The Case for Bodice Ripper Sex-Ed * by @TaylorLeeWrites

NEWS FLASH!  We romance writers have been vindicated. According to none other than the Gray Lady herself, the New York Times: “Romance Novels Are The Best Sex-Ed.”

Sex-Ed

Seriously, this is news. The January 21, Sunday New York Times featured a sensational article by contributing opinion writer Jennifer Weiner titled: “We Need Bodice-Ripping Sex-Ed.” In her clever, insightful article Weiner claims that she got a smidgen of information about sex from her well-meaning parents. Another sliver came from junior high sex-ed classes that named body parts and detailed all the bad things that can happen to you if you have sex.  (Think hideous diseases and of course, the ultimate curse, pregnancy.) Fortunately for Weiner, like a lot of us, she was a reader.  And what did she read? Yep, you guessed it: Romance novels.

Weiner throws a bone to the likely readers of the NYT when she concedes:  “The literary establishment doesn’t have much love for women’s fiction, whether it’s romance, erotica or popular novels about love and marriage.”  She adds, “Romance novels come in for an extra helping of scorn. Critics sneer that they’re all heaving bosoms and throbbing manhoods, unrealistic, poorly written and politically incorrect.”

Not so, says Weiner.

In the central theme of the article she insists as an information-hungry teenager, the romance novels she read, “for all their soft core covers and happily-ever-afters, were quietly and not so quietly subversive. They taught readers that sexual pleasure was something women could not just hope for but insist upon. [And] shaped my interactions with boys and men. They helped make me a feminist.”

WOW! True vindication for those of us as teenagers who hid in the closet gobbling up everything from Gone With the Wind (you know the scene on the stairs when Rhett apparently has his way with a blushing Scarlet…) to  Judith Krantz, to Erica Jong etc., etc. Without understanding that we were being “brainwashed”, we romance readers came to believe that female pleasure was a must, something that we should insist upon.

Weiner explains, “Because these books were written for and consumed by women, female pleasure was an essential part of every story. Villains were easy to spot: they were the ones who left a woman “burning and unsatisfied.” She cites “Shirley Conran’s “LACE” that features a heroine telling her feckless husband that she used an egg-timer to determine how long it took her to achieve orgasm on her own and that she’d be happy to teach him what to do.” Weiner adds with what I’m sure was a grin, “At 14, I never looked at hard- boiled eggs the same way again.”

Romance novels teach readers that all partners are equal participants

Weiner takes her argument in favor of romance novels into the political issue of the day, the #MeToo Movement.  She quotes Bea Koch, the co-owner of the Ripped Bodice bookstore who says, “Romance novels teach readers that all partners are equal participants in a sexual relationship….In some instances it can be a literal roadmap for how to bring up difficult topics with a partner. They give a roadmap to people wanting to experiment with their sexuality, or even get on touch with what they want and need in a sexual relationship.”

Are romance novels “just porn” as so many reviewers sniff?  Given the rampant availability of porn, that is a worthwhile question to ask.  One recent study found that “79 percent of men and 76 percent of women look at a pornographic website at least every month, another that three out of 10 men in that age group were daily viewers.” In contrast, those of us who read and write about a range of intimacy know that while “sex might be easy, relationships are hard.” Comparing romance novels to porn, Weiner says, “The book has the ability to paint a deeper picture. A 400 page novel can teach you more about relationships that any X-rated clip.”

In the current climate where so many people, men and women, are wrestling with crossed wires and mixed signals, Weiner concludes, “If we want men and women equally empowered to form real connection, to talk honestly and openly about who they are and what they want, there are worse places to start than curling up with a good book.”

Amen.

*Confession:  This is a repeat of a previous blog. I think it is one of my best. And frankly given the “sneers” we get from mainstream press, Jennifer Weiner’s insightful and laugh aloud message is worthy of reading again … and again.

P.S. If you like your Bodice Ripper books with no holds barred, check out:  The Olive or Twist Series. Trust me. These guys and gals don’t need egg-timers.

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If ever three women roared, they’re Viola Davis, Cate Blanchett and Daisy Edgar-Jones. If you love movies, as well as powerful, talented women, the big screen has just unveiled an embarrassment of riches.

Women

Let’s start with the most understated and surprising one. I didn’t particularly want to see Where the Crawdads Sing—and no I hadn’t read the book. Even the trailers didn’t entice me. Thank goodness my angels did. A spectacularly beautiful movie to watch, it takes place in the marshlands of North Carolina. A little-known corner of our country that is as gorgeous as it is surprising. The movie could have been a travelogue. Instead, it is a low-key, understated tale that will grab you by the heartstrings. A coming-of-age story about a young girl, played by Daisy Edgar Jones, who was abandoned by her abusive father and worthless mother and somehow survives almost literally alone in the marshlands. She endures abuse, abandonment, betrayal, sex, and even an alleged murder. As the trailers describe it “Where the Crawdads Sing” is a beautifully haunting story of one girl’s quiet resilience in a film that floats across multiple genres: thriller, romance and, ultimately, survival story.” Indeed.

Then There’s THE WOMAN KING

Once again, I might have passed on The Woman King except that I love Viola Davis. I decided that if she wanted to be a Woman King, why the heck not? Plus, it got rave reviews in its Toronto International Film Festival premiere that called the story a mix Hollywood entertainment with a story of social and historical significance. To say the least. Honestly, I can’t remember a movie where I literally was on my feet at the end clapping, laughing and crying. The story deals with the ugliness of the slave trade in Africa in the 1800’s. The unusual element was that black tribes were fighting against each other to sell their countrymen to the white slavers. Enter the women. Fierce, fanatical, choose your adjective. And even when they were told to stand down by their young king, the fanatical women simply faded into the background then roared back stronger than ever. And then there is Angela Davis. As one reviewer said of her “Davis is stellar. She seems to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders with a single glance.” Another reviewer declared “It’s an action epic that is sure to make everyone stand up and cheer!” She was right. I did!

The Woman King and Tar

And finally… TÁR

When is the last time you sat through a 210-minute movie and wished that it didn’t end?  Enter TÁR and Cate Blanchett. Just know that if Blanchett doesn’t earn the Academy’s Best Actress award for her performance, it will be a historic travesty. TÁR follows a revered classical composer/conductor, Lydia Tar, the first woman to be lead conductor of a major German orchestra, in the weeks leading up to a career moment of completing the fifth of the five Mahler adaptations. A field dominated by white males. At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour movie, you’re forced to come to grips with one reviewer’s conclusion: “Whether someone is corrupted, flawed, or uses the wrong language, it’s rare that someone is evil through and through. A fall from grace story is a tale as old as time. But in an era where many audiences are looking for signals from the filmmaker to whether a certain behavior is condoned, TÁR instead presents a character fully, not to make a statement, but solely to make a portrait in unexpected ways.” If you love movies, do yourself a favor and spend 210 minutes watching a movie you will never forget. Promise.

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While we are praising remarkable women, real and fictional, check out my series, The Olive or Twist Saga. Four remarkable and unforgettable women are paired with a quartet of men who are snazzy in their own right.

The Olive or Twist Saga

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Unforgettable Courage

My book in the Box set is: The Courage to Triumph

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