Monday, November 28, 2005

SB Day: The Evil Abstinence Plot of Publishers, or Why I Fear Being Barefoot and Pregnant (As Well As Sharks, Refrigerators, and Drowning)

It’s Smart Bitches Day and my toes are freezing, which has absolutely nothing to do with the day except that my floors are cold and I refuse to put on socks. What can I say? Barefoot is better.

Except when tied to pregnancy.

And so begins our tale…

When I was in college I went to a costume party with the theme “Come as your worst fear.” Worst fear? That was a hard one to narrow down. I mean it’s hard to really illustrate abandonment, and no way was I going to haul around a fake refrigerator all night with some sharks painted on it to stand for my ultimate fear: drowning in a submerged refrigerator in the ocean while sharks make a run at my exposed bits (yes Freud would have been nuts about the symbolism…but that’s why no one listens to Freud anymore). Not to mention that it would be a hard one to explain because I’ve tried.

“Refrigerator?” my friends say. “You were drowning in a refrigerator?”

“I think it has something to do with a fear of enclosed spaces.”

“Didn’t you once do a scene where you were in a coffin for five or ten minutes?”

“Well, yes, but I wasn’t drowning in that coffin and there were no sharks.”

“You’re weird, you know that?”

Yes, I do. I really, really do. That’s why refrigerator drowning while being eaten by sharks was out. Luckily I had an alternative fear—not as high up there as the sharks/refrigerator/drowning or abandonment, but still a legitimate fear (yes, the sharks/refrigerator/drowning one is a legitimate fear, shut up): being barefoot and pregnant.

Thanks to a handy pillow I easily achieved the belly of a seven months gone woman, which I followed up by stuffing my bra to mimic pregnancy breasts and losing the shoes. Oh, and I let my hair down since at the time it was almost long enough to sit on.

The costume was a hit, but the fear remained. One I blame on romance novels. I mean look at all the series titles were little Miss Secretary sleeps with the hunky boss and gets knocked up on the first try. Suddenly she’s puking her guts out in the bathroom after only one night of lurve, he’s realizing that he’s got to make an honest woman out of her (and that he secretly loves her, of course), and faster than you can say “the rabbit died” they’re tying the knot. Sure she’s still worried that she’s ruining his life and that he’ll never love her, and he’s worried that he’s stolen her future and forced her into this, but each are relieved that the baby is going to have a daddy.

Okay, so love (even if they don’t know that the other person loves them although it’s completely obvious to the rest of the population) and marriage are nothing to fear. I like romance novels with love and marriage, but I hate how immediately after she marries the guy she’s suddenly quitting her job and sitting at home.

Hello? What decade are we in? Did I miss something? When did getting pregnant mean that you were suddenly relegated to “little woman” stature?

Rarely do you have the woman stating that she might actually wants to stay at work (or get another job), or have her deal with the loneliness of being married to Mr. McRich and having no friends in her new social strata. Where’s the scene where she bonds with some woman in the doctor’s office waiting room because they’re both exactly twenty weeks along and the next thing you know they are best friends because the bond of the future babe has united them? What about how random strangers come up and pat pregnant women on the stomach for no apparent reason when they are shopping? Or how pregnancy seems to be a topic that can start a conversation with anybody even if it’s that person saying “Oh my, I could never do that”?

Why, oh why, must the little Mrs. be stuck at home like a lump on the couch not existing outside the realm of her hubby? She might as well just lose the shoes to complete the package!

Damn you, Series Romance! I know that it is possible to be a strong woman and a stay at home mother. My own mother was and still is a Domestic Goddess. A job shouldn’t define you, you should define yourself, and yet all I see in these books are women being defined by their man. It’s enough to make a girl swear off sex.

And maybe that’s what publishers are trying to do. Maybe series romances are actually there to teach abstinence because the publishers know that they are the starter romance for most young girls.

Yes, I see the evil plot now! Somewhere in the high publishing house on the side of the mountain the publishers plot to forward the abstinence plan by convincing woman that they’ll get pregnant the FIRST TIME they have sex. Always. No exceptions. But only if he’s rich and your boss because, you know, the unshaven hipster down the street that makes your ovaries growl does not a romance hero make. He’d be cast as the unfeeling cad that left you pregnant—but unmarried—and destitute until the rich, handsome benefactor came to your rescue and married you because he’s actually the older brother of the hipster and has been cleaning up his messes for years!

Side note: Why has there never been a plot where this makes him a polygamist because his brother hates condoms and has been leaving pregnant woman behind all over the place? Is it just not romance-y enough? Maybe Ellora’s Cave could do it.

Just a thought.

So my point is that it is because of romance novels I fear the stereotype of the barefoot, pregnant housewife. I could also blame them for my fear of ever growing my hair out as long as I once had it (at the party), but in reality it has more to do with the upkeep.

Long hair is an evil, tangly bitch and it takes too long to deal with in the morning.

Until the day arrives that the romance world gives me a strong heroine that decides to go back to work six weeks after the baby is born or uses her time with the baby in a fulfilling manner (and that’s not just keeping her house for her man and pining away the hours until he gets home), I will leave you with the six new Harlequin Presents titles. May you abuse them and their baby-havin’, barefoot, long-haired heroines in good health!

Blackmailing the Society Bride
The Greek’s Christmas Baby
Sleeping with a Stranger
Taken by the Highest Bidder
His Wedding Night Heir
Claiming his Christmas Bride

Possible Plot:

After Sleeping with a Stranger who was Blackmailing the Society Bride, she was Taken by the Highest Bidder to have His Wedding Night Heir, but Claiming his Christmas Bride would not be easy—not when she was having the Greek’s Christmas Baby!

Go forth and plot, write, and fear (or embrace) the barefoot pregnancy! I’m going to go figure out the statistical possibility of the refrigerator/drowning/shark fear. Oh, and go to school and work, but we know what’s really important.


Kate R said...

not much to do with your entry but. . . wierd people show up in spades when you're visibly packing a fetus.

They want to stroke your belly. They want to stop you and tell you their birth stories. They want to tell you not to eat that, dear. They want to take you to bed because they love, love screwing pregger women. And these are people who don't even know your name.

You become Community Property. I wonder if I can put those claims by strangers in a christmas baby story.

Rosina Lippi said...

thanks for this post because (1) it made me laugh and (2) it gave me something to say next year when my daughter complains she doesn't know what to do for Halloween. She'll be 17, and showing up at the school party barefoot and pregnant will give everybody a heart attack, and will be in dubious good taste, her two favorite things of all.

Candy said...

I don't have much to say other than yes, I'm disturbed at the way pregnancy is fetishized in romance novels, too, and I HEART YOU BOOKSELLER CHICK and this was another awesome SBD entry, as always.

Bookseller Chick said...

Kate--You're writing a Christmas baby story? Really? That I may just have to read. And I'm sure you can work in a scene like that especially if you need to make the hero all jealous in some way. Imagine:

SCENE: Grocery store aisle. "Jared" has just left to grab another gallon of milk, while Missy contemplates the canned vegetable selection.

Missy (lays hand on stomach): Creamed corn? Oh hell no. Not even for you am I developing a craving for creamed corn.


OMW: But dear you absolutely have to indulge your cravings or you will denying them essential nutrients. I had a friend who refused, refused to eat carrots during her pregnancy and her son...

OMW (lowers voice): Well he was never quite right, if you know what I mean.

Missy (looks at woman, looks back at corn): Oh, ummm...

OMW (starts filling Missy's basket with creamed corn): Here, honey, you'll thank me later. You can never be too careful.

Missy: I guess.

MISSY waits until woman leaves and starts putting the corn back.


Stockman: Can I help you, Miss?

Missy: I, uh, got a little carried away and decided to put some of these back.

Stockman: Here, let me do that for you. You shouldn't be doing any heavy lifting.

Missy: It's creamed corn.

Stockman: Should you even be on your feet.

Missy: It weighs less than half a pound.

Stockman: Maybe you should sit down in our backroom and let one of our curtesy shoppers do this for you.

Missy: I'm only six months along!

Stockman: Do you need someone to rub your feet? I bet they hurt. How about your calves...or your belly. I would love to rub lotion on your belly.

Missy: Excuse me?!

Stockman: You are so gorgeous--Fertile--right now. I could just--


Jared: Who the hell are you? What the hell are you saying to my wife?

Stockman: Wife? She's not wearing a wedding ring, but if it's true then you are a lucky, lucky man. What it must be like to go to bed with that every night--

Missy: Jared, don't!

MISSY grabs JARED'S arm before he can hit STOCKMAN.

Jared: I want to speak to your manager. Now!


Jared: And why the hell are you not wearing your wedding ring. I know that you're not hap--

Missy: My hands are swollen, you ass! Not to mention my ankles and the rest of my body is not feeling much better. We talked about this this morning.

Jared: Oh. Yeah.

Missy (jamming basket roughly into Jared's six-pack abs): You know what? From now on you can do the shopping. All of it. It's yours. I'm through being community property. I'll see you out in the car. But if I see even a can of creamed corn I'm not letting you in!


Okay, that was suckalicious, but I would still probably pay to read something along those lines. ;)

Rosina--I'm all about dubious good taste, in fact it may be included in the family motto. This year I was a 1950s dominatrix. The barefoot and pregnant costume is wonderful both for the shock value and the relative easiness to put together. If it's cold out though, your daughter can upgrade to Britney Spears and pregnant (an option not yet in the realm of possibility when I went to that party oh so long ago), which just requires cowboy boots (and keeps the toes a little warmer).

Candy--I HEART YOU TOO. You have no idea how many people I'm all "Have you been to smart bitches?" too. It's sad. Y'all should make t-shirts. As with all things that have been fetishized in romance, a little moderation would make the pregnancy plot a bit more palatable. Unfortunately moderation does not seem to be the name of the game. Le sigh. At least they seem to have cut down on the multiple births.

Kate R said...


that was more than suckalicious. It was ART. You accomplished it all--romance and reality.

I wipe away a tear**.

I bow down to you.

** of laughter

Moody said...

Darling, I LOVE that you make mention of growling ovaries. "Well played!"