Good Girl Shaming?

2015-02-06 22.14.14 (4)If you go back to my blog of January 25, 2016 and read the comment from alwaysanswerb on January 27, 2016 at 2:46 pm, where she suggests that the plot of my former adult film star wip is contrived because the heroine only slept with her husband…Well, now I’m wondering if this is—what should we call it?—moral girl shaming? Good girl shaming?

As I said in my reply to that comment, I am from an era where fidelity was expected in marriage. Frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with it. If you’re going to stand in a church or a judge’s chambers and make a pledge, you might as well stick with it. If you can’t, your word means nothing. Your “commitment” is meaningless. I come from a long line of long marriages. There was none of this “I’m not happy so I’m leaving” or “I don’t really believe in marriage” crap you see today.

In society today marriage isn’t expected at all, much less fidelity, apparently. You can’t count on much, can you? Not even that guy who swore he’d love you and only you until the end of time. (Not that there aren’t circumstances where divorce is completely justified. There definitely are.)

My commenter’s comments were eerily reminiscent of my editor’s when I first ran my story idea by him. I told him he’d have to find someone younger to write that kind of a story and that’s where we ended the discussion of whether I could make my version work or not.

HERS: As a younger reader, this would read to me as an example of a very contrived way to keep a heroine “pure.” As a reader, I would be less interested in an adult film actress who only performed with her husband than I would be about an adult film actress whose work in the sex industry didn’t define her sexual preferences or values outside of her job. That seems not only more realistic, but a more nuanced take on our idea of what an adult film actress is.

HIS: To me the idea of multiple partners in the name of work is an interesting thing to explore, and having only one “work” partner is kind of an easy out (yeah, it was porn, but it was with my husband!)

(If you were wondering, my editor’s considerably younger than I am. Whether or how much that plays into his editorial comments, I have no idea.)

I’ve always believed you can make the actions of a character in any situation believable if you give them a strong enough motivation.

But now I almost feel like I’m being judged (and so is my heroine) for a character’s behavior in a story that hasn’t even been published yet. I wrote her as faithful to the man she loved and was married to. Is there any worse sin in a contemporary romance novel? A woman who hasn’t slept around? Or slept around enough by the standards of the majority of young women today? How can she possibly be the kind of heroine any twenty-something of today could identify with? She’s a–horror of horrors–goodie two shoes! (That’s what we used to call them back in the olden days.)20160205_203134

My character’s film career and marriage is all back story. It only plays into the story when she relocates to a small town in Iowa after her husband dies.

Although love scenes abound, by today’s standards of contemporary romance novels, mine are considered tame because they all take place between one man and one woman. both of whom are human beings.  Please someone explain to me what gain there is in sexual promiscuity and why they’d find it attractive as a trait in a romance novel heroine. Those are not women I want to read about nor are they women I choose to write about. Oh, but wait. The so-called sluts are not the heroines of these novels. They’re the bad girls, the exes, that are after the heroes much to the chagrin of the possibly less experienced good girl heroines, is that it? Those kinds of characters are not included in the fiction I write, either. If you need a “slut” to shame as a foil to your heroine could that mean you need to get more creative with your characterizations? Is the hero never judged (or shamed) for his choices in past sexual partners?

Side Note: Does sex whenever and with whomever equate power? I ran this by my 30-something son, by the way. and his take on sexually promiscuous women boils down to daddy issues. The female readers who disagree with this will, I suspect, be the same women who admire Hillary Clinton for condoning her husband’s infidelity.

Who determines who is and isn’t a slut? And how is that determination made? What goes into the labelling process? Inquiring minds want to know.20160205_203931

I’ve had this minor disability my entire life: I accept people as they present themselves. That is, until I know differently. Knowledge is as powerful as sex and as dangerous a weapon. It can change your perception of a person. Even one you thought you knew.

When I was a teenager one of my father’s co-workers disappeared. His truck was found smashed in a river. No one knew what happened to him. He had a wife and three kids. We were friendly with this family. Everyone was baffled by the mystery of what happened to Darrell. Months or maybe a year or more later, Darrell was discovered alive and well when he was ticketed for jaywalking in a city in a neighboring state. Eventually, he reunited with his family.

Years ago we became friends with our next-door neighbors. We socialized with them. Our kids played together. The husband lost his job and bounced from one to another of “odd” jobs. They weren’t just odd, they were almost unexplainable. But he went on with life as usual. Until a “business associate” of his pressed charges against him for fraud. If his father hadn’t bailed him out of the situation, our neighbor would have gone to jail.

I always wondered about Darrell and about my neighbor. Up until their troubles became public, I didn’t think too much about them one way or the other. But then, suddenly, I had this knowledge about them I hadn’t had before and it drastically changed my perception of them. How does a man walk away from his family and leave them wondering? My sticky-fingered neighbor had coached my son’s basketball team and attended our barbeques.

My character’s film career is not who she is. (Nor does a bonafide porn star’s career define who she is.) In fact, the people in her new town are quite willing to befriend and accept her. Until they find out what she’s done in the past. Even though it was only with her husband as her co-star. Then they are quite ready to judge.

Slut shaming exists in both romantic fiction and in reality. But it seems, so does good-girl shaming.

Aren’t we a label-happy, judgmental society?


  1. What a bold blog post–one that really lets us know how you feel! Great job. I’m with you. A heroine (hero) in a romance novel is someone we could use as a role model.. She may start off with issues, but at the end she is usually stronger, smarter, and someone we can root for!

    • Thanks for the support, J.Q. I truly appreciate it. I always have that moment of hesitation before I hit the “publish” button!

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