Harpyness guest poster and righteous dude Not Mr. Big recently tipped me to a painfully stupid article from Salt Lake City area news outlet in which a “popular speaker and life coach” claims “Romance novels can be as addictive as pornography.” I laughed at the headline but the article itself is a disastrous faux-science-y “trend piece” full of stereotypes about women that range from sad to tiresome to downright offensive.
Fair warning: this article appears in a publication intended for a Mormon audience and the author is an LDS counselor, so it’s no surprise that the entire quasi-scientific trend piece presumes certain vital tenets of LDS culture: that women’s divinely ordained role is to be faithful helpmeets to their spiritually superior husbands, as well as matriarchs of large, intact families.
Here’s the problem as this article reports it: wives/mothers are reading romance novels, and when Saint Mom reads romances, she might get ideas and become unhappy that her husband isn’t like the hunky heroes of romance! This presumes, of course, that Saint Mom is way too dumb and suggestible to differentiate between escapist fiction and reality, and that her ladybrain gets all addled by emotion.
Women are more stimulated by romance than sex, so when they read romantic stories (and they don’t have to be explicit to work) they can experience the same addicting chemical release as men do [from pornography].
Stereotypes, ahoy! Women really just want romance and men really just want sex—therefore women’s emotional enjoyment of reading romances = men’s physical enjoyment of wanking. QED! Never mind that many things produce this kind of “chemical release” besides pornography (actual sex, for example), or that women experience it the same way men do. Those realities don’t fit into the hopeless oversimplification at work here:
But here’s the real reason all this womanly literary pleasure is bad:
Women may find their standard for intimacy begins to change over time because may not be able to get as satisfied with their partners as they can reading a book.
Keep those women away from books or they’ll lose interest in men! This has been trotted out for millennia as a reason women shouldn’t read (or be educated at all). Being exposed to different ideas and experiences could make women question their traditional role. Romance novels will make the women of Salt Lake question the perfection of the Patriarch in their lives—and make no mistake, that’s exactly how Mormon women are meant to view their husband/priesthood holder. They might even get ideas about being independent—or at least personally fulfilled—and buck the entire Patriarchy…all because of those ideas they got in a book.
I confess, I also got a chuckle out of the notion that women “might not be able to get as satisfied with their partners as they do reading a book.” If reading a romance novel makes you want to avoid sexual intimacy with your partner—and I think “get satisfied” refers to the sexual here—then lady, you are with the wrong partner. Of course, that’s exactly what these experts fear a woman will discover by reading romances—as if she’d otherwise have no idea her love life was crap.
What seems kind of sad is that most romance novels, while selling a fantasy, are selling a fantasy that is not only harmless, but has some truly positive aspects. Contemporary romance novels, while hugely heteronormative, feature heroes who are devoted, attractive, and attentive to the female characters’ sexual and emotional needs.* It’s truly unfortunate that these “experts” still regard depictions of romance and women’s sexual fulfillment as a silly, unrealistic fantasy on par with the silly, unrealistic frat-boy fantasies of men’s porn.
Underscoring it all is the terror that if Saint Mom wakes up next to an unshaven, snoring dude who is not the hunky hero of a Harlequin romance she’ll be so rattled by the difference, so unable to reconcile reality and fantasy, that she’ll do something immoral:
Pornography addiction counselor Vickie Burress said reading romance novels or viewing pornography may eventually lead to an affair for some women.
“Women involved in pornography have a hard time keeping their family together,” she said.
Please note that Burress doesn’t cite any credible data at all to demonstrate that women who watch porn—and by extension, read romances, since she equates the two— are more likely to abandon their homes and children than women who don’t. Know why she doesn’t? Because there is none. This is all Convenient Theories For You school of culture, with a hefty dose of evo psych and chauvinist gender stereotyping thrown in.
As for “may eventually lead to an affair”…pretty much anything may eventually lead to an affair. A chance encounter in a grocery store. Going to a high school reunion. Facebook. The internet. The workplace. Having normal daily contact with the opposite sex “may lead to an affair.” Life leads to affairs if people are unhappy in their marriages and have the right opportunities. The problem here is that this LDS life coach thinks that women need to be kept away from books that glorify love, sex, and romance or they’ll suddenly become so unhappy with their lives that they’ll try to change the status quo. And no one—especially in rigidly traditional Mormon Utah—wants that.
*I realize that there are some romance novels that play into ugly gender stereotyping, particularly some of the 70s and 80s old-school ones, which occasionally got downright rape-y. But those are definitely outliers in today’s romance market.