Friday, July 13, 2018

Romance: Persistence is Not a Virtue

There are many times in life where persistence and patience are rewarded. Times when we - and certainly the characters we read - should fight on no matter what, against all obstacles, in the teeth of the most vicious opposition. After all, a hero winning against all the odds is always good for an epic story. And it’s almost a trope now that if your hero gets into a fight this will start out badly for them, they’ll be beaten until they rally, the dramatic music plays and they give their enemies a good kicking. Everyone loves a scrappy underdog story and there’s nothing quite so underdog as rising from the ashes of defeat

Then we come to romance and… this trope continues. Not only continues but it has been thoroughly embedded in our society - faint heart never won fair lady, women play hard to get and, most toxically “no means yes”. We have entire genres of romance, rom-coms and more centred around the plucky male underdog, being rejected and refusing to take that no for an answer, persevering and then winning the reluctant woman’s stubborn heart. All “no” means is that you need to try harder, try again and again and again until you wear her down.

Or, to put it another way, men don’t take no for an answer and continue to stalk, harass and generally annoy a woman until she gives up. These stories don’t show love or romance and these men don’t approach their prospective love interests as people - but as prizes to win, obstacles to overcome to earn their eventual reward.

This can be very prevalent in long running Urban Fantasy series where a relationship is a slow burn rather than an insta love.

It takes Kate Daniels several books before her relationship with Curran became a thing. Oh he fixated on her quite early in the series but she wasn’t buying, despite being impressed by his physique. She resisted him, insulted him generally tried to make it clear that they were never going to be a thing. While he pursued her, pushed her, challenged her and even broke into her house (this seems to be a theme of these relationships - it’s not true love if the guy hasn’t broken into her house at some point).

I love Kate and Curran’s relationship. I love it, they’re awesome together - but they way they got there was a problem. Kate said no, Kate refused but Curran pushed and pushed and persisted and thought and… won.

We see this with the Otherworld series’ original partners - Elena and Clay. Their relationship starts in the rockiest possible way with Clay biting Elena and risking her life turning her into a relationship without her consent. After some rocky beginnings she runs - yes she has other issues as well prompting her to run, but after leaving the country she is very clear that she doesn’t want Clay in her life. Like a good Urban Fantasy protagonist, he takes this as a challenge, pushing back into her life, using circumstances to move into her home (and wedge between her and her actual fiance) and even getting handsy. Elena says no to Clay, Elena does not want him in her life - yet he persists. And he wins.

Of course, no terrible Urban Fantasy trope example would be complete without the Anita Blake Series because that series just contains all that is wrong in the genre. Possibly the world by now. I’ve already discussed how Anita’s relationship with any man is pretty much forced on her, but Jean-Claud gets a special prize for patience. Pushing into her life, magically marking her against her will despite numerous death threats to try and make him back off. He pushes, throws out innuendo, pulls her into compromising situations, threatens to kill her boyfriend if she doesn’t date him. His restraining order should be a taser by this point -yet he persists: he ignores no after no after no for 6 books until, in a final moment of weakness: he wins.

This tropes is so prevalent and problematic that it has wait from the moment characters are introduced. I pick up a book and see a man the female protagonist hates? I assume they’re going to fall into bed at some point. In fact, a man and a woman hating each other is pretty much a short-cut code word for sexual tension: and Urban Fantasy, Romance and Paranormal Romance are hardly alone in perpetrating this. Just about every genre has numerous examples of “will-they-won’t-they” built on a woman trying to get a man to back off and a man pushing and pushing until that “will they” finally happens. I’m still waiting for Leo and Jane to get together in the Jane Yellowrock Series and the more fraught and problematic their interactions are, the more I expect it to happen

We’ve coded angry hostility as a code for a relationship: we’ve created the idea that this is what the opening to a relationship looks like. We’re reinforcing the idea that women don’t know their own minds and their consent is irrelevant: because women don’t know their own minds or what is best for them. We’ve laid this down as a foundation for romance, a message so common that we can even use it as a signifier for romance, as a shortcut. It’s so ingrained in our society

I’m not against slow burn relationships - far from it, I’ve ranted repeatedly about how insta-love stories get on my last nerve and tend to derail from whatever plot is actually supposed to be happening (especially since that plot usually involves something epic like the world end ending which is a little frustrating when it has to take a back seat to the Protagonists drooling over a six pack). But a slow burn relationship doesn’t have to rest on hostility. Barriers keeping eventual lovers apart don’t have to involve our “hero” chanting “no means yes”. I’d much rather see love develop through mutual respect and learning about each other and growing into more and more… than see yet another “persistent” man ignore refusal after refusal to finally wear down his prize. I want to see two people come together in mutual joy heading towards a happily ever after, not having him dragging her kicking and screaming until she realises it’s what she wanted all along.

And that may be the most toxic message of this. Not only does he wear her down - but the happily ever after we then have tells us he was right to do so...