The Vindication of the Rights of Man in Romance Novels
Are men in romance novels granted agency & subjectivity, and do readers have the same expectations for male consent as they do for female characters in M/F romance? Lynell from Weekend Reader has some thoughts on mutual consent in romance, especially as she’s binging dark mafia romance with kidnapping plots. What happens when your real life values conflict with your fantasy world values, and how do ideas about happily ever after change as our culture changes?
joyful problematizing, genre discussions
Are men in romance novels granted agency & subjectivity, and do readers have the same expectations for male consent as they do for female characters in M/F romance? Lynell from Weekend Reader has some thoughts on mutual consent in romance, especially as she’s binging dark mafia romance with kidnapping plots. What happens when your real life values conflict with your fantasy world values, and how do ideas about happily ever after change as our culture changes?
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Guest: Lynell from Weekend Reader
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Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello friends. It's me, Andrea. I'm proud to announce that Romancelandia Holiday Fairies is back for its third year 2022. Romancelandia Holiday Fairies is a mutual aid effort for the Romancelandia community to support anyone in the community who could use some help purchasing gifts for themselves or loved ones this holiday season.
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Hello and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast about romance novels and how they reflect, explore, challenge, and shape, desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci and on this episode I'm joined by Lynell who blogs about books at Weekend Reader, and she's here to discuss mutual consent in romance.
Lynell: Hi, I'm so happy to be here with you.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, thanks for being here again. The last time you visited, you were joined by the rest of the Swoonies team, and you were talking about your favorite romances of, I had to look this up. 2020, Not 2021.
Andrea Martucci: So it's been like almost two years. What what's been going on with you and your blog Weekend Reader since then?
Lynell: Yeah, so Weekend Reader is still a micro blog. I'm flying under the radar, which is fantastic for me. But still primarily blogging about romance. That is where my heart thrives. But I've been getting into a little bit of cozy mysteries in general. And exploring plant-based recipes. I've been sharing a lot more baking stuff on the blog and on social media.
Andrea Martucci: Cool. Now are those based on cooking books or it doesn't have to be book related?
Lynell: Sometimes it is cookbook related, but I've been following a lot of plant-based content [00:03:00] creators. And so a lot of them eventually have cookbooks, but most of it is just following recipes from their blogs or from their short videos.
Andrea Martucci: Very cool.
Lynell, I reached out to you and I was like, What do you wanna talk about? And you mentioned that you wanted to talk about mutual consent in romance. So what got you thinking about this? What's on your mind?
Lynell: Well, first of all, before we get started, I just wanna say I'm always paying attention to your critique and analysis of romance. I think it's very much helps add a different layer of how are we engaging with something that is pretty much a human experience and romance is trying to come from it, hopefully from different perspectives. So I'm super happy to be here and excited to talk about this.
It wasn't a really fully thought out thought when I reached out to you and we started talking about it. But essentially what happened is I've been reading a lot of Mafia Romance, which is a new subgenre to me. Definitely read and enjoyed romantic suspense before, but Mafia Romance in particular is a little different.
And this summer when I started devouring series, I started to notice there were things that were happening that I, at the time, I didn't realize were subgenre conventions. So one of the things that a lot of my bookish Friends laugh about now is there kidnapping in there?
Right. Which is apparently a convention of Mafia Romance, which got me to think about how am I enjoying this fictionally and how do I engage with this text that in real life I would absolutely not be okay with?
And because I was so tuned into this discomfort, one of the other parts about Mafia Romance is dub-con, so dubious consent and it really turns that into a really good conversation piece, right to one, talk about how murky consent can be and sometimes how hard it can be in a conversation. But where I think we started talking about is consent always feels like the characters are up for sex, right? And in certain ways, I think romance there's an underbelly of that.
And so how do we ensure that it's on page, that characters are talking about consenting to whether it is sex, is it touch, is it proximity to the person, financial consent, all of those things. I've just been thinking about a lot of the different components of how easy it is to have mutual consent be very murky.
And I don't know if we're talking about it globally, often.
Andrea Martucci: Right. And so starting with Dark Romance, you were talking about how kidnapping is a convention of the sub-genre of Dark [00:06:00] Romance. In the examples you've seen, how is kidnapping functioning in there and how is familiarity with the subgenre giving readers maybe more information than is actually on page about what's going on here.
Lynell: So a lot of the kidnapping is to reaffirm typically the male main character's obsession, possession of the female main character and the kidnapping speeds up that process of their HEA, right? So it creates forced proximity. It creates intense intimacy in some capacity, right? And the kidnapping also creates some communication opportunities that if he potentially had said, will you come with me versus I'm taking you, that tension would feel different. So I think it speeds up some of the angst in a way that maybe contemporary romance would not, it would not fly.
And so the, I think it's a norm for readers to understand that this is always for the good of the relationship and nothing harmful is actually happening. So kidnapping is more of, you're agreeing to it, but you just don't say it on page, if that makes sense.
So we understand it is actually kidnapping because there's some intrigue and because there's some interest, whether, physical attraction or interest in understanding the lifestyle, the kidnapping isn't as bad as if it was in real life.
Andrea Martucci: So the kidnapping is non-consensual, however, it's framed as not harmful. Right. Okay. And then by the time the characters are having sex, is it usually communicated that there's like more consent to have sex at that point? Like, Hey, you may have kidnapped me, but I do wanna have sex with you, or I'm attracted to you.
And that becomes a way of giving consent? Not really, but I think that becomes shorthand, right? My body's attracted to you, so therefore I consent even if my mind and my words don't.
Lynell: Yeah. So I think it, it's 50 50. It isn't always on page and it's not always understood. And I think part of the fascinating part of it is if there is a body response, is that enough for the consent? Right?
So is her attraction to him, okay enough to consent, and we know like just your body could do something different than what your brain wants.
And so it gets really murky because can you really consent to anything under that kind of duress?
And I think practical Lynell says No. But reader Lynell is like how creative will this author be in order to [00:09:00] make this okay?
And I think that's part of the craftsmanship of Dark Romance, right?
Like, how far can we push this boundary? Because in real life we know that this wouldn't be okay. But in this context, in this Fictional world, as a reader, we know everything at the end, right? Not right now possibly, but at the end, it will be okay.
Everything leading up to that, HEA, how far can I push the reader to be this uncomfortable without it being actually harmful?
And some Authors do a better job of that than others. Cuz I think the thing is, do you feel excited versus icky? And that is where it gets really murky because for some readers it would be absolutely not. Whereas someone else would be like, But she seems okay. So then it becomes okay.
Andrea Martucci: Well, and I think what you're getting at there is rhetorically like how the story is framing, the state of mind of the heroine in this situation, where whether she says yes or not, if internally you can tell she's into it and interested and, she may have been kidnapped and she may, because of the power dynamics of a kidnap situation, not truly be able to give consent in a way that, as you were saying, logically, readers are like, Oh, that is problematic, but within this fantasy you understand that this is something that she's into that, we know that this is like a safe place if she goes forward with the sexual relationship, it's gonna work out in the end because again, genre and sub genre conventions.
But, similarly, I think readers of cis het romance have come to understand that consent becomes more of a problem when talking about female main characters Yeah. because the assumption is that men are always interested in sex.
Lynell: Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm.
Andrea Martucci: And that also is reinforced, rhetorically and narratively in the story. We know that the hero is always really turned on by the body of the heroine, he has like a constant erection. There's all of these physical and interior revelations that have us believing that, he's ready and waiting for her to show that she's ready for this.
And, that too it's really just a genre convention at this point where the way we as a reader are supposed to understand that this guy sees this woman as being wholly different from any other woman is like his extreme physical attraction to her and like ready to jump in.
But like also not always just with the heroine. There's also a lot of reinforcing that in, especially in certain sub genres, that the hero like is very virile and ready for sex with almost anyone, whether he respects them as a person or not.
Lynell: Right, [00:12:00] Right. I think part of cementing the relationship is the act of having sex and how often it happens in a variety of ways. And so I think in that, the way you've just framed it really, I think unintentionally frames male heroes, because I primarily read hetero romance. It positions the male character to always want to have sex or be the initiator. And in, in the cases where that is not happening where he might not be pursuing sex initially he is performing regardless. And so that becomes part of the fantasy that his feral nature is a part of his masculinity, is a part his lore, his sexuality.
Right. That is an attraction to the female character. So like the bad boy. And unintentionally is that not a way or a form of toxic masculinity that we're portraying? Right. To assume that's the one way that he will engage with someone that he over time will be emotionally connected to, Cuz then that leads out a lot of different forms of intimacy and prioritizes sex as the one way to connect with someone you are interested in.
Andrea Martucci: Right. Yeah. This is like a question I've thrown out there on Twitter a lot, kind of joking, but I also mean it, which is are men, people in romance?
Andrea Martucci: Because a lot of romance novels, particularly, if you go back to the seventies and on, this starts to become less of an issue as we get closer to today, like where the ratio starts to become less large.
But there's definitely the characterization of men in romance novels has problems with how flat it is and how little depth is given to the emotional range of the heroes. And part of this is, as you mentioned, the toxic masculinity. That men only want sex. Men are always ready for sex. They only want sex. They don't want more intimate relationships, and they don't want intimate relationships without sex. Right?
And that is a way of thinking about men that is not only gender essentialist and, problematic in that way. But it's also really dehumanizing to men.
And I feel like, because I grew up reading a lot of stories where men were portrayed in this way, I had a very odd idea about what men were like. I truly did believe that, they were ruled by the little head in their pants, which is something that would show up in romance novels, like that way of describing men, which again, it doesn't allow men the emotional range that we know men have.
And I do think that portrayal harmed my understanding of men as people
Lynell: Yeah. I think that's [00:15:00] a really interesting and spot on observation. I think what you're describing is the female gaze, right? Cis female gaze. And the things that collectively maybe we've agreed that we enjoy in men, cuz one of the things that I always complain about is, does he have to have rock hard abs? Why is that important for me as a reader to understand? And I know that there was like a larger conversation about having different body types.
But what I do think I see more often is that we will get different body sizes in the female character, but the conventions of what the male character most times, regardless of ethnicity he is physically fit, conventionally attractive, and a charmer.
Right? Shy cinnamon rolls do not get the same kind of love and attention. Because somehow cinnamon rolls, I think have been feminized for some readers.
Like they just don't think he is protective enough or he will engage in the sexual desire as someone who is more aggressive, more assertive. And I think that part is definitely answers your question, are men people? Part of that is the range that we get with female characters, I don't often think we see in male characters.
On the flip to that though, I do think male characters are allowed to mess up more and be more flawed, right? So there's this flip experience where they might not have the same level of emotional growth in as a part of the plot. But they're allowed to have more mishaps, whereas the female character has to have it together. So there's this odd Inequity in how we engage what we want from these characters.
Andrea Martucci: Well, it's like the expectations are lower, right? Because it's well, this guy, obviously, because he is a dude, doesn't have the emotional range to understand a woman's emotions or her emotional state, which I mean that's a harmful way of thinking about men, not holding them accountable for their actions.
Boys will be boys, they won't have emotions
Andrea Martucci: or they won't understand emotions in the same way. Definitely like very low expectations for what is expected as decent behavior. And I so I think again, it comes, it boils down to these very gendered expectations
Andrea Martucci: for how you perform your gender, what is expected of you and what you're capable of because of your gender and if we go back to thinking about like a lot of the theorizing around why readers of romance find romance cathartic. A lot of the early theories were really about this idea that women are taming a guy who represents toxic [00:18:00] masculinity, and they haven't solved the problem with toxic masculinity or gender inequality or any of those things. But they have taken this one guy who was this like, club bearing barbarian who, you know, "like all men" in this way of thinking. And they have dragged him into being a decent partner with not maybe necessarily a lot of emotional range, but enough emotional range to care about the emotions of this one woman
Andrea Martucci: to protect this one woman.
Lynell: One woman. Yes. Absolutely.
Yes. And as you were saying, I was like, Yep, I'm on the same wavelength as you, because it feels as a reader that his respect and emotional intelligence is contingent on falling in love and staying in love with this one character. So then in a lot of ways, she's doing emotional labor to make him see the value in choosing her and the life with her is more beneficial than staying out in the these streets.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And to come back to the female gaze there, which I mean personally, I feel just the same way that the male gaze is harmful. I think that the female gaze isn't empowering. It is equally harmful. It's just essentially changing who gets to be the one objectifying the other.
And if we think about, like traditionally it has been said, romance is a genre by, for, and about women. We know that women are not the only people who read romances. They're
Andrea Martucci: they're not the only ones who write it. They're not the only ones whose stories are on the page. However, the genre, across the board is designed to appeal to the female gaze.
And I think that when we encounter, let's say cis het men who are like, I don't know, I don't get the appeal here. It's like, well, you know, it's not really for you. But if we think about that, like say you're a woman and you're kind of uncomfortable by like Playboy magazine, cuz you're like, Oh wow, this is just objectifying women and it makes me uncomfortable. It's very male gazey.
Well, it, really, when you think about it, I'm not sure that it's like that different for men to perhaps be uncomfortable seeing themselves objectified. Like you can say, turn about is fair play, but honestly they're just experiencing the same thing that women might express.
And I, I don't think that it's really healthy to be like, well now you get to see what it's like to be harmed. That may feel satisfying in the moment, but is that really what we're trying to achieve, is you also get to feel like shit?
Lynell: Yeah. Yeah. I don't have a good answer for that because I think there are pockets of romance that authors are really interrogating that very question. And trying to figure out how can you have whole characters and whole character arcs. I do think if the position of the author [00:21:00] is to have the female gaze and to objectify their male character unintentionally, Right, intent versus impact. It can be and it is harmful.
What I would imagine is that romance has provided a space for a lot of female imagination in terms of exploring fantasies, whether emotionally or sexually, at low risk. And I think part of the reason why what you're describing is mixed up in that, right?
This genre has given a lot of cis women an opportunity to explore these fantasies that in real life they might not have been able to. So in that context, men and male characters become whatever their fantasy is. And some men might be okay with that, and others might like you mentioned might be uncomfortable. And I think rightfully so.
Andrea Martucci: right? And everything doesn't have to be for cis het men or, everything doesn't have to be for everybody. But yeah, I think it's worth thinking about, and especially when you start getting into the question. What is the harm? And I'm gonna say for readers, I'm not gonna say what is the harm for men?
What is the harm for readers in portraying men in romance, as always being up for sex? And it never really being a question of if this guy consents, because we're just gonna assume off the bat that he does because he's a man.
Lynell: Yeah. I think it will be easy to say that male characters in romance do not have agency.
Right. If we are under the assumption that they are always up and ready to have sex or be intimate in different forms. And I think that's why we don't often see mutual consent on page.
What we see very clearly often is the female character. There is a conversation about she said yes, whether it's you know, they were drinking. And there's a line where I'm not, I am coherent enough to say yes, right? We see it on page where she is saying yes, we don't often see each other way around.
And I think that goes back to your question, are they people? Right? And so if in order for it to be mutual consent, it can't just be that we're both aroused. It has to be we are consenting each time we engage in intimate acts. And I think sometimes we see it, the consent happens one time and once they're together after that one time, it is a go after that.
I think that was a convoluted way of saying, I don't know. I think I, I don't know,
I hope, I hope as a reader we understand that we can suspend some belief in fiction right? Part of why we're [00:24:00] reading, whether it's for escapism, whether it is to understand something, experience something, what ends up happening is you increase your empathic engagement.
Or imagination, that engagement. So if I'm increasing my empathic engagement about understanding the female experience through this author's lens of writing this love story we have to be very mindful of how we might not be including male characters alongside of that.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I think from my perspective, it feels like it's hard to argue on the one hand that it's important to represent on the page different types of people, different perspectives give people the chance be the subject in
Andrea Martucci: these stories and to see themselves or somebody like them have their happily ever after.
And also at the same time argue that the representation of other types of people who are not similar to you, that the representation of them has no impact on how you conceive those people. Is it important or is it not important? So for me it feels like reinforcing, again, very like bio gender essentialist ideas of people which, you know, regardless of who is getting their happily ever after and who you're identifying with in the story, continually reinforcing that men and women are different, that there's only two genders that because of your gender or the gender that you're assigned at birth that like you have to act a particular way. That doesn't help anybody.
Lynell: Right. And I think part of that too is I do think there has been a shift in romance, right? Something happened I would say after 2016, it felt like the romance that I've been reading right? Cause I wanna be careful about overgeneralizing romance, I would say like, I I struggle with a lot of contemporary romances that were before 2015 because the conversations about consent, about ability sexuality, orientation, like all of those feel, especially like the 2012 time period that is like hardcore, I'm squinting.
It did not age well.
Right. And that was only, 10 years ago. And so I think that gets back to your point, I think readers are really pushing for, I don't need to see another blue eye, olive skin ripped guy in my romance for it to be palatable.
I want to read stories where trans men, queer folks are a part of the conversation. Even characters who might have different abilities than myself. Why people gravitate to Talia Hibbert and the Chloe Brown we got to see a chronically ill [00:27:00] heroine, and part of the love story was Red believed her, like full stop,
We're starting to get these different characters that in real life are around, but might not be to the forefront because you would be in pockets, like you would be in community experiencing some of these things.
So I think readers at least the readers that I'm engaged with, are really wanting to see a variety of folks beyond what I think traditional publishing would tell you that's sellable, like profitable.
Right. And I'm even a little icky about it doesn't feel good to hear people say, Well, only certain stories sell.
Because In my mind then that puts a value statement on who deserves a happy ending. And as a genre, right? We're saying that everybody, that is the key component. Your characters will get this.
So does it matter how they show up or who they are on the page? And I would argue, and I'm sure you would argue, it doesn't matter, and that's why we should be including a variety of characters. But I don't know if that's done consistently or consistently well.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think, you gestured at like the kinds of people that you're engaging with and I think you and I like, we have to acknowledge that we are in a pocket of
Andrea Martucci: the community that is Probably more interested in everybody deserves an HEA than the wider world. And b. We are like hyper consumers, like we're,
Andrea Martucci: are like media essentially. You and I are both media essentially, so we're not your average consumer. But in thinking about what does your average romance reader think about this kind of thing?
I think that Bridgerton was actually maybe a good way of getting some insight into well, it may be clear as day to some people, and for other people it's not clear at all. I didn't read the Bridgerton books and I didn't actually even really watch the show because I got such a bad taste in my mouth.
What I became aware of is that there is a scene in the book and basically the same scene in the TV show, it wasn't made any better, where essentially Daphne Bridgerton is married to Simon, the Duke, and trying to not get her pregnant. They are having consensual sex often, and she comes to realize that he is not ejaculating inside of her with the intention of not getting her pregnant. But they have not talked about this. He has not explicitly said this. And in one scene she is on top and stays seated on him as he is ejaculating, and he is trying to push her off, the way he has been. And she's like, Nope, I am staying here.
And this scene became like a flash point for really seeing how people feel about this issue because, I'll just like caveat, asterisk here. The TV show [00:30:00] made it more complicated by casting a black actor in the role of the Duke, made it a lot more complicated.
But if we even just engage with this as like these two people married, couple having consensual sex, is it a problem that Daphne is staying seated on him as he ejaculates, so that he's ejaculating inside of her? To me that feels cut and dry. He may have consented to sex, but he didn't consent to that part of the act. That is non-consent, that she, within a consensual act, did something non-consensual.
And yet that was not everybody's reaction. Right. I'm sure you saw this conversation online. What are the variety of reactions you saw?
Lynell: Yeah. As a Black woman, I am hypersensitive about the power dynamics of what you just described, right? And so I think it goes back to the conversation of what we're talking about. Where's the line, when do men have agency? And that is a good example, how you framed where he has consented to sex, but he has not consented to starting a family. And where is that line and at what point did she take away the agency of her partner that she has a responsibility to keep safe and love and care for? And by that act, what does it do to fracture that?
And I think in the fantasy of being in love, a baby sometimes becomes synonymous with the fantasy of the family, right?
So that becomes another heteronormative phase that is established that you should want,
But part of, again, consent and mutual consent is when do we start that together, right? Because you need both of the folks to do the thing, to get the baby especially in this context.
And so for me, it was definitely black and white in terms of he did not give consent and she violated that.
Now I do not engage with certain fandoms, and that's one of them. Because it feels that if you don't agree with the larger body, you're not one of us, you're not a part of the romance community. So like I struggle with that fandom and I have not read the books. I wanna say that clearly I haven't read the books. I also have not engaged with the show. And I think there is enough room to say you can enjoy something and still have complicated feelings around it.
As we started the conversation, right, I can enjoy something but still acknowledge that there are parts of it that needs further exploration and further critique.
And so I think if you want to stay in the fantasy of the bubble of they got caught up, [00:33:00] then it's easy to dismiss that he said no. He might not have said no, but he expressed it in his action and she violated him in that regard.
Andrea Martucci: Well, and if we're gonna accept that sometimes women say yes without verbally the guy saying, do you want to have sex? And she says, Yes. We understand that sometimes you can consent without words. Do we also understand that sometimes you can withdraw consent or say no to something, without
Lynell: Right? And the answer to that is, yes, you can withdraw your consent and you should be able to withdraw your consent at any point because consent is not one and done. Like it's a, it's ongoing and it goes back to the conversation, was he up for it? Yes. It appeared to be that way. But it creates the environment that he can only say no at the beginning and that's it.
And that gets really harmful because we know that is not the case. And it feels like in that if you position your argument that way, then you complicate the overall conversation about withdrawing consent.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think that, when you have people who are really into the show or really into the books and they did enjoy it. I think, you were talking about this where to enjoy something doesn't mean you have to say, and yeah, that was a totally healthy consensual act there. You can enjoy something and say, Yeah, and it was non-consent because we can enjoy things that are complicated.
I think that where the discourse goes off a cliff is when people are leaving their logic at the door
Andrea Martucci: and saying No, no, no, no, no, no. It's fine because, or like he betrayed her and therefore she can do this in revenge.
And that's when you start saying Wait a second. To the point you keep making, does he have agency? Is he a full human being are these people in love and are they in a healthy relationship? And are you saying that this is okay in a healthy relationship?
Are you saying it's not a healthy relationship? What are you saying here? I think that there's like discomfort
Andrea Martucci: in enjoying something that does not fully align with one's values. And rather than sit with that discomfort, a lot of people want to jump to defensiveness and excuse what's happening.
Lynell: Because then you've created an opportunity for people to confront you on why are you enjoying it. And I think it's okay to be complicated. I don't think any relationship is like linear, right? The couple will have these complicated exchanges that should create tension, should create an opportunity to say, Well, this is okay for us. It might not be okay for, another couple, but this is okay for us. Or this is how we're going to work backwards because our trust was [00:36:00] violated or, or something happened that was not kosher. That to me would have been a better way to address that.
Right, because no fictional or in real life, no one is gonna always get it right, so is it plausible that could have happened? Yes. It happens every day. But what you do with that exchange is to unpack it, is to talk through it, right? And then it gives the readers an opportunity to explore why did you need to talk about it? Why did you need to unpack it? Why was I okay with a male character being violated in this way? Hopefully, right? You are tune in enough to like, Oh, let me explore that a little bit.
Um, But that didn't happen. And so I think it was easier for folks to hold onto, it wasn't that big of a deal, when we know that it, it opportunity to really talk about how consent needs to be an ongoing conversation and she violated him. Point blank. And what do you do to restore the relationship to make sure that it wasn't impacted. Because I will wanna say, it did create some tension if I remember correctly from the conversation. But it dissolved because, they moved on. And I don't know if that is a healthy way, but I think part of the defensiveness for people to make it okay is because they don't wanna explore that and they don't want to sit with that discomfort. So it's better to just deflect it. And logic is not necessary if you don't wanna unpack something.
Andrea Martucci: Right. I mean, Exactly. And from my understanding, the text does not, the text doesn't interrogate it. The viewers are uncomfortable interrogating that, and I think that, essentially the willingness, like you were saying, the willingness of some people to just excuse this away or to not even see it as a problem. That's a cultural issue, right?
This is a cultural product and within our culture that is normalized. I mean, that's essentially what we're talking about where a lot of these ideas about men always being up for sex and men seeing women as objects and women having more emotional depth than men.
These are harmful ideas that are all over our culture. And texts engage with them to various degrees. Right. And, again, going back to romance in the 1970s and eighties and nineties where you would have a lot of non-consent or dubious consent with heroines in romance.
What are the cultural issues That are, that are coming up here, for the same reason that people might see Simon not consenting to an act with Daphne and being like, I don't know. It's not that big of a deal. I think that you also, if you place yourself back in like the mind of somebody living in the culture of the seventies and the eighties, it's not that nobody would read those scenes and be like, that was rape.
It's not that people logically could not arrive at that. It's that [00:39:00] in that time and place, the people who are living through that culture also understand why they are not going to make as big a deal out of this. Because what the text is engaging with really is this idea that the heroines are having their agency taken away and the story is about regaining their agency and it's about toxic masculinity and this guy who doesn't care about their agency. And so I'm not saying rape in bodice rippers was okay. That's not really my point here. Just that it's not like women in the seventies and eighties didn't know what rape was.
Lynell: Yeah. And I think part of that is as consumers, what we consume without critique allows for some of those cultural norms to continue, right? We didn't get here to talk about diversity because people were like, it's okay. We don't want it. No readers are constantly saying, Hey, who's left out? And what authors should we be engaging or promoting in order to see different types of characterizations of people falling in love?
And I think that is also true with how we present relationship issues and social justice issues in romance. Which takes me back to my point. Like some things just don't age well, Because as a contemporary reader, I am looking and expecting for consent on page. I am looking for, how are we gonna address the power dynamic?
Now I say that that's because that's the type of reader I am. That's why there's some subgenres that are popping up that turn that conversation on its head where it becomes a convention that you understand that if you are going to read this subgenre, you have to be okay with some of this murkiness.
And I agree with you, I don't think any of the readers of the eighties, nineties, seventies, or wherever were saying that it's okay. But we weren't having those types of conversations, right? Like readers of the seventies and eighties marriage and kids were the happy endings. Like you, you expected that.
I think we're moving away from some of those conventions because we wanna see relationships differently. But I also think there are some readers who don't need to see this conversation explicitly and they're filling in the blanks. So it really just depends on which pocket you fall in.
However, the pocket that I'm in, we're having these conversations. We wanna see consent, we wanna see things resolved in a way that feels, edifying and speaks to the character's growth and desire to nurture a healthy relationship. And you do that by having these, you know, complicated conversations.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And to go [00:42:00] back to Dark Romance, within the books that you've read with like kidnapping and Mafia romance, how many of those texts do you feel are like actively engaging with those questions around power dynamics and consent as they're playing with kidnap and dubious consent?
Like how many of them are having that conversation and really tickling the reader to think think about?
Andrea Martucci: about this?
Lynell: Yeah. Yeah. So I wanna be transparent here that I don't think it's happening often. So what I typically do, because I'm sensitive to sexual assault because, part of my job back in the day was helping assault victims. So I'm hypersensitive to that.
So that is something that I have a hard time reading it and kidnapping toes that line, right? Like along the way. So I'm trying to like, wrap my brain around why am I okay with it?
So I think part of what I end up doing is if there's a new series that I'm interested in reading, I go to see which one of my friends might have read it and they give me the clearance like, Oh, I don't know if you would like this, because these things are in it. And when I say I have an amazing community around me who are tuned into like, this has empath play. This has a humiliation kink, this has sexual assault.
They are like, Are you sure you wanna read this? Because these are the things that are in there. And so it primes me to either engage with the text or not. But what I will say is that the indie authors that I have read that I think started the conversation, I don't know if they always resolved it, but it leaves enough room for the reader to say, Okay, the heroine is safe. She is not in danger when she's with him, and he is not gonna continuously put her in danger. And I think that's how it's resolved,
Andrea Martucci: If you think of some examples where in the romance, and it doesn't have to be in Dark Romance, you think that the author is being more explicit with giving the male main character agency and ensuring that there's that mutual consent? Because I think you could give a bazillion examples of books where the female main character, there's like a heavy emphasis on, usually like the guys like, are you sure you wanna do this? There's there's lots of it's very unidirectional.
Andrea Martucci: So in, what are some of the texts where you've seen that actual mutual consent, particularly with a male main character?
Lynell: Yeah. The first light bulb moment recently is with Kimberly Lemming's That Time I Got Drunk and Yeeted a Love Potion At a Werewolf.
And so the context of that is Bree threw a love potion at a shifter, and [00:45:00] it took, and he was under the spell, and there's a conversation around, we should not be in a relationship and we should not have sex until the potion wears off.
And he's feral pretty much the entire time. And I was like, Ooh, this is interesting. Because now it flips that romanticizing of love potions, right? Like it supercharges the relationship. Is he in love? Is she in love? Or is it the love potion, just enhancing what's already there. And I won't give any spoilers there, but for me as a reader, how I took that is you can't consent because you're under this spell. And I was like, This is good. This is a contemporary way to really think about. And I don't know if she actually meant to do it, but that's how I read it, right?
And I was like, Oh my goodness, this is interesting. And I dig it. Now it's an action adventure fantasy. So there are a lot of things going on and they have some complicated experiences, but that was the first time I was like, okay, she is really asking more than once or saying more than once, you can't consent cuz you're under this spell. And I was like, Yes, he can't consent. Now you know, they still do it.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Lynell: and a lot of things happen around that, she checks in with him and I was like this is what we need to also see.
And I love Katrina Jackson, right? There's, if there's an opportunity for me to recommend a book I will find a way
Andrea Martucci: I was waiting.
Lynell: But I was thinking about The Spies That Love Her series. One of the characters, Maya, is a sex worker and her love interest is a spy. And they're working together. I don't wanna give too much away because I need everybody just to read this series.
But there's a on page exchange between the two of them that I just think there's a level of care. He's like, You don't have to do this. And she's like, you don't wanna do this. And he's like, I absolutely wanna do this, but I wanna make sure that, So that like, mutual exchange with the, asterisk of a sex worker right? Does not always have to give consent to acts. So they're checking in with each other and I just loved it. And it's Her Only Valentine, I think it's in that one.
So those two examples immediately I think about and there's another one it gets there, but I don't know fully, but in Toying with Temptation by AH Cunningham, they're both under the influence. And so I wanna say they were drinking and they're having a conversation about whether or not they should have unprotected sex. And he was like, I don't have condoms. I don't feel comfortable. I'm usually [00:48:00] very safe. These are the steps that I'm taking. And she stops and was like, I can take care of myself. I'm on the pill. We don't have to use protection if you're comfortable with it. And I was like, Ooh, this is a another way to have this consent conversation because they're both down to have sex.
But his preference is, I wanna do it with protection and I don't have it. What are we gonna do now?
So I think those three examples immediately come to mind.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, those are great examples. And to start with the last one, I think that's interesting because, similarly, you can have two people who are, enthusiastically consenting to sex, but conversations around birth control and or STD prevention like that is another part of consent.
You can consent to have sex with somebody, but, with a condom, and if somebody doesn't use a condom, when you have understood that's the case, or they take it off, that is a violation, in the same way. And I think that, that's a great facet to bring into this conversation because similar to the idea that we assume men always want to have sex, there's also this assumption that men always want to have sex without a condom or, there can be weirdness with that in romance too.
And I, I think, talking about sex workers. Similar to men, sex workers are understood to be like hypersexual. And that, culturally consenting for them is different from people who are not sex workers because it's like, well, you get paid to do this. I mean, very much reminds me of Pretty pretty Woman
Lynell: Mm-hmm. .
Andrea Martucci: George Costanza assumes that as long as you give her money, she's gonna have sex with you. And he doesn't understand that she still gets to say yes or no. And that she's not a vending machine.
Andrea Martucci: And to go back to The Time I Got Drunk and Yeeted a Love Potion at a Werewolf
Andrea Martucci: or something like that by Kimberly Lemming.
there's so many fascinating points in there that you touched on where there's the, is this real? Are you actually feeling this relationship or are you not, because of the love potion? Do you have agency right now? And also him being both a werewolf and under the influence of love potion, I think is getting at that like male hypersexuality, particularly the very like animalistic side that romance novels play with, particularly with werewolves, right?
Where it's are we just saying like male hypersexuality? Is Is that what the werewolf is? And What I find really interesting about her books is that she could just be like, it's a fantasy and they're faded mates and I'm gonna wave the sub-genre wand and this is gonna be okay within the story.
But I think she's doing really interesting things with like, it's fantasy, but it's also a very like superficial version of fantasy. And I mean this in the best possible way, where it's just like, yeah, I wanna have werewolves, I wanna have love potions, but like also they're just like people like we know now and I'm not gonna, so I think she's doing really [00:51:00] interesting things, playing with this like fantasy world building, but also really just like, no, it's the world we live in also.
Lynell: Yeah. Yeah. And I think some people struggle with her writing because it's very contemporary in a fantasy world. So there's that piece. But I think it, it adds to the charm of that. And the world building is so rich in the sense of it's playing with who do we consider our demons or the bad guy? And is that right? Or is it a cultural norm to assume this about certain people?
But now without giving too much away, they're all having to. Be in the same orbit and relearn some things about how they engage with each other. So her her creativity in how she presents what I think would be lite fantasy romance is really interesting. And I haven't read a book from her yet that I haven't enjoyed because I just think she has a charming way to talk about e even in her Christmas novella there is some dub-con going on because there's a fox and he tricks her father and now there's an exchange. But part of the way that their relationship unfolds is she has to really say yes to staying. Like she has The freedom to go.
Now she doesn't know that right away but she's playing with, some of the things that I think if you are not reading with the lens beyond enjoyment, you might miss it. And I think that's really fascinating cuz her writing is so easy to digest.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I regret using the word superficial cause I think you put it much better where it's, it is like contemporary fantasy and it's like the fantasy elements are metaphorical, let's say,
Andrea Martucci: But the tone is not fantasy.
Lynell: Right, Right.
Andrea Martucci: And it's super interesting and I think if you read one of her books and you haven't read one yet, it's like you have to go in and just do not go in with the expectation that it is, going to
Lynell: High fantasy
Andrea Martucci: be high fantasy.
Exactly. Exactly. Just take it for what it is and immerse yourself. It's so interesting that she is having those conversations explicitly on page and she doesn't have to, she could've just said it's high fantasy
Lynell: Yeah. And the next book strangely enough is a kidnapping.
Andrea Martucci: Is she just writing to your like personal wishlist?
Lynell: I think so. I think so. I'm in her Discord, so I was able to read the first chapter of it and it's gonna play with fated mates. Based off of the first chapter. And I'm excited for it because I think fated mates, again, as we're talking about. mutual consent, [00:54:00] who consented to the fated mates, because it's happening outside of the two people and when they meet, they have to choose each other. But in some cases they don't. They just understand that they're fa they try to work it out.
And so there's a maybe panther shifter, is the Georgia Acadian series by Dria Anderson. There is some of that she plays around with. Yes, we were fated but I'm gonna give you the space to believe that I actually wanna be here.
And I'm like, Yes, that makes sense. For a contemporary reader. I think. If you love and enjoy fated mates, I think part of that is it's understood that they should be together. And the draw that story is how do they get to the HEA? But for me, I'm like, no, they still should have that conversation because there is that subgenre of rejected, fated mates right. So there is the, the there is a possibility that, it might not work.
Andrea Martucci: what I find so weird about that is it's are they fated or not? If they're fated, then it's gonna happen. Then how do you then, if you can reject your fated mate, then are you fated? It's like a mind fuck like how does that work? But I don't, I don't love fated mates most of the time.
Like I'm sure that there's an example where I'm like, No, that worked for me. But I think the reason I don't love it is it's literally the opposite of mutual consent.
Lynell: Yep. Mm-hmm.
Andrea Martucci: like, you don't have a choice here. And even if you are not feeling it, because we tell you that you're fated mates, that is what's gonna get you to buy into this relationship.
Andrea Martucci: chicken or egg?
Lynell: Yeah. And I think part of that is having the self-awareness to know that and know why you might not enjoy it. So that is partly why I struggle with alien romances. That one of the character's survival is contingent on mating with an alien. So I can't get past that because that creates such a huge power struggle for me.
Cuz it's like, is that love or is that survivance? Right. And I mean, it could be both, Right?
We don't live in either or, but I struggle with it.
Andrea Martucci: It's basically a situation in which you are forced, morally into, under duress, consent to a sexual relationship with somebody, otherwise you are killing them. Which like, obviously, like you're not actually killing them, but it's like, are you gonna let this person die or are you
Andrea Martucci: going to have sex with Right. And you're like, Well, and yeah, it's so unfair. It's literally like somebody holding a gun to their head and being like, If you don't have sex with me, like this gun's gonna go off. But that's the author. The author is the one holding the gun there, where you're like, [00:57:00] this isn't necessary, It's not romantic, it's not sexy, it doesn't do it for me.
Lynell: But I think about all of the tropes, right? And sub genres where it's part of the convention and it's almost like a blank check of mutual consent. So I think about forced proximity. How are you giving consent if you are forced to be with this person again, especially when it's contingent on your survivable, right?
Or a marriage of convenience. If you have to marry this person in order to stay alive or to be protected, how is that mutual? So there are all of these ways that we are almost agreeing that mutual consent is going to happen because we know that there's gonna be a HEA.
And the author's responsibility then becomes how much of the world building and plot points aren't problematic enough for us to not feel that it was satisfying. Does that make sense?
Andrea Martucci: And to put it another way, are you basically saying, how much of the time are tropes essentially taking away the character's consent?
Andrea Martucci: by, it's essentially the authors are constructing a situation in which their characters are not able to mutually consent or without strings.
Lynell: Yeah. And a part of the beats, right, or a part of the plot is walking that back to hopefully get them to mutual consent, but the beginning part there is not mutual consent. And so I think where some authors get dinged is because by the end it wasn't satisfying. There was still a huge glaring problematic or power dynamics that were not resolved enough for the reader to be okay with these things happening. And this HEA is unrealistic.
Andrea Martucci: Right, right. Which to go back to really, you were talking about the books prior to 2012 or around that era that were not aging well, it's really like how many of these stories, in order to be satisfying to us, it's like they have to slip under our radar in terms of where we're at in the culture currently, where it has to seem okay, I can buy that.
And it's interesting because 10 years from now, 20 years from now, are people gonna be in the exact same place? A, no, but going to be in a similar enough place where they're like, Okay, that can slide under my kind of cultural consciousness and I can accept that. Or are they going to be at the point where the awareness around the Problematiques the conversation has become mainstream enough that people are like, Oh no, that doesn't do it for me anymore. I don't buy that any longer. That is not mutual consent. Or I do not buy that these people have resolved these issues.
Lynell: Yeah. My hope is that [01:00:00] 10 years from now we're going to be doing a better job of talking about mutual consent, and then there are authors that are in the fold that are critiquing the things that we're talking about in a way that is satisfying and is confronting some of the things that we collectively have agreed to that might actually be problematic.
And I will say, in all honesty, I have problematic interests. Okay. I enjoy things and I just I'm okay with knowing that all of all of the the things that I'm reading don't always align with my, value system. And the way I get to resolve that is that I'm suspending belief for three hours in this world.
And doing some self reflection of why do I think this is okay in a fictional world, right? Cause somebody gets harmed, but also in the understanding that it gives me better language, right? To see it in real life, a little bit clearer. Right? And it gives me Language to be able to say, this made me uncomfortable in this fictional world. It's definitely gonna translate into the real world. And what am I gonna do about it? Potentially first of all, I know I will never be in a mafia situation,
Andrea Martucci: Never say never.
Lynell: Listen, that sounds stressful. And the type of research that I do, I just think with my anxiety it would not work but you're right.
Never say never. Who knows? Hopefully that would not be a part of my life life story. Cuz this could definitely be used against me,
Andrea Martucci: Well, you said according to the transcript, that you would love to be kidnapped. Therefore, you consented to this non-consensual kidnapping.
Lynell: Right. To your point though I'm hoping that in 10 years we're gonna have better conversations about mutual consent and we will be doing a better job of giving male characters agency. My hope is that we are doing a better job of having different characters, the endings look different. We're addressing different things in terms of the tension in the relationship, and then there will be new tropes that
maybe haven't been explored. So yeah I'm hoping, cuz I plan to still be reading romance
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Well, and I think, like I wanna see everybody have agency in books the same way I wanna see everybody have agency in real life. And
Lynell: right? Mm.
Andrea Martucci: sadly, we're probably not gonna see it happening mainstream in books until we start to see it happening mainstream in culture. And that's just the way of it, right?
Andrea Martucci: It has enter the cultural consciousness and be a reality before we start to see it become a given in our fiction. And, and as you were saying, it inspires you to think through things. It's a conversation starter and that is like the first step to getting there.
Lynell: right. And I, I think some people, and we have to acknowledge, right, like [01:03:00] we have our own internalized isms, right? As readers, as authors. And so sometimes that is being worked out on page. And so I think part of what's helpful is these opportunities to talk about it out loud, because maybe one of your listeners after listening to this podcast will say, I didn't think about it that way. Now what do I do with this information? And how can I maybe create an opportunity to expand my reading catalog, my reading preferences to make sure that I'm balancing that out? And by doing that, then it increases your empathic imagination to ask for that in real life as well.
Andrea Martucci: Beautifully said.
So Lynell, this has been a fascinating conversation.
Andrea Martucci: so glad that you brought this topic because it did allow me to ask my favorite question, which is, are men in romance people?
Lynell: And what did we decide? I think we're saying probably not.
Andrea Martucci: most of the time? No. And to be fair a lot of times the women aren't people either.
Lynell: there's that.
Andrea Martucci: Keep it a hundred .
We'll keep asking, we'll keep checking in. Where can people find you online? And is there anything that you're working on now?
I know you've been putting a lot of thought into your social media and like the content that you're creating on those channels outside of your blog. What is new and exciting in your world and where can people find it?
Lynell: Yeah. So you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at Weekend Reader underscore. And the, my blog is Weekend Reader at blogspot.com. yes, I have been playing around with a lot of my social media and Instagram in terms of instead of providing one recommendation, I'm taking a trope and why I enjoyed this trope and here are some recommendations. I'm trying to really do a better job in highlighting indie romance authors of color, and also trying to engage in conversations about consumerism around content creation. And let's get back to the enjoyment of just reading, right?
You don't have to read 150 books to be considered a reader, cuz I'm gonna always talk about my faves, right? I'm trying to model that as much as possible on my social media platforms. And I'm also trying to encourage if you follow me, to also follow other bookish content creators who are also doing like amazing work.
And so in September I did I think it was like maybe 50 content creators that were under a one K followers. And that seemed to go over really well. I'm going to continue to try and do things like that, but I've been having a lot more fun just telling people what I enjoy recently, what I've been reading, and mostly on Twitter, I'm complaining about work and eating snacks cuz I'm like a snack [01:06:00] aficionado.
Andrea Martucci: And bugging Katrina about like when she's gonna release her next book.
Lynell: Which will be November four Sabbatical book two in that series. I'm super excited cuz it's a Friends to Lovers, which is my favorite trope of all tropes. And so definitely follow me on Twitter and Instagram. I'm on Facebook, but not as active.
Andrea Martucci: Well, thanks again for being here. I appreciate it.
Lynell: Yeah. Thank you for having me and making me think about these random thoughts, that I often, I'm like, Here's a thought. I don't have an answer. So thank you for having me.
Andrea Martucci: Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe, rate, or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out ShelfLovePodcast.Com for transcripts and other resources. Or you can find me @shelflovepod on Twitter or @shelflovepodcast on Instagram. Or you can always email me at Andrea at Shelf Love Podcast dot com.
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Breaking news. There is now a $1 tier on the Shelf Love Patreon , and that's called Here for the Discourse. So if you are bummed out about the destruction of Twitter, let's just be honest. I was going to say social media, it's just Twitter. I'm trying to get off Twitter if you're trying to get off Twitter, but you think that you are going to miss romance discourse, please consider joining the Shelf Love Patreon.
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That's all for today. Thanks so much. Bye.
Alyssa Cole, Amanda Diehl, Andrea Martucci, Angela Toscano, Arielle Zibrak, Ash Dylan, Becky, Bree Hill, Carter Sherman, Charish Reid, Christina Fattore, Copper Dog Books, Dani Lacey, Danielle Knafo, Denise Williams, Diana Filar, EE Ottoman, Emma Barry, Eric Selinger, Erin Leafe, Esme Brett, Felicia Grossman, Funmi B., Hannah Hearts Romance, Hsu Ming Teo, Huike Wen, Jack Harbon, Jayashree Kamble, Jennifer Crusie, Jess, Jessica Lyn Van Slooten, Jhen, Jodi McAlister, Jodie Slaughter, Joe Martucci, John Jacobson, Julie Moody-Freeman, Karelia Stetz-Waters, Kate Clayborn, Katee Robert, Katrina Jackson, Kelly Reynolds, Kennedy Ryan, Kianna Alexander, Kini Allen, Kit Rocha, Lucy Score, Lynell, Margarita Guillory, Margo Hendricks, Maria DeBlassie, Megan Erickson, Mia Sosa, Nicole Falls, Norma Perez-Hernandez, Penny Reid, Rebecca Romney, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Rosie Danan, Ruby Lang, Sandra Kitt, Scarlett Peckham, Sionna Fox, Sri Savita, Steve Ammidown, Suzanne Jefferies, Talia Hibbert, Tamara Lush, Tasha L. Harrison, The Swoonies, Tif Marcelo, Tina Benigno, Whoamance, fangirl jeanne