There is a fascinating discussion going on at Dear Author. Amongst other things written, a reporter who is an avid SF fan confessed to not reading very many romance books at all and at one point referred to them as “bodice rippers”. As expected, a few fans of the romance genre, including Nora Roberts, called her on the carpet for referring to romance in that term.
But why is it so offensive to romance readers, she and probably many other non-readers wonder? So this is my, probably poor, attempt to explain. Now since this will be a given to romance readers, this particular blog is for the non-romance reader. But since the non-romance readers probably won’t read this, it’s more of an opportunity for me to ramble about my thoughts. And I do so like doing that!
I’ve been reading romance all my life I think. Or at least looking for romance in everything I read. But my real entry into the genre started with the likes of Georgette Heyer, Daphne DuMaurier; was anything sadder than when the French pirate sailed off in Frenchman’s Creek or more romantic than when the hero/heroine rode off together in Jamaica Inn, Anna Seyton; oh how I loved Green Darkness and Katherine! Mary Stewart was another author who I couldn’t read enough of when I was young. Then later Colleen McCullough’s Thorn Birds kept me enthralled. Now by today’s standards these weren’t romance books, rather they were books with a love story as some didn’t have a HEA. In all of these books there was either nothing more than a kiss or the door pretty much closed on us when it got down to the nitty gritty.
But then the genre was turned on it’s ear in the late 70’s and early 80’s with authors such as Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss. Now there was sex in romance. A lot of sex. But for the vast majority, it wasn’t that nicely described. The heroes, on looking back now, were jerks and the heroines almost non-participants as their sensibilities were trampled over recklessly by the jerk heroes. Rape and forced seduction were the norms of these books and the term Bodice Ripper came into being. And it was an apt description at the time.
But as women in real life slowly gained ground in the workforce and gained power and strength in their personal lives, so did the heroes evolve into more compassionate people who had feelings and while sometimes trampling over the heroines, feeling regret afterwards. One of the things many romance readers clamor for and love is the “grovel”. When the hero screws up and hurts the heroine, we now want to see him make amends and ‘pay’ for his mistake. We want him to suffer for the hurt he has done the heroine. This kind of thing rarely happened in the old bodice rippers. The hero wasn’t very often held accountable for his actions and then at the end, he got everything he wanted, just the way he wanted it.
But as much as the hero had evolved over the years, this is mild compared to the transformation of the heroine. No longer is she the beautiful young thing held at the mercy of a strong willed jerk. No, women in today’s romance stand up for themselves. They often rescue the hero and they are almost always equal partners in a relationship. They initiate sex instead of waiting helplessly for the macho pig hero to decide when it’s time, how it’s done and where it’s done. They enjoy sex, often with other men before meeting the hero. They are successful in what they do and often mirror the strides women in real life have made.
So in a sense, referring to romance of today as bodice rippers negates all that women have accomplished in the past 30 or 40 years.
Suppose you were a successful business woman who had worked hard to get where you were and some guy who had no idea of the struggles you went through to get where you are today were to come up and tell you that you belonged at home – that’s where a woman’s place really is, taking care of her husband. Wouldn’t you almost blow a gasket?
It’s the same kind of idea for those of us who read romance. Women have come a long way and romance has also come a long way. We want those outside the genre to at least be aware of this before they use the anachronistic terms that, while yes they once may have applied, no longer do to this wonderful genre of romance.