#MeToo is challenging mainstream society to critically examine long-held assumptions about sexual scripts and femme pleasure.
By Michelle Carroll
Lately it feels like it's nearly impossible to go a single day without hearing a viral story of sexual violence. And of course, this is a good thing. Finally the pain and shame that was previously whispered to friends and confidantes is being taken seriously by popular media.
The #MeToo movement’s goal is to promote widespread culture change—from abolishing violent sexual scripts accepted by our cultural consciousness to deliberately creating space to talk openly about healthy sex, affirmative consent, and respecting boundaries. In the short term, their work is to make sure that survivors who come forward are not only believed, but supported. However, the engines of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements is the pain and trauma of women, and unfortunately there is nearly an infinite supply of sexual trauma in our communities.
But what about the survivors and victims among us who want to read something else? The 24/7 news cycle focused on victimization does not help us feel sexy or safe. Even before #MeToo, dating and sex were fraught with minefields (especially if cisgender men are your jam). Healthy, fulfilling sex was a goal that one worked towards, not the inevitable conclusion of a Friday night at a local bar or dance club. We deserve fun, exciting, hot, steamy, sexy time too! In my experience, the only place to get consistently consensual sex with a diverse array of communicative people is from a romance novel.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that romance novels get a bad rap in popular culture. Literary critics and general readers imagine romance novel readers and writers as sexually repressed, white, suburban moms. But, in reality, romance writers and readers are a diverse group of critical thinkers. Without fanfare, a small legion of intersectional feminist romance novels has burst onto the market, reinvigorating a genre long grown stale by the domination of white, cisgender women authors.
The romance novel genre is deceptively large and complex, with specific tropes and rules that challenge authors to realize unique characters within the strict confines of their chosen genre. And of course, every novel must end with a happily ever after for the characters. There are subgenres for all preferences: contemporary romance novels, cowboy romance novels, regency romance novels, historical romance novels, sci-fi romance novels, fantasy romance novels. And there are tropes within each of these subgenres that define how the author will tell the story of falling in love.
Some popular examples in the genre are: the “(white) alpha hero” who uses his masculinity and white privilege to control the world around him, including, in some ways, his love interest; the “disguise” trope is when either one or both of the main characters pretends to be something they aren’t; “the fake engagement” trope is when the love interests agree to a fake engagement to circumvent some external problem but ultimately fall in love for real. Although a majority of romance novel subgenres are not predicated on violence against women or the attitudes that lead to violence against marginalized peoples and identities, it’s easy to replicate real world inequalities in romance novels if the author is not fully conscious of these lived realities.