Is the romance novel you're reading normalizing abusive behaviors?

Photo by  John-Mark Smith  on  Unsplash

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

I go through phases where I read a lot of romance novels on Kindle. Some of them are enjoyable, but mostly it’s research. I have to take breaks from it because there is so much abusive fuckery going on I get to the point where I can’t stomach it anymore.

This isn’t an issue of poor writing or storytelling skills. I don’t blame the individual authors for this. It’s a societal norm and continuation of how our society uses story to normalize abuse. It’s the way things have always been done.

Take control of the narrative. Take control of the people.

Popular books follow trends and themes. If you read enough or pay any sort of attention to new book releases the trends are easy to spot. If you’re looking at romance/erotica the trends can be disturbing. Often times they make it easy and put the abuse right in the title.

Some of the ways romance/erotica normalize abusive behaviors:

Putting women in situations in which they can’t say no. This shows up a lot in paranormal romance. The ‘sexy’ man uses magic/mind control or some other supernatural thing on the woman. She can't resist him. Even if she wasn’t into it at first, the magic soon has her begging for it.

This normalizes drugging women/getting them drunk and never taking no for answer. That women don’t know what they want and need a man to tell them. Who cares if he uses Jedi mind tricks to get in your pants against your will if he’s good looking?

Damsels in distress. Woman needs help with something. Man helps. Man is owed sex. Many times the hottie man-beast puts the woman in danger, then ‘saves’ her.

This normalizes women owning men sexual favors for any help or kindness. He does anything for you and you must give him sex for it. This reduces women to nothing more than vending machines. You put the kindness coin in and sex falls out. He doesn’t actually have to treat her like a person.

Stockholm syndrome. Man abducts woman. Does some shady shit. But hey, he’s hot and had a really good reason for abducting her so he gets sex. This shows up in a lot ‘Bad Boy’ and paranormal/sci-fi romances. The big bad wolf/alien has to steal himself a mate. Scary mobsters are also popular.

This normalizes men actually abducting women and abusers who cut women off from their friends and family.

Body/Slut shaming. This one isn’t always so easy to spot. It doesn’t always show up in how the men are treating the women. It often shows up in how the women view themselves. The woman is ashamed of her body or her desires in some way. The men use that shame to manipulate her into having sex, often in a way that makes her very uncomfortable. She will feel so much better about herself if she’ll just go along with whatever he wants.

This normalizes the idea that women need men’s approval and to ignore their own well being in the service of men’s sexual demands.

Every single one of these instances normalizes toxic masculinity.

These are only a few of the ways abusive behaviors show up in romance stories. Often times a single story will have several abusive themes going on. Many of these abuses are so deeply normalized in our society they have the illusion of being the natural way of things and that should freak us all the fuck out.


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