Thursday, February 19, 2009

and they all lived happily ever after

Radway mentions that the Smithton women’s “need to see the story and the emotions aroused by it resolved is so intense . . . [that] the women dislike having to leave a story before it is concluded” (59). I understand this in the context of Radway’s findings, because the women seek an emotional reaffirmation and the feelings that go along with finding the ideal partner to both protect and nurture them, but I find this contradicts the narrative structure of the soap opera which essentially delays such endings or resolutions indefinitely. Assuming there is a proportion of women who consume both media products, how do we reconcile this? On one hand, the gratification comes with the conclusion, but on the other, the gratification is in the continual process.

One way the Smithton women justify their reading is by claiming to learn facts and knowledge while reading, thus proving that “the novels are not merely frothy, purposeless entertainment but possess a certain intrinsic value that can be transferred to the reader” (107). I want to suggest that the negative view of romance novels as unproductive, simple-minded distractions translates over to many, if not all, forms of popular culture. Much like the Smithton women, we often have to justify our enjoyment of television shows (I know it’s bad, but . . .) or certain music played on the radio (I know it sucks, but . . .) or, for me personally, my enjoyment of video games, which still maintain, regardless of statistical data, their infantilized and marginalized societal position. In what ways are these justifications a product of patriarchy, and in what ways to we reinforce conceptions of usefulness when we acquiesce to providing them?

Radway argues that the female foil character in a good romance novel “views men as little more than tools for her own aggrandizement . . . [and] is perfectly willing to man-ipulate [my edit] them by flaunting her sexual availability” (131). I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought of the villainess character from soap operas. Like my previous question related to soaps, though, I find a contradiction in the way this character is viewed by the Smithton women compared to how the villainess is supposedly viewed by her audience. I did not get the indication that the Smithton women “loved to hate” the female foil nor did Radway position her as a symbol of feminine power; rather, she is what her name implies, a foil to the true and ideal female lead, an intelligent, innocent, and ignorant girl who, unlike her counterpart, is capable of true love and selfless compassion and caring. Again, how do we reconcile the two polarized readings of these two very similar characters, the female foil and the villainess?

Writing in 1984, Radway argues that “whether such [feminist] developments [in the romance genre] will be widespread and general in the future is impossible to say since we have no way of knowing how many women will give up their safe, limited, and barely conscious contestation of patriarchy for the uncertainty of feminism’s conscious assault on both its categorization of the world and its institutional structure” (220). I think it is clear to say that Radway includes, if not specifically, then at least generally, the Smithton women when she writes that sentence. Over twenty years later, have romances changed? How have they evolved to more directly challenge and incite women against a male-dominated society, if at all? If the core readership has remained similar to the Smithton women, is this model of the romance novel even possible if women reject all but one specific kind of romance narrative, one that alleviates, but does not directly oppose, the pressures and subordination patriarchy imposes?

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