Kissing Books: On Romance,Chicks and Missconceptions

Sometimes you are watching a movie and someone says something that makes you almost jump and say “That’s me!”. If there is one that made me do that it’s in The Princess Bride. The boy, having agreed to have his grandfather read him a story that was said to have sword fights and sports, instead contains romance in the first few pages he asks:

romance,kissing,princess bride,
Oh you bet it is

Everything from his exasperated look, annoyed tone, and on point delivery of that line spoke to me. I had found a kindred soul and a great thing to say whenever I ran into kissing books or movies. Now, this was when I first saw the film. I didn’t know that by the end he would be on board with all that kissing and “As you wish”es. Of course, so was I; but I proudly declared it was because this was “not like other romances”. Yes, this was indeed my “not like other girls” phase.

comform to noncomformity

For a very long time I was very vocal about my distaste for love stories. I would say I hated it when it was the central plot, when it was done all sugary and “girly”. See I didn’t hate romance itself. There was plenty of love stories I liked that where subplots, at least as far as I was concerned. I liked “unconventional” couples, or those that might not be so popular with fans. I was convinced that it was only that I was not into it. That because many people in my family did like these things I was just over saturated. It was just that I was not the “type” that liked these things. But as time passed, I realized that it was not exactly this.

There is this tendency to praise girls for putting others down. Hating on other girls seems to be seen by many as something unavoidable. One of the ways this tends to happen the most is by praising girls who reject femininity. Those who reject the things that the culture at large associates with this. Romance is often on the forefront. You are expected both to reject it and crave it. To want a relationship but not want it like those other girls do. To both shame the girls who wear high heels and embrace this while you build yourself a pedestal for wearing sneakers.

 diving in the chick pool

It took me some time, not just to unlearn those tendencies, but to realize what I was really saying when I would say I didn’t like these stories. It wasn’t the love story, it wasn’t the “girly” things. What I really disliked was the biased point of views of these stories. Most are attached to very heteronormative standards. There was also a lack of representation of the intersectional aspects of women themselves.  For example, 27 Dresses is a film that has so many aspects that follow standards of the Romantic Comedy, or Rom-Com. I can barely watch it. But then there is the webshow Her StoryIt shares many story elements, including one of the main couples meeting because one is a writer and wants to interview the other! But this story follows two trans women as they find love. It was written by two of the lead actresses. The cast includes a diverse group of queer women. It makes the same story lines get new life.

When You Realize The Only Thing That Kept You From Enjoying Things Was Internalized Outdated Ideas

I dived into the pool when I took a job as a ghost writer. I thought that even with my dislike, I had seen enough of these traditional rom-coms to be able to recreate it. Of course, a chickflick and a chicklit are two different forms of media. While they share elements they don’t work the same way. the right thing to do, I decided, was read at least one story.

My choice was The Boss by Abagail Barnette. Having seen it recommended in twitter as an answer to 50 Shades of Grey and the first book in the series being free, I went in with low expectations thinking it would just be some fun. Fast forward to the writer having announced a new part to the series and me looking to get it because I need it. While not as revolutionary as Her Story, it still had so many things in it that went against most of the conventions of romance. I was hooked.

who runs the book world-girls!

It wasn’t just a new appreciation for a genre I actually enjoy. I was also inroduced to a really great community. It might not be perfect and still have a lot to work on. But compared to other genre’s, romance writers are among the most experimental there is! And then there is the fact that the demographic is a majority of women. This genre is the one that centers around mostly women. And most importantly, it caters to the pleasures of women. This is not something that can be said for any of the other literary genre’s. Romance doesn’t want women to feel ashamed of their fantasies. Being so open to experimentation, it means this includes writers of color, queer writers, writers that combined different genres. Even with the many issues, there was still enough fish in this sea, so to speak.

So much can be written about the genre and it’s audience and writers. It’s a wonder that it is not regarded as something worthy of study unless it was written at some point in the 19th century. We can’t forget that during their time, a writer like Jane Austen was considered in a similar standing to all these books.

The appeal of this community, as well as this new found acceptance for my actual love of…well…love, also shaped my writing. Even when writing obvious romances,fan fictions in need of a huge thematic overhaul, I never would have considered myself as writing those. Looking at some of the excuses I would make about what these stories where, it makes me roll my eyes. Romance is a part of life. Yet we sneer at readers who like to fantasize about it. At the same time, we see nothing wrong with fantasizing about elves. The shame is such that romance helped push the sales of e-books, allowing many to read them without anyone knowing. There is no ignoring the main reason to why all this is shamed, seen as low quality, or ridiculed, is because the main audience and creators are women. Yet at the same time, this is what makes the genre so open. When you are seen as a failure from the start, you have nothing to loose.

A final note from a new convert

There is so much more I could add to this post and go deeper still in defense of chicklit and chickflicks. So many newfound authors to recommend like Alisha Rai, Rebekah Weatherspoon, and Gaby Rivera, to name a few. So many sites to find varied books by diverse writers. The community and genre is so grand and diverse there is a documentary about it. The firs bookstore dedicated exclusively to romance and it’s sub-genres (which can shop at online)opened recently in California. Much can be written about the genre and it’s audience and writers. It’s a wonder that it is not regarded as something worthy of study unless it was written at some point in the 19th century. We can’t forget that during their time, a writer like Jane Austen was considered in a similar standing to all these books.

I still don’t like a lot of what is out there when it comes to romance. Too many a chickflick, rom-com, or chicklit book still have so may of the tropes that made me avoid the genre in the first place. But generalizing meant I missed out on some aspects that I would have always liked. Accepting it was these tropes, not the story, itself that bothered me helped me stop feeling like romance just was not a part of my life and probably would never be. It’s a pity that it took this long to unlearn these internalized, at points self-hating, views that kept me from enjoying these stories. I suppose what I would want to add to this community is more voices that move away from these damaging tropes. I can’t wait to get my hands on a new kissing book I would love.

princess bride, romance, chicklit,chickflick,rom-com
Lets not forget how this movie ends
 what are some of your favorite kissing books or movies? did you have anything in particular that made you fall for it or had you always loved romance? share your own experiences and favorites in the comments!

Featured Image: The inside of The Ripped Bodice, in California.  From the store site.

Harley & Ivy Sitting On A Tree: Shipping & Why It Matters

Shipping, it makes the fandom world go round. Coming from the word “relationship”, it is how people describe the pairs (or more) they like in a given piece of media. “Shippers” can be very passionate, there is a lot of reasons why someone wants a certain relationship to happen and many times it can be very personal. Queer ships many time stem from lack of representation. The same is true of many interracial ships, a lot of times involving women of color who are seen as “needing no one”. Many times these shipers know they will never see this relationship be made canon. But once in a blue moon, some writer decides to go ahead, and you end up with canon representation. And this is just one of the reasons why Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are so important

across the dc universe

Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for the Batman animated series of the early 90’s, Harley Quinn was introduced as a sidekick for the Joker. She became so popular that DC Comics, the company that owns all of the Batman franchise, added her to the comic books during one of their biggest story events. That introduction included the character that would become key in her story, Poison Ivy. Already having been teamed up in the animated series, it made sense her comic book counterpart would also be close to “Red”, as she affectionally calls her. And from the start there was one thing that was very clear, these two were not just platonic.

poison ivy, harley quinn
Just Gals Being Pals, Right?

The biggest barrier to this ship was simply how Harley had been introduced. She was created as a brilliant psychiatrist that falls in love with the Joker. It gave way for one of the most realistic portrayals of an abusive and toxic relationship in media. The Joker would routinely put her down and physically assault her. When she manages to capture Batman in one of the most intense episodes of the series, Joker answers by getting furious and throwing her out a window. Her introduction in the comics starts with Joker putting her in a rocket and launching her because he thought he might feel something for her. Of course, after all these he would come back to her, tell her he was sorry and would never do it again, and ask her to come back. And she would, to many it was seen as a misunderstood ship. This is something that has continued on, the merchandising that includes them romanticizes this to the degree that Hot Topic has a pair of rubber bracelets that define this as “relationship goals”.

Harley Quinn
An Example From An Article That Discusses This Deeper

From Whisper to roar

At the same time, the relationship between her and Poison Ivy was also being developed. The feeling was obvious from Ivy’s side, so much so that it is pointed out, if mishandled, during one of their comics. It was as close to validation as many thought we would get. And while it did cement Poison Ivy as a representation of a queer character, it was one that of course had to end in unhappiness. That was until the less than subtle intro Ivy gets in Harley Quinn’s solo comics. Even with this it took them some time to come out and just say it, they officially where a couple consisting of two queer women. Considering with how little representation bisexuals get in media, having a character such as Harley who is so prominent and important being one was a gift. This, of course, did not sit well with those that are not comfortable with this kind of love.

Harley Queen, Poison Ivy,
The Importance Of This Panel Cannot Be Underestimated

When the new DC film, Suicide Squad, was announced as having Harley in it’s cast there was a mixed reaction. For one, it was great to see more female characters in the movies, specially one as complex as Harley. But on the other hand, the movie also announced the Joker as being in the movie. It didn’t just feel like a step back, it was a almost a run backwards when one considers how more than once Harley Quinn has spoken about leaving the abusive relationship with the Joker, and she more than once clearly severed ties with him. With the film having them both, it brought back this abusive relationship being shown in a romantic way. This is specially visible in merchandise like the above mentioned bracelets, merchandise that is primarily aimed at teens. The more it kept going around the more I wondered, why would anyone consider this ship anything but toxic? Why insist on her coming back to this man? And then it hit me…it is exactly that, having her be with a man.


The blinders of heteronormativity

The only reason to ship Harley with Joker is to keep her in a heterosexual relationship. There is no other reason as to why anyone would try to see the very obvious abuse and violence as what it is. Those who try to defend it use similar arguments as the defense for 50 Shades of Grey, that because Harley does this “willingly” she is not being abused. Not only does this show a fundamental misunderstanding of how victims of abuse can be, it ignores that in a relationship where there is an obvious power imbalance there is no way you can have complete consent. But to accept this and accept her relationship with Poison Ivy, it makes it clear that Harley Quinn is queer. To allow her to be in a happy relationship, have an equal partner, means embracing what the queer side of fandom has already embraced. It means going against the dominant heteronormativity that has been the “norm”

Shipping is important, it says much of ourselves and society. To me, shipping Harley with the Joker means you would prefer a woman be abused and mistreated than to love another woman. It means you have such a need for this character to be heterosexual, maybe because you are yourself, that you would be willing to ignore the obvious signs of toxicity. Again, this is why shipping matters. Harley Quinn is an out and proud queer woman and so is Poison Ivy. They are in a loving relationship and both are very happy. Wanting Harley to return to the Joker is saying you prefer to eliminate her unhappiness rather than let her be. Shipping them means you prefer a negative heterosexual relationship over a queer one. It is similar to how the aforementioned 50 Shades of Grey movie got promotion everywhere but the mere suggestion of queer parents in an ad makes so many clutch their pearls and ask to think of the children.

harley quinn, poison ivy, shipping,fandom
Here Is To Hopping The Words Don’t Apply Just To The Book

I am happy that Harley and Ivy have been made official. I am happy this will be something set for posterity. I much prefer children see a happy and healthy relationship and aspire to that, instead of thinking that a kiss with a fist is better. There is truly much more damage in condoning Joker’s constant abuse of Harley than her kissing Ivy. And all I can hope is that they join the legion of long lived comic book pairs. This ship, as so many shippers would say, sails itself. It really should be no contest. But if your discomfort, prejudice, dislike, or outright hate of two queer women in love pushes you to make excuses for said woman being beat,berated, and nearly killed; maybe the real problem is not in in who she loves.

Featured Image From Harley #25, found through Tumblr

do you consider fandoms and shipping important? Do you have other similar stories in other media? Are there head-canons you wish were real? Join the conversation in the comments!