Monday, July 11, 2011

The Penis Mightier, for 200, Alex

(Title Reference-- My point -- The Penis sells page views.  Did it bring you here?)

It's always fun to rip on the romance genre -- it has everything! Sex, morality, paternalism, and, um, sex!  As a result, there is always someone doing it. (Er, ripping, that is.)  So by now most of us have seen Susan Quilliam's article about how Romance Ruins Lives and have dismissed it for the unsupported nonsense that it is and are well on our way to forgetting all about it.  I rather wish I had done the same.

I was contacted by a journalist, Katie Drummond, and asked to comment because of my "expertise."   I really did not want to participate in yet another throw-away article that implies that romance readers are idiots of one shade or another, but when I reviewed her past work, it seemed like she typically shows both sides of a question, even if she's leaning a bit to a certain conclusion.  And, I'll admit it, I hoped that maybe it would drive a little traffic here, so I agreed to the interview.

Unfortunately, after a good 15-minutes or so of discussion about the genre, what constitutes fact versus opinion, and expectations (eg: no one expects mystery fans to endanger themselves by interfering in police business) Ms. Drummond quoted me thusly:
“My husband isn’t somebody you’d call an alpha hero. Let’s just say he’s very in touch with his emotions,” Nicola Onychuk, whose blog, Alpha Heroes, covers the romance genre. “But we’re very happy. I can distinguish between fiction and reality.”
Which was pretty much a sidenote in the conversation that I thought we were having, not to mention much, much oversimplified.

But, I guess now that my name is attached to this, I need to make my opinion clear (as if there were any doubt).

FIFTEEN MINUTES: WIN! Congrats on your 15 minutes, Ms. Q. They say no publicity is bad publicity.

RESEARCH: FAIL  Quilliam has an opinion about romance and how it affects her patients.  Fine.  Interestingly, when she attempts to back up her opinions with facts, she uses one reference regarding condom usage which Linda Holmes at thoroughly debunked, starting with the fact that it's 11 years old (thanks Laura, for pointing me to that one).  The second study actually refuted her findings but she cites it anyway, saying
And yet … and yet... I would argue that a huge number of the issues that we see in our clinics and therapy rooms are influenced by romantic fiction.

Based on...what? Gut feel, apparently?  Oh, oh, wait:
It's not all gloom, though. Browse – as I did for this article – the ‘romantic fiction’ section of your local book shop, and {bla bla irrelevant snark about covers}, the sexual content inside can be very healthily presented.
She actually browsed some books on the shelf--browsed, not read-- which... also didn't support her claims. OOO KAAY, lady. Whatever.

CREDENTIAL: FAIL Who exactly is Ms. Q referring to when she mentions "our clinics and therapy rooms"? Is it me or is she implying that she is a practicing therapist? You can find her CV online, and I for one do not see any mention there of her ever actually seeing patients in any capacity.

MATH: FAIL  Quilliam states: some fans read up to 30 titles a month, one book every 2 days. OK, maybe this is just mean, and picking on a typo. But, really? this is a woman who is being cited and rehashed all over the internet (including here, sigh, which makes me part of the problem...) and... and.. .just look at what she writes!  (Hmmm.  Note to self for article idea- don't worry about cites-- "pop-psychology makes you stupid at math...")

I think that takes care of Quilliam.  Now, for young Ms. Drummond.

POP REFERENCE: FAIL Fabio? Really?  You couldn't do any better than the guy who was popular 30 years ago and then had a brief comeback satirizing himself with a fake butter product?  How about Nathan Kamp, Sam BondPaul Marron, or Jimmy Thomas?  Using a name that's outdated and a common object of ridicule gives you away as either lazy or biased or both.

FOCUS: FAIL Did you have a point here? Because your article really just rehashes stuff that Quilliam said without bringing anything new to to the table, and ends on just as wishy-washy of a note. I mean, apparently you got her to speak to you and give you some new quotes, but there were no new points, no other cites. I knew that when I responded to you I was running the risk of being made to look insipid or stupid or both, but one reader telling you that "my husband isn't like a romance hero and that's OK" is not much in the way of support for an argument.  Not that you had an argument that I could see.

Your email and your title vaguely indicate that you want to address the age-old (#4) question of whether romance readers have unrealistic expectations about their partners and their relationships.  Again, this was addressed in multiple studies cited by Quilliam which either explicitly conclude, "Nah," or indicate that romance readers skew toward better relationships and more satisfying romantic (yes, that means SEX) lives.

Perhaps what this means is that, if there is any effect at all, romance readers have REALISTICALLY HIGHER expectations of a mate*.  We expect a mate that treasures us, that connects with us emotionally, that will put some effort into overcoming obstacles-- internal or external-- to be with us, and, yes, good sex.  I'm trying to figure out what there is in there that a "relationship psychologist" could possibly object to.

If that's wrong, I don't want to be right.

Other People Who Think Quilliam Is Full of Shit Unconvincing
The Smart Bitches
Barbara Vey
Maya Rodale
Stephen Wenlock
Catherine Bennett (possibly my favorite)
Margery Kempe
KatieBabs, in her inimitable style
Laura Vivanco
Late add: Laura Mensch, who might be my new hero even if she did beat me to the point I wanted to make.

*if I were the angry militant feminist type**, I would add a comment here about how understandably scary that must be to the oppressive patriarchy.  Which incidentally, would not be incorrect. Or irrelevant.

**What does that even mean? angry militant feminists can make some pretty good points too, fyi.

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