Friday, January 16, 2015

False Advertising

by Jean Roberta

Hypocrisy, to use a broad term, makes me almost too angry to speak, or to write. This is a problem when I need to explain why I’m angry. To write an explanation that might look logical to a reader, I have to be calm enough to defend my case. And if I’m calm, by definition, I’m not angry in the moment. It’s a Catch-22.

Okay, then, here is a list of topics that have made me angry in the past, and will definitely rouse my ire in the future, because they haven’t gone away.

1) The false promises of “romance,” both as a kind of euphemism for a long tradition of unequal sexual relationships between men and women, and as the definition of a genre of fiction. As I said here on the Grip in 2011, I’m not comfortable in the realm of traditional Romance for the same reasons I wasn’t comfortable in a number of dating relationships (e.g. with my high school boyfriend who dumped me after I won a writing award, with the biker who raped me the first time I said “no,” with the man who snorted every time I mentioned my plan to become a teacher, with several men who turned out to be married after we had sex). Marriage made me even more uncomfortable, especially since my husband believed that marriage vows simply erased his private promise to treat me like an equal, which was my condition for accepting his proposal in the first place. As he pointed out, he wasn’t willing to be “henpecked” by a proponent of “women’s lib.” What would the other men of his community think of him if it was obvious that he couldn’t even control his own wife?

Calling all these relationships “abusive” would suggest that what happened in them was outside the heterosexual norm in which men love, respect and protect women from harm while willingly providing luxurious material support.

On what planet have most men offered all this to women who have responded with true love that has nothing to do with fear?

I believe that mutual respect in heterosexual relationships is possible and that it does exist, though not in large supply. I’m just afraid that writing about this type of “romance” would involve going so far beyond the clich├ęs that the story wouldn’t be recognized as “romantic” by fans of the genre.

So, to sum up, it’s unlikely that I will ever become a success by switching to Romance, where (I’ve been told) the money and the fans are.

2) Conservative neo-fascism. The policies of the current government of Canada are very friendly to corporations, including those that would gladly destroy the natural environment. Canada still has a fairly vast “wilderness,” but it’s full of natural resources that can be sold for profit, and the Canadian tradition of a social safety net for all citizens is being eroded faster than the prairie topsoil. All this in the name of freedom.

3) Leftist righteousness and barely-hidden agendas. After I escaped from my jealous, alcoholic husband in the late 1970s, I stayed out of leftist organizations for so many years that I came to think of myself as more-or-less apolitical, even though I feel strongly about political issues. I could hardly join the local Coalition Against Racism when my African husband was a pillar of that group – and I knew he was carrying out his earlier threat to me that if I left him, he would tell the whole world I was a nympho slut with a habit of constantly picking up random men. He also ran for president of the student union at the local university when I was a graduate student there. From time to time, I met his supporters, who assured me that he was a “radical.” I couldn’t see any advantage in telling them what I knew.

Since then, I have met other self-defined leftists who have announced that they are opposed to Violence, Poverty, and Injustice, and are fighting to bring about world peace, yet too many are anything but peaceful. Or honest.

And “feminism” no longer seems to be (if it ever was) the motivating theory that launched a movement for the rights of all women. I have been a volunteer counsellor on the local sexual assault phone line for 25 years because this seems like necessary work, but I stay away from cliques of the Politically Correct. I’ve been excluded or attacked too many times for being “bourgeois” (I have an academic job), white, and more committed to my own survival (and that of my nearest and dearest) than to “The Movement.”

My younger stepson has become known to his friends for his occasional misanthropic, pessimistic rants. As he sometimes puts it, “I hate people. They’ll stab you in the back.” (“People” apparently excludes his family, including me, and a few trusted friends.) I can’t honestly tell him he’s wrong.


  1. Jean:
    It's amazing that you're not down at Hooter's machine gunning all the men who's wives and significant others think they are somewhere else.

    I'm still crazy in love with my wife of 25+ years so it is possible to have long term loving relationships but my first marriage was a complete mulligan that left me bitter for many years. The disconcerting thing is that I am more or less the same guy but I made terrible choices in nearly every facet of my life until my late 30's. Some people are just lucky in love, that's my story.

    There's no money in Romance-not for new writers at least. I just got my year end sales report. I have three books published which have totaled nine sales, netting me about five dollars-not enough to clear the threshold for a royalty check.

    I love the clarity of your writing and the honesty you reveal in your posts. Wish it didn't involve such heartbreak.

  2. I've been happily-married for 30 years to the father of my 4 kids. I was a wild woman before I met him, and he's a beta-male to the core. I don't write about multi-millionaire alpha doms who morph into animals at will, and want to share their females with their brothers. I guess that's why my royalties checks are like Spencer's...barely enough for a cup of coffee.

    Instead I write realistic romances about men and women who relate to each other as equals, and the families they are both from. I just wrote a blog about families and their importance in my books. It went live today.

    Re: protecting the environment, we sure need to keep yelling about how this is, so far, the only planet we have to live on. Did you see Interstellar? Talk about prescient and scary, in its depiction of a future where the ground can't grow enough food for the population anymore. We're heading that way, and will reap what we sow. There's an old Indian saying about how only when the last fish has been caught, and the last animal killed, will we realize we can't eat money. I'm angry about that, right along with you.

    Re: hypocrites...yeah, it's part of the human condition. People talk one way, and walk the other. It's rare to meet genuine folks, who walk their talk. Those are the ones to clasp to your bosom and make your friends.

    And Spencer? I've told my family for years that the day I walk into a Hooters, will be the day they open a place next to it called, "Balls", where the servers are hot, muscular men wearing only speedos, who come up to me and place their balls on my table and say, "Hi, I'll be servicing you today." So far, I've never been in either of them. But my family gets a huge kick out of suggesting Hooters to me, just to hear me rant about it again.

    1. Fiona:
      LOL on Hooters!
      I am published by a small house that publishes mostly erotic romance. As you would expect, there are only a couple of us males in the stable. There is a private Facebook site for authors. The women are constantly publishing pictures of scantily clothed super muscular men along with lewd comments. It is my joyful job to call them out on it or mock the s**t out of the photo. BTW have you ever seen how women behave at Chippendale Events?

    2. Fiona, I have to say that when it comes to a choice of which bodily parts are placed on the table where my food will be, I'd have to go with hooters rather than balls, and that's unrelated to matters of sexual orientation.

    3. Sacchi...LOL! But I can dream, right? Of a world where it's not just women who are objectified. Of course, it would be better if no one was made to feel that their entire worth was centered in a few body parts. But until then, I'll dream of that world.

  3. No Spencer, I've never been to any place with male strippers. I've never liked the idea of only being able to look and not touch. I've raised my kids the same way, so my sons say they don't like strip clubs because they're always wondering how the woman feels, or if she has any other words, they want to treat her like a person, not a thing. I'd feel the same way, I guess.

    And really, I don't like super-muscular guys, like Ah-nold in his prime. I know other women do, but I find them kind of gross. Give me a tall, skinny guy with a nice ass and I'm a happy gal. Since husband is over a foot taller than me, I obviously chose my "type" in him.

    1. Hi, Fiona,

      I'm with you on the muscles bit. Did you read my Grip post when we were talking about phobias, called Myonphobia. Kind of rips Romance with a capital R to shreds, too.

    2. Thanks for sharing the link, Lisabet. I missed that one...but I enjoyed it, and left a comment for you there. Me, I think I'd take my chances with the hirsute mesomorph alsot! Certainly would be less complications if you didn't enjoy yourself. No need to say things like, "It's not's me..." etc.

  4. If you have raised your boys with that kind of sensitivity you can go to your grave as a proud parent.

    1. Thanks for that, Spencer. Since being home with them for a few years dropped me out of the full-time job market. I'll never be able to proudly point to my financial contribution to our family's success. I do what I can with multiple p/t jobs, but that's all due to my husband. But at least I'm proud of how our kids turned out. They had my lovable beta-male husband as a role model, and me, the truck-driving, beer-drinking, pool-shooting, filthy-mouthed broad that I am, raising them to be feminists. In an uber-Chistian town, no less! Probably be some expensive, long-termed therapy bills in the future, eh? JK...I hope!

  5. Jean, thanks for the post. Based on your essay collection, this intolerance of hypocrisy seems to have allowed you to occupy a freethinking space that's very difficult for most to get into. It's easy to be on a "team"—until it isn't. I appreciate your voice for your incisive bravery and willingness to speak even if it's not going to win you approval from whatever team might be relevant at the moment.

    As far as romance, right now I'm not even. (For those standing by at home, Internet speak for "That could be a long, long rant, but right now I'll just let it stand with what people have already said").

    And what you say about speechlessness has definitely afflicted me, though perhaps in a different way. It usually takes me hours at minimum to articulate what I'm feeling when I'm upset, which definitely causes problems when other people are involved.

  6. Thank you for commenting, all! My rant about traditional "romance" is a kind of digest version of a longer post I wrote several years ago which included my reasons for feeling especially squeamish about historical romance, set in eras when women did not have the rights of citizenship. They really didn't; you could look it up. ("Coverture" was a nineteenth-century legal term to define the "covered" status of married women. They did not count as individual people under the law because their legal status was "covered" by that of their husbands.) In that social and legal context, I doubt whether mutual "love" really gave a woman equal bargaining power with a man, even in the "courtship" phase (if she needed a husband for survival, as most young women did). I just can't write something that implies that 1) "love" always lasts for a lifetime, and 2) it simply makes the cultural context irrelevant. Too much of the "romance" I've read carries those messages, even if it's contemporary. (The superior legal status of men in the past seems to have been replaced by the billionaire economic status and the Alpha-male pushiness & muscularity of a typical romance "hero" in a modern romance. As Fiona says, feh.)

  7. One good thing I will say about the apparent popularity of romance fiction (at least for the stars of the genre -- you know their names) is that it has inspired me to think. Could a marriage of the 1860s possibly work? What if the husband AND the wife were both queer in some sense and each had a same-sex lover? What if the marriage were essentially a friendship wrapped in an economic arrangement and a social ruse? These questions inspired my novella, The Flight of the Black Swan. I enjoyed that unconventional marriage while I was writing about it, and I found myself capable of bringing all the characters to a happy ending. :)

  8. Annabeth, I actually suspect there are quite a few veterans or survivors of ideological wars on the Left, including the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s (when "racism" was also being variously defined -- one definition was a writer's "appropriation" of a racial OR cultural identity not her own in a literary work). When "political correctness" gets defined in ever-narrower terms, staying on the team becomes a game of musical chairs: someone is always going to be trashed, sooner or later. Meanwhile, the injustice of the world continues as usual. There is a widespread conspiracy theory (my spouse believes in it) that ugly schisms on the Left in past decades were actually caused by spies or agents provocateurs who were planted in social-justice groups by intelligence agencies in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. (A mind-boggling article in a recent issue of The New Yorker analyzes the now-proven inflitration of animal-rights groups by the British govenment.) Re the local scene, I just don't know. I have no proof. Luckily, signing petitions against the abuse of people and the earth itself is still legal, so far.

  9. Hello, Jean,

    I so admire your ability to articulate logical arguments about complex social phenomena. I know you've had a lot of opportunities to be angry over the years, but you've managed to distill these experiences into insights that go beyond the emotion.

    Last night we watched a movie called "Pope Joan", about a medieval woman who, because of her love of learning and the persecution to which she was subjected at the hands of her father and society because of her desire for knowledge, disguised herself as a man for many years and ultimately became Pope for a brief period. According to Wikipedia, the existence of a female pope is a legend not supported by the historical record. That doesn't really matter. The film isn't subtle in making its points, but that doesn't mean they aren't valid. At one point, the man with whom Johanna had long been in love finds her and begs her to marry him. She refuses, telling him that she has lived as a man for too long and values her freedom. Why should she relinquish that for the constrained life of a woman and wife? Then at the end of the film, we discover that the cardinal who has come to Rome to write the story of Johanna's life is in fact another woman whom Johanna taught to read as a child. The cardinal wonders how many other members of the curia might in fact be female.

  10. Lisabeth, this is a fascinating story, and I suspect that even if the details have been embroidered, there must have been a few male impersonators in the Church as well as in all other male-dominated institutions. That would explain the tradition that forced every newly-elected pope to sit in a chair that enables another man to grope him underneath to make sure he has male plumbing! (I'm not sure if this is still done.)

  11. I would imagine that a resourceful woman (or eunuch) would be able to get around such a cursory examination, unless it wasn't so cursory after all.


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