The De-Evolution of Romance

I have an embarrassing confession to make. Back in my stay-home mom days – amidst volunteering, chauffeuring kids about town, cooking, cleaning and practicing the highly-skilled art of blending interior design with obtrusive, neon-colored plastic play structures – I had the brilliant idea of writing a romance novel.

I am not a fan of romance novels, mind you. Really, I promise. I haven’t even read one of those 50 Shades of whatever books. Not because I don’t enjoy steamy sex scenes, but because I do enjoy good writing. Actually, the reason I decided cheesy romance was my genre was because I figured I wouldn’t have to be especially good at it, and it was something I could churn out during naps or the occasional away playdate.

Needless to say, I’m glad my novel was never completed nor published, because I would not want that crap forever floating around haunting my novel aspirations. Also in hindsight, I realize as a romance novelist, I would never have been able to keep up with the ever expanding boundaries of taste. It’s one thing to be a writer of banal, silly fantasies, but it’s another to make Penthouse Forum seem downright quaint in comparison.

So let’s examine both the evolution and the de-evolution of the romance genre from the 1950s on, shall we?

office hussy
What about Office Lush in the background? Required reading for all HR professionals

 

Pulp fiction was a harbinger of modern day romance, pushing the moral envelope with dime store novels featuring murders, mysteries, and minxes. Even in the early days of the Harlequin romance, when their books were primarily authored by men, romance novels had more of a “True Crime”, hard-boiled detective feel.  The formula was pretty simple – characters like Vic Malloy, Fats Pulaski and Jigger Moran solved crimes and captured dame’s hearts.

Nurse
Pretty sure he opts for crazy but good in bed

When women starting writing for other women, the genre got a little less murdery but no less weird.  In the 1950s and ’60s, practically every Harlequin Romance featured a handsome but arrogant male doctor and an earnest, young female nurse in a starched white uniform. For me at least, there are some scenarios in this sub-genre that simply don’t work. Psychiatric Nurse is a romance set in – you guessed it – a psych ward, and one housing the protagonist’s mentally ill sister. Remember that this was also around the time people would end up lobotomized for being slightly odd.  Horny yet?

 

fabio

 

Next came the Bodice Rippers, which nine times out of ten had a windswept cover featuring a dumb but uber hot Fabio.  There he would proudly pose, golden mane flowing, muscled chest gleaming, clutching a fiery, heaving-chested beauty whose pouty expression silently spoke “Let me go, Rogue – but only after you ravish me.”  I came of age during this time, and I can assure you that, much to my dismay, I never saw a single long-haired pirate other than Prince, and, although admittedly hot, he was far too short for me.

 

prince

 

This leads us to our current state of the genre… which is inarguably pretty twisted.  I won’t even blame E. L. James, whom I’m sure still pinches herself everyday for managing to hit the pop culture jackpot with her inane drivel. Yet we lapped up her slop with a giant ladle, and begged for more. Mr. Gray might be a shocking character to a middle-aged, midwestern housewife who thinks removing her flannel nightgown during sex is kinky, but really he is just the tip of the fetishist iceberg.  There is some seriously strange stuff out there that is now considered “mainstream.”

 

sitter

 

Meet Kylie James…author of such books as “Doug, My Best Friend’s Dad”, “A Sitter For My Best Friend’s Dad”, and “A Tight Fit For The Sitter.”  Huh?  Unless your bff is the adult daughter of Bradley Cooper, me thinks you have a bit of a weird daddy complex going on. Did I mention that the main character also has sex with her female best friend while lusting after the dad?  Eww.  And I have questions – lots of them.  Is this guy also a time traveler? Because that’s the only way the man on the cover could be the billionaire father of a college student. Why is he so oily?  Also, please explain this title to me…what does it even mean? Shouldn’t sitter be the tight fit for billionaire dude, not the other way around?

 

Wolf

 

There is also an interesting sub-genre dealing with wolves and romance.  They call it fantasy fiction,  I call it bestiality.  I wouldn’t even accept a drink from a guy with a hairy back, let alone have sex with a wolf hybrid.

 

Horse

 

Even more disturbing is the Centaur themed romance novels.  Yes – you heard me right. Centaur. Themed. Romance. Novels.  I didn’t have the stomach to research any of the sex scenes so I can only speculate.  Call me old fashioned, but that’s not at all what I want to picture when I think of riding a horse.

With the aid of self-publishing, and as writers continue to test the waters of what romance fans will dive into, one can only speculate what comes next.   One thing I do know however, is that – at least for now – I’ll be sticking to Jane Austen.

From Granny To Goddess

I’m lucky.  Out of all the times to be born, my cute little newborn butt shot through the mommy hyperloop and  landed firmly in the 1960s.  Granted, I was too young to get in on all the cool hippie shenanigans, but at least I got to enjoy the architectural wonder that was ’80s hair, and experience the  thrill of obtaining an education in a pre-PC/Internet world (think typewriters, library card catalogs and microfiche, young’uns).   But the best part of being born in the latter half of the 20th century is that I get to embrace aging very differently than just the generation or two of women before me.

Last night I was at my friend Wendy’s 60th birthday party, surrounded by fabulous women in their 40s, 50s and 60s.  A slideshow of my friend’s photos from past and recent years played in the background, and as I watched  the rich tapestry of her life unfold on the screen, I felt happy.   Happy because 60 is no longer an age where I am required to give up seeking adventures to plant my ass in a rocking chair and take up knitting or needlepoint, (which I’m sure for me would involve lots of puncture wounds to both myself and others).Happy because if I want to dye my hair platinum blonde and rock a pompadour with shaved sides, instead of a short, sensible silver tinged bob, no one is going to tell me I can’t.  Happy because I can get sassy, drink bourbon, and talk dirty if the mood strikes me and there will always be plenty of like-minded women my age to join in the fun.

GourdMotherfuckers
I do quite fancy this cross stitch though…

Now I’m pretty sure some of you are rolling your eyes and thinking  “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad for women of a certain age back in the day. After all, my grandma always seemed perfectly happy baking, and…well…baking,.and of course, baking.”  And actually, Granny was the preferred choice for women over 40 – certainly better than choice number two, which was being designated a Spinster, or an Old Maid.

Just to prove my point,allow me to share some media portrayals of older dames that I grew up with, in the not too distant past.

brady 2
I’ll go with tongue Sam, since it’s on special today.

Take Alice from the Brady Bunch.  An unmarried woman of a certain age who – other than the all too infrequent excuse  to visit Sam the  butcher – really had no life of her own other than cleaning up after the Brady brats.

images
Damn you Nancy – things were just starting to get interesting between Carson and I!

Here’s another one – Hannah Gruen from the Nancy Drew books.  Also an unmarried older woman, also relegated to a life of quiet desperation cleaning and cooking for someone else’s family.  I’m convinced she secretly lusted after that dashing DA, Carson Drew, and also despised Nancy, who got to traipse around town solving mysteries and shit.

 

Still don’t beligolden girlseve me?  One of the top sitcoms when I was a young woman was “The Golden Girls.”  It was about 3 widows, a divorcee (whose husband of course left her for a younger flight attendant) and her eighty year old mom, all living together in a house in Miami, Florida.  In season one, it was stated that Betty White’s character Rose was 55 so I can only assume the younger character, Blanche – aka “the skanky one” – was supposed to be around 50.  I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t plan on donning flowing caftans, chunky jewelry and moving into a ranch home in an “active adult community” anytime soon.

hefner-2_2440521b

Contrast the image of the older single woman with the older single male.  Confirmed Bachelor.  Silver Fox. And for God’s sake, somebody please tell me why Hugh Hefner –  a guy who is now married, but to a woman 60 years his junior –  is iconicized as the ultimate male stud?  I’m pretty sure the only child reference in his dubious title as The Original Playboy, should be pedo, not boy.  But I digress…

The cultural climate that I get to grow old in is thankfully better than it was a generation before me.  Not perfect – but better.  The path I travel now is full of forks in the road, detours, and yes, even an opportunity to get lost occasionally .  Because continuing to travel a self-determined path is living your life to the fullest, and it shouldn’t end because you’ve reached a certain age.  I hope that it continues to improve for my daughters, and my daughter’s daughters if I am so blessed.

In the meantime, society can stop dictating what we should and shouldn’t wear, based only on the number that precedes the second digit of our age.  Fashion “experts” – how about encouraging women to wear whatever makes us feel good about ourselves? And – here’s a radical idea – how about the longer we’ve managed to survive in this world, the less – not more – ‘a fucks we ought to give?  People can also lose the mindset that – at least for women – youth equates power,  Sure being young of age, dewey of skin and firm of body is awesome, but so is being wise of mind, strong of character, and erratic of hormones (okay maybe not that last one). Not only that, we can still  – “gasp” – be sexy too.  Or “Sexty” as the age was deemed last night. The cultural climate that I get to grow old in is thankfully better than it was a generation before me.  Not perfect – but better.  The path I travel now is full of forks in the road, detours, and yes, even an opportunity to get lost occasionally .  Because continuing to travel a self-determined path is living your life to the fullest, and it shouldn’t end because you’ve reached a certain age.  I hope that it continues to improve for my daughters, and my daughter’s daughters if I am so blessed.

Happy Birthday Wendy – the woman who has survived breast cancer and a devastating car crash, raised two smart, beautiful young women, travels the world, volunteers tirelessly in her community, who has a husband that still thinks she’s the hottest thing on the planet, and friends who genuinely love her.  I say, rock ON, Girlfriend.