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Category: Parrothood: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me

Romancing the Smart Bitches

I am so excited to host my friend Sarah Wendell from the fabulous Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog, who along with co-author/Smart Bitch Candy Tan has penned the perfectly titled Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels (Fireside, now available). Smart Bitches is my go-to spot when I’m looking for a good laugh, a healthy dose of smart-ass and some interesting discussion. With their just-released book, which has been selling gangbusters, Sarah and Candy take the iconic romance novel and turn it on its head, dissecting Old Skool and New Skool and all sorts of hilarious terminology that you probably never knew existed (and didn’t, until they coined it). Anybody who can successfully incorporate Angsty McAngsterson, Bastardy McBastard and man-titties into one book gets huge kudos from me.

Sarah has been kind enough to give us all a little lagniappe–a first peek at a coveted outtake from Beyond Heaving Bosoms–so you can see for yourself why these ladies really are two very Smart (and also quite literary) Bitches. So enjoy this little sampler of Sarah and Candy’s hilarious wit and then go get your very own copy of the book!

 

Beyond Heaving Bosoms: Smart Bitches Guide to Trashy Novels
Beyond Heaving Bosoms: Smart Bitches Guide to Trashy Novels

 

 

Are Romance Novels Inherently Feminist, Inherently Sexist, or Something Totally Different?

Why Does Everything Have to be Some Sort of Polemic, Anyway?  Geez. Lighten Up.

Are romance novels feminist? I think so. And I’m not going to get into a discussion of how I or anyone else defines “feminist” – but since it’s such a loaded word along the lines of “racist,” “homophobic” or “baked potato,” I should perhaps use a different term. Or a different question. The word “feminist” sadly has become polluted to the point where one person hears the word and thinks “equal rights and status under the law for women and men,” and another person hears it and thinks, “butch women marrying other women while wearing giant shoes, not shaving their legs, and hating men with virulent shrieking fury.” So let’s leave “feminism” alone. That poor word is exhausted.

New question! Are romance novels examinations, celebrations, and subversive accounts of the society of women, written largely by and for other women, with female-centered narratives that develop a subculture and parallel world centered on and devoted to the female experience? 

Affirmative. 

Yes, yes, oooooooh Goooooooooood, yes! YES YES YES!

In any good debate, one should acknowledge the points of the other side. So I acknowledge that romance novels have a disturbing history of rape narrative, overbearing alpha heroes, insipid stupid heroines who wander into dark alleys wearing impractical shoes, misunderstandings predicated on the idiocy of that heroine, and a sexual double standard that will make your head and your head’s head spin. 

BUT! Despite and through those points, romance novels are more than merely female-centric, because they are written and consumed by women. Women exploring and creating a fictional narrative of the Most Sexist Asshole Hero On Earth is still a subversive act, because in my opinion, women authors creating anything, much less narratives that focus on sex and emotions, for a marketplace of women consumers is an act invested with layers of subversion, like a really diverse lasagna with meat and vegetables. Long, hard vegetables, like zucchini. 

Narratives of the female experience, even if that female experience is happily and decisively following word-for-word the expectations of a patriarchal, repressive society, are also subversive in my opinion. So every romance novel, from The Millionaire’s Boardroom Mistress’ Secret Baby to She’s A Warrior Who Cut off His Balls and Sewed Them Back On, is a radical creation. 

My short answer to the question, “How can you read those books and be a supporter of women? They are so sexist!” is, “Anything written by and for women is an assault on the subjugation of women.”

However!

I don’t think that all women who read romance question the plots enough. Nor do they ask themselves why there’s certain combinations of heroes and heroines that really do it for them, and that questioning, aside from being the root purpose of our website (along with gleeful leaping at the sight of man-titty), is important. There are a number of old skool romances that end, as Candy says, with the heroine required by the narrative to adopt the hero’s worldview, acknowledging that her own is flawed and useless, while his and her position in it, are superior. These are the novels which might hold hands and skip with Germaine Greer’s criticism of romance novels of the time, which was in and around the 70s, that they were methods of “slavery for women”, teaching them to “cherish… the chains of their bondage”.  These are not the romance novels of today. 

The romance novels of today are powerful narratives created by women for women, and that is inherently powerful in and of itself, deserving of recognition, examination, and applause.

FROM FOUL MOOD TO FOWL MOOD

I’d been in a funk for days. A whole lot of life circumstances had conspired to form a perfect storm that ushered in a seriously foul mood in me. To top it off, the weather seemed determined to contribute to the cause, as cold rain had descended to hover over us as gray and dismal as my temperament seemed to.

As much as I wanted to get over it, I couldn’t  escape the shackles of my unpleasant mood.

Then my kind friend Aggie showed up on my doorstep, surprising me with a dozen eggs. And with little more than that humble gesture, suddenly I felt much better.

Right about now you’re wondering how weird I must be that I would be cheered up by eggs. But these weren’t just any old eggs: these were fresh from her henhouse. Coveted eggs with bright orange yolks as cheerful as a May morning. Eggs that aren’t quite so easy to come by in this day and age. The fact that my friend wanted to share her limited supply of her treasured eggs was such an act of impromptu kindness, it couldn’t not brighten my mood.

And it reminded me that we all ought to try to remain better connected with one another, because ultimately it is those bonds with our friends and family that help to elevate us when we’re feeling most down.

Sometimes in this world of disconnect it’s hard to personalize one’s sentiments. We’re so busy zapping out emails and staccato’d text-messages and scurrying to and fro, we never find the time for conversation. As much as I enjoy catching up with friends on the phone, for instance, I rarely have the time to talk when it’s convenient to me.  So instead? I communicate electronically, until I can find the time to squeeze in a chat with someone. And I don’t think I’m alone in this–it seems to be the norm. Yet somehow that email or e-card just doesn’t have the same grand delivery as does a simple thoughtful deed. Like Aggie’s.

You know the crazy thing is I don’t particularly even like eggs, although my family sure does. But I do greatly appreciate the sentiment behind fresh eggs, and as a cook and avid supporter of buying locally, I know that fresh, local eggs are vastly better than store-bought. I actually find it extremely gratifying to crack into an egg and see that brilliant yellow-orange yolk: it means something to me. So in Aggie’s message was much more than an egg, it was sharing of something relevant, something to be savored.

There is a tradition in the Cajun French culture of lagniappe: something for nothing. For instance, throwing in a thirteenth donut when you get a dozen. A little extra something. It makes imminent sense how that little something can ultimately mean so much.

With Easter time upon us, I could go all deep and exploratory and ponder the symbolism of eggs, the poster child for renewal, being that which lifted me up from my bleak mindset. Or I could just tell you I was one of those children perfectly content to play with the ribbon, rather than the expensive toy beneath the ribbon. Either which way, there is something so very right about that gift: the sweet simplicity of the thought behind it. From one friend to another: “Have some eggs.” And to be reminded that someone cares.

It's Not Easy Being Green

I so very much want to be as ecologically-minded as Al Gore (well, that is when he’s not consuming vast amounts of jet fuel bopping all over the world, or hauled about in lux limos, as he spreads the word about saving the planet). Really, I do.

 

For years, I have held my breath as spring approaches when I venture into the entrails of those enormous warehouse super saver stores (you know the places, where one can purchase that much-needed lifetime supply of cinnamon because surely you, too need a two-gallon bottle of the stuff). It is on the cusp of spring—when nature demonstrates her boundless capacity for beauty, what with tender shoots and delicate flowers of every hue, and leaf buds almost aglow in their yellow-green splendor—that the mega-humongo-I-can-outdo-you-in-super-sizing stores stockpile toxins galore, in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, all sorts of -cides. And they are stacked floor-to-ceiling in an effort to prove how very BIG the store is and how very MUCH everyone must kill everything which we deem needless springing from the loamy earth.

And I realize that I stand at the altar of but one tower of death, yet there are hundreds, thousands more in other mega-humongo-I-can-outdo-you-in-super-sizing stores all over the world. And all of those tons upon tons of toxic-yet-sanctioned-by-our-loving-government-thanks-to-massive-contributions-from-such-megaliths-as-Archer-Daniels-Midland-products spew out untold amounts of vile ingredients into the atmosphere in the making of them, and then add double insult to our globe by then ensuring that consumers world-wide will while away their weekends from now until November dousing the earth with yet more of the poison, the one that kills birds and bunnies and bugs and pets if they eat it but hey, it must be good because it’s sold in massive quantities just about everywhere and Miracle Gro says it’s good and all that corn that Archer Daniels Midland couldn’t unload on anybody ten years ago is now jacking up the price of life in general for all of us in the “name” of environmentally sound fuel usage, despite hard evidence that bio-fuels made from corn really aren’t the best thing. But you can be certain that now that that horse is out of the stable and every farmer with an eye on the prize will be planting corn, corn and more corn because even though mono-culture farming has destroyed so much of the most fertile soil throughout the world, hey, we’re saving the environment, right? Wrong.

 

see the lovely ethanol plant, surrounded by cornfields
see the lovely ethanol plant, surrounded by cornfields

 

 

But off of my soap box, because I have to localize this Save the Planet thing. And admit that while I really want to contribute to saving the planet, it really ticks me off that my son won’t flush the toilet in order to save water and I so cannot stand the nasty ring that forms in the bowl and it makes me sick to know that the dogs are no doubt sneaking in there and drinking from it and of course my son doesn’t want me to be using toxic cleansers when there isn’t anything but water and pee in the toilet but UGH!!!!!

And while for years we conscientiously saved paper, plastic, glass, and cardboard for recycling, it became a problem when that cardboard became food for mice in our garage. Thus we fell off the cardboard recycling bandwagon, even though actually it was probably a beneficial circle-of-life sorta thing, feeding the wayward mice with cardboard—it did help to slightly reduce the amount we had. But it also came with stockpiles of mouse poop and they say the Hanfa virus comes from mouse poop and no way was I going to jeopardize my kids’ safety and well-being to help out the planet, dammit!

 

how's this for a humane mousetrap?
how's this for a humane mousetrap?

 

 

To eradicate the mice I tried to use the humane approach. I bought about 40 “humane” mouse traps and scattered them throughout the garage. The only problem is I forgot to check the mousetraps, thus rendering them radically inhumane. Alas, many a mouse died a slow gruesome death in my garage. They’d have been better if they’d have been snapped out of their misery in the blink of an eye. Sorry, little mice!

When we moved out to the country ten years ago and the recycling program was killed off one day, I admit, it simplified life to just dump all the trash in one bag and to hell with it.

 

But then my kids grew older and fortunately there are those who try to teach kids to be conservation-minded, and my kids came home from school decrying our lack of concern for the planet’s future, which made me feel especially guilty. So when my oldest got his license he took it upon himself to be the one to have to haul the recycling things to the recycling center (here in the sticks, no one is picking it up at our doorstep). This was a reasonable commitment. All it meant was I had to start rinsing, sorting and stashing containers once done with them. We set up three recycling tubs for glass, aluminum and plastic, and a large trash bin for cardboard (having remembered how cardboard accumulates rapidly). At first the plan worked relatively well. But then my son got busy. No time in life for hauling stuff. So our piles grew. First the bins in the shelves in the mudroom began to overflow. Then came the dog factor. Our one dog (the alpha) is a de facto weather forecaster, and knows a good 18 hours before bad weather sets in. She gets nervous and paces, her paws sweat, she gets surly with the other dog (the beta). Poor Sassy the beta gets very anxious when her friend/boss/dominatrix gets out of sorts. And so in sympathy, Sassy then eats the recycling. I’ve come home to Sassy having indulged in plastic bottles, tin cans of all sorts, she even got into the glass—amazing, I know—and finally, she started eating the tubs themselves. Yes, she is a Labrador. No, she is not a billy goat. (This past weekend, Sassy ate a magnetic marble roller coaster off the refrigerator. I know we need to figure out how to placate her before she becomes so driven, but that’s another story altogether).

 

yes this sweet, innocent dog eats glass
yes this sweet, innocent dog eats glass

So this meant that all containers then had to be relegated to the garage. And now our recycling overflows in the garage. When visitors see the veritable trash fest in our garage, they are temporarily speechless. It overflows from everywhere. It seems as if while everyone in our house has time to recycle in theory, no one in our house has time to recycle in practice. From garage to recycling center doesn’t happen on a regular basis, unfortunately, and now I find myself tripping over empty plastic bottles, grousing about boxes stacked to my eyes, and lamenting the day we decided to green up our evidently gray-ish existences.

We recently had our longest run in between trips to the recycling center. Six weeks. The garage reminded me of the apartment of that man in Manhattan from the news a year or two ago, who had stockpiled so many newspapers and magazines that they ultimately caved in upon him and he was buried beneath them all. At least only our cars would be buried, and not any humans (that I know of anyhow!). But perhaps this collapsing detritus can have an upside, and perhaps crush any uninvited mice who might decide to find their way into my cardboard extravaganza in the garage some time soon. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep not throwing things in the garbage, avoid all toxins, flush toilets behind my son’s back, and turn a few lights off. Here’s hoping that’s doing my part to better the world?