Dangerous Books for Girls by Maya Rodale

Posted by Mrs Giggles on August 10, 2015 in 2 Oogies, Book Reviews, Nonfiction / 4 Comments

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Dangerous Books for Girls by Maya Rodale
Dangerous Books for Girls by Maya Rodale

Maya Rodale, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-9906356-2-8
Popular Culture, 2015


Before I begin, I guess I should point out that I’ve been reading romance novels for so long that I no longer care about what people will think about my choice of reading materials. I don’t care whether people respect the genre or not, as it’s not like their disdain would kill off the genre. More importantly, I have come to recognize the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the genre, and I have learned to live with the more obnoxious aspects of romance novel tropes. That’s not to say that I would cheer and wave pom-poms at every book that comes my way – I leave that to the real professionals – but, rather, I can appreciate the finer parts of the genre without pretending that the warts are not there.

Therefore, if I read Maya Rodale’s Dangerous Books for Girls some twenty years ago, I may like it more. Right now, I roll up my eyes and wish that I’ve spent the money on something else. This is a defense of the genre, but there isn’t anything new here that is said and done at the end of the day. The same studies, the same arguments, the same defenses.

Worse, some of the defenses are for a genre that does not exist today. According to Maya Rodale, romance novels celebrate a woman’s freedom to make choices when it comes to her body and sexuality. Yes, let me list down all those romances that allow a heroine to get away with abortion… wait. How about heroines who have sex with a guy other than the hero without having to suffer? Yes, there are some, but one has to actively search high and low for them. Don’t even get me started about birth control and contraceptives – many romance authors today still refuse to believe that the condom is used for something else other than to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The last few books that I’ve read, in which condoms came up, had the couple happily ditching the condom once they decided that they were in love because we all know making babies comes after love. This kind of thing comes up so often, I even stop mentioning that in reviews or else I’d only end up like a broken record.

Ms Rodale insists that, “these days”, romance heroines enter sexual relationships with “both eyes open”. Oh, I almost died laughing.

As much as authors like Maya Rodale love to imagine that the genre is bursting with tales of women exercising all kinds of choices and sexual liberties, the reality of the genre is something else altogether.

Oh, and romance celebrates a woman’s independence, the ability to make her own way in the rat race! Quick, name me ten romance novels in which the heroine’s business is not failing, or that she manages to become a Vice-President not because her father owns the company. Okay, how about five?

Romance celebrates the ability of a heroine to move up the social ladder! Yes, because all those helpless heroines forced to do all kinds of absurd nonsense for their father, only to be rescued by a duke – that is not a rescue fantasy, oh no, just a heroine paying her dues to make her way up to the room at the top!

I can go on and on, but you get the idea, I’m sure. Like many books and studies of this nature, this one attempts to convince readers that the romance genre is bursting with progressive notions. I find this rather… fake. Also, given how traditional right-leaning values still hold firm in the genre, not to mention the prevalence of slut-shaming, beauty-shaming, thin-shaming, blonde-shaming, and other stuff, it doesn’t take anyone more than a few romance novels to puncture a few holes in these grand arguments. Also, some of the “empowering” quotes from books are taken from those that are anything but empowering – Rush by Maya Banks is one particularly notable example of this!

Furthermore, this book is bogged down by its narrow use of references and examples. The author approached a small pool of sources – Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Dear Author along with a handful of authors that she is buddy-buddy with for quotes and such – so I end up with bizarre moments such as Jane Litte of Dear Author explaining the appeal of BDSM. Yes, the same Ms Litte who went on record on that blog stating that she didn’t understand the appeal of “those” books – but I guess she edited that BDSM anthology one time and that counts as cred? Seriously, are folks who are more qualified to give that opinion, such as Selena Kitt or Joey W Hill or heck, even EL James too busy? Likewise, Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is the voice of romance readers. I guess everyone else is busy washing her hair? I feel that the author could have approached other online community legends like Laurie Gold or Dede Anderson or even Lady Barrow herself for a more balanced round of opinion on the appeal of romance.

The history of the genre is represented in a manner that is not exactly balanced, or worse, is portrayed in a misleadingly progressive manner due to the absence of input from people who have been with the genre for a far longer time. History is important, because currently, the vocal minority of the community on Twitter and other places is largely ignorant or doesn’t care about the history of the genre, often dismissing the very traits that make the genre what it is. It’s like the current crop of trans activists that attempt to crucify drag queens when drag queens played a big role in the history of LGBT activism – the current romance genre Social Justice Warriors only care about getting outraged and having the last word in the game of keyboard activism. We need honesty when it comes to defining and defending the genre. We need to acknowledge and understand why the more “unpleasant” aspects of the genre, whether or not they jive with the SJW narrative, work for the readers. And, at the end of the day, we need to know when to draw the line on the sand and tell the critics to get lost, instead of making feel-good arguments that don’t hold under scrutiny.

Dangerous Books for Girls contain plenty of pretty rhetoric, but alas, the genre it is describing is not the real romance. Long-time readers would realize this right away, and the cynics or critics of the genre only have to read a couple of romance novels to find out that this book is probably a bit too idealistic in its defense of the genre. So who is this book for? People who want their narratives to be validated, I guess, whether or not such validation is based in reality.

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Cantankerous muffin who loves boys that sparkle, unicorns, money, chocolates, and fantastical stories.

4 responses to “Dangerous Books for Girls by Maya Rodale

  1. JMM

    Thank you. The idea that romances are progressive is ridiculous. If anything, the heroines are becoming more and more helpless, victimized, conventional, and frankly, the only character trait they have is that they are completely inoffensive. Which offends me.

    They have no opinions beyond, “I want babies! I love this small town and Family Lifestyle! I will give until it hurts! I must be a Good Woman (circa 1950)!”

  2. To be fair, I don’t think heroines are becoming more helpless – there are a sizable number of heroines who can kick ass, but with a few asterisks next to “kick ass”. There is also a noticeable unwillingness among many authors to allow the heroine to come up on top even in situations where it makes sense for the heroine to do so. Hence: new recruit heroes that end up schooling supposedly experienced heroines in their job, powerful warrior princesses that only succeed in battling inanimate objects (otherwise, how else can the hero demonstrate his manliness?), and such. As long as we operate on the principle that it is only romantic if the hero is noticeably more capable and successful than the heroine, I guess we’d never have an organically capable heroine. There are exceptions to this, of course, such as Julie James, but one has to look hard for such authors and their works.

    I can only sigh at the increasing use of the heroine’s weakness and victim status as a “romantic” crutch. See: the cesspit known as new adult, where far too many authors use rape, molestation, incest, etc as an accessory in what is basically a create-a-Sim romance heroine game. Hey, VC Andrews did that too, but the real one (who had long since passed on) writes GLORIOUS and BITCHY and EVIL women. Many new adult wannabes could use lessons from the late VC Andrews. Her real brother romances >>>>> many of the stupid stepbrother romances out there at the moment.

    As for inoffensiveness, it’s going to get worse if the SJWs have their way – when that happens, every romance novel will feature only overweight PoC women with disabilities falling in love with beta males who may be hot but at the same time very aware and constantly apologetic about their cis-white male privilege. Every secondary character will be a genderfluid non-binary trans butterfly-kin PoC, nobody dares to explore other people’s culture because that will be appropriation and racist, and every cis-white straight characters will find excuses to pass themselves off as genderfluid trans magic snowflakes. Consumerism will no longer exist, everyone lives on Patreon contributions from their adoring Tumblr and Twitter followers, and Anita Sarkeesian is the President of United States. No one dares to say anything other than “PoC people rule! Women rule! Straight white men please kill yourselves LOL!” because a reader may be offended by anything else and we can’t have that, as romance is supposed to be a “safe space” (some author actually used that phrase to describe the genre, LOL). That or each book is prefaced by ten pages of trigger warnings.

    Straight romances? Problematic products that reinforce patriarchy and cis-straight white male privilege. Multicultural romances? Cultural appropriation and racism. Gay romances? OMG, gay men are problematic because most of them are white. Romances with humans? Discriminatory and racist – I’m a Carebear-kin, all these copulating human privilege is TRIGGERING ME MAKE IT STOP. And then someone would scream that love scenes in romance novels are able-ist and discriminate against asexuals, poliosexual, dinosexuals, and other make-up-your-sexual-word-day-at-Tumblr nonsense,SO SEX SCENES MUST BE STOPPED. And eventually, the entire genre goes to hell.

    The sad thing is, I don’t think most of these SJWs even read romance novels much. And when they do, it’s to score hashtag/clickbait points, like the hilariously racist “Let’s blacklist books written by straight white males and read only books written by trans PoC women!” thing on Twitter and SJW blogs earlier this year. And don’t get me started on blog entries that as basically report cards on how many “diversity” books one has read in some weird SJW equivalent of e-peen measuring contest, or I’d never stop laughing.

  3. JMM

    I haven’t seen too many kick-ass heroines lately. Those who can kick ass are usually – A) made to feel guilty about it, or B) ‘castrated’ (for lack of a better word) by Man – who makes her feel all wooby inside – I wanna retire and have a baby! Ick.

  4. I don’t know what to say, JMM. Your posts here (and on AAR) have always been overwhelmingly negative for so long now, maybe you have outgrown the genre. Me, I still can find some enjoyment in the genre, so I’d hang in here for a while yet.

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