That’s No Bodice-Ripper…

3 January 2011


A press release from Nielsen Bookscan is doing the rounds of the press – it’s here on the Daily Mail site, and I picked it up in the Times on Saturday. The headline: ‘romantic’ e-book sales are soaring, making up 14% of all e-book sales in 2009.

The thrust of both pieces is that reading romance novels on e-book readers is great, because women (apparently these readers are all women) don’t have to be embarrassed of the front cover making them look like ‘frustrated spinsters’ on the Tube. Quite aside from the uncritical acceptance that it’s ok to judge a woman by her book cover (I’ll read what I damn well please, fellow public transport users), there’s something even more sexist going on here.

The Times published a top-ten list of e-book ‘romances’ alongside its piece (sadly, paywall, no link). Number two was ‘Erotic Tales’. Except, it’s actually called ‘Erotic Tales – Nice Girls Swallow’. This is no soft bodice-ripper – it’s porn.

Of course, we all know women don’t have sexualities, so there was no need for the Times or Mail to excavate the genuinely interesting story here – sales of erotic, pornographic fiction aimed at women are quite high, and maybe the old stereotype about porn and masturbation being the preserve of those with Y chromosomes is actually nonsense. But no, much easier to sweep that under the carpet and pretend this is all about romance, knights in shining armour and sun-dappled glades, Mills and Boon and emotional longing. After all, wouldn’t want to destroy any useful stereotypes, right?