Friday, October 20, 2006

Riders Park It For Lunch

Here we are a week ago today at the California Cafe in Minnesota's mother of all malls, the Mall of America. Standing (L to R): Helen, Lois, yours truly Kathleen, Betina, good friend (and my teaching partner at the Loft) Mary. Seated: Anne and Michelle. We missed Susie, Deb and Candace, but somebody had to mind the car since we don't know how to put the top up. The occasion: Betina was up from Florida for her first visit with her new granddaughter. All seven of us are moms. Two of us are grandmas.

Which brings me to my thought for the day. Sex. Okay, women and sex. Mothers and daughters and sex. And romance, and Dear Abby. Well, I wanted to connect to the picture somehow. I was just wondering whether anyone saw this week's Dear Abby (Wednesday paper?) in which several writers responded to Abby's earlier comment to a reader who was worried about her daughter's fascination with romance novels. Abby said she'd be concerned about the false expectations the girl might be forming by reading so many unrealistic stories about women looking for men to make their dreams come true. This week Abby printed a few reader responses. She said she got quite a few from romance writers (we're good at this) who pointed out that obviously Abby hadn't read any romance lately. More interesting, though, were the letters from women who either read what their daughters were reading and discussed it with them or women who remembered reading romances when they were growing up and asking their mothers about what was really going on in the story.

My mother was not a reader, but she was open to questions, and I asked plenty. I was a reader, but didn't pick up a romance novel until I was well into my 30's. Instead, as a young teen I wrote romances. Notebooks full, shared only with BEST friends. The stuff I wrote was much sweeter than the pop fiction I was reading--my favorite at the time was Leon Uris--but it was, as one of Abby's readers put it, safe exploration. You want to be able to talk to somebody and ask questions, but you also want to have some privacy with your thoughts. A girl's interaction between herself and the page is safe and private. No, not that kind of page. You've been watching too much CNN. I'm talking about the written word, now. No illustrations, no moving pictures, nobody telling you what to think, no worries about anyone judging your impressions. Just imagining yourself in a character's skin and letting your thoughts mix with hers, just to see how it feels. You and your innocent little what if?

Now I have a 4-yr-old granddaughter who loves Disney princesses, watches Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast over and over, and plays a planning your wedding computer game. This started when she was 3! Not that I didn't love Disney fairy tales, too, but I only got to see them maybe once or twice in the theater. And of course I play along. Last night my assignment was to "say the words" ie perform the wedding while her 2-yr-old sister stood in as Prince. But I'm thinking...

Are we girls hard-wired for romance? Any thoughts about how women can help girls with that dicey transition between wanting to be Cinderella and dying to be with sexy fella? What worked for you during those impressionable salad days?


Candace said...

I do, indeed, think we females are hardwired for romance. And love. And relationships. And lots of other things that make us long (generally) to be wives and mommies.

I don't have any little dears of my own but I see it in my nieces and nephews all the time. Athough my siblings and siblings-in-law have all pretty much raised their kids in as genderless a way as possible with dolls and trucks in equal measure for boys and girls, the girls still overwhelmingly play house and rock the dolls and the boys devise ever more spectaular ways to crash the trucks.

When my eldest niece (she's 9) does play with her brother's toys, it's only to use G.I. Joe as a bridegroom for Barbie in place of Ken. 'Cause G.I. Joe has "more muscles and is stronger." Which means, I think, that the feminine preference for the Alpha Male (i.e., the bad boy)is somehow ingrained.

The girls will sit and watch "Beauty and The Beast" et al, over and over again; most of the boys have yet to sit through it even once.

As an aside, "Beauty and the Beast" is one of the few Disney movies one of my sisters-in-law will let her girls watch because, she says, at least Belle is a good role model for girls. She's smart. She reads. She's not looking to marry the best-looking guy in town. And she saves the Beast. Plus she doesn't dress in shell bras or low-riding harem pants.

Betina Krahn said...

Lois and Kathy and Helen are probably the experts on this. . . I've never had a daughter. But I have talked with quite a few young relatives and a lot of readers over the years. And I remember the "safe" exploration of reading a school assigned book that had a highly explicit love scene that taught me plenty. I checked the book out three more times, just to make sure the report I wrote was accurate.

Then I finally read one of my mother's Frank Yerby books and was fascinated by the frank and endearing story and the less than perfect but still heroic male character. Oh, and the sex.

I wasn't much of a dater, so my earliest explorations of romance were between the covers of a book. . . and I was smart enough to know the difference between good fiction and good reality. I can't believe that girls who read romances will be so mesmerized and deluded that they begin to hold their lives and the men in them to unrealistic standards. Unless the girls are deluded and unstable in the first place. That's not the fault of romance novels; that's the fault of poor familial role models, inadequate parental love, and perhaps some unfortunate personality development.

And yeah, Kathy, I think we're hard-wired for relationship-seeking behavior from the time we're old enouth to know some people are boys and some are girls.

It's biology at work. And not just on girls. My grandson, at 2 1/2!, developed a HUGE crush on Daphne, the curvy redhead on Scooby-Doo. He carried around two stickers of her on his fingers as if they were precious and beloved, and he blushed when asked about her. Later, when the stickers wore out and got torn, he was inconsolable. My son called me from Minnesota to ask where he could get another book of those Scooby stickers. . . with fresh Daphnes. It was his first flirtation with tenderness and romantic attraction. And it came from a sticker book!

Romance gives girls positive role models and demonstrates problem solving in relationships and gives girls a dose of much needed hope. In this dangerous and often difficult world, I think that's something to be grateful for.

:) Betina

Kathleen Eagle said...

I remember reading Frank Yerby as a teen! I think that's the one with the opening scene that stuck with little o' caretaker me--Ireland, famine, toddler(turns out to be the hero) trying to wake somebody up to get him some food, bares dead mother's breast and starts suckling. I think it's the same one with the short hero. Short but irresistible to women.

Helen Brenna said...

Kathy, I empathize.

I grew up in family of 8 kids, but 3 boys surrounded me. I was a major tomboy, so when my daughter wanted to be a dancer and dress up in frilly balerina tutus and such, my first reaction was, "But don't you like this nice basketball?" I did my best to stifle my own predispositions and let her be herself, and in the end she wanted girly things.

And despite being a tomboy, when I turned 13? Good-bye football, hello Harlequins. I think girls are hard-wired for relationships, not necessarily the Cinderella kind.

I have to admit that my biggest problem with staying home with my kids was that I didn't want my daughter thinking that my choice had to be her choice too. I wanted her to know that careers outside the home are important and valid choices. Not entirely sure yet if that message came across! I did my best when we talked to say things like, "If you get married ... if you ever have kids ..." Not WHEN. I didn't want her growing up to think that either kids or marriage was expected or necessary to live happily ever after.

I think kids eventually figure out what works for them as long as they're given good information, positive role models, and the opportunity to make a few mistakes within Mom and Dad's safe haven. It is their life, afterall, not ours.

I have only one concern about romance fiction as a steady diet. Enduring marriages and happily ever afters need a much stronger base than love at first sight. If the story is about hopping into bed at the first opportunity and trying to build a life around that, forget it. But how can anyone fault relationship stories that show character arcs and real growth?

lois greiman said...

Sometimes people blame romance novels for unrealistic expectations, but I don't see them that way at all. Women should have high expectations. They should demand a lot from the men in their lives. Strange, but when I read Gone With the Wind (a romance?) in high school, I broke up with my current boyfriend, who was, in fact, a doofus. And in retrospect, I think I was able to do it because Scarlet was tough and choosy and made her own decisions. Novels definitely have impact, and I think our heroines are really pretty heroic.

Debra Dixon said...

Oh! The Franks. Loved Frank Yerby and Frank Slaughter. Loved gothic novels as a teen.

And Emily Loring, Gorgette Heyer.

I wrote a sequel to GWTW at 12 because it ended badly in my opinion. Of course, now that I'm older, I realize that a printed sequel was a bad idea. Plus I got in trouble from my parents for using curse words.

I also read Doc Savage and space science fiction and fantasy and mystery. But even as a young girl I was drawn to romance. Cinderella is a big favorite to this day.

I think we are hardwired for survival of the species. Read Richard Dawkins-- THE SHELFISH GENE.

From an early age we understand that two is more and better than one. (I define you to convince me that one piece of fudge is better than two. or to convince my nephew that one fig newton is better than two.) We understand "completion" and finding a suitable life partner brings such a strong feeling of completion.