Archive for February, 2016

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, by Eva Mære

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The narrator in Rebecca may be seen as the conventional romantic heroine, as she is the inexperienced, naive and dreaming child bride of a handsome, powerful, rich and condescending man. Being the second Mrs de Winter, the narrator is haunted by the suspicion that her husband is still in love with his dead first wife. Her fear and insecurities stem from feelings of inadequacy compared to the glamorous and brilliant Rebecca, who is still referred to as Mrs de Winter. Her fear of being inferior to the Other Woman stretches so far as when she learns that her husband killed his first wife, she is surprisingly indifferent. Instead of questioning the fact that she is married to a murderer, she is relieved to know that he never loved his first wife, saying: ‘None of the things that he had told me mattered to me at all. I clung to one thing only, and repeated it to myself, over and over again. Maxim did not love Rebecca. He had never loved her, never, never, never.’ (271)

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Consumed with the assertion that Maxim only loves her, she never reflects on the idea that she might be in danger herself.
While Maxim seem to be guided by a “Madonna-Whore Complex”, believing himself to be justified in killing Rebecca in punishment for her promiscuity, Mrs Danvers, as Bernadette Bertrandias has noted, presents Rebecca as ‘a complex amalgam of attributes which, above all, transgress gender boundaries’. Rebecca is on the one hand described as being ‘lovely as a picture’ with a good sense of style, while on the other she has ‘the courage and the spirit of a boy’, and a diverse and ambivalent sexuality. According to Bertrandias, Rebecca’s strength is a ‘rejection of the social and cultural one-dimensional definition of femininity and the assertion of a multifaceted, complex and independent personality.’ Through Mrs Danvers’s presentation, the reader is allowed to form their own opinion of Rebecca, and reflect on the double standard limiting women to either be chaste ‘Madonnas’ or promiscuous whores.

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Mills and Boon: Patriarchal Propaganda? Blog by Olivia Laudat

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Mills and Boon have been publishing romance novels since 1908 and although during this period the readers have witnessed women gaining the right to vote, two world wars, and the first female prime minister; some would argue that the heroine has undergone little change.

Mills and Boon novels are widely known for their predictable plots, happy endings and their overtly masculine heroes. However, feminists have now begun to argue that they portray more harmful attitudes such as, the heroine as lesser beings, misogynistic ideals of women and in some instances, glorified rape. Nevertheless, over one hundred years later these books are still thriving, selling in excess of five million books each year.

The content of Mills and Boon novels have failed to evolve since the oppression of women during the 1900s, and their characters are still illustrative of a patriarchal society. Each novel has its own way of reconstructing the same story, the naïve virgin and the man who ignites her sexual appetite. M&B novels encourage their female readers to believe in the mythical idea that a man is their only savior. Is this all romantic fiction promotes, the sexual submission of women to men?

With only a 16% male readership, we understand that these novels are mostly written for and read by women. What is it in these romance novels that women find so enthralling? Is it the desirable ‘male Adonis’, the fantasy of a man seeped in masculinity? Or is the idea of the helpless heroine in need of saving?

Women have endlessly fought oppression over the last one hundred years, yet many are still engrossed in the romance fiction that depicts them as inferior. This idea of women’s inadequacy has been prevalent for so long that perhaps it has become engrained in our minds and plays a pivotal role on our behavior. If novels such as Mills and Boon remain successful, as women we have all unintentionally internalized oppressive ideas and values.

Fifty Shades: Kink or Abuse? By Lukas Konstantin Krupka

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In 2009, after reading the Twilight saga, one British woman was so taken by it that she wrote her own version of it, titled ‘Master of the Universe’, and published it online under the pen name ‘Snowqueen’s Icedragon’. This body of text would later be known as Fifty Shades of Grey, and infamous for its portrayal of BDSM. The novel broke the record for fastest-selling paperback of all time in the UK, yet critics only rate it mediocre, at best. How did a poorly written text about a man hitting a woman become such an international success amongst women?

In her book, The Act of Reading the Romance: Escape and Instruction, Janice Radway writes about interviews she has conducted on why Romance novels are so popular with women. Her findings offer some insight about why women enjoy reading Fifty Shades of Grey. The women interviewed by Radway all agreed that ‘one of their principal goals in reading was their desire to do something different from their daily routine’. What is interesting is that this difference is needed in order for the readers to feel like they escape their daily life, suggesting that if the plot were too similar to the reader’s daily life, she would not achieve the desired effect from reading it. Furthermore, the women interviewed stress that the novels they read have to depict an idealised view of life, portraying it how they want it to be, not as it is. Thus, Radway’s interviews suggest that reading Fifty Shades of Grey allows a brief escape into a world of danger, excitement and sexual taboo, without the reader having to get stuck in with the actual experience of BDSM.

However, Fifty Shades of Grey’s way of approaching BDSM is harmful. Real life practitioners of BDSM always do it between consenting adults, and actually tend to have healthier sexual relationships than people do in a ‘vanilla’ relationship. However, in most countries having a preference for BDSM is classified as a mental disorder in the same group as paedophilia (Source: http://apps.who.int/classifications/icd10/browse/2015/en#/F65.5). The novel reinforces this by portraying Grey’s preference for BDSM as a result of his having been coerced into sex by an older woman while he was fifteen, and suggests that this preference needs to be cured through love. Furthermore, professionals argue that the relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele reflects one of intimate partner violence (source: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jwh.2013.4344). The novels portrayal of Grey’s and Steele’s relationship becomes worrying when one considers that its readers are more likely to show signs of being in an abusive relationship, and that the release of the novel has very likely changed the sexual habits of its readers (sources: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140821115922.htm, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/02/10/sex-toy-injuries-surged-after-fifty-shades-of-grey-was-published/ ).
There is nothing wrong with practising BDSM, but Fifty Shades of Grey does not depict the right way of doing it. Instead, it promotes a harmful attitude of women having to sacrifice themselves for male pleasure.

If you are interested, the first two minutes of this video gives an overview of the boundaries and precautions necessary to practice BDSM, and how the character of Christian Grey breaks them. Some viewers may find this offensive (Meg won’t be watching it) but feel free to view if you wish.