Over at The Guardian, Daisy Cummins and Julie Bindel celebrate/ deride a hundred years of Mills & Boon. It's just another instalment in the regular love-hate tug-of-war between M&B writers and 'serious' feminists. And, of course, there are plenty of gaudy covers and choice snippets from back covers to besmirch the genre. Although, honestly, don't we shoot ourselves in the foot with the likes of "The Desert Sheikh's Captive Wife"?
Some pertinent points.
I consider myself a feminist. Not perhaps in the sense that my mother would have called herself a feminist. That fight was fought, and necessarily. For me, feminism means being economically independent; able to pursue the career of my choice without being thwarted; free to make decisions concerning my body, or my vote. I have never struggled with sexual discrimination.
My horror at the genre is not directed towards either the women who write or, indeed, read them. I do not believe in blaming women for our own oppression. Women are the only oppressed group required not only to submit to our oppressors, but to love and sexually desire them at the same time. This is what heterosexual romantic fiction promotes - the sexual submission of women to men. M&B novels are full of patriarchal propaganda.
Now, I am not a reader of M&B (though some of Tumperkin's reviews have tempted me to pick them up again) and I decidedly dislike the Presents line, but arguments like Bindle's patronising notion of women as willing participants of their own oppression drive me up the wall.
Misogynistic hate speech? Patriarchal propaganda? Er, not quite. A part of me finds it difficult to reconcile my love of romance with some pretty entrenched feminist principles (indeed, I have yet to 'come out' to my more strident friends), but there is a distinct line between reading escapist fiction and colluding with the forces of patriarchy. Right?
A recent post at Teach Me Tonight discusses the "inextricability of Harlequin romance from the ideology of democracy and capitalism." Laura Vivanco wonders if Harlequin Presents are "narratives of capitalist success." So if we can confidently point to a symbiotic relationship between Presents and the economic system underpinning Western civilisation, why not the social system that supports it? Of course, my perspective is one in which Patriarchy is still very much in force and will continue to be until women are earning as much as men, rape convictions go up and the leader of the free world is finally a woman (go Hilary!)
Capitalism, Democracy and Patriarchy? It doesn't sound too far fetched.
ETA: I take issue with Cummins "the fight was fought" and "I have never struggled with sexual discrimination." IMO, this is an extremely complaisant and short-sighted attitude, particularly since I believe the fight for equality between the sexes is far from over.