Arabian Nights
March 15, 2008 11:49 PM   Subscribe

Ladies, have you ever dreamt of being whisked away kidnapped by a dashing young Prince? Or being swept off your feet and losing your virginity to a dark and mysterious stranger, who happens to be a Sheikh? Or how about being sold to an Arab aristocracy and living off the rest of your days in married bliss. No? Then how about considering a Royal who is so down-to-earth you won't meet anyone else quite like him? Much better than the alternative of marrying his polar opposite, don't you think? Of course, you can always try and keep it platonic if you wanted to. Welcome to the wonderful world of Sheikhs and Desert Love, where all of your fantasies can come true! (via)
posted by hadjiboy (44 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
... will any of them take guys? Sounds like a good deal.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 12:08 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

As far as entry into my pants is concerned, Sheik > Sheikhs.
posted by heeeraldo at 12:49 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

*wishes to raise the consciousness of any woman who would read such books*
posted by Cranberry at 1:03 AM on March 16, 2008

Thanks hadjiboy, for a peek into an incomprehensible world.
posted by Cranberry at 1:04 AM on March 16, 2008

Ladies, it's 3AM......
posted by three blind mice at 1:26 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

According to my gay step-brother and his friends, who live and work in Dubai, most of the Sheiks are secretly gay and they've all had affairs with at least one. Apparently they can get most extravagent with their toyboys!
posted by Silentgoldfish at 1:40 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

So are there romance novels that aren't rape fantasies?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:41 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Silentgoldfish: Maybe I'm paranoid, but if true, that really seems like the sort of thing one shouldn't make any mention of.
posted by alexei at 4:29 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh man... did you guys see the map of Arabia that they posted? Wonderful stuff.
posted by ignorantguru at 4:33 AM on March 16, 2008

According to my gay step-brother and his friends, who live and work in Dubai, most of the Sheiks are secretly gay and they've all had affairs with at least one.

Interesting. Isn't Dubai one of those culturally backwards countries where being gay is considered criminal?

So perhaps making teh gay a felony has just the opposite effect: all the more young innocent straight men become gay because of the extra kicks of the verboten fruits.
Which means that making homosexuality a felony is just counterproductive.

... UNLESS, of course, you actually want to RAISE the number of gay people. So putting gay people in jail might actually be part of the GAY AGENDA by all those gay sheikhs.

posted by sour cream at 4:38 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, I heard burqas were pretty sheik.
posted by nasreddin at 4:59 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

See 100 Years of Mills & Boon, the publisher behind most of these books (as well as all manner of hyper-specific genre romances novels).

Also, off-topic, but in the same ball park: I saw a documentary yesterday about Stalags, Israeli porn novels set in Nazi camps. Most plots featuring captured British and American soldiers being tortured by female SS officers, before turning on their captors, then raping and killing them. Hugely popular in Israel in the 1960s. Really.
posted by jack_mo at 5:04 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

One thing that always sticks in my mind about these books: Violet Winspear, one of M&B's most prolific writers, is on record as saying all her heroes had to be "capable of rape".
posted by jack_mo at 5:06 AM on March 16, 2008

Violet Winspear, one of M&B's most prolific writers, is on record as saying all her heroes had to be "capable of rape".

My school library used to be filled with these books, never knew what the girls were up to reading this stuff. Weird. I mean, I thought all they were were sweet and sappy romance novels. Had no idea they had elements of Rape behind them. Shivers.

I did a google search for I Was Colonel Schultz’s Private Bitch which is mentioned in the NY Times piece you linked to, and found this thread.
posted by hadjiboy at 5:42 AM on March 16, 2008

I think one must take the "rape" flavor particles with a lot of grains of salt... I'm pretty sure that most people getting their mild kicks from these sorts of romances don't yearn for anything remotely resembling actual rape. For these readers it has to do with the idea of not being responsible for the sexysexy stuff that might happen. It's sort of a loophole no pun!, by which they can have sex with the hot stranger, yet not be sick nasty sluts. So it's a silk scarf bondage sort of thing, in which the "rapist" doesn't hurt them, doesn't humiliate them, is deeply in love with them and only them... and they get to have sex! Without guilt!
posted by taz at 5:58 AM on March 16, 2008 [12 favorites]

Yeah, what taz said. What readers are looking for with these kinds of romances is forcible seduction- which exists only in romance novels and fan fiction. And it should be noted that forcible seduction scenarios usually include lots and lots of cunnilingus- the seductor's goal is usually to make her feel pleasure in spite of herself, not to pleasure himself. It's vagina-focused, not penis-focused. Hardly the stuff of dark alley and drunken college party rape realities.
posted by headspace at 6:29 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ah, thanks for explaining that taz!
posted by hadjiboy at 7:06 AM on March 16, 2008

seems almost healthy if you put it that way
posted by hadjiboy at 7:07 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

No, not one of my fantasies or dreams.
posted by francesca too at 7:18 AM on March 16, 2008

Meh. There's nothing worse than a sandy crevice.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:23 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also: Sheik NOT a rapist.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:30 AM on March 16, 2008

Aint got no pants on...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:01 AM on March 16, 2008

"No, not one of my fantasies or dreams."

And "some" women, with very, very careful caveats, might possibly agree that such situations could intersect - somewhat - occasionally - with stray fantasies of this general nature. Perhaps.

(Not a snarky response, francesca too!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:07 AM on March 16, 2008

I find this interesting. The meat of the post is the way Arabia and the character of the Sheik is specifically and consistently portrayed. It's the projection of an American sexual fantasy onto a certain group of mysterious foreigners, which works for the American audience precisely because those foreigners are mysterious, but has absolutely nothing to do with reality.

But most of the commenters are shocked, shocked I tell you to find in these tales accounts of -- gasp -- rape! -- and not only that, mild sadomasochism! As if those weren't fundamental components of the entire genre to which this tiny subgenre belongs.

It is true at just about every level that people fantasize about situations considerably more extreme than they would really like to experience. People who are perfectly satisfied in RL with vanilla sex will fantasize about not having control so they can stay "good girls" while enjoying all that sexy goodness. People who really do like being tied up and whipped will write stories about being beaten half to death. People who are into extremely heavy S&M will write stories about actually dying, although in RL they take careful measures to protect their health. (There are a couple of these in Coming to Power.)

Nobody should be surprised by any of this, and none of it is a comment on human rights, women's rights, or anything else in the real world.
posted by localroger at 8:16 AM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

Anyone else reminded of Blackadder's Lord Flashheart by this passage?

"Abu: "If I ever catch you looking sideways at another man, I will beat the daylights out of you!"
Christina (surprised): "Will you really?"
Abu: "No. You won't be out of bed long enough to give me reason.""

posted by chihiro at 8:20 AM on March 16, 2008 [5 favorites]

taz et al,
Rape vs Ravishment.
posted by cookie-k at 9:01 AM on March 16, 2008

"...he pulls the stick out of his butt and finally begins to show her some kindness and good lovin'."

Ahh, clumsy metaphors. What genre can't you make better?
posted by dosterm at 9:09 AM on March 16, 2008

WNYC's RadioLab did a fantastic show about deception, lying and liars and one if the most interesting things they did was try to prove that people lie to themselves.

So, they went out and asked people some of those questions that it is universally accepted that people lie to others about.

"Have you ever thought of killing yourself?"
"Do you enjoy your bowel movements?"
"Have you had a rape fantasy?"

They raised some really cool ideas about deception and success and whatnot but what I did not know that the general opinion is of the notion that everyone has had a rape fantasy and when they say they don't they are lying.

Of course, I understand this completely because it's hard to admit to others that one has had one, and even harder to admit it to yourself.

I don't like thinking of myself that way. So, no, I have never had a rape fantasy, what's all this hubbub about?
posted by M Edward at 9:21 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's the projection of an American sexual fantasy onto a certain group of mysterious foreigners, which works for the American audience precisely because those foreigners are mysterious, but has absolutely nothing to do with reality.
posted by localroger at 11:16 AM on March 16

This is true, although I'd note that Mills & Boon is a British company and the Sheikh stories sell equally well in the UK. It's not a uniquely American fantasy.

It's not just Sheikhs. There are sub-genres for Australian cowboys, Texan oil tycoons and English aristocracy, too, and I'm not sure that actual Australian cowboys, Texan oil tycoons and English aristocrats ever act like the men in those books, either.

Also: Smart Bitches Trashy Books (a blog of feminists who enjoy reading romance) on rape. These comments from readers are pretty interesting.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:00 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

taz et al,
Rape vs Ravishment.

Bit of a fantasy double-standard then, too, no? I haven't experienced this fiction first-hand, but it seems to me a standard element would not be taking "no" for an answer. Calling that "ravishment" IRL will get you a smackdown, with good reason.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:12 AM on March 16, 2008

This thread is nothing without

1. Valentino


2. Pictures.
posted by jokeefe at 10:13 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

as a former used bookstore clerk (at a store which had a romance section and an adult section of equal size), i can say that it was always our observation that romance novels were just a prettier way to package porn. same concepts--just with a touch more literacy and backstory.

once you get past Harlequins (et. al.) and the gothics from the sixties, it's all about the Mandingo and various other Big Foreign Beasts You Really Secretly Want. ain't no Alan Alda sorts in there, no sirreee.
posted by RedEmma at 10:13 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Margaret Atwood has pointed out that in a real rape fantasy, what you would feel would be anxiety, like a fantasy about your house burning down. So women's "rape" fantasies are far more to do, as taz has pointed out, with taking apart the social rules and conventions that govern women's sexual expression. Under extremely controlled conditions, no actual danger, and with your One True Love. Who just happens to have those incredibly powerful arms.
posted by jokeefe at 10:21 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

Also, orientalism, orientalism, orientalism. Providing wanking material for centuries.
posted by jokeefe at 10:25 AM on March 16, 2008 [5 favorites]

Romance novels are erotica/porn. Actually, they are sometimes erotica, and sometimes formulaic pulp fiction (having easy to read and predictable but still fun plots like any other pulp fiction), and sometimes both together.

The captive/concercive stuff is dependent on author and subgenre - it's a lot more common in the Arabian subgenre (because of the stereotyping of the culture, the exotic and dangerous locale, the orientalism, etc) than it is in the Regency Romance genre, which has strong-willed and controlling men usually paired with equally strong-willed women (basically take Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, rinse, repeat, add sex even though Jane Austen novels have less action than the average Sesame Street episode, but hey, those bodices were very revealing...). Not saying it doesn't happen in other genres, but it's not the dominant mode. People react differently - I can't actually handle the non-consensual stuff, and will conciously avoid books that have any in them. Online erotica is actually a lot worse - a much higher percentage of non-consensual/non-equal relationships. I don't know what the audience breakdown there is (male/female, both?), but it's quite disturbing.

The romance novel is too fixated on the dominant/controlling male, even though he is often paired with the equally willful female. For one thing, it's really repeditive and boring. Romance novels about Alan Alda types? That would be great - Alan Alda is attractive and his brain is even more attractive. Actually, there is at least one of the grand dames of Regency romances who has some Alan Alda types in her novels (not so beefy, more about the wit than the will) - but she's also one of those writers who has far more plot and actually believable character development than the average. That said, the genre could use more of this, and more of shy guys too, because there is great story telling potential there. In fact, someday I think I will make my fame and fortune by writing a bodice-ripper about a shy guy. Or a female cross-dresser. Or maybe I'll put them together...
posted by jb at 11:31 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was total going to bring up Atwood's story Rape Fantasies, but jokeefe beat me to it. I know there are a lot of fervently anti-Atwood folks 'round these parts, but if you're not one of them, I highly recommend it.
posted by naoko at 12:37 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I used to leave my apartment a little earlier in the morning, I would often end up on the same F train as this Financial District type who always read romance novels. I would not remember her except for the fact that each of her books was carefully covered, textbook-style, in a brown paper grocery bag, presumably to hide the cover. Unless you were standing over or behind her, you wouldn't have realized she was reading porn on the train.
posted by emmastory at 6:50 PM on March 16, 2008

posted by localroger at 3:16 PM on March 16 [3 favorites +] [!] [quote]

Is that the first example of a Reverse Eponysterical comment?!
posted by jack_mo at 6:58 PM on March 16, 2008

jokeefe: Thank you so much for the Valentino Clip. His name was the first one to come to mind when I was making this post, but I didn't bother to look him up. (Did you see the biceps on that guy... rwaor! No wonder women were crazy about him. I'm a guy and I found him irresistible... oooh, take me, take me Rudolp!!!:))

Really appreciate all the insight that everyone has given here, especially the ladies. Didn't think there was so much more to it than just the idea of a woman being "raped". Very interesting revelation.
posted by hadjiboy at 9:25 PM on March 16, 2008

Valentino's life and the effect he had in popular culture are both fascinating. As he once said, "Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams." His funeral was nearly the scene of a riot, with 100,000 mourners on the street, women breaking the windows of the funeral parlour to try and get in to see him, etc.
posted by jokeefe at 12:30 AM on March 17, 2008

I know there are a lot of fervently anti-Atwood folks 'round these parts

Really? That's a shame. She's a brilliant writer.
posted by agregoli at 6:56 AM on March 17, 2008

Since the "rape fantasy" has been adequately explained, I'll tackle the "exotic fantasy," speaking as a white girl from the suburbs. I think it's less about being attracted to actual Black or Arab or Latino men than the fact that it's more interesting to fantasize about men who don't physically resemble the guys in our life. The white guys who forget to take out the trash, who ignore you when the football game is on, who never put the toilet lid down. This behavior doesn't exactly lend itself to passionate fantasy. "Exotic" types might do all these same things - if we were in relationships with them - but since they look so different from what we're used to, it's easier to imagine that they're sensual and romantic and considerate all the time. Or powerful. I think another aspect is that most men become the "yes dear" types at some point in their relationship, and while it can be nice to not have your mate argue or contradict, it's not sexy for him to capitulate. It's easier to imagine that an "exotic" man would be more powerful (physically and mentally) and stand up for himself.

On a slightly different note, the writer of the recent film Eastern Promises must have had a PhD in female psychology when he or she created Viggo Mortenson's character. He's handsome, has an accent, looks and acts like a bad boy... but... he cares about babies! I almost can't imagine anything sexier than that character, and I really wasn't a fan of Viggo Mortenson before.
posted by desjardins at 7:20 AM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

There was a survey of Harlequin readers in the 80s -- turned out that they have way more sex than the average woman -- possibly because the books act as a kind of mental form of foreplay.
posted by wenat at 9:38 AM on March 17, 2008

possibly because the books act as a kind of mental form of foreplay

I'll take a grain of that, and add another grain that the kinds of women drawn to romance, erotica & porn are probably already reasonably highly libidinous.

So, a (non-) vicious circle is created: the romance novels scratch an itch, whilst creating a further itch to be scratched. Later, it's all eyes closed and thinking "Mmmm...Prince Omar Al-Haroun! I've been secretly longing for this all day!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:00 PM on March 17, 2008

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