And Joss was also a nice difference from Cathryn, who presents herself as aloof and almost cold (although those of us who’ve read Stardust on the Sea know differently!). Joss is comfortable in her sexuality. She knows she can enjoy Rafe without being in love with him, though maybe this doesn’t quite work out the way she’d planned.
Writing Joss was so freeing for me as an author that it changed my subsequent NA romances. Joss made way for Ava, who lusted openly for Liam even when she was wracked with guilt–it wasn’t a sexual guilt. And Meghan is clearly comfortable with her own desire; she makes no secret of her feelings for Sam, even when he can’t handle it yet.
Writing Flynn and Ali’s story was especially fun, because through the flashbacks, we get to see them discover each other. Their honesty and frankness helped them in the future, when they needed that re-established connection. And even Rilla, as protected and innocent as she is, responds eagerly to Mason.
So how does that increased sexual assurance translate into a twenty-first century feminism and female and empowerment?
Come back next week and we’ll talk about that.
My This Author’s Life post is one of my favorite to write each week. It’s wide open, and I can talk to y’all about anything I want. But this week, inspiration was pretty scarce. I’ve been so deep in writing and in getting ready for events that I hardly had any life to write about.
And then this morning the awesome Cora Carmack posted about this fabulous #ToTheGirls campaign. And there was today’s post.
I’ve been a feminist forever. I was raised by strong women in the company of women, I have three strong daughters and I believe in the power and the uniqueness of womanhood. I don’t say we’re better, but I’ll be danged if we ain’t just as good (that was an Oklahoma! riff right there, in case you didn’t know it.)
If you haven’t read about this campaign, start here. Author Courtney Summers started this trend, saying on her blog, “Take the opportunity to tell the girls you know — and the ones you don’t — that they are seen, heard and loved. Share advice. Be encouraging. Tell us about or thank the girls in your life who have made a difference in yours.”
So what would my tweets be? Here are a few going out today.
#ToTheGirls Be fearless. You are stronger than the world says you are.
#ToTheGirls You can love and be loved without being the damsel in distress.
#ToTheGirls Never underestimate the power of your heart. The world needs it.
So go forth and tweet your best words. Tag me so I can see.
This one’s for the girls.