Friday, October 7, 2011

Abuse as True Love in Paranormal Romance

'Blood Tears' photo (c) 2011, Ban_Estrada - license:
There are a lot of tropes in paranormal romance that consistently raise their ugly heads - many of which we explain in our Lexicon

Many of these destructive tropes are often “justified” by being “explained by the woo-woo”. In other words, the fact that it is magic or some kind of preternatural creature doing these things makes it okay, not problematic or otherwise acceptable. So a possessive or stalking boyfriend is explained by being a werewolf or a vampire - therefore a creature with territorial instincts. This has the additional problematic element of justifying or excusing the problematic behaviour - and these explanations are very reminiscent of the old excuses: “he can’t help it” and “it’s just his way” and “I could smell your desire” sounds very much like “you want it really.”

Regardless of the excuse provided by being a possessive supernatural being, or an aggressive, violent or out of control creature - we’re still looking at relationships that look very abusive and in some cases are outright abusive and they don’t become harmless just because the abuser turns furry or has fangs. It is particularly problematic because these books are largely written by women and the books themselves are quite often targeted at a young female audience.

Stalking as Love trope.

In the Twilight Saga S. Meyer has her vampire Edward watch Bella as she sleeps. Think about that for a moment. A man enters a woman’s room without her permission and watches her. In the real world we call that a peeping tom and that normally leads to a quick trip to the local jail and yet repeatedly this is constructed as romantic. Even Edward’s faults however are far outstripped by Adam Hauptman of the Mercedes Thompson series. Because Adam is a werewolf as is supposedly naturally protective (Read: creepy stalker dude), he installs cameras into Mercy’s garage without her permission. Of course this is only because he is worried about an unsavoury element wanting a damn oil, lube and filter but what it really comes down to is ensuring that he has the ability to monitor every single moment of her day. Patricia Briggs, the author of this series, could have redeemed this by having Mercy demand that the surveillance be removed but of course if that is what the alpha werewolf wants, that’s what the alpha werewolf gets.

Unwanted Touches and “No means I want you More”.

This is one of the more prevalent and problematic tropes we see repeated over and over. The idea that a woman is always reluctant when it comes to romance, relationships and sex - so she has to be won over, her resistance worn down and, basically, she needs to be nagged or coerced into sex.

In Twilight Jacob forces a kiss on Bella because he believes that this will force her to admit her feeling of love for him. At that point she had repeatedly explained that her feelings did not expand beyond friendship but why honour a woman’s feelings about her own body when the woo justifies forcing oneself upon her. If that were not enough, Bella’s father then goes on to congratulate Jacob for assaulting his daughter. I suppose as long as you get daddy’s permission everything is a okay. Woman have, after all, been transferred from father to husband for generations.

In Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series we have this repeated multiple times in at least 8 of her books. The Psy women (Faith, Sascha, Ashaya) are all very reluctant  to engage emotionally or even be touched. Repeatedly their Changeling lovers touch them when told not to, make romantic and sexual advances despite being told repeatedly that it’s unwelcome. This is often “explained by the woo-woo” by their emotionally damaged culture but, ultimately, they are women saying “no” who are repeatedly ignored. And this is exacerbated by the Changeling and human women (Talin and Indigo) who, again, say no but are pursued no matter how often they say they are not interested in a relationship

JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series takes this to the next level. In Lover Eternal Rhage has just met Mary when he pushes her against a wall and presses his body against her. She asks to be let go and he keeps pushing against her in a scene that, frankly, looked like sexual harassment.
In Take a Chance by Karen Chance, Cass must have sex to take on the full power of the pythia.  Cass, however, is a virgin (by virgin I mean anything but intercourse virgin because the only type of sex that counts is when a mans penis enters a woman.  Yes that irritated me).  Throughout the book she continues to say "no" to every man that tries to seduce her.  Mircea the master vampire won't take no for an answer and demands the right to touch her sexually for every question he asks her.  If that were not disgusting enough, in the second book, Claimed by Shadow, he puts a geas on her which marks her body as his territory for other men as well as causes her to be unbelievably attracted to him and desire sex.  I'm sure this sounds bad but what is even creepier is that this man that is hundreds of years old marked her at the age of 12.  Um, yeah pedophile.

In Kelley Armstong’s Bitten, Elena has done just about everything she can to avoid a relationship with Clay. He doesn’t take no for an answer, continually pursues her and at one point he even says he’d never rape her - there’s a reason why he has to say it because it was beginning to look like that was what he was leading up to!

In DB Reynolds's Raphael he repeatedly pursues Cynthia despite her repeated “nos” because he “smells” her desire (yes, eau de wet pussy completely overwhelms her refusal).

I could add a hundred to this list but will finish with Ilona Andrews’ excellent Kate Daniels series. Curran has pursued Kate from book 1 and no amount of her saying that she isn’t interested has made him back off. And I think she’s tried to stab him more than once - you’d think that’d be a hint.

Jealousy and Aggression against other men coming near "their women"

JR Ward again sets awards for this trope. The Black Dagger Brothers are all extremely possessive and violent. Male vampires bond their mates so they exude a smell that marks them as claimed and no other man is allowed near. In Lover Revealed Butch is driven to violent rage because Marissa must drink blood from someone else. When Beth feeds Butch to save his life, Wrath has to be physically restrained so he doesn’t attack them. In Lover Eternal Mary is actually terrified at the prospect of leaving Rhage because “bonded males never let go”.

In Jabril, the second D.B. Reynolds book, he is initially attracted to Cynthia because she had a previous relationship with Raphael. That’s right, he wants to lift his leg in some other vampire’s territory. Though he needs help with a case, a proper man will suffice and hiring Cynthia is only about possessing another man’s woman. Cynthia isn’t a person, she’s a hole for fucking.

Of course we have to mention Adam Hauptman in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thomas series for whom this trope was named for. In River Marked he is so possessive and controlling that he doesn’t even like Mercy going to Wal Mart without him - and any man who looks at Mercy is growled at or threatened.

And Back to Nalini Singh’s Psy/changeling series. In an ultimate “explained by the woo-woo” moment if a male changeling enters the “mating dance” he is out of control and will attack any other man coming too close to his chosen mate. And everyone accepts that as natural and normal. When a werewolf attacks a man who looks at Indigo, the victim APOLOGISES because he recognises the mating danceand that totally justifies violent assault.

In the Sisters of the Moon series, Camille forms a polyamorous relationship since Witchling yet Trillian is possessive from the very beginning. When Smokey enters the picture, he's fully aware of her two other lovers yet in Dragonwych he is, again, extremely jealous and possessive of Camille

Lest you believe that this trope only exists in books, consider Dyson the werewolf in Lost Girl, who gets involved with a succubus. A SUCCUBUS and yet he has a problem with the idea that she needs to be with other people to survive. Of course he explains this by telling her that werewolves are naturally possessive and mate for life. Isn’t that sweet everyone?

A Good Woman Can Change a Man - it doesn’t matter what he’s done, I loooove him

The classic example is, of course, The Vampire Diaries. Where Damon and Stefan have both racked up the body counts yet still remain viable love interests. In fact Stefan is an outright torturing serial killer and Elena’s only concern is saving him - never mind the victims he leaves behind. She does not even pause after she sees a long list of his victims. What more proof does this woman need that the supposedly sweet, innocent vampire that she fell in love with is beyond redemption?

In True Blood and the Southern Vampire Mysteries books, Sookie is quick to overlook the death counts her lovers have left in the past. In fact, in the first book Bill makes it clear to her he has killed people in the past on their second meeting - she takes a moment to process this then moves on. A second’s pause, that’s all she gives to those unnamed victims.

In the Vampire Empire series starting with The Riftwalker the vampire Gareth is a redeemed vampire - he has seen the error of his ways and wishes to help humanity. Yet, though he now does a lot to try and make up for his past, it doesn’t change that in the Great Killing he was one of the vampire’s chief generals responsible for the slaughter of thousands if not millions of people

All of these tropes, no matter how explained they are by woo-woo are damaging and present a lot of extremely problematic - and outright dangerous and abusive behaviour - as acceptable. Not only acceptable - but desirable and romantic. And while many dismiss the genre as just being paranormal romance, we cannot deny how popular these books are, or how widely they spread their messages.If abuse is cast as love that turns women into eternal victims while having the consequences of not only normalising these behaviours but minimising actual real life cases of incidents described in these stories.  Real women bleed and die and this should never be obscured, or promoted as good for the sake of selling a few books.