A feminist’s letter to Harlequin

Library Dating.

Dear Mills and Boon

I read your first book when I was 14. I think it’s safe to say that it was far more educative than fooling around with my boyfriend in the school parking lot.

For years, nay, decades, Harlequin has continued providing us young, nubile, guileless women with fictitious happy endings which, the excess of saccharin notwithstanding, have filled us with hope about our own possible happy endings. Your writers have always, in spite of being heavy-handed with euphemisms, managed to convey both the true essence of a love story and the explicit details of sex. I always expected your writers to, at some point, either out of consternation or simply prudence, revert to the wording of works such as “Fanny Hill” by John Cleland. But you persevered and called a penis a penis and a vagina a vagina, for which I am eternally grateful, otherwise we would have been very frustrated with those unsavoury shafts and flowers.

However, as a concerned reader and unlike most of your subscribers a reader with varied tastes not only limited to romance, I must point out certain aspects of your franchise which have been troubling me for some time.

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Firstly, your female protagonists are always less impressive than the men. They do not possess either wealth, or confidence, or intelligence, nor do they have a stable career which I find very strange. Surely such incompetent women could only attract suitors in Jane Austen’s novels and not in today’s day and age? (And Austen was a feminist!).
Receptionists, teachers, farmers, florists, secretaries, librarians, nannies, tour guides, dog walkers have embodied the typical Mills and Boons female and given us the impression that having high-end, well-paying, cerebral jobs would act as a natural repellent to men. These women have soft hearts, lush racks and enviable derrières. They are usually sexually inexperienced and nearly paralysed in the presence of sexual chemistry (I’m not sure I can take any more of the racing heart, dry mouth, stuttering, dilating pupils, shaking hands- even I’m not that bad!). Their chemistry with their counterparts is like a heady cocktail mix, their interactions redolent of scenes from a Hugh Grant movie, while in reality, most women my age are wondering why they feel like throttling nearly every man they go out with.
Oh and the women are usually American or British. What about Amazonian women? Isn’t there something about their bronze, sleek, ‘flexible’ bodies that would make the cut for a good love scene? Or Irish women? Aren’t redheads supposed to be absolutely wild?
The women are usually kidnapped, blackmailed or coerced into bed by the men. I’m offended, surely the women are loose enough to simply jump into bed with the guy!

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Secondly, your men are almost always Greek, Italian, Sicilian, Mediterranean or once in a blue moon, American. (The only Sicilian I ever saw was Wallace Shawn as Vizzini in the Princess Bride who was killed by his own poison after laughing manically for about 15 minutes. Sicilians are funny, not hot!)
And what about British men? They’re delectable. Surely that accent must have bowled over some of your writers? No?
Picture Jamie Lee Curtis in a Fish Called Wanda, writhing on the bed while John Cleese stripped off his clothes, speaking gibberish in Russian. Despite it being the white-haired, mawkish, overly gallant John Cleese that man had us all squirming like Jamie.

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Your men are, not to put too fine a point on it, assholes. They’re arrogant, ruthless, imperious, callous, inconsiderate, vain and promiscuous. They’ve slept with more models than Christian Grey had submissives! (Read : 50 shades of Grey)
Their razor-sharp intellect is only outdone by their utter lack of morals.

Thirdly, their interactions are just- how do you say- not quite realistic. They are drawn to one another like magnets (magnets which resemble dogs during mating season). They always struggle to deny the attraction (why? Who does that? Who doesn’t like to get laid?) and succumb to it due to a moment’s weakness and then end up agreeing on a torrid but short-lived affair. It is quite clearly, not love at first sight but lust at first sight.

Oh and the mind-blowing sex. Which is enjoyable but also puzzling. I’m sorry, but I find it hard to believe everyone is that good in bed because if that were true, all of us would be doing it instead of eating, working and sleeping.

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Then there are those emotionally wrenching but clichéd conversations about love and life. Second thoughts on the girl’s part as she wants more, has suddenly realised she has fallen for this man but oh oh oh! – He will never love her because he’s a cold bastard. The inevitable break-up which bursts their not-so-private bubble and rudely interrupts our voyeuristic reverie. The man is seething and quiet and the woman is totally wrecked and Tada!
Knocked up.

Honestly, have you people never heard of safe sex? If there are any more couples shown in forthcoming novels who do not use condoms I’m going to start believing the story is actually based in India!

Why must the two reconcile passionately, the man penitent and haggard , the woman weepy and holier-than-thou?
And why should the story end with a four-tiered wedding cake, an idyllic marriage and 9 months later, a labour room?

'Remember when it was all Mills and Boon and not Bills and Moon!'

Harlequin you are sadly, straying away from reality. I’m all for fantasy fiction but if that is the case then your women should be wand-waving, broom-hopping, ruby-slippered sorceresses and your men armour-clad, sword-brandishing, dragon-slayers for only then will the Mills and Boons romances appear fair in their treatment to both the sexes and believable in terms of love.

As Daniel Radcliffe from the romantic comedy What if quite succinctly put it :

In Fairytales, love inspires you to be noble and courageous but in real life, love is just an all-purpose excuse for selfish behavior.”

I hope my remarks are taken in the lighthearted way that they were intended and I also look forward to your books that are about so many fancy things like foreign countries and exotic cuisines but mostly about- Sex.

Sincerely,
That 14 year old romantic who is done with heaving breasts and throbbing…… you know.

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Published by: Abby

Abha is a final-year law student; She's a trainee family law advocate, a virtual speaker on sexual violence and a volunteer at the local legal aid cell. She enjoys listening to indie rock, reading romantic thrillers and eating Chinese food. She also loves her dog, but suspects her dog isn't too thrilled about that.

Categories Critic's Corner, Relationships2 Comments

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