06 August, 2012

Return Of The Hermetically Sealed Heroine

Who started the hymen fetish? Is it the same person who decided all women in a romance who are not the heroine must be subordinate or murdered or evil? Why do we who love books about women hate women so much? (I know, I know, we're all full to the gills with preprogrammed cultural messages. I get it. Still.) I'm having a hard time reconciling a book I recently loved and a book I'm struggling to read  with my love of the genre. I don't know why I am drawn to the authors or stories I am. Why do I read about endless Dukes when I cannot stand the multi generational rich? Why am I forever sympathetic to a parade of doe eyed damsels in my fiction when I don't tolerate them in my own life?

I'm a total hypocrite. I get that. So's my genre.

In the case of the book I am loathing the early set up is a Hermetically Sealed Heroine. The book takes place in Romancelandia with a number of improbable events in a row. I am uncertain if I will read Chapter Two given the events of the Prologue and Chapter One. Our heroine is a former spy chosen from the gallows and trained to perform any action necessary, including whoring for her country. Now discharged, our heroine has been seen with a number of rich men in a number of scandalous costumes. She is considered to be a woman for hire. She wanders into White's, climbs upon a table, partially disrobes, declares herself a virgin, and offers her hymen to the highest bidder. Then she calmly leaves. There are so many things wrong with this. This is so far into Fantasy Land that Romancelandia hardly seems an adequate description of the world this heroine lives in. There is, based on the opening pages, no sexual violence in her world. Women are not raped to know their place, raped to respect their betters, or raped just because they can be. Our heroine is not only Hermetically Sealed (allowing her to cash in her hymen like a lottery ticket) she's also loaded with Magic Rape Repellent.

Think about it. She's been in prison on death row. She's been in war. She's been intimate (but not vaginally) with rich men who are either paying for or believe they can pay for her body. She's infiltrated a zone forbidden to women and offered sex in a group setting of powerful men, yet she has no fear at all of sexual violence. No hesitation. Who is this woman? Where would she come from? How can she even exist? Setting all of that aside she's decided to offer her hymen up for auction in a bid for financial freedom. Who is going to buy that? Unless you're trying to cure yourself of a sexually transmitted disease are you really part of the hymen cult? Who, beyond pedophiles, really belongs to this organization? What kind of man checks a woman out and thinks "Man, she'd be so much hotter with an intact hymen" and in what world is he also unlikely to enforce the social order through sexual violence? Why is the Virgin Whore still a thing? One of the men surrounding her asks why she'd auction it off instead of marry. Who in that room is going to marry her? How does that work in this bizarro world?

She walks out of White's unmolested and I have to decide if I'm going to read on. Genre books have had women in and out of White's like crazy lately. Sometimes they're standing in the rain getting their Lloyd Dobler on, sometimes they're eating in the kitchen as a special I Value Your Feminist Ways treat from the hero. Occasionally they push in the front doors as though they have every right to bring an errant brother / husband / lover/ random man home. They are never met with violence. Because they are the heroine and bad things cannot happen to women endowed with Magic Rape Repellent. Now ex-lovers of the hero? Oh, that is a different story indeed. Since this is long enough, it's a tale for tomorrow. Bring your blankie.


  1. Sounds like an awful book.

    As to Whites I guess the idea is that all the members are such upstanding citizens that they would never do violence to a female - rubbish of course but I suspect that's what's behind it.

  2. I think it goes past that. As women we tend to equate value with results. Bad things are brought on oneself, good things are earned. "What did she expect" and all of that. When a negative thing happens to a person we perceived as good our first response is that it shouldn't have happened to her (not at all, but to her in particular) followed by reasons it did happen to her. Victim blaming. I think there is an element of that in the MRR - heroines are safe as a sign of their innate quality.

    1. I guess that could be the case. I certainly see your point. But, for myself, that's not my default position. If the romland woman goes into Whites and is attacked my response isn't to blame the victim.