Mills and Boon: Patriarchal Propaganda? Blog by Olivia Laudat

millsandboon

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.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Salma AlTabari on February 16, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    Janice Radway’s research (Reading the Romance), explores these kinds of questions – about why women read romance. She finds that there is a general consensus – between the women she interviews – about romance novels offering a type of escape from reality. Having read two Mills and Boon novels, I find this notion quite problematic. Why would any woman in her right mind wish to live out her fantasies in the life of heroines in mainstream romance stories? These heroines are almost always portrayed as dominated by an alfa-male and their entire purpose and identity falling into place when falling in love and becoming under the protection of another person.
    I believe that the fantasies we run to, away from reality, tell a lot about our deep desires. So if there is an existing class of women who find these notions desirable, I think this says a lot about why there is a great deal of patriarchy that still exists. Until fiction shifts its portrayals of female protagonists, things will never move substantially forward for feminism.
    On that note, here is an interesting TEDx talk about How Movies Teach Manhood. This is very relevant to the topic and I encourage all of you to watch it: https://www.ted.com/talks/colin_stokes_how_movies_teach_manhood?language=en#t-25926

    Reply

  2. Posted by Wafaa on February 20, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    I agree with Salma. I think the representations of men and women’s roles are really limited in these books that are so popular. People who read them are ultimately lost and are missing something in their lives and try to find that fulfilment in these simplistic characters that they know so well. This also shows that there is a fear in trying to change ones own life to be more fulfilling, which is harder in real life, and instead settle for fantasy they can pick and choose from without making effort.

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  3. I completely agree with Olivia that these kinds of books have failed to evolve and that is the reason why I personally am not interested in reading them. I also felt the Radway piece painted a very sad picture of married women as to why they read these novels. It appears to put them in a box, I can guarantee that a lot of them have other interests and escapes too rather than just reading Mills and Boon.

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  4. Posted by Christie on February 23, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    Whilst I agree that it is problematic that such a large group of females identify with the essentially oppressed heroines of patriarchal marriages, I also think that Radway’s suggestion of female readers wanting ‘escape’ through reading is not necessarily because they desire the patriarchal lifestyle presented in the novels. Radway emphasised that the female readers of Romance Fiction ‘escape’ in the sense that they live vicariously through the heroine who is appreciated by those around her and who does not live such a labour filled lifestyle, but can relax and depend on others. This escape, then, can also be seen as a compensation for the toils of the female readers’ own lives and a temporary reversal of the family relying on them as the support (particularly emotionally) for the family. The fact that this ‘escape’ is only temporary suggests that it is a mere compensation and not necessary the lifestyle the female readership would like to adopt full-time. So perhaps it is the current lifestyle of the female readership that remains part of the problem.

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  5. I feel as thoguh we’ve reached a point now where we are much more aware of how damaging these tropes and books in general can be. During this lecture, I remember being amused at more than a few of the titles; especially ‘You Never Know With Women’.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Phoebe on March 16, 2016 at 9:33 am

    I think its interesting that Salma raised Janice Radway’s researchon the romance novel. As we identified last week, these women often read Romance Fiction as a means of escape from their reality, mostly their daily domestic chores. However, even since 1984, when Radway’s research was first published, women’s lives have progressed. We see women far less often locked away in the domestic sphere, doting on the needs of their husbands. So why would these women want to retract their new found independence and become reliant on a man like the heroines in these books?

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  7. Posted by Lucy Goodall on October 3, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Absolutely agree with this blog, These novels show a lack of development in terms of women’s rights and depicts them as needing to be ‘saved’ and waiting for a ‘hero’.

    Reply

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