May 22, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue
My fabulous critique partner Hope Cook, linked an article recently that has me… uneasy: Rape Culture in Popular Culture. I’m feeling uncomfortable as a reader, a writer, and a woman by the point the author brings up, so, of course, I have to write about it.
The article boils down to this point: The undeterred male in romance is an example of rape culture.
The use of the phrase has my hackles up. Anytime anyone drops such a charged expression, I find myself immediately jumping into Devil’s Advocate mode and wanting to argue against it. The words sensationalism, hyperbole, and hypersensitivity whirl through my mind in an angry tempest. Especially in this case, since I tend to enjoy a good romance book with an undeterred male love interest.
So, what’s wrong with an undeterred male? The article states that:
“When a man is pursuing a woman and will not take no for an answer, no matter what his reasons, what he is really saying is: “I know better than you.” The message that he’s sending is, “my opinion/feelings/beliefs are more valuable than yours.” When, in a movie or book or television show, a man wins over a woman after repeatedly being turned down, what we, as the audience, learn is, he was right and she was wrong. We learn that, at the end of the day, men know what’s best for women.”
My immediate reaction to this statement: “Oh, come on. Really? Aren’t you reading a bit too much into this?”
Then, I thought about it some more.
I am sticking by my gut instinct that linking the undeterred male in romance to “Rape Culture” is extreme, which makes me want to discount this article because it makes me feel like the author just dropped in a hot buzzword to grab the attention of web search engines. However, if I step back and ignore the hyperbole, does she have a point?
It does seem generally true that we have this notion that a man who has picked a certain woman and pursues her relentlessly is romantic. Why? I think I can answer that: it means he’s decided she’s special. When you distill a woman’s desires down to the most basic level, she wants to be special to a man. So if he pursues her with single-minded dedication to his goal of claiming her, he’s basically declaring her a treasure. That is romantic.
To a point.
The construction of the relationship in the book/movie/etc. will determine whether he’s actually being romantic or if he’s an obsessive, selfish, stalkerish freak show. And I could name plenty of poorly written stories where the man’s obsession with a woman makes no sense or is based in owning her like a possession rather than claiming her as his partner. These are the types of books I don’t finish reading or, if I do, hate myself for holding out hope that the writer would make it right in the end.
But, let’s get back to the author’s point that this undeterred male concept is sending the message that men know better than women. I really, really tried to think of evidence to refute this claim. While I could argue my “the undeterred male is merely proving that he believes the woman to be a treasure” argument, it can’t stack up against one unavoidable fact:
There is no undeterred woman in romance fiction.
No, wait. That’s not true, is it? She’s there, lurking in the shadows as the delusional ex-girlfriend who’s determined to get her man back at all costs. In fiction, the undeterred woman is always a villain or at least the antagonist of a sub-plot. She’s reviled, detested, disparaged and sent packing with her tail between her legs for being a fool not to give up on a man she loves. Okay, I’m hyperbolizing a bit. She’s ultimately hated because her character really is a nasty piece of work and she does despicable things in her attempts to re-claim “her man.” I have seen plenty of male antagonists with similar characteristics.
The point is that I have yet to see an undeterred female presented as a protagonist.
Why is that?
Why is it not romantic for a woman to see a man as a special treasure to be pursued? Why is it that the image this paints in my mind is a pathetic, needy woman but the undeterred male is strong and determined?
I could argue that being the one being pursued puts the woman in a position of strength. She’s the one with the power to determine her suitor’s happiness in life if she will only accept him. The burden of proof falls to him. He has to do all the wooing and she ultimately decides if he’s worthy of her love.
Part of me says this should be the natural order of things. Prove yourself to me you unworthy, unwashed male! Prove your undying devotion and maybe, just maybe, I’ll deign to bless you with my favor. I am woman. I am powerful because I control the nookie!
Oh shit. I’m sexist.
Herein lies the problem with debating this topic: the sexist attitude goes both ways. Are these gender roles normal and acceptable? Are they inevitable because of the inherent differences between men and women?
Ultimately, I think whether the undeterred male is sexist depends on the relationship the author presents in the story and what kind of power balance (or imbalance) there is between the man and woman. What I won’t subscribe to is that it’s evidence of rape culture.
What are your thoughts? Is the Undeterred Male sexist or sexy?