ROMANCE *IS* FANTASY - Childish Dreams vs. Heroic Aspirations
Updated: Jul 16
--A YIN-YANG RABBIT HOLE - If you haven't read this sex, language & violence content warning with its (non)binary discussion of the Feminine & Masculine polarity, I suggest you do before reading this next series. If you skip it...well...you've been warned.
--THE INCONCEIVABLE - ASSumptions About the Gladiatrix
--"WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO READ" THEY SAID - So I Do
--ROMANCE, FANTASY, ACTION, SEX - Not Mortal Combatants
...And Romance IS Fantasy, no matter what kind of world or time period it’s set in. Fantasy is simply a story that imagines "what if?" It's a break from the mundanity, the disappointments, or the cold fish-slap of reality.
"What if we had superpowers to deal with the reality of oppression and evil?" Or "What if evil could be annihilated by dumping a ring in a volcano?"
Romance is just a different facet of the deviation from reality that Speculative Fiction gives us. It's the fantasy of, "What if the shitshow of sex and romance didn't have to end in divorce, heartbreak, violence, or misery?”
...These issues people have had with my Gladiatrix, as well as her story arc that includes love, sex, babies AND badassery are the main reason I eventually considered switching genre.
So instead of trying to stay within the bounds of Fantasy/Sci-Fi with romantic subplots that included sex scenes (oh-no! not that!), I let myself turn the steam level to high heat and started looking at my fiction through the lens of Romance in fantastical settings.
I can hear it now and it comes from multiple sides of the gender coin: "Romance?! Blechk! That's sissy stuff. Nobody will ever take your writing seriously if you do that. What a bunch of idiotic, saccharine rubbish!"
That's true for some of it, just like there is tons of detritus in every genre, especially with the advent of self-publishing. But many Romance writers are incredible. (1-4)
Just like there's nothing wrong with aromantic people who love all the sex or people who aren't interested in either, there's also nothing wrong with those of us who love them both.
What if we would stop calling females' dreams and fantasies about sex and romance "stupid, childish, unrealistic"? Maybe then we could make those dreams a little closer to reality instead of the shitshow too many of us have experienced.
What if we would stop labeling people's romantic fantasies as "little girl's dreams" or "being a pussy/pussy-whipped"?
I mean, much of society doesn't call the dream of being brave and reliable, protecting others, and standing up for what we believe in "stupid, childish, or unrealistic."
Can I fly around in a cape or shoot webbing from my wrist? No. And nobody expects me to when I say that I want to emulate those heroic qualities.
But try tossing up a Romance character or plot as something to emulate, and watch how quickly you're ridiculed, even by many women. Do I expect to be swept up on horseback by the perfect Highlander in regimental kilt? Do I expect Thor to descend from on high, flexing his pecs while booming, "You are the one!" Not any more than I expect myself to be capable of flying an invisible jet or shooting death-rays from my bunghole when the bad guys come to call.
"Ohhhh, but Romance is just so cheesy!"
Yup. And the action parts of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Superhero shows are nevvvvver as cheesy as romantic drivel...
Action and fight scenes are also never, evvvver cheesier than the romance. Never.
It would seem as though sex and romance hasn't "grown up" the way action has, especially onscreen with the advent of heavy-duty special effects, pyrotechnics, stunts, and jaw-dropping fight choreographies. To my eyes, romantic portrayals have actually taken a heavy hit in favor of these modern marvels.
I mean, kissing was actually an art back in the 80s and 90s. A lost art that many of us learned from onscreen romances and then replicated--even elevated--in person. In the 90s, there was something going on between love interests. Something that almost allowed men to safely express a full emotional range while keeping their Badass Dick Cards, and something that almost allowed women to enjoy the kind of foreplay that many of our bodies need.
This goes triple for stimulating the mind, not just the clit--although that art seems to be falling by the wayside, too. Alas, not for lack of goal-based, pressure-induced, guilt-burdened trying in the poor pussy-pleasuring males of our species. (6)
These days he not only has his own sexual performance to worry about for maintaining his Dick Card. Now he has to tally up how many orgasms he gives the already complicated female sex system, which reduces connection, intimacy, and in-the-moment enjoyment, and puts everybody in their northward heads with Pressure To Produce. Never a good thing for orgasms, especially the female variety which is often far more connected to the mind than simple friction. So then if you have anybody with ego-driven, fragile masculinity down there...
Which...you know...gets compounded by
all the pressure...
and women's frustration...
and a woman's issues getting in the way of her orgasm to begin with...
and faking it...
to preserve his confidence...
or prevent a fight...
or keep her Magic Pussy Card...
and more articles about how to stimulate clits better as though that's the be-all-end-all problem...
and Playahs' manuals teaching selfish sexists how to manipulate women's minds so they can get their nut along with their Sex God Gold Stars without being branded as what they truly are...
and women's trauma when they figure out the game...
and violence when women confront that issue, which creates more trauma and blocks more female orgasms...
and puts even more pressure on really good guys who genuinely care about women's mutual pleasure...
which puts him in his analytical, number-ticking head instead of in-the-moment WITH HER...
which she can feel and then...
Failure. Faking. Frustration.
I'm just a little bit invested in the importance of women's orgasms, but we've gone about this much-needed societal update in such an angry, goal-based fashion that it's caused a heap of other problems beyond "who cares?" or "female orgasm is a myth" or "female orgasm is a sin."
We still battle all those too, but now we can't even judge who is a selfish or misogynistic lover by the fact that he doesn't attend to our pleasure by his own enthusiastic inspiration. Now it's just One of the Standards--a standard everybody has to measure up to. Even those who would have been enthusiastic if left to their own desires are now pressured to tally, not just enjoy.
So women's orgasms have become like badges and slot-machines, not an intimate, loving act designed for deepening connection and having fun TOGETHER.
"When we push orgasms for women as a sign of sexual liberation, if there’s more going on behind the scenes we might end up reinforcing some of the same gender norms we’ve had all along, just with a new cover."
~Sari van Anders (6)
What if the standards for a "great lover" and a "great erotic fantasy" were not based on the slot-machine spurting of orgasmic fluids--anybody's fluids--but rather, they were based on how much everybody involved genuinely enjoys each other and what they're doing?
And yes, that does include a navigation between masturbation, the need for easy-button release amidst stress and exhaustion, shaming, intimacy, trust, fantasy, reality... I could write for just as long about the intimacy-destroying practice of shaming men for their own sexual fantasies, the needs of their systems, and the issues that come up--or don't come up--with penises as well. But I don't have one of those, so I'll leave that to their firsthand voices.
It still deserves a mention here because it's an important side of this issue.
Being a woman, these are the things that have plagued me. So if you keep tugging on the lever but never win the female orgasmic jackpot, this is why it breaks down with me--and many others like me. Seeking out female voices and female fantasies like a curious scientist and enthusiastic kid in a candy store might point you in the right direction. Just like it also does any woman who wants to have sex with a man a world of good to openly and curiously listen to his rants and frustrations, ask him to show how he handles his own pleasure, and share which fantasies turn his crank. (3)
I suspect the answers lurk somewhere in the grayscale and the rainbow sprinkles, with flashes of brilliant white and deepest black.
We who grew up with filming techniques that enjoyed taking time for seduction and foreplay scenes...for true eroticism, not just spank-it-and-spurt...for the establishment of intimacy vs. The Big Kiss/The End, or Now Kiss Wham-Bam...well, I can sure feel the difference in those who have attempted to mouth-meld with me in the past decade or two. I really-really feel it the moment they switch from connecting WITH me to Getting Me Off. Most distinctly, I feel it in how I never get to crave anymore. I certainly don't get to be the initiator of forward momentum or meet somebody blow-for-blow. As we've covered, I have a very well-developed dominant side, so that's important for my enjoyment.
Instead it's always...oh, we're alone and have chemistry? Cool--
Annnnnd now hands are trying to latch onto my ass and my boobs and peel my clothes off within 3 seconds of kissing me. My clit is grounds for friction-starting a fire between my legs and my nipples are treated like old-school radio knobs.
My first 16-year-old virgin boyfriends didn't even do that shit to me.
But these days, I spend far more time fending people off and smashing the brake pedal than I do enjoying the gradual spiral toward ever more intimate and exhilarating contact. But intimacy is the greatest lost art of them all.
Which is one of the main reasons why I would rather spend my time reading or writing my own fantasies than going on dates after prowling dating sites. GAK! The majority of what I do is say, "NO. NO. NO. Not yet. Slow down. Agh! Not yet! You know what? Fuck this. I'm out."
Our stories are hugely responsible for teaching us these rhythms. Because it's not like having healthy, mutually satisfying sex is something that we witness and then model from our parents or practice in the classroom.
As communication becomes shorter, snappier, highlight reel, TLDR...as our show-n-tell becomes all about Likes and Photoshop...as the focus becomes more about special effects and the Big Booms than telling a really good story (much less saying anything meaningful), all genres, storytelling mediums, and modes of communication are affected.
Say what you will about action and fight-scenes being so much more elevated and less campy than they used to be. That's true. But so many people also call them and the genres they're associated with "more realistic" than Romance.
Did you not notice how many head-injuries and comas those action stars didn't portray in their big stunts? And fight scenes--even those without wires and other stylized effects--they usually aren't any more "realistic" than porn. (3) It's all about the dramatic camera angle, the adrenaline-inducing pace, and the Big Boom.
So don't give me that crap.
It's the writing and the delivery, not the genre that make Romance any less realistic than Jedis wielding the Force, porn studs going butt-to-mouth with no infections, or action-packed thriller heroes wielding Special Forces skillz, 6-pack abs, and weapons that most professional soldiers could only dream of--none of which you're going to get from your dad-bod husband kicked back on the couch after a hard day's work.
But is he still your kids' superhero?
Is he still yours?
If your answer to both those questions is yes, you're lucky. Because I have known too few women in a relationship past the two-year googly-eye phase who would say that about their husbands or longterm boyfriends. I have known too few men who would say their wife or longterm girlfriend is their dreamgirl either. (Not when it's just him, his best bud, and his beverage of choice. Especially not what he secretly fantasizes about in the privacy of his own head if his buddies are any type of conservative and judgy.)
Most people in longterm relationships have said similar things to me: she is usually dissatisfied with the way he treats her; he is usually dissatisfied with her dissatisfaction in him. (My friends who don't fall under the cis-het binaries mix and match these issues.)
What if females were encouraged instead of blocked from embodying the full gamut of the Hero Archetype--without being limited to the outdated masculine stereotypes of how to do that?
What if, at the same time, protagonists encouraged males to wield the classic Hero's protectiveness, strength, and dependability in more ways than the macho and corporate models that leave them feeling like nothing they do is ever good enough, no matter that they're burning themselves into the ground to keep everything together?
And even more revolutionary, what if they were also encouraged to wield a full emotional range without being belittled as "a baby, a pussy, pussy-whipped, or simply nonexistent?"
What if people were taught healthy, consistent emotional expression, not repressed "regulation" based on the Suck It Up Model until they explode? Or implode and die from things like cancer and cirrhosis. Or break down and bungle all their spinning plates, then say Fuck It.
What if a "real man" was not based on how much he "produces," how "stoic-n-strong" he is, and how much he "whupps ass"? What if we stopped using the term "real man" or "real" anybody? What if a good person was considered to be one who treats the people they love in a way that makes them FEEL loved?
(If you don't understand the difference between doing what you consider to be acts of love vs. the recipient FEELING loved as a result, then I suggest reading The 5 Love Languages.) (5)
And no. I'm not only talking about romantic love here.
But in a romantic relationship, what if that kind of respectful, affectionate, and conscientious treatment was sustained even after the love interest has been hooked and acquired, the Big Kiss moment has passed, and the chemical highs of the rampant bunny-boinking have subsided?
What if everybody did that? Consciously. Actively. Continually?
What if we found it important to do that for people we don't love? What about those we don't even know?
What if all those "what if" circumstances came to pass? What might happen to everybody else who doesn't fall into the binary extremes of Macho Man and Girly Girl? (Does anybody? Really?) Gee...maybe people could just be allowed to...I dunno, be who they are? Maybe?
What if we realized that the human race is not in danger of extinction from having too few of us around (kinda the opposite), and that...gee...females can actually take active roles in emergencies? Could we finally stop with the "women and children first" crap? Ask any headline. Ask any movie plot. Why have females for so long been societally considered less valuable, less competent, less important, yet in our plotlines and at crisis-time it's still instinctually considered "more of a travesty" when a female dies over a male?
Because, you know, males are expected to do that fighting and dying and self-sacrificing shit because they're "automatically bigger, stronger and by nature the better fighters," while women are expected to hug the children and cower in the bunker, because we're "automatically smaller, weaker, and by nature the better nurturers" since we have the vaginas.
Can you see my eyebrow raised?
Go ahead. Write a fighting-age, able-bodied dad in the bunker holding the kids. Hooooooooo boy. Can't have that! He needs to hand that kid to a gal and get out there to whupp ass by virtue of his Dick Card alone, no matter if he's the best person for the job. (Welllll...when you societally train your females that they can't/shouldn't be awesome defenders and you train your males that they aren't/shouldn't be good nurturers and you tell everybody else that they don't belong in the gene pool...)
"Nooooo value is all about the ability to give birth!"
Even if we did only have twenty-seven humans with breeding capacity left in the post-apocalyptic bunker, females are not more "valuable" simply because some of us can gestate and (ideally) feed the children without having to externally stockpile food for them. Has the human race spontaneously mutated to where sperm is no longer necessary for the propagation of the species? No?
(And if you point at the eggs fertilized in a science lab, I'm gonna point at feeding tubes and the sciencey equivalent of a uterus.)
Males are not more "disposable" in crisis and I wish we would stop telling them that they are. We females just take longer and are more inefficient in our contribution to the propagating. It's simple statistics and probability management. One dude can knock up whole herds of females month after month, whereas we--at best--can only manage one nine-month cycle at a time, possibly die from it, and usually only get one child out of it. Just because we bake the children, doesn't mean we're "more valuable."
The same goes for killing females in the crib because they lack a penis. And ohhhhhh, the "horror" if someone has neither genitalia or both.
Life is life.
Something I've noticed that infuriates me: how many females rant and rave about not having intimacy and respect from a man they love, yet they call him a "pussy" if he's emotional. Heaven forbid he needs to have a good cry in front of her. Such belittling. Such scorn. What a bunch of crap. That's as bullshit as saying females can't fight.
People fight for what's important to them.
People run away.
People get tired and burnt out.
People are human super-power miracles.
People are weak and don't wanna.
People do it anyway.
People tap out.
People fail and fuck up.
People rise up.
People save the two-year-old and the four-year-old and cuddle them after the dust has settled and it doesn't fucking matter what they have between their legs, which pronouns they use, or what they wear.
And some people don't save the children OR cuddle anybody.
Treating someone you love in a tender, respectful, intimate way while retaining the capacity to stand up and whupp some ass about the important things is only nonexistent or unrealistic--just pure fantasy--as long as we write it off as such. And as long as we keep writing stories that divvy up these things as Girl Stuff and Boy Stuff. Pussy Stuff and Hero Stuff.
The same is true of disparaging any characters or people who have emotional reactions to loss, fear, love, trauma, violence, including committing violence. What if we stopped stamping everybody's foreheads with, "Only babies, weak people, and pussies cry!"
Crying is simply the body's pressure-release valve and a purification system like sweat or the digestive tract. Better out than in. Once it's out, we can more cleanly move on, and yes, it has a time and place just like the shitter. *shrug* Of course, I don't have any qualms about the shitter either.
Obviously. Have you SEEN the amount of words I poop out?
What if we stopped subjecting any female who "does boy stuff" like fighting, running a business, or engaging in politics to that "man up" mentality? What if females then stopped propagating it--but on steroids because we have a Dick Card to earn and then maintain at a disadvantage because we don't possess the actual article for membership in these clubs we've only recently been allowed to enter?
What if females also stopped thrusting machismo upon all our males--sometimes worse than they get it from other guys? These are our sons, husbands, fathers, friends, students, boyfriends, grandpas, brothers--people we say we care about. Heaven help you if you reject either gender extreme or claim them both.
This mindset of "suck it up, pussy" is a huge part of what created this oppressive patriarchy that's being called on the carpet today, and it's not only the guys doing it.
Changing these things takes a major shift from a very old and outdated mindset. A huge part of that is the kind of stories we tell.
Rest assured, I love watching badasses, too. I love reading them. I love writing them, and sometimes they are white, straight and male--and yes, sometimes they are the love interests of my badass, weapon-wielding female protagonists.
And that, my friends and foes, is such a rabbit hole that it will require a rant--I mean, a post all unto itself.
In the meanwhile, if you're as interested in these topics as I am, we can continue exploring some storytelling that has started to break down these gender stereotypes in ways beyond simply shoving people-with-boobs or so-called "alternative" traits into traditionally SWM roles.
I fell in love with Arcane over the winter. Here's an analysis of it from schnee (8) that will make much more sense if you've seen the show already. Plus, then it won't spoil it for you if you plan to watch it:
We see this a lot: "What the hells! Stop overcomplicating writing female characters! Just write women as people!" Obviously with my People Rants above, I agree with the sentiment regarding allowing people to be people, and to make sure that gender is not the primary driving motivation for a character's existence.
With that said, while writing fictional characters, I agree with schnee's take on it in the next video:
I think this idealistic, simplistic approach of "write women as people" is one of the biggest reasons we keep seeing all these female characters slapped into what is basically a stereotyped male role. Because as "people" performing certain functions of a story--specifically the heroic or badass functions--those roles have traditionally been a certain type of male for so long that they subconsciously wind up doing the same-ole-same-ole because..."that's what a hero does."
So I agree that the demographic--and easily stereotyped--traits of a character (gender, age, body type, social & economic status, race, sexual orientation, etc.) need to intentionally and conscientiously come into play. I think that during character creation they deserve MORE attention, not less. In this way, we really can make interesting and unique characters who are "just people" in all their wide and wild variations.
Which means any type of person could be a badass protagonist. Any type could be a hero or a love interest. Not by shoving "this type" or "that type" into the old cookie-cutter roles. But by asking, "What if?"
And then "What else?"
At that point, maybe more people would stop writing off their ideal relationships and dream connections as "unrealistic, unattainable, just a stupid, childish fantasy." Maybe we could stop slapping those disparaging labels on other people's dreams, too, so that maybe we could start having more Happy Endings beyond (but also including) the spurty kind.
Maybe more people would stop writing themselves off as unheroic, and instead start BEING more heroic. Their way. Maybe more people would start letting them and listening to them and valuing them and gee...what if we could start--not just imagining--but implementing new ways of interacting with each other and with our world and maybe not burn the whole thing down while we're standing on it?
Thank you, thank you for the visionary storytellers and fist-raised dreamers who have taken blasts in the face and cleared some barbed-wire obstacles before me while opening my eyes to innovative ways of doing things.
Thank you, thank you to my handful of rabid readers and those writer friends whose feedback and insights help me figure out better and better ways to tell MY tales--the things I dream about and the "what if" solutions to issues that constantly gnaw at me.
Thank you, thank you, schnee and OSP (7, 8) for delivering so clearly and analytically why I am constantly aggravated with so many stories I read and watch, and why the ones I am obsessed with have captured me so deeply. Why their creators are my Muses, inspiring me to sing choruses of, "I wanna do THAT to readers when I grow up!"
But more importantly, helping me to figure out HOW.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: VIOLENT FEMMES - The Warrior/Princess Binary
--OR: All my posts about LOVE, SEX & VIOLENCE.
--OR: All my posts about WRITING & STORYTELLING
SOME MORE LINKS
--Romance is a billion dollar industry. So why is still so overlooked?
3) Esquire Magazine discusses why men should read Romance novels - "Better for you than porn."
--Porn and violence against women: is it 88% or 2%? Is porn a contributor to rape culture or is it a pressure-relief valve that decreases the crime?
--Domestic Violence: what's porn got to do with it? Just like cars, alcohol and desserts, it has its pros and some very specific cons, especially for those who cannot separate Fantasy from Reality. Those who don't or aren't experienced enough to discern consensual BDSM from abuse, coercion, pressure, and violence. And those who haven't ever seen sex done any other way.
4) My Favorite Romance Authors
--Karen Marie Moning - Romance & Fantasy
--Linda Howard - Romance & Thriller
--Debra Parmley - Military, Western, Historical & Fantastical Romance
--Diana Gabaldon - is Outlander Romance? Historical Fiction? When I started to read these books, they were shelved in both genres. They're definitely Fantastical. And yeah. Highlander in a regimental kilt, so shoot me.
--Jaqueline Carey - and yes, she's technically a Fantasy author but she doesn't shy away from sex, romance or even kinky adventures! Love as thou wilt.
--And from a male point of view: Why he cares about her orgasm.
9) I'm just gonna leave this here. Because.
Proof that Porn, the Shitter, Dad Bods & Happy Endings are also not mortal enemies: