Where The Hell Is My Prince Charming?

Porn and Disney
Gorgeous cartoon from Stuff No One Told Me, via Erika Lust.

I think we need to make this point a little more often. Romance novels are often derisively called “porn for women” and, while this is inaccurate in a lot of ways, it does make a point about unrealistic fantasies. Both porn and romance/fairytales offer a fantasy version of the opposite sex and depict sex and relationships in a very unrealistic way.

Interestingly, there isn’t the same moral panic about girls reading teenage romance novels as there is about boys looking at porn. But maybe it’s something we need to talk about more.


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Just speaking from personal experience, I used to love Sweet Dreams and similar girly romance books when I was 14 and it led to plenty of confusing experiences when I finally got boys to pay attention to me. I expected them to act a certain way and floundered when they didn’t. I wouldn’t say it was a major problem, really, but it meant I was somewhat deluded about how this whole “love” thing was supposed to work.

Thankfully, it all worked out OK for me in the end and I did marry my Prince Charming. I just had to get used to the fact that he farts.*

Still, it’s a question worth asking: do romance novels encourage girls to have a warped view of men? Of relationships? Of sex? And does it feed into the general world view that sells Men Are From Mars-type books? Does it encourage the Cosmo-style idea that men are mysterious creatures who are afraid of committment and must be seduced with feminine wiles?

Or is this another case of not giving young women enough credit? Are romance novels, like porn, just a bit of easy entertainment?

And since I’m asking questions, here’s one: why don’t boys (in general) read romance? Is it because, like porn for women, there are no books that actually dare to offer male-friendly stories that focus mainly on love and relationships?

It’s an intriguing idea, romance for men. I’m now wondering what it would look like. Excuse me while I go away and see if I can find anything like it on the net.

* As do I!

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5 Replies to “Where The Hell Is My Prince Charming?”

  1. Interesting post, as always! I’ve never been much of a fiction reader myself, but my husband says he used to love science fiction novels. I believe there is some racy stuff in some of those books.

    I think romance books are okay, but parents need to teach their kids about healthy relationships. Fiction is fantasy, whether it is TV, books, porn…

    What I really can’t stand is the ‘evolutionary psychology’ B.S. that is still popularized by some ‘scientists’. It’s the ‘women are monogomous by nature and men are not…’ theory that I find so insulting.

    Interestingly, however, the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” does not hold this view. It was more about different communication styles and helping men and women bridge the gap of misunderstanding. I found it useful.

  2. Personally, I think that if (as a child) you are given a solid education on how relationships should work (by example of other family members and friends around you) and are able to ask question, then the negative and misleading effects of both porn and romance novels should be minimal (and possibly even the interest in them).

    If you know what’s real, then you at least understand that what you read or see is just fantasy.

    I think that the problem arrives when things like badly made gonzo porn are the only example that boys have of how sex works and how to treat women.

    For me personally “romance for men” was finding books like The Joy of Sex. It wasn’t porn, but it was still about sex (so very interesting). And it set a _very_ good example, demonstrating what a positive (sexual) relationship with women should include.


  3. I would hope that those of us who are breeding would understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

    Romance is a great genre, that’s mostly what I read to be honest. My friends laugh at me but they don’t know what they’re missing.

    As a man, finding a good romance can be difficult. The authors focus is on creating a hero that the reader is expected to fall for, and a heroine that we are expected to relate to.

    It’s not that I can’t like the heroine, or that I cannot relate at all to the hero, but it often feels awkward, and if the author is a woman how is she supposed to know what traits I find romantic in a woman? Making it even worse is the fact that men do not talk about their ideal personality nearly as much as women do.

    So what i usually end up reading is same-sex romance and I love it.

  4. Love the cartoon, couldn’t have put it better myself!

    I think there is a responsibility on both sides of the woman/man ‘divide’ to communicate effectively by whatever medium. We all CHOOSE to interpret the information we receive through our experiences and act accordingly – which ultimately makes us the people we are.

    Books, film, magazines or whatever media we consume are reflections of what we demand from their creators. Broad generalisations (popular media) will always make the divide seem wider than it actually is & this is amplified when we are single.

    I can’t disagree with anything written here which is surely an indicment we’re actually not that far apart??

    So in answer to your question ‘why don’t boys (in general) read romance?’… I’d answer ‘We do read romance sometimes’ (About a boy, High Fidelity) but also we find it in different ways & individual elements or moments of rather than as a whole.

    I’m thinking about the emotion of, for example, the Shawshank Redemption or Green Mile. They aren’t ‘romantic’ stories but the feelings the they evoke are to a man what a romantic novel or watching a sad movie might be to a woman.

    The same thing in a different way… hmmm, back to Venus & Mars again!! But that’s the point…

    Interesting subject & a great blog… 🙂

  5. This is a hot topic for me. I tend to agree that porn and romance novels/soap operas are equivalent, and equivalently detrimental if taken in the wrong way. That is, they equally portray highly stylized ideas of what the opposite-sex’s “perfect” mode is — for women, it’s Prince Charming, for men it’s Cheerleader Sex Goddess. Of course this leads to some awkward moments in our teen years, when guys realize that not all women are ready to strip naked every time they order a pizza and girls realize that he isn’t nearly as interested in what she thinks about global politics as he is in how her boobs look.

    I guess my problem is the contention that it’s okay for adolescent girls to buy romance books over-the-counter without age verification, yet we severely restrict access to porn for boys. I think requiring proof of age for soap operas and romance novels might level the playing field a bit.

    I actually make this argument when I run into anti-porn crusaders who refuse to acknowledge that women like porn, they just call it romance. Both are designed to do the same thing: elicit an erotic response in the audience. And both frequently lead to gross misconceptions about sexual responses in the opposite sex. But while boys are often judged misogynistic and exploitive for following their natural inclination towards adult entertainment, girls are regularly encouraged to pursue theirs, regardless of the tragic consequences.

    So I’ve instructed my sons (I have two) to be wary of the pernicious women out there who would treat them as “success objects”. I’m teaching them that “So, where do you work?” is the moral equivalent of “So, how big are those boobs?” and “What kind of car do you drive?” is roughly the same as asking a woman, “So, what kind of birth control do you use?”. I do not want them falling prey to the same humiliating pop-culture exploitation of men that previous generations were exposed to, where a man is valued only for his abilities as a provider and a visible success, not his value as a human being. A woman doesn’t need to know how much a dude makes — or even if he has a job or lives with his parents — before they decide whether or not to pursue a relationship with him, any more than a man needs to know whether or not a woman is open to the possibility of anal sex before he’s willing to pursue a relationship with her. Fair is fair.

    As for “romance for men”, it’s out there. It’s called “porn”. Because when men try to write about relationships without sex, well, most would rather read a good book on sports. Or a bad book on sports. Label us shallow if you must, but We Like Sex, and romance without explicit sex is just one long, boring Lifetime Network marathon.

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