Thursday, March 30, 2017

Mills and Boon.......the lie of the devil


Thursday Post day!!! Yay!!!

This title has been sitting in my draft for a few years now and I'd not known where to go with it. 

For those that don't know what Mills and Boon novels are,, Mills and Boon or M&B (bear in mind
Mills and Boon here is used as a generic term to cover Harlequin Romance, Silhouette Desire, Avon Romance etc, etc.  and much much more) are novels centred on romantic encounters. They usually look something like this: 

Like I said, this title has been sitting in my draft for a few years. I didn't know what to even say till a friend posted this to her twitter account:




I must first and foremost confess that I was an avid M&B reader. I even started to write my own because I felt we (black folks) weren't really represented in those books. I own about 150 M&B books. I started reading M&B novels when I was about 12 or 13. My cousins would leave them laying about and my dad's sister had a stack and anytime we visited, I'd steal one. 

I was going to rag on them for being low brow and highly predictable, thematically. While that is not untrue, I actually liked my M&Bs at the time. I'd stop by a bookshop on my way to class and use my last ten bucks to buy books.They were cheap; 2.99 to 3.99 so that was about three books that day and I would voraciously devour them.If the book had a sequel or was part of a series, I hopped on amazon and bought the whole series. Yes - I was a M&B junkie. 

The books were great for one thing; cheap escapism. You didn't break the bank but you were transported to Greece, some dessert or a ranch somewhere. Good stuff. But when you consume large quantities of this stuff, it begins to becloud your reasoning. So while it is pure and unadulterated escapism, it also begets totally unrealistic expectations and beliefs about love, sex, relationships and life. 

First things first, romance as a genre is wide and accounts for half of the books (and e-books) sold worldwide at any given time. But I think it is not a truly representative industry for all peoples and creeds. The heroine is usually blonde haired, blue eyed and almost always...a virgin. I started reading these quite young; this is very ill advised, but as a young girl, the "white female form" was portrayed to me as the standard; the only one that was desired and desirable. There was nothing to represent my type of body on these pages. The men also were either European or Arab. No black men in a typical M&B. Zero representation. I remember one book where I read that the heroine had brown nipples, I nigh jumped for joy. At last, we were somewhere here! I noticed that the author was careful in her adjectives. Instead of creamy white skin, it was caramel skin. Blonde hair was auburn hair. Blue eyes were brown eyes. She snuck us in there and I was almost grateful. I didn't like that message of the black male and female form being somewhat alien and abhorrent and that is my first issue with these books. 

Secondly, it is such an irresponsible approach to romance. Like I said earlier, there's a standard male protagonist:tall dark, handsome; who is either a Sheikh, a Mediterranean billionaire a cowboy or a doctor. When you ask a regular teenage girl to describe her dream man, this or something very close to this is what you'd get. They may adjust it for environmental circumstances, but this is a typical teenage girl's fantasy. Fast forward to grown women. Most adult women (writer inclusive) want something perilously close to the foregoing description. See, romance and issues ancillary to it are social constructs that we have imbibed. We are told who to love and how to love and M&B novels were some of the most effective tools in this social conditioning. It just colours our worldview. I read somewhere that romance novels (and movies which are a subset, really) are the leading causes of failed relationships because expectations don't measure up to reality. As it should be! These are works of fiction!!!! They shouldn't be the yardstick for measuring flesh and blood people. It is a given that they will fall horribly short. While some will end up with men that fit this bill, most won't but M&Bs don't tell you that.

One of my biggest problems with these books are the lies they continue to perpetuate about sex. In M&B world, like my friend said above, everything is honky dory. You will have intense pain which will be taken over by extreme pleasure on your first sexual encounter. Abstinence is not necessary and unprotected sex is fantastic. The worst thing you can catch is an unplanned pregnancy but don't worry, your Sheikh/Billionaire Playboy/Cowboy/Doctor/Regency Gentleman will come around and accept the baby and you will all live happily ever after. And the biggest lie of all: the minute your Sheikh/Billionaire Playboy/Cowboy/Doctor/Regency Gentleman touches you...you will have an orgasm...just like that!

Orgasm ko, organism ni.
Mills and Boon novels have been in print for over a hundred years. At no point did they decide to account for the times. They've stuck to their romance formula in times where that formula will straight up get you killed! No one bothers with a condom.
So how have they fixed the pesky STD issue? The women are usually virgins or pregnant after the only sexual encounters of their lives. The protagonists are portrayed as virile men who hitherto meeting the heroine, kept a stable of mistresses. But the onus is on the woman. Surprise freaking surprise.
Then when this inexperienced filly comes in contact with this virile gentleman, his wealth of experience is sexually transmitted to her. She just automatically knows what to do in the bed and is giving him a run for his money.
How Sway???
Can you imagine the pressure this puts on people? None of this crap is true. While sex is largely instinctive, it is not a one size fits all activity. Learning your partner is a must. But Mills and Boons says you should come out of your mother's womb filled with wisdom of bedmatics and other shenanigans. Odiegwu.

Most disturbing of all is how M&Bs promote dysfunction. 

Yes! 

It's always acceptable that the guy is a brooding, rich punk and for the girl to spend a considerable amount of time trying to figure out his thought process. This has been fully adopted as a relational norm in present day romance. Avid consumers of romance have subconsciously accepted this as normal masculine behaviour. Male petulance is not decried for the childish behaviour it is but is often thought of as cute. We don't realise how ingrained these things have become and we sometimes don't know where we learned them from. Well, here's one place to learn such rubbish.

Then there's the crime aspect. The books centred on Sheikhs and Regency Gentlemen are particularly fond of promoting crimes as normal, loving behaviour. It is almost inevitable that the blonde, blue eyed virgin heroine will wind up kidnapped and roughed up by the Sheikh/Regency Gentleman who doesn't believe she's a virgin because maybe she dances for the LA Lakers or was once betrothed and she must have been spreading it around. It takes forcibly having sex with her and her virginal blood spilling on his pristine 1,000,000 thread count sheet to prove her innocence which he's just ripped away. BUT she finds herself drawn to his reticent, callous nature and anytime he graces her bed, she finds herself giving in.

OK, for the people in the back:

RAPE IS NOT OK. RAPE IS NOT ROMANTIC. NEITHER IS KIDNAPPING.

After old girl gets raped (or as they would put it, made love to) she just goes on about her life. She doesn't wonder where he's been with his nasty self. She doesn't dash off to a clinic to get checked for everything. She's just sitting there waiting for the next time he comes to her.
All of the foregoing is dysfunction that has become touted in popular culture as normal behaviour. We all know certain people who as a result of  books and movies with these themes now want to be  or fantasise about being roughed up or even beaten up. I'm told some think it is a testament of love.

'scuse me?????
Your man has anger issues and you have other issues that only a psychologist can diagnose.

Al in all, I think it is interesting how these things subconsciously shape our perceptions and while I no longer actively read them, I can't help but root for romance novels. This is why I am glad to see that we now have our own romance offerings in Nigeria. It definitely takes care of the representation issue. I just hope and pray that the writers were not heavily influenced by traditional Mills and Boons and don't suffer the same shortcomings.

 I may submit mine for publication one day, if I finish it.

Anyways, thanks for reading my long winded post once again. Enjoy the rest of your week and have a great weekend!

Bisoux.

3 comments:

  1. Oh yea, dear M&Bs. You have captured it well. The good thing about my experience is that my mom also had a thing for Pacesetters and those, I could def relate to. I also had a very healthy helping of James Hardley Chase around the same time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I read a few and quickly got bored, I could write it in my sleep. Too easy. Nice write up and analysis.

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