Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Pernicious Evils of LDS Romance Novels

Ashley and I just had a debate as to what the title should be, so to make her happy:

The current genre of LDS Romance novels that are directed towards women are a detriment to the LDS society.

(My name is Ashley Malone, and I approve of this sentence).

If there's one thing I've learned in my 9 months of marriage, it's that a happy marriage revolves around Ashley approving of my sentences.

I might ruffle some feathers, and I have nothing against her personally, but I hate Anita Stansfield's books. Such titles include "First Love and Forever," "First Love, Second Chances," "At Heaven's Door," and "Gables Against the Sky." It's not because I'm a guy, because honestly her books aren't written towards me. It's not because of the success she's had. More power to her. But it is because of her books.

Having a wife who is an English major, I not only get to hear about how bad my English is (either in writing or in speaking), but also what she (and her English colleagues) feel about authors, books, and many other things involving English.

For example, the Harry Potter books (which anyone will tell you got me through my first 2 years of college) are considered "commercial," and many just don't like them from a literary standpoint. August Wilson is probably one of the most understated and underrated play writes of the 20th Century. To nobody's surprise, Shakespeare is quoted in general just as much as the scriptures. And finally, they all have a strong dislike for Stansfield's books.

I must preface this by saying I personally have never read any of her books. I'm going off what I have heard others discuss, most notably Ashley, so there will be some bias in this. That being said, there are many reasons for these sentiments, but the most prominent concerns how she illuminates reality in LDS marriages and relationships for LDS women.

There is a fairy tale about LDS marriages (which post is sitting in my "Halfway completed" pile), the most dominating school of thought being "Happily Ever After Begins Today." Perhaps it's because I'm still a young married guy, but for some reason my reality buzzer keeps going off whenever I hear that. Anyone who has been married for over 6 months will tell you that the "Happily Ever After" takes work. Hard work. Lots of work. And in my opinion, that work is what makes the happiness.

However, Stansfield's books not only embrace the fairy tale, but embellish it to cater to women. How can a man live up to her unrealistic expectations of constantly expressing "mushy" feelings, noticing the subtle things that women crave (such as new haircuts), and always being the hopeless romantic in any situation? Just writing this and listening to Ashley describe some of the men in these novels makes me feel that I'm a schmuck who only cares about watching ESPN and doesn't express his feelings enough!

Now is there anything wrong with these traits in men? No, and I think that a man who loves his wife is trying to be that type of husband to her. But (and this is where I might receive my hate-mail) I compare her writing for LDS women to the writings of the trashy paperback romance novels found next to the Cosmopolitan magazine in the local Wal-Mart. In essence, her writings are literary pornography for the LDS women's mind.

That's strong, I understand. Anytime anyone throws around the "P" word we tense up, get uncomfortable, and look over our shoulder to see if anyone saw what we just read. And for good reason! Yet I'm comparing her writings to said P-word in a different sense.

As a man, whenever "P" comes up, the repercussions are brought up as well. Broken homes, divorce, and women feeling inferior to those on the internet are all after-effects of this pernicious evil. Yet what is Stansfield doing? I must bold this so my point gets made: She is giving women an opportunity to read and play out their relationship fantasies, and the women (in turn) develop unrealistic expectations as to what their husband should be like.

Men aren't bad. We try, and we try very very hard, to please our wives. I would love more than anything to be more open with Ashley about my "mushy" feelings, to notice those small things that I know she likes (such as if she painted her toes a different color), and to have an Australian accent. Because it's something that I'm not good at, I work on it. Almost every day. Yet I would feel like much less of a man if Ashley were reading those novels, and have an unrealistic expectation for me to live up to. I would feel as though I were never good enough for her because I was always being compared.

Isn't that what women feel when their husbands betray them and look at pornography? Though sex and relationship fantasies aren't exactly apples and apples, the comparison is more like red seedless grapes to purple seeded grapes: two different parts of the same family.

Luckily, Ashley dislikes Anita as much as I dislike meatloaf (and I REALLY dislike meatloaf!) I'm just glad to see that it's not just us who feel that what Anita is doing is detrimental to LDS society, but others as well.

P.S. I was just informed that there was a BYU-Idaho forum on how LDS Romance Novels were a hindrance to our society, and Stansfield was mentioned by name. I'll see if I can dig up some more information for you all.


Anonymous said...

You have touched on a great little piece of insight. I couldn't agree more with your comments on the "LDS Harlequin" novel craze. My soon to be ex-wife excoriated me over the fact that I would never understand these books because I was such poor character. After 18 years of verbal abuse from her, I thought it ironic that we close this chapter of our disaster with being told how I don't live up to the beautiful men these authors write of.

Life is about kindnes, caring and trully loving one another the way the Lord loves us. Critical should never have a place in a marriage, whereas forgiveness, understanding, empathy and some good humor should abound.

The Gospel is true kids!

brandt said...

Anon - Thanks for your comment. I'm sorry for your situation, but it also makes me feel a lot better that I'm not the only one who has felt this way.

"whereas forgiveness, understanding, empathy, and some good humor should abound."

There's only one problem with that though - I KNOW I'm funny, and my wife doesn't know that yet! Some day she will!

Aaron & Stephanie Shumway (& family) said...

this is exactly how I feel about the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. It's an intro to Romance novels- no sex in it, but once the reader gets that feeling, they go searching for more books that will make them feel that way. (And I'm a woman, so now you have my side agreeing with you)

Anonymous said...

Amen to this blog. I knew I couldn't be the only one feeling this way about Ms. Stansfield, so I typed "I hate Anita Stansfield" into Google and was led to your blog. Your thoughts are exactly what I shared with my wife after she explained the premise of these romance novels. The storyline sickens me and I think it's perverse that the whole thing is set against an LDS Gospel backdrop.

brandt said...

Anonymous #2:

Boy, that's kind odd that my site is the first one that comes up...I hope Ms. Stanfield doesn't do a search like that

Its interesting, if you go to Deseret Book and walk through their "Fiction" section (which, I have no clue why anyone would want to do that), its entirely dominated by her...oy vey...

Lowell said...

Agree entirely.

I'm coming to the game late, and happened upon this because of some research I'm doing for a class I teach. If alright with you, I'd like to reference you when I quote this in my blog.

brandt said...

Lowell, I'm totally OK with you referencing it, as long as credit is given. I'm just here to help!

Thanks for the wonderful comment!

lara said...

Although I do agree that Anita Stansfield can't be consider one of the great writers, I do disagree with most of what you have written. Anita Stansfield writes fiction books. Fiction! That alone should let the reader know that it is NOT REAL! If someone is stupid enough to get caught up in a story and think that life can imitate what they read they need a good session with a therapist. I pick up fiction and nonfiction alike. One to become better informed and the other to escape into a world that is NOT REAL! That is why her books sell. They may be poor literature, but they are entertainment. Did you ever watch the Cosby Show. No one I know ever had a family like that. But it sure was fun to watch.

p.s. if you are intimidated by the characters in her books I do feel sorry for you!

Mountain Queen Publishing said...

Having just come across this, I agree and disagree. Some of us who write romantically inclined stories about the human condition, do so with some skill and understanding of the difficulties males and females face in life. Personally, I prefer to laugh in life and have earned the right through both abuse and illness. My writings reflect such. However, the majority of my readers have turned out to be non-LDS and love the books. Even men. Yes, I have male readers.

Characters don't need to be unreal to be lovable and writable. Nor does a man have to be unrealistic to be a strong man. But, to write a novel of any kind, the author needs reference to things that happen after people go home from Church, the realities in life. And, many of the women in the Church (and men) have faced the traumas of illness, divorce, or widowhood. We singles are becoming the larger portion of the Church.

Even Brigham Young provided romance novels for his daughters to read - Jane Austin, Emily Dickenson for example. We don't just dream of the celestial life awaiting us, but also of the joys promised here.

So, some of us write about them. Perhaps to inspire, encourage, and bear testimony of the Lord in all things.

L.M. Steen
Safe in All Things