Old Stories, New Glasses

An article in yesterday’s Washington Post talks about the “new glasses” effect: watching favorite old movies through the news lens of #MeToo.  It’s something I’ve been dealing with lately in my reading, something I’m trying to deal with in my own work.  The problem is partly the difference between “It was a product of its time” and “It’s a product of a time that was toxic and is therefore now unacceptable,”  but it’s more than that, too, especially for writers.

I’ve been re-reading Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries because they’re such comfort reads for me, and it’s glaringly obvious that Archie Goodwin would never survive in the #MeToo culture: the man is an overt, almost predatory, sexist.  He sees every woman in terms of age and beauty, thinks of them as irrational as a gender, and tries to finagle dates with every one he deems attractive.  In his defense, he keeps these thoughts to himself, behaves like a gentleman (such a fine, old-fashioned word), and speaks respectfully of the women he meets who are intelligent and good at their professions once he’s assessed their potential as future romantic conquests.  Yeah, that’s not great, but it’s not Mickey Spillane Bad.  He’s a Product of his Time (Stout published his last novel in 1975 at age 88), although to his credit, he has an ongoing, open relationship with a very wealthy, very intelligent woman he clearly respects and of whom he’s never jealous, which is very twenty-first century of him.  The WaPo article similarly looks at Josh and Donna in West Wing (not good but not terrible), Sixteen Candles (bad), and several others (not bad to what-were-they-thinking?), but it all comes down to the same thing: That was then, this is now, and now we have new glasses.  How do we deal with that?  It’s much like dealing with racism and religious bigotry in old books: do you wince and go on, or does that destroy the story for you?

I think for me, a lot of it depends on how it affects character.  The anti-Semitism in Georgetter Heyer’s The Grand Sophy is a good example.  One of the bad guys in the story is a stereotypical crooked Jewish moneylender, described in grossly bigoted language.  It’s awful.  But Sophie deals with him as a person, not as a Jew.  That is, she doesn’t dislike him because he’s Jewish, she’s annoyed with him because he’s refusing to let a friend of hers redeem the ring he’s pawned.  He tries first to patronize her because she’s female, which she laughs at, and then threaten her because she’s alone with him, which is when she pulls out her handgun.  She forces him to return the pledge, gives him the money owed on the pledge, and then leaves.  She’d do the same if he were Christian.  Heyer was anti-Semitic, but she doesn’t make Sophie a bigot.  I can ignore a bigoted author by skimming the awful parts; I can’t ignore a bigoted character because I don’t find bigotry compellingand if I’m not fascinated by the story’s protagonist, why would I want to read her story?  The fact that Archie Goodwin is a sexist in his thoughts is somewhat alleviated by the fact that he’s always a gentleman in his deeds.  I don’t like him as much as I used to, but he’s not a sexual harasser or a predator.   I know, faint praise, but since he’s also clean, brave, reverent, and good with words, I’ll take him.

It’s when we get to romance and particularly romantic comedy that  #MeToo’s heightened awareness means that what many writers saw as romantic and fun now seems manipulative and stalker-ish or worse.  If it’s John Cusack standing outside your window with that boombox it’s kind of romantic, sort of.  If it’s anybody else, call the cops.  There is a moment in Say Anything that I really love, when they’re walking down the street, and he moves the broken glass away from her open-toed shoes.  Not stalker-ish, just paying attention.  The boom box scene, not so much.  The merging of the author’s “I think it’s sexy when a man won’t take no for an answer” and the hero character’s “I won’t take no for an answer” is now extremely problematical.   “No” means “no,” and any character who assumes she just needs to be harassed until she gives in is an idiot at best and a stalker at worse.  That’s not dependent on time; Jane Austen knew that one (see Mr. Collins’ proposal where he tells Elizabeth he knows she doesn’t mean it when she says no, and Darcy’s second, revised proposal where he tells her if she says  no, he’ll never bother her again) so it shouldn’t be that hard to get it on the page in the 21st century.   

I think for the most part (exception to come in next paragraph) I’m okay because I don’t write alpha heroes.  My guys are always so laid back as to be almost catatonic; the women are usually the ones who say, “Yo, I have needs,” enough that I’ve had some blowback from readers who like their heroines to be seduced into complying because otherwise “she looks desperate” (why these people are reading Crusies is beyond me).  As I remember, in most of my books, either the heroine speaks up first or their eyes meet and they lunge for each other.   I think in some, they actually negotiate, at least that’s how I remember Charlie All Night.  (Full disclosure, I haven’t re-read most of my books in years).   

There is one book, though, where I deliberately pushed the envelope: Crazy For You.  That book has several problems, most of them going back to “I didn’t know what I was doing writing longer novels yet,” but the dicey part was in there on purpose: I wanted to write about the difference between a passionate lover and a stalker because at the time, I thought it was all in the eye of the person being pursued; that is, if she welcomed the pursuit, it was love; if she didn’t welcome it, it was stalking.  So I wrote two scenes deliberately to explore that, one in which Nick pushed Quinn against a wall in the school theater, and one immediately after that in which Bill pushes Quinn up against the wall outside the school.  The scene in the theater was a little over the top and Jen asked me to pull it back (thank you, Jen), but the parallels were still there in the scenes that were published and they pretty clearly communicated “If she wants it, it’s not stalking/harassment/sexual imposition.”  

Now, I’m not so sure.  

To be clear, I’m not talking about consent: if both parties have negotiated a sexual style that incorporates domination of one partner by another, have at it.  I’m talking about the way people treat each other, the way they pay attention to each other, the way they respect each other.  When I was in grad school, we workshopped a story about a college-age guy (written by a college-age guy) who’d fallen for a woman who’d been abused by her former boy friend.  The guy was clearly a Good Guy, so he never pushed her for anything, supported her in everything she did, and pretty much let her call the shots, which unfortunately included no sex.  In the end, she went back to her abusive boyfriend, leaving the protagonist and every guy in the class confused.  Why had she done that?  He’d been good to her.  

I was the only one who got it, possibly because I was one of only two women in the class.  “Some people,” I said, “do not like to make decisions because they don’t like the responsibility.  She gave him every opportunity to push her to do what she wanted, and he chose to be understanding instead of demanding.  She finally got so frustrated, she went back to the other guy because, while he hit her, at least he didn’t make her make decisions.”   There was a general “Oh” reaction in the rest of the room, including from the guy who’d written the story, followed by the inevitable “How the hell was he supposed to know that?”  It’s a good question, but the answer is equally good: He’s supposed to get know her as a person, not just a love object.  (Please notice, I didn’t not say “sex object,” which is an entirely different conversation that should probably include Archie Goodwin.)  Yes, it’s important that women state clearly what they want.  But it’s important that the men who want to know their bodies want to know them as people first.

The WaPo article dinged Josh on The West Wing because he was controlling, sabotaged Donna’s love life, restricted her advancement to keep her with him, and made personal comments in a professional setting.  I liked those personal comments because I ‘shipped Josh and Donna; if I hadn’t, he’d have been a creeper..  But one big thing Josh had going for him: he knew Donna.  He paid attention to her as a person, he never saw her as just the object of his affections (in fact, it took him five damn years to acknowledge he loved her), and their relationship was pretty close to equal; at least she never hesitated to tell him what she thought, she made fun of him to his face, and when he was coming undone because of PTSD, she was the one who called in the rest of the staff and made sure he got a therapist.  They had a partnership, even if Josh thought he was the boss.  They knew each other.

That’s what might possibly save Crazy For You from the #MeToo glasses: Nick knew Quinn, not just because he’d known her for years but because he paid attention.  He didn’t know himself very well, but he knew Quinn.  All of which makes me think if the best antidote to  #MeToo problems in romance stories, no matter what the time period, is that people get to know each other, understand each other, first.  Mr. Collins makes an awful proposal because he has no idea who Elizabeth really is.  Mr Darcy makes a perfect second proposal because he knows Elizabeth now. If both halves of the relationship know the other halves, pay attention to more than bodies and faces, then it’s not about sexual conquest (or at least not primarily about sexual conquest) and more about really seeing the other person, and that person becoming the object of desire because of who the person is, not what the observer wants the person to be.  

I think that’s why the air conditioner that Shane gets for Agnes gets so much squee.  He sees that she takes care of everybody, he sees that she needs the air conditioner, but even more important, he reads her list.  That is, he doesn’t assume she needs it, he knows she needs it because she has, in effect, said so and he paid attention.  She has a problem, she’s come up with a solution, he implements her solution.   If he walks into her house, thinks “It’s too hot in here,” and goes out and gets her an air conditioner, he’s a controlling jerk.  If he listens to her and finds out that’s what she needs and gets it for her, he’s a hero.   He knows Agnes.  I think Agnes and the Hitman does okay, even though new #MeToo glasses.

There’s a lot more to putting a successful romance on the page than just “pay attention,” of course, but I think it might be the  most important thing for warding off the impact of those #MeToo glasses.  The bonus is, I think it makes for a better romance story in general, too.

106 thoughts on “Old Stories, New Glasses

  1. Knew a guy once who was a super-mega-mondo black belt. He worked for the Peace Corps and thought violence was a cheap out, and somehow it meant more that he didn’t respect butt-kicking because he was really really good at it. Shane was like that for me. He didn’t need to provide for Agnes, he didn’t need to take over, he didn’t need to flip her over in bed so he could drive… he was confident in himself AND in her. He could have done those things and done them well, but he wasn’t threatened by not doing it, and never assumed he should. I felt that way about Zack in getting rid of Bradley, too. They aren’t alph-holes, but no one would see them as betas, either.

    I love Archie. Yes, he is sexist, but he isn’t a bully by nature. He chooses women for his own reasons (as outdated as they might be), but if there is one not interested in him, well, he says that’s her loss and moves on. He is not a modern man, but I can still respect him. He is comfortable in his skin, knows he’s good at what he does, and doesn’t feel the need to prove himself by beating other people down.

    9+
  2. There is so much to think about here, but my initial knee-jerk reaction is about the Crazy for you scene. Don’t criticise that scene, I love it!

    It is completely a scene about consent. Quinn has consented to being wanted by Nick, he knows it because he’s paying attention, and so the display of how much he wants her is hot. She has told Bad Guy she doesn’t want him, not just right now but ever, point blank, and he doesn’t get it, because he’s not listening. Which I think is pretty much what you said?

    Bond might be a good example too – ie, how has Bond changed in the last 3 decades, and what will post Me-Too Bond be like? (I hope it looks like Daniel Craig and Skyfall, but that’s at least half hypocritical objectifying isn’t it?)

    2+
    1. Plus Bad Guy doesn’t know Quinn at all or want to know her. He wants to mold her into what his ideal. The bit about hating her underwear and wanting to change it still makes me mad, which was a great thing to have in writing in my life. It’s so easy to want to change for your partner… And it usually ends so very badly.

      2+
    2. That particular scene was smoking hot, but a large part of it was the dance they kept doing to get there. Bradley was a huge creep. Don’t sell that book short.

      4+
    3. I think some of the difference is in if Quinn told Nick to stop he would, where the coach didn’t and ended up hurting her. Nick listened

      2+
    4. So funny. I read this column and thought of Crazy For You, not for that scene–I was totally fine with Nick, and all your male protags–but because I remembered her dad asking her to get her a drink. It may happen in a few of your older books. I was always confused and thinking, Why doesn’t he get his own drink?

      Not that people can’t get each other drinks, but if I ask for a drink, it’s a special occasion. Like, I’m breastfeeding and completely dehydrated, but don’t want to disturb the baby and get up.

      1+
      1. Sorry this was in pending so long. Power outage here.

        Her dad asks her to get him a drink because that’s what my dad would do. You have no idea of the entitlement of the over sixty central Ohio male.

        3+
      2. LOL, Melissa, your comment reminded me of my childhood. My dad didn’t ask for tea. He held out his glass and expected someone to fill it up for him. Oh, and woe betide the girl-child who spilled or didn’t fill it right.

        (Um, why am I laughing at this? I don’t know. Maybe it balanced out in the end when he used his psychic Dad powers to provide things for us before we knew we even needed them. I feel like I’m grasping at straws, though.)

        1+
  3. My family is into redneck humor and my parents were really into a newspaper columnist/author named Lewis Grizzard. Mom had a comedy tape of his playing the other day in the car and I was all ohhhhhhhhhhh my god. The guy died in 1994 and I thought “you know, it’s probably all for the best he died young because he would not be a happy camper in the 2010’s.” Not necessarily for sexual harassment issues because I never heard anything about him doing that (though I do remember him saying something like, “Just because she’s dressed for sex doesn’t mean that she’s dressed for sex WITH YOU,” I kinda gotta agree with that on some level), but hoo boy, was he obviously uncomfortable with say, gay people and made jokes like, “Two gay men attacked a woman in the streets of Atlanta. One of them held her down, the other did her hair.” I can imagine the Twitter wars and the firings already had he survived.

    On another related note, they’re considering rebooting “9 to 5” for a modern audience:
    https://www.avclub.com/dolly-parton-jane-fonda-and-lily-tomlin-might-go-back-1823396966
    I seriously wonder what they’d do with it now.

    3+
    1. I think the best and worst thing about “9 to 5” is that so little has changed. Rebooting it would be an excellent time to take stock, and to maybe push a newer narrative.

      5+
      1. The other day I read an interview with Melanie Griffin (is that her name?) where she was asked what her character would be doing today. Running Google, she said.

        0
  4. This is all so tricky. There are plenty of women who would like to have a man be forceful and the sexual aggressor (in a sexy “I want you” way, not in a rapist-y way)–so the question is, how do you make sure, as an author, that it is clear that the male protagonist KNOWS that’s what the woman wants, and therefore is giving it to her, as opposed to just acting like a jerk.

    4+
    1. I think the key has to be that the male protagonist continues to know and fulfill what the woman wants outside of the sexual situations.

      10+
      1. AG, that’s a good point. In the same vein, I think it also helps when you have him knowing/fulfilling wants that require him to do something he doesn’t want to do, or involve him trusting her judgement over his own, at least once in the story. It takes it from conditional – I will fulfill your needs as long as I like/ agree with them – to unconditional – I will give you what you need because you need it and I love you. I have fun reading romances, but I don’t get that happy ending romance buzz unless I’m 100% sold on the unconditional part, for both people in the relationship.

        5+
        1. Yes, and I think also that it can’t be done in a “I know you better than you know yourself” way, either. Like, the guy can tell that she might want to relax and give up some burden of responsibility in bed, so he steps up there, but he also respects that she wants to be in charge in other contexts, and still submits to that desire, too.

          For example, he lets her decide what they’ll do on their date. Then he’s the aggressor in bed, and she enjoys it. Then he cleans up the detritus around the bedroom so she can sleep in. And then she drives him back to his place on her way to work. Equal partnership!

          5+
    2. Well, that just gave me flashbacks to reading The Fountainhead, otherwise known as “they are so in sync despite never speaking that he helps her enact her rape fantasy.”

      OY.

      6+
      1. Oh, God, I hate Ayn Rand’s idea of sex. Atlas Shrugged is actually worse for me where she’s supposed to be the main character but she really really wants a superior male to dominate her.

        You’re running a railroad and all you want to do is be domination? Please.

        0
    3. I think that’s why the Crazy scene works for me. I didn’t particularly like it because Im not turned on by the domination thing but I was never offended or thought he was lik3 the coach. I though5 it was very clear that if Quinn had said, no really, I don’t wa t to do this here he would have stopped which makes all the difference. (And he also sees the resemblance himself in the book which is important. In that way he becomes a role. Odell for men who ask – ok wait am I inadvertently crossing a line?)

      On another note, I recently rewatched St Elmo’s Fire with my sister. I loved that movie in college. It did not hold up on so many levels but especially Emilio Estevez’ character stalking Angie McDowell.

      1+
  5. Also, setting/world-building is important. If the fictional society in a story has everyone acting pretty dramatically, then the romances will be allowed a dramatic quality, too.

    There was a romantic comedy comic that utilized some exaggerated cartoon violence to express people’s irritation with each other, and that element definitely got some very raised eyebrows in the live action adaptation. For me, it was okay because not only did both parties get subject to said cartoony violence, so were other people outside of the main couple, and they had similarly exaggerated faces for other emotions, so it was understood that this was a hyperbolized version of the world.

    Gareth can cut off ears for Magdalena and we coo at it because this is the zany musical comedy world of Galavant. Parker can push Hardison off of buildings in a harness despite his stated fears, and it’s just cute instead of sociopathic because Leverage has established that this is a world where Eliot can take out 5 guards in the time it takes for a bag to drop, and Parker can crawl through steam unharmed.

    And finally, some tropes are problematic only because they’ve been way overdone for the tradition configuration. If that was a guy tasering, zip-tieing, and threatening Shaw with an iron, I’d be noping out so hard. Plenty of lesbians and bisexual women have admitted that many of their favorite same sex films would be utter trash if the central couple were the traditional man and women, but it becomes fresh because the connotations and dynamics change in the new context. (Although, of course, in some important cases the dynamics don’t change. No still means no!)

    5+
    1. That’s a good point about the Root/Shaw iron scene, except that it didn’t start as a sexy scene, that was just Root planning on torturing Shaw for information. It wasn’t until Shaw said, “I kind of like this,” that Root’s eyes lit up and the Shoot ‘ship launched. In other words, the person who made it sexual was the person who was tied up. That’s not quite “I consent to be tortured with an iron,” but it is, “I’m the one who’s going to make this sexual.”

      I wonder if Parker pushing Hardison off the building doesn’t work because of the gender reversal: he’s bigger than she is and male and therefore he’s the one with the inherent power, and she’s little and female (and nuts) so it’s a power inversion. Or maybe again because it’s just a weird way of flirting-while-working. Hardison does have to go down the side of that building or the con won’t work.

      Galavant is farce and all bets are off. The nice thing about farce is that everybody looks and acts like an idiot, it has nothing to do with gender, which is why the tenderness of that moment is not undercut by the fact that he didn’t take the severed ears off the earrings before he gave them to her, it’s reinforced by it because the fact that he took the ears to get the earrings makes them even more special to her. I miss that show. It was so freaking brilliant.

      3+
      1. I’m torn between missing Galavant desperately and wishing there was more, and being grateful that it ended before it had a chance to even come close to jumping the shark. And I just love the line that it ended on 🙂

        I also love that I don’t think the writers ever went for the cheap laugh over staying true to the characters and their growth.

        The soundtrack is on back-to-back replay in our house right now.

        2+
        1. I would have liked one more year. The first year was Galavant’s, and the second was Richard’s, so I’d have liked a Gareth year.

          4+
          1. Nah, the third year should belong to the ladies. It’s Madgalena going after magic and Isabella leading the resistance against the Dark Evil Lord, with the guys in tow being supportive and snarky. Meanwhile, Sid and Richard parent a dragon.

            3+
      2. Hrm. If Shaw had said “I kind of like this,” to a guy threatening to torture her, I’m not sure it would work. But that also seems character-dependent. I would see it working for Sara Lance, and that stems from the different characterizations we have for Shaw vs. Sara.

        So a romance luxuriating in the troublesome tropes ultimately comes back down to the character context. First, if the character is kind of built around the tropes, then they’re built around the romance, and not really a good character. Second, whether or not the execution of the trope is in service or disservice to the character. (Never a wrong time to reread that Cordelia essay!)

        3+
  6. I was just thinking about all this a few weeks ago while rereading some old Nora Roberts. Specifically the “Donovan Legacy” omnibus of Captivated/Entranced/Charmed/Enchanted. The first three are 25 years old, and they show it. Charmed especially… showed its age, so to speak. The heroine is “sweet”, “nurturing”, and “has been hurt in the past”, which translates into a lot of her saying “I’m not interested in a relationship” and the hero going “You say no, but I know you’re scared and don’t mean it,” and then kissing her.

    Ten – heck, even FIVE years ago, I probably wouldn’t have had much of a problem with it. That’s how romance worked in the 90’s. The “What’s between us is too powerful to ignore” speech was a staple of the genre. Now, I’m reading it going “Dude, she said no. Back the f**k up, you creep.”

    The fourth book, Enchanted, came out seven years later and there’s a marked difference in tone. The heroine comes right out and says “you don’t get to make my choices for me”, albeit in another context, but it was still refreshing.

    We’re moving forward, at least. The stories that have a balanced power dynamic, like P&P, will survive, and things like (don’t hate me, but I’ve NEVER been able to stand it) Gone With the Wind won’t without an asterisk beside them saying “this is how things were, but not how we are now, not how we’re going to be in the future.”

    5+
    1. Gone With the Wind will die, because of the racism and the white-washed picture of slavery.

      6+
      1. As long as we remember it’s white-washed, I don’t have a very strong problem with the book. And I definitely think we need epic stories about the black women’s experience. Can you imagine a black Scarlett O’Hara, working within the confines of slavery? Manipulating everyone — fellow slaves and masters alike, and keeping the mistresses in their place? That would be something to see. I hope someone writes it, or has written it (and tells me where to find it, if it’s any good!).

        Scarlett is a nasty piece of work, but Gone With the Wind manages to be an engaging trainwreck. I find it a fascinating piece of women’s empowerment, despite the “romantic” trappings of Southern “chivalry” (but we all know who really did the planting). Despite having tons of agency, she gets slapped down at every turn. Even the ending is a slap down, but she sits there, scheming about tomorrow.

        4+
        1. I’ve got issues with the black characters – although finding out that Margaret Mitchell donated to the NAACP secretly and gave scholarships to black students helps – but every time I read it I like Scarlett more.

          First time I thought she was terrible. The last time I wondered how soon Rhett would be back because any other woman would bore him silly.

          1+
  7. I think there is an invisible line. For example, Indiana Jones acts like a cad. He is the manly-man who objectifies women. But you never really believe it. To me, it seems like it’s a facade for him. He is a gruff old man in the making, who really is sweet.

    And I hardly ever like romantic comedies as movies. It’s odd, seeing as I really enjoy romance in books. Something seems to go horribly wrong with Rom-coms, leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth. I mean, I really couldn’t get into Sleepless in Seattle. It hit no romance buttons for me. Anyone else have a similar reaction?

    3+
    1. Sleepless in Seattle isn’t really a romantic comedy because it’s not about the romance. The romance doesn’t start until the last scene. It’s about romance in general. I like it, but it in no way satisfies a romantic comedy need.

      I did just make a list of what I think are the best romantic comedies; there’ll be a post about that down the road, but first Good Book Thursday and the First of the Month Poetry post which will be on Friday because the first is a Good Book Thursday. One damn thing after another around here.

      6+
    2. I can’t get behind Sleepless in Seattle at all. There are some lovely ideas about romance and compatibility, but she stalks him. That will never be okay.

      2+
    3. I never cared for Sleepless in Seattle, but Meg Ryan was in my favorite Rom-com of all time: French Kiss.

      And now I’m going to have to watch it again with glasses. It doesn’t matter, though. It’s always going to be perfect, and make me happy, and provide un-realistic French relationship goals.

      5+
      1. French Kiss is a blast from the past! I loved it, and rewatched it a couple times in the first few years it was out.

        2+
  8. I definitely think Agnes and the Hitman still looks good through #metoo glasses. It’s exactly what you said–he listens to Agnes and supports/helps her. He doesn’t try to take over her life to protect her; she’s still running the household/wedding, and he’s helping out with things she can’t do (air conditioner, fondant, gunplay, etc).

    One I hated even at the time was “You’ve Got Mail.” How anyone watched that without being disgusted at the way what’s his face destroyed the little bookstore what’s her face owned/ran/loved and then was still the romantic lead…wtf?!?!

    From what I’ve read, the romance in recent film “Passengers” should be considered creepy and not romantic too, but I never actually saw it (based on the premise alone, which sounded like a great plot for a horror film…).

    6+
    1. I hate You’ve Got Mail with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. Which I have expressed several times before so I will not go into detail here, but I am firmly convinced that several years after they married, she woke up in the middle night, thought You destroyed my mother’s bookstore, you asshole,” and smothered him with a pillow.

      13+
      1. Good point.

        I read the Gardella Vampires series and I could never get how SPOILER SPACE BELOW

        she could end up with a guy who beheaded her aunt, albeit for Reasons. I think I’d be picturing that like, all the time (and yes, she saw it). But I never liked that guy anyway, he was a jerk 95% of the time.

        2+
        1. Yeah, beheading a relative would give me some pause, too, and I’m not all that crazy about most of my relatives.

          4+
          1. That’s not my mother and she knows it.
            Now the mother in Bet Me . . .
            My mother swore she read all my books, but she didn’t. I told her somebody complained because I had oral sex in my books, and she said, “YOU HAVE ORAL SEX IN YOUR BOOKS?” Yeah, she’s read them all.

            3+
          2. Maybe your mom just started skimming when it came to sexytimes? So she’s read all of your books, but not every page of them? Because I seem to remember quite a bit of oral sex in your books . . . . (I tend to skim sexytimes, too. I pay enough attention to see if anything odd comes up like a fight or a chihuahua, but in general, I close my eyes and add my own soundtrack if I like it, or I just fly right by to get to the stuff I like if I don’t.)

            0
      2. And that was a major plot change from the two movies it was based on. I ne er understood why they made that the plot.

        2+
    2. I like You’ve Got Mail. I think because at the end of it I believe that she is happier than at the start – she’s writing, and taking chances, she’s kept her community and her neighborhood – two important parts of her life she loved – and she gets the guy she wanted, instead of the guy she thinks she’s supposed to want. Of course it’s heartbreaking that she lost the bookstore, but they treat it with enough gravity that I don’t feel cheated – it’s 100% the tragic dark moment death – and Kathleen is both supported and resilient, so she’s going to be ok.

      It also helps that a) Tom Hanks makes the character way more likeable than he might otherwise have been and b) there’s not really a realistic option he could take (at least from our start of the story) that doesn’t result in her bookstore closing. Is he supposed to sabatoge his own store (and thus the people he employs) to keep hers afloat? Is he supposed to give her financial help? Because she wouldn’t accept that. He could relocate his store, but relocating a whole store because you have a crush on someone probably edges a little close to the stalker territory we’ve been talking about avoiding.

      I completely believe that most people would not forgive the man who stole their dead parents business. But the movie is not about most people – it’s Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox. And I believe that Kathleen Kelly forgives Joe Fox, and that he makes her happy.

      3+
      1. He’s supposed to establish her store as an annex of his and put his children’s book department there. He’s not supposed to mug the woman he loves and her neighborhood for corporate profits. Mostly he’s not supposed to take everything from her in order to make money and then say, “See? You really didn’t want that after all. I knew better.”

        Not even Tom Hanks can make that work for me.

        6+
      2. The thing is, Joe Fox also lies to Kathleen. He knows early on that she’s he’s email pen pal, but purposely keeps her in the dark. Even though all along he also knows how much losing the store hurts her heart.

        I know You’ve got Mail is based on The Shop Around the Corner movie, and so some of its bits are inherited so to speak and of a different time. But I re-watched it recently and it still didn’t work for me as a romcom or a logical story. Sad, too, because I want to like it.

        1+
      3. I think You’ve Got Mail is a re-make of a much older Judy Garland movie, which I need to find and watch. In the Judy Garland version, she works at a book or music store (or something like that) and loathes her supervisor. He just happens to be her romantic pen pal. It’s a “Big Misunderstanding…”

        2+
        1. The Judy Garland movie is also a remake. The original is “Shop Around the Corner” with Jimmy Stewart. They work in the same store while being pen pals in that one, too. No one loses their job at the end. No idea why “You’ve Got Mail” decided to add a bad thing that wasn’t there before.

          4+
          1. Because it’s a 1930s movie so everyone in the audience already knows that Margaret Sullavan loses her job once they get married?

            0
      4. It doesn’t bother me that she lost the bookstore because I didn’t think the movie was a fantasy.

        The only way she keeps the bookstore is she wins the lottery and runs it as a hobby or she figures out how to go back 50 years when independents had a shot.

        If it makes you feel any better, 10 years later, she’s holding HIS hand while Amazon drives his chain out of business.

        0
  9. The most romantic thing ever said to me was “I was standing in the grocery store, and I thought you might need chocolate, so I got you some”. He is thinking of me in the grocery store and knows my level of chocolate addiction. Hallmark can’t touch it.

    Even years ago Archie’s attitude toward women bothered me a bit, but not as much as Rex’s opinion of women, based on how he wrote them. I still always wanted to dine with Nero and go dancing with Archie, even though I am not sure I could hold my own with either of them. Oh, and hang out with Saul too.

    6+
    1. I wouldn’t mind being Lily Rowan. I bet she had a fabulous time, and definitely not always with Archie. I did admire how much he loved her for her independence.

      5+
    2. I feel like Wolfe was always portrayed as the chauvinist, and Archie the lover of women. To me, though, Archie was the chauvinist and Wolfe, while he didn’t like women, had a healthy respect for their powers.

      Interestingly, Rex Stout loved Jane Austen. There was a famous line about how he felt like men could perform better than women in anything, until he read Jane Austen. No man ever wrote better than Jane Austen.

      His biographer said that a few days before his death, he asked after Wolfe and Stout’s reply was: “he’s re-reading Emma.”

      5+
  10. I think these old-fashioned depictions of men can be harmful to men, too, because everyone expects men to be sex-obsessed cads who are just hiding their emotions under a veneer of civilization. And, yeah, there are a lot of men who say, “It really is like that.” But on the other hand, there are a lot of men whose civilized manners go deeper than just “being nice so I can get laid someday.” Some really do treat women like human beings.

    The thing is about stories is that I think they should reflect real life In the Essence. (Of course, I write about leprechauns and frost gods and hedge witches — but I hope they seem like real humans with faults and virtues.) Some of the guys can be charming creeps — but not all of the guys! Some of the women can be charming creeps, too, after all.

    And a lot of things flip either way. There are (really, there are!) some women (and men) who have good but ultimately superficial reasons for rejecting sex or relationships. And slight pressure by the partner can result in happiness for both. But where do you draw the line? I haven’t read Gone With the Wind for a very long time, but I think the marital rape scene still works for me. Not as a sexy-times, per se, but as psychologically sound. The time setting, the long build-up of mutual frustration and mixed signals, the input of alcohol, and most importantly, that Scarlett is so darned satisfied with things the next morning, and ready to start a new life with Rhett. (Which is somewhat redeemed by Rhett’s guilt, which turns everything to ashes again. Good things that come out of horrible things are punished by more horrible things?)

    But there’s plenty of pressures that don’t go as far as marital rape. Asking twice? OK. Asking three times? Probably OK, unless it’s a definite revulsion. There’s a lot in the power of three. Asking four times? Nope. Ball is definitely in the other person’s court at that point, and they must make the move. They’ve made it clear that they aren’t ready for Whatever. And there’s no magic three stuff hanging around the number four. “The power of completion” isn’t as nearly embedded in our literature as that magic three.

    Nobody’s perfect, and I think the trick is balancing the characters’ faults and virtues. It’s very difficult to read about a mostly faulty character, and it’s a bit boring and eye-rolling to read about a mostly virtuous character (some exceptions to the rule, of course).

    3+
  11. I think we’re in a brave new world here, and it’s going to take some time for things to settle out. I had a major aha moment a few years back when a male blogger pointed out the rape in Revenge of the Nerds (she thinks she’s making love to her boyfriend, but it’s Our Hero in a mask, and he gives her the best orgasm of her life.) I laughed like hell at that movie, and especially at the scene, and it was sweet when he told her it was because he appreciated her more than the jock ever could. But now? Ewwwww. That’s full on rape- she did not consent to sex with him. And we all thought it was funny. But then, my grandmother thought it was funny when John Wayne spanked Maureen O’Hara, and that made me cringe from day 1. We’re evolving. Be interesting to see where we go from here.

    6+
    1. The same with the hero in Sixteen Candles who hands his drunk-and-comatose girlfriend over to the nerd for sex, who then takes pictures with his arms around her. Shades of Al Franken.

      2+
        1. It’s a small part in a funny movie (that’s also racist). It has some wonderful moments, but it’s definitely miss-able.

          Watch Better Off Dead instead. That thing never gets old.

          2+
  12. Crazy For You survives Me Too glasses because Nick doesn’t force anybody into anything in the recaps of his past relationship with Lisa and… whoever. He doesn’t coerce Quinn either. The paying of Quinn’s loan down payment isn’t as good but she calls him out on it but agrees with him after because they’re thwarting Boy Principal together.

    I started reading Romance in the late 90’s. I couldn’t stomach old Linda Howard’s. In some cases we’d be filing sexual harassment claims based on the way the male characters persued the female ones.

    1+
    1. I think it helps that Quinn pursues him in the beginning. Even there, I have to be careful. Women stalk men, too.

      3+
    2. Old Linda Howard has plenty of issues. But I really can’t stand old Janet Daily. Hello, emotional abuse to the point of madness…

      1+
  13. I think it boils down to you need both of the characters to choose each other. If they both choose each other right away, there’s no will they/ won’t they tension in the story. If neither character chooses, it’s not a romance. If one chooses the other, but the other takes a while to choose back, you have tension, but there’s a time limit on how long it’s tension before it turns into Ew, Take a Hint. So you can play around with how they choose – maybe one character won’t admit they’re in love, but if you look at their actions, they choose to support and be there for their romantic interest at every turn. Or maybe they choose fast, but then they freeze and un-choose at the next opportunity. Sometimes a proactive character choosing to do nothing can be a huge choice. In The Devil’s Delilah, at one point Delilah refrains from shooting the honorable hero when he’s doing something uncharacteristically rake-like, which given how capable she is with her pistol, is basically her version of throwing open her arms and saying “Seduce me now, please.” Choice can look like a lot of different things, especially depending on who the characters are, power dynamics, when the book is set, when it’s written. But it’s not enough to have one character choose and one character want to be chosen. Ultimately they have to choose each other, of their own free will, or it won’t hold up for me as a romance.

    4+
  14. Interestingly, I recently tried to re-read Crazy for You, one of my favourites, and found I had to put it down. This had nothing to do with Quinn and Nick, and their interactions, or with Darla’s arc, which I love. In fact, there is so much to love here (including the fact that there is not a billionaire to be seen). For example, I love Edie and that whole storyline – fantastic! (In fact, just writing this is making me think again how much I love this book!). But this time I found that I was so angry with the acceptance of Bill by just about everyone and how no one could see how creepy he was. I couldn’t deal with the hero worship for this seriously sick and stalkerish guy. And the more creepy he became, the more the town doubled down on supporting him. I still love this book but I really found that I wanted to take nearly everyone in town and yell at them “Are you kidding me?” And even though I know how it turns out (and, of course, the fact that the romantic hero of the book is NOT THAT GUY), I found it too close to our culture’s current hero worship of alpha male assholes to keep reading.

    4+
    1. A lot of that came from dealing with the coaches in the high school where I was teaching. I liked most of those guys, but they got EVERYTHING because Ohio schools are obsessed with athletics. They could do no wrong.

      7+
      1. Yeah, I came from a Midwestern small town and sadly I had no problem buying that element. And it starts in school with the student athletes (you want to talk about some #metoo stories and guys getting away with it. . .)

        5+
    2. I have an online friend whose pediatrician was busted for child abuse, on his granddaughter, by his own son. Most of her town STILL rallied behind the damn doctor pedophile.

      4+
  15. I think there are already so many interesting comments here. I agree that it’s something that is evolving as we speak which is exciting and also challenging.

    My husband and I were talking about the remake of “Overboard” and I was saying gender swapping makes the power dynamics interesting, but it’s still a hard sell because so much of the story is based on a really cruel deception (true of so many romantic comedies). My husband was even more skeptical than I was.

    I think I could still go back and watch the original with my “back then” glasses, but there’s no getting away from some of the creepiness. He’s attracted to her and he thinks she’s a “bitch”, so he’ll humiliate her? Nice (sarcasm). I couldn’t watch it for the first time today. And that’s true of many things. Lots of times I don’t know how I’m going to feel until I reread or rewatch something. And I wouldn’t expect someone younger than I am, or someone who’s never seen it to necessarily enjoy it.

    But I think also important to think about is we’re talking about fiction and really we’re often talking about a element of fantasy (not the elves kind although of course there can be consent issues/dilemmas in all genres).

    I know what my yuck and yum is in romance and movies (and it’s evolving all the time, esp with the news today), but my two best friends are also romance fans and have completely different lines in the sand.

    I feel much more comfortable in a real life situation saying, this is the line and this is across the line. But in fiction, two people can read the same page and get something very different out of it because they bring their life experiences to it.

    1+
    1. Yeah, I never could get Overboard. He kidnaps her because she’s a bitch and she needs punished. Jesus.

      3+
    2. My friend and I saw a trailer for the Overboard remake recently. I haven’t watched the original in years. My mom thinks it’s hilarious, so I saw it as a kid and they still have a DVD. It’s never been a favorite, but I mostly thought it was funny until I was a teenager. Now I don’t think I could watch it. The remake made it look like the rich guy threatened her livelihood in a way Goldie Hawn didn’t with Kurt Russell in the original, but stronger motivation doesn’t change the kidnapping thing. The gender swap still interests me, but more in an academic way than an entertainment way. If it lands on HBO, I may watch it out of curiosity, just with extremely low expectations.

      2+
      1. Actually she did threaten his livelihood. He was a carpenter and put in a closet in very expensive wood and she objected to one detail and refused to pay for it after it was installed. He wasn’t just angry with her, she’d seriously damaged him financially. I can’t remember if that meant he couldn’t get daycare for his boys and that’s why he told her she was his wife . . .? Really cannot watch that movie again.

        2+
        1. I remember her not paying him, but I can’t remember how much damage that did to him. The trailer for the new one has her cleaning the carpet or something on his yacht, and he threw the machine overboard and got her fired, plus she owes thousands for the machine. Maybe that’s equivalent to the original?

          2+
          1. I think he was pretty desperate in the original, but possibly not that bad. It’s been years since I’ve seen it.

            2+
          2. She also threw his tools overboard – meaning he had to replace a complete set of woodworking tools (NOT cheap) before he could do any work for anyone else.

            So yeah, pretty equivalent, I suppose.

            0
        2. My memory is that he’s living very near the edge and not getting paid is going to make him lose his kids – so when she gets amnesia, he takes it as a gift for free labor but he’s still working nights at the fishery to make ends meet.

          So her not paying him is a big deal.

          OTOH, the rich guy is willing to leave her in a mental hospital, so I think Kurt Russell is still the better choice.

          0
    3. We just watched the Monk episode that deal with this story – Monk gets hit on the head by a bad guy and pushed onto a truck. The trucker lets him off in a small town where a woman sees him and claims they’re married. And it’s still super hard to stomach. Even though the lady who claims they’re married is very lonely and I feel bad for her, there’s really no excuse for not taking the obviously sick person to the police. Anything after that is just mean.

      0
  16. I spent my childhood at Michigan State University, where my dad was a grad student, and Florida State University, where he was a lecturer. And then I went to a very small high school in New York where football was everything. I know whereof you speak. Now I can’t stop thinking about the book; Fleetwood Mac, anyone?

    4+
  17. I’ve only read Crazy for You once, so I need to read it again now. I haven’t returned to it because I couldn’t figure Nick out. He’d been attracted to Quinn since she was underage and he’d been married to her sister; he gets up from sex talking about pizza; and, he and Quinn have sex (I don’t recall orgasms) in the high school where she’s a teacher. In my view, he definitely escapes being a child abuser, a stalker, an exhibitionist, or totally ignorant of Quinn’s feelings, and I’m rooting for him. Yet he doesn’t have much “there” there, especially because Bill is almost larger-than-life. Anyway, the more I think about it, the more I need to reread Crazy for You. One of the reasons I love Crusies is that the heroines are determined to be themselves, and are often loud and public about it. I’m not at all like that, so I get oomph from situations that appall me: sex — in a high school gym, on a piano, on/in a car, on a counter while either both their families or everyone attending an art exhibit are just a couple of feet away.

    2+
  18. This is slightly off topic but I don’t get the stories where the whole cast assemblies for the hero to propose to the girl. It was the only problem I had with Bet Me and it wasn’t as cringe worthy as the some I’ve read where the hero apologizes in front of a large crowd of strangers for being a creep then proposes. That would only work for me if he had publicly humiliated her to begin with. And even then not so much. Bringing a bunch of strangers in seems to me to lack boundaries. It is like couples who criticize one another in a social setting because it is to difficult to talk out their problems in private. Yuck.

    2+
    1. I totally agree with you Jessie. Being able to say I love you in public is not proof of love. I think it’s fine in Bet Me because they have worked everything out before the public shows up — it’s not being used as the “let me prove I really do love you “ moment.

      Jennie, the work of yours that I think is much more interesting in this #metoo era is Sizzle. Because let’s face it, that hero commits rape. And he does it knowing she is turned on so he doesn’t listen to her say no. And yet she really means no and for a specific reason.

      And then she shows him what the problem is.

      On the one hand, he gets it. On the other, he is a rapist.

      And it makes me think of what is apparently a sexual trend where the woman consents to sex with condom and then the guy tricks her into sex without. I forget the name for it. But that is clearly rape and it’s another example of why no has to mean no every time. You can ask again, you can ask why, you can negotiate (since you are so tired I will get up with the kids and let you sleep in) but no has to mean no.

      I have to say, knowing what she wants outside of sex really isn’t a good measure for me of when he can push limits with sex. At most it’s an indication of whether he is a good judge of what she really wants. But “do you want this? Is this ok” is much better.

      1+
      1. I have no recollection of what happens in Sizzle, I haven’t read it for years. I remember her tying him up, vaguely. He raped her? That doesn’t sound like me.

        1+
        1. They have consensual sex. Then he initiates sex again and she says no and he doesn’t listen and gets inside her and eventually she gets carried away. She said no because she needed more gel for her diaphragm not because she wasn’t interested.

          So it’s kind of an interesting case as far as saying no but being interested and wanting sex goes.

          And then she teaches him to listen.

          1+
          1. I wrote about gel and diaphragms? Man, I have no memory of that. I’m sure you’re right. I think I’ve just tried to block Sizzle from my memory completely. It’s not a good book. (It was my first, I didn’t know what I was doing, but still, not a good book.)

            1+
    2. You know, I hate those, too. I didn’t see the ending of Bet Me as that; that is, I didn’t see it as the hero making a production out of the declaration of love since they were already past that. To me, it was the two of them ignoring all the people who literally came into their lives to disrupt them. All of those people had, in one way or another throughout the book, tried to keep them apart or made it more difficult for them to reach each other, so at the end, when they were committed and all those people showed up to interfere, I thought it was putting the button on the underlying idea of the fantasy: if it’s meant to be, nobody can screw it up, not even the people who are meant to be. Fairy tale.

      8+
      1. Yeah. I could see where you were aiming for this. But a woman with body issues who is dressed only in a cover and a bunch of people show up in her apartment and she is fine with it? It tied right in with all those walking into a meeting in my underwear dreams. Massively uncomfortable.

        1+
        1. I’m more comfortable wrapped in a comforter that covers everything than I am in regular clothing that’s close-fitting.
          I also think that by then, Min was pretty much “Screw these people, Cal’s here and I’m good.”

          3+
  19. I just read the post article. Very interesting. My only quibble is when you were talking about the Nero Wolf books and his lascivious thoughts – not actions. I think both sexes may have lustful and lascivious thoughts that we keep to our selves. In real life. To deny that in our writing is perhaps not allowing characters to live authentically. Maybe it’s not good to whitewash thoughts, even though their actions and behavior is impeccable.

    5+
    1. Oh, I’m good with lustful thoughts. The part I object to–and I still love the books and Archie–is that he evaluates every woman he meets on her sex appeal, even the women he has no intentions of pursuing as a sex partner. It’s all on youth and beauty; anybody over thirty is too old, etc. He’s fairly unsparing when he describes the men he meets, too, but with the women it’s more of a “I wouldn’t be interested” than it is a valid summing up. He’s basically a fourteen-year-old boy.

      But there’s one book–Murder by the Book–in which he meets a married woman he has to ask for help, and he notes that she’s over thirty and not beautiful although she does have great eyes, and as he works with her, he half-jokingly falls for her because she’s such a sweetheart and so smart and cheerful. I think the last thing in that book in him thinking that it’s a damn good thing she’s in California and married (he’s in NYC) or he’d have been toast. So there’s that.

      It’s just the “she has to be under thirty and beautiful or I’m not interested” bit that’s annoying. Oh, and she also has to be a good dancer, but I can kind of see that. If the person you’re seeing doesn’t like doing what you like, that’s a problem.

      My favorite of that series is Some Buried Caesar, not just because it’s a really good mystery, but because that’s where he meets Lily Rowan. She’s under thirty and beautiful and rich, and she meets him when he’s running from a bull and vaults over a fence she’s sitting on, so she cheers his lack of bullfighting skills and calls him Escamillo. He’s annoyed, and then it turns out that she also goes after what she wants, so when she comes on to him, he dismisses her and calls her “Bauble” to her face. Then later he needs her help and she’s great and in the course of things he kisses her and it’s a damn good kiss and . . . he does see other women throughout the series and it’s fairly clear she sees other men, but it’s also pretty clear that for Archie, it’s Lily, even though she still calls him Escamillo. It’s a great relationship, and there are several times in the series where just in an aside, he explains something about her and says, “That’s why she’s amazing.” Of course there are other times when she does someothing like order sagebrush for her penthouse apartment that he says, “That part of Lily is not my part,” but it’s still clear: she’s it for him. It’s a great, open relationship. I’ll forgive him for a lot because he loves Lily.

      There was also one writerly thing Stout had Archie say that I’ve always liked. Archie never says he’s sleeping with Lily, never says he’s sleeping with anybody although it’s implied he spends the night with at least one client of Wolfe’s, but there’s a throwaway line when he explains why he got home so late, and it’s something about how he and Lily were out dancing and laughing, and then they decided they could laugh louder at her place. I thought that was not only a great euphemism for sex, but also summed up their relationship, dancing and laughing and then laughing at her place.

      7+
  20. I’m FB friends with the author of the Post piece, so I just told her to come here and read this. Great discussion.

    3+
  21. Sizzle is probably my least favorite of your books but reading it with #metoo glasses is actually kinda interesting because it could be said to destroy the whole idea that it’s ok to keep going when she says no if eventually she gets into it.

    1+
  22. Crazy For You still works for me. It’s really clear that Nick is not Bill, and he and Quinn are so close and know each other so well. I love that about their relationship. The BP still enrages me and always will. It’s satisfying to know Bill will go to prison, but I wish the BP could join him there.

    The recent news hasn’t really altered how I read and watch things too much. That’s been happening gradually since I was in high school and realized how messed up large parts of McLintock are. That was also around the time I developed a loathing for The Thrill of it All (Garner and Day) and was exposed to Diamonds Are Forever. I will never be able to watch Connery Bond movies. I also loved Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back when I was too young to really grasp the problems with them, and I grew out of those, too. Turner Classic Movies was a great thing to have as a kid, but as I started to understand what sexism was, it also became a source of serious irritation.

    2+
  23. Lately, I’ve found that the “proof” that the hero is a good guy — even if he is a controlling jerk at the beginning — is also up for examination. For example, in Anne McAffrey’s Dragonflight F’lar pretty much rapes Lissa (the excuse is that he assumes she isn’t a virgin and that both of them are inflamed with passion). So, that’s not cool, but I like the rest of the story — except I don’t like the psychological climax for F’lar when Lissa disappears: He goes on a drunk. I really don’t like heroes and heroines who collapse as the sign that they are truly in love. I prefer when they take charge and realize internally how difficult it is to cope and how much they miss (and love) the other.

    0
  24. Great timing on this post. I’ve been increasingly embracing minimalism and re-reading all my books to determine which ones I want to keep. (Side note – I re-read all of yours and enjoyed them all.)

    I re-read Phyllis Eisenstein’s Sorcerer’s Son / Crystal Palace duo. Wow, those did not age well. I loved them when I was younger but seeing them through my eyes now, they’re painful. The heroines in both hide and wait to be rescued.

    The second one is worse… talk about the stalker theme – after the heroine tells the hero she doesn’t want to see him anymore, he tells a friend that “the mirror [which showed her to him as his heart’s desire] gave her to me; I’m not giving up this easily.” And he keeps ignoring what she says because he knows what’s good for her better than she does.

    I honestly couldn’t make it through the whole thing this time. And it’s too bad because the underlying demon theme and characters were very entertaining.

    0
  25. I’d give a KIDNEY to see “MAYBE THIS TIME” made into a movie ASAP with this cast or a majority of them. I adore the characters and feel like these actors fit, especially the description of Andie and North. There aren’t any movies out now with this type of plot. Someone with Hollywood connections make this a happen!
    ANDIE: Sophia Bush (Smokey voice, sharp, and great on screen with kids)
    NORTH: Chris Helmsworth or Charlie Hunnam.
    SOUTHIE: Liam Helmsworth or similar looking actor to Chris or Charlie.
    FlO: Catherine Keener or Camille Coduri
    LYDIA: Christine Baranski
    ALICE: Mia Talerico
    CARTER: undecided
    MRS. CRUMB: Fionnula Flanagan or Charlotte Rampling
    KELLY: Gillian Jacobs
    ISOLDE: Uzo Aruba or CCH Pounder
    DENNIS: R. Hamilton Wright or Robert Carradine
    WILL: Stephen Arnell
    MAY: Shelley Hennig or Victoria Justice

    People use those connections and put Jennifer Crusie on the big screen!

    0

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