“Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where's the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream
of what I need”
~“Holding Out For A Hero” Bonnie Tyler
Recently, after reading three of the novels that friends recommended to me as “you absolutely have to read this;" I observed that I feel distressed. Based on the specific troika of books breathlessly and repeatedly pushed upon me, I am beginning to believe that ladies are in some deep shit, personally speaking. I have never had more clarity about the rampant Daddy issues swirling around the adult female population than right at this moment; the fantasy lives of my friends and acquaintances have taken a turn that leaves me confused.The men (and, in some cases, boys) these women are lusting after in these novels appear to be products of the same cookie cutter. And it is not a cookie cutter I consider particularly hot and wonder what I am missing. The three books in question, the Holy Trinity of Mommy Porn, if you will, are Twilight (and all it’s sequels, I guess, I only read the first one), A Discovery of Witches and 50 Shades of Grey.
Twilight is the OG mommy porn book (OG is an abbreviation for the term “original gangster” meaning someone who has been around, an old school gangster, for those of you only reading mommy porn and watching “Real Housewives” marathons) and from my unscientific research Stephanie Meyer reset the template for the hero that must be included in a book in order to make women swoon. Swoon and buy your books by the bag full. The key, as I see it, is to create a romantic interest for your female protagonist that is an updated version of the assholes I used to think were awesome in the Harlequin Romances I started reading when I was in the fifth grade. You know, back when I had absolutely no romantic experience and based my relationship knowledge on the Sweet Valley High books and what I observed about the adults in my life.
Allow me to illustrate by breaking the hero down here for you here. First off, our hero (I’m just going to refer to him by his given name now “Hero” for the sake of simplicity – they seem interchangeable anyway), must be perfect at everything he attempts. Judging by Twilight and A Discovery of Witches, it helps if you make him a supernatural creature, like a vampire, so there is an explanation of his ability to be two places at once, superhuman strength, ability to pilot anything and epic riches at his disposal. It is a requirement that Hero have unruly hair that he is constantly running his hands through as he voices his displeasure with whatever the latest high jinx the spirited female protagonist has gotten into. Hero dresses impeccably (this must be mentioned often) but in a sort of fashion that sounds vaguely like a Euro trash club dweller: it involves cashmere sweaters, white linen shirts open at the collar and loose-ish pants. And our friend Hero is full of power. He conducts his business powerfully; he drives powerful cars powerfully, and commands lesser beings with power. God, just writing about his power makes me desire him. Please.
Our Heroine has her own set of requirements, of course, which often parallel Hero’s. Heroine’s hair always includes at least one unruly lock that constantly falls into her eyes. Hero must spend precious time brushing it out of her eyes. Heroine must be breathtakingly beautiful and effect everyone around her with her loveliness, but must proceed through life completely unaware that she is stunning. How in the hell this could happen to a woman in this society is never explained adequately, but I suppose that’s why it’s called fiction. However, she must also be clumsy and forever falling about and collapsing, allowing Hero to sweep her up in his arms and against his chest so she can feel his beating heart and understand his desire for her. Because Hero would never use his words to explain how he feels.
It helps if Heroine has a habit of unconsciously chewing on her lower lip, which drives Hero insane with mad desire and he can barely contain himself when she indulges in this behavior. From the amount of chewing that was detailed in 50 Shades, Heroine’s lip would have been seriously chapped and gnawed looking, but perhaps that’s just a perception. Now, I’ve been married a long time, but I test drove a few cars back in the day, as they say, and I simply can’t remember a time during even the most passionate heights of a relationship that chewing my lip would have driven my man crazy. Announcing that I was spending the evening commando? A clear yes. But gnawing on my lip? Nope. But I digress.
Hero and Heroine spend a fair amount of time engaging in what passes for witty banter. Heroine is just so headstrong and heedless when it comes to her personal safety, whether she is being pursued by vampire families or entering into a dominant/submissive relationship with a virtual stranger. No one can tell our Heroine how to behave, but Hero is committed to taming that wild spirit. There is so much dialogue in these books where Hero admonishes Heroine and she gives him a haughty shake of her head (in order for the errant lock of hair to fall in her eyes) and goes her own way. Unless he sweeps her up in his arms and forcibly carries her to a safe location. Also known as kidnapping in the world in which I dwell. What passes for passionate romance is so on the line with obsessive issues of control.
Now, I know these books are comfort food for our heads. We love this idea of the strong, silent type. We idealize the independent woman being tamed by the only man that is her equal in intelligence and stubbornness. I totally get it. I’ve been reading it since I was elven. What concerns me is the rabid swooning of my contemporaries associated with these books and the higher stakes with introduction of the S & M component with the entry of 50 Shades of Grey into the pantheon. As women in this society are we all just so freaking tired? So tired of handling everything that what we truly want is a man, preferably dressed in natural fibers, to swoop into our lives, pick us up and start making all the decisions for us? Is that where we want to escape to, although now we’re totally down if we’re tied up as well? This is what distresses me. It’s not so much the fact that the writing is the literary version of reality TV, I’m not a snob when it comes to writing, it’s that the fantasy of today’s woman is letting go and submitting to an emotionally distant father figure. Is that really where all this work has gotten us?