Who's your Daddy . . .

Quite a few of the (awesome!) issues many of you raised in the comments to my post on the League of Reluctant Adults about sex in UF were about age.  Which, in turn, made me think about about something that has always bothered me about many UF and paranormal romance love-matches.  I know there are untold numbers of exceptions, but one common scenario is that in which the male love-interest is like a bazillion-and-five-years older than his female protagonist.  That said, I am well aware that I quite obviously LOVE this setup.  Not only is it the scenario at the heart of many of my favorite UF and PR novels, but I’ve DONE IT MYSELF.  So I’m pointing the finger squarely at my own chest, here, people.  Even so, I’m still bothered by it and it makes me wonder . . .

Do I have a great big supernatural daddy complex?

The irony is  that in real life I am single, very independent, rather commitment-phobic, and had I testes they would be made of a suitably tough and hard-wearing metal, albeit painted something shiny and bedazzled with rhinestones.  In other words, I’m no wallflower, I’m ambitious, I’m successful in my own terms, and, if I’m honest, I’m a bit of a bitch.

So what the hell is up with my adoration of the alpha-male stud-muffin love interest, and with the obviously widespread  generic obsession, in general?  As an academic who deals with issues of gender and power, my cultural studies whiskers’ twitch at the idea of an entire subset of literature in which women are literally hundreds of years younger than their lovers.  Especially when it’s aimed, as in the case of paranormal romance, at a specifically female audience.  This age gap between lovers raises my Foucauldian eyebrows, not least because of the inherent discrepancies that trickle down into other aspects of these relationships.  For example, the sage and long-lived male tends to be outrageously wealthy.  His great age make him vastly experienced, especially sexually, compared to his relatively inexperienced lover.  He is often a cynical, world-weary soul pitted against the childishly optimistic and diamante-sparkling spirit of a fresh-faced young woman.

I can see a lot of reasons for the popularity of this trope, not all of which are nefarious.  And I’m well aware that, especially in the case of paranormal romance, these are supposed to be just fantasies.  And yet, as Freud established years ago, it is often through examining our fantasies that we discover the keys to our greatest strengths, most startling desires, and deepest insecurities.  Unfortunately for our psyches, and luckily for both psychoanalysis and cultural studies, these three things are almost inevitably squeezed together into a big ball of hot mess.

So what are the “problematic themes” that I would latch onto and turn into a paper for a cultural studies conference?  Well, first of all, the preternatural sugar daddy taps into well established gender binaries.  The female is tagged alongside instinct, purity, inexperience, vulnerability, youth, etc., while the male is shelved alongside reason, sexual experience, wisdom, cynicism, age, and the like.

So this age discrepancy utilizes recognizable gender dichotomies.  But, again, it’s just make-believe!  Right?  As such, this big age gap handily lends itself to instant sexual-fantasy fodder.  These guys, after all, have been around the block so many times they’ve left grooves.  They leave their lovers gasping for air, not gasping, “Why in the name of all that is holy did you think THAT would be a good idea?”  Experience is, quite frankly, sexy.  I think it should be sexy for women, too, and I’m not as big a fan of the sub-sub-subset of the sub-genre that has super-experienced, millenia-old men and virginal women.  I’m not NOT going to read such a book, and there are quite a few writers I enjoy who often have virginal heroines, but I feel this scenario does pander to cultural stereotypes that insist sexually experienced women (read: tramps) are not worthy of their own story while sexually experienced men are ranked as dream lovers.

But what really bothers me about these scenarios is what it assumes about “good” lovemaking.  Don’t get me wrong, one of my own characters is this exact kind of take-charge, has-all-the-moves, supe.  But the thinker in me recognizes that part of growing up in regards to sex and one’s own sexuality, especially for women, is learning to voice one’s desires.  It’s true that most women probably don’t fantasize about sex scenes in which they’re saying, “Um, actually, can you maybe do this, instead,” or, “try that!” or, gods forbid, “Ouch!”  And yet, these are the very conversations that both men and women must have when they take a new lover.  Granted, you may want to use phrasings slightly more erotically charged than, “ouch!”, but the point is that communication is vital in the sack.   We should pray our lovers, be they male or female, understand this and reciprocate.  After all, not a one of us comes with an instruction manual, although we should.  Our bodies are almost as fiddly as Dysons but, unlike Dysons, we’re all different models.  And yet these alpha male characters pounce on their women, make sweet love to them, and all you ever hear are moans.  Occasionally we get a “harder,” or, “more,” but the instructions never get much more explicit than that.  Because they don’t need to be!  These guys are masters of the hootchie-cootchie, and it is the role of their female opposite to lie back and enjoy it.  Despite the fact that women have fought for centuries to have a role in their own pleasure, to have a voice in the bedroom as well as the boardroom, and finally to give pleasure, without being labelled as wanton, as much as they receive pleasure.

So this is where I throw off my third-wave feminist cap and don my masculinity-studies cap.  All of the men I’ve talked to regarding this subject have said the same thing: the idea of a woman who doesn’t communicate her desires during sex is terrifying.  There are so many possibilities, so many opposing pleasures, what is he supposed to do with a woman who doesn’t articulate what she wants?  All of my male friends express relief about women who bring their vocal chords to the bedroom, not to mention the fact they find it dead sexy.   All of which leads me to wonder if, in creating these smooth-move lovers with their lolling heroines, I’m not only resurrecting decades-dead female stereotypes but also thrusting the responsibility for sexual pleasure back onto the only recently-unshackled shoulders of men.  Which suggests to me that such old-fashioned female stereotypes are actually very much alive and kicking.  And that men are still shackled by unrealistic expectations placed upon them by a society that devalues women’s sexuality even as it overvalues men’s.  A point underscored by the number of spam emails I get offering to enhance the size and the performance capabilities of my penis.

In other words, as a feminist, a woman, and an academic I’m uncomfortable with the gendered scenarios that I apparently find titillating as a reader and that I, myself, indulge in and recycle as a writer.  My affection for this disturbing trope implies an ambiguity about contemporary gender roles, and, although I’m horrified to admit it, about my own expectations as a woman, not to mention as a reader, writer, and critic.  I don’t know what this ambiguity means, or what I’m supposed to do about it.  Besides write blog posts and maybe do an academic paper on gender roles in UF (hello, tenure!).

So what do you think?  Is my having a bunch of much older dudes hanging out with fresh young chicks a great big supernatural daddy complex?  Is it innocuous?  Is it really just a fantasy?  But what does such a fantasy say, to you?  Do I need therapy?

Don’t answer that last one.


11 thoughts on “Who's your Daddy . . .”

  1. I guess I'd counter with looking at the opposite scenario: if the woman is the one who's thousands of years old (and there are several of them hanging out in paranormal romance series) and the man is the one who is (by default) less experienced in the bedroom, do you find those relationships equally compelling? I am captivated by the romance between Georgina Kincaid and Seth Mortensen in Richelle Mead's "Succubus" series, more because of the emotional relationship between them than because of the sex. I also like it when those near immortals come with so many years of baggage that the only person who can get through to them is the fresh voice — the one who's not jaded and hasn't seen it all.

    So I guess I'd analyze what it is that appeals and contrast that with your gender analysis. 🙂

  2. "The irony is that in real life I am single, very independent, rather commitment-phobic, and had I testes they would be made of a suitably tough and hard-wearing metal, albeit painted something shiny and bedazzled with rhinestones. In other words, I’m no wallflower, I’m ambitious, I’m successful in my own terms, and, if I’m honest, I’m a bit of a bitch."

    Dude–OMG, we're twins, well, except for the successful part. LOLLOL. And in defense of the alpha male being eleventy bazillion years older than my heroines, it's because my heroine's (usually in their 30's) are human when they meet said alpha. Said Alpha is paranormal–vamp, were, whatevs. So he's bound to be older by sheer paranormalness:)

    That's my defense and I'm stickin' to it.

    DC 🙂

  3. Interesting post. I'll admit to enjoying many, many paranormals in which the male is way older and more experienced than the female (The Night Huntress books, for a quick example). But it's also nice to find a hero and heroine on equal footing, in both age and experience.

    Alana – thanks for the Mead rec. I was about to ask for some books with the age role reversed. I haven't picked up the Succubus series yet, but I do adore Jackie's "Hell on Earth" books with the "older" heroine.

  4. Alana: Yeah, there are COUNTLESS examples of books that defy this trope, and my own work plays with the trope as much as it adheres to it. That said, I've also read a lot of books where the heroine is both 1,000 years old AND a virgin. So her human lover is like a zygote compared to her, but still more sexually inexperienced. Which is really interesting, on a number of levels.

    Dakota: Girl, you is super successful, whachoo talkin' about? And your testes would be bedazzled with REAL DIAMONDS. But, lady, I am NOT attacking the alpha . . . I love me some Alpha. Which explains a lot about WHY I am single. Christopher Moore nailed that one. Anyway, somebody DOES inevitably have to be all immortal, in our fiction, so you're totally right on that. But that just begs the question about WHY write/read this stuff at all? It's obviously fascinating to us to have these discrepancies. Why? On the one hand, I think it's just totally innocuous stuff about wanting to be pleasured, entirely, instantaneously, etc., and lovers who have had millennia to practice offer that. But there are some other underlying issues that are a bit darker, perhaps?

    Speaking of underlying issues, I'm coming to Dallas in what, like a week? Let's buff up our metaphorical testes and hit the toon. 😉

  5. Yer doin' Jaye and Mark's signing, right? Or were you missing the signing because of time frame–I forget. I'm old. Snerk. Either way, I'm bringing my Shamwow for said buffing–wetotally need to hook up 🙂

    As to the darker elements, I think definitely it's experience, not just between the Egyptian cottons, but overall. There's something powerful about life experience in a man 🙂 It's hawt, dude.

    DC 🙂

  6. There was a casual study in the late 1970s or early 80s about romance heroes–when the older, mature cynic model came into high prominence again after the "sensitive guy" was falling off. One thought the writers expressed was that maybe women got tired of being strong all the time and the fantasy of the daddy figure was one that relieved them of responsibility and carrying the weight–for a while at least.

  7. Thanks, Kelly!

    Dakota: I have my night class Thursday night so I can't make the signing. For which I am gutted. BUT my friend and I are staying both Friday and Saturday night, so maybe dinner is in order if you're fabulousness is free? And experience is totally hawt. I just like it when it runs both way. Like when admittedly short and rather chubby women are made MORE attractive by their sharp tongue, advanced degrees, and the fact they've lived all over the world, and they don't just scare the scrot off the men they meet. Not talking from experience, or anything.

    Kat: There's some AWESOME stuff in cultural studies on these topics, you're right. And I have to start studying them to make my world domination of fantasy cultural studies a reality. 😉 I was at a conference in Dundee (UK) and there was a woman talking about a similar backlash, but in terms of homosexuality and homosexual awareness. It was SOOOOOOOO interesting.

  8. I love that in a chick–love feisty, love empowerment via an untamed mouth. Not that I would know or anything…

    And yeah, dude! Email me privately and we'll make ze plans, doll 🙂

    DC 🙂

  9. My first thought is: when one turns from mortal to immortal does that mean the ability to mature is halted along with the aging process?

    Honestly, this DOES seem to be the case when I delve into the psyche of these gazillion (I'm sorry, it was bazillion wasn't it) year old characters – at least in general. Sometimes they may show the benefit of having seen a lot (eg. "I've been set-up like this before – don't fall for it!") but rarely show what would be the benefit of maturity (eg. "think long term sweetheart, it'll be worth it").

    I think of Angel in Buffy the Vampire series (don't get me wrong – I LOVE Buffy & Co!) and despite all he's seen and experienced he STILL thinks like a 20+ year old and so is perfect for Buffy – at least for a time, until she matures beyond his angsty-insecurities, then she'll be leaving him behind. Unless of course SHE becomes immortal… but then methinks that would get 'old' quickly!

    Just a bizarre thought… 🙂

  10. T.M.: Academia is pretty freaking fun. I enjoy prodding issues. 🙂

    Dakota: Incoming!

    Inkgypsy: *LOL* I totally hear ya!!! First of all, yes, I too LOVE all of these things I am also raising my eyebrows at. I love them so much that I WRITE THEM. I raise my eyebrows at myself, in other words. But you are SO RIGHT on the immaturity of the male love interests. They do tend to be a bit . . . frozen. Or maybe that is their excess of testosterone frying their brainpan? OR it's the fact that all of the blood in their body is usually in other parts of their anatomy. For hours on end. That would make anyone a bit brain dead, I suppose. 😉

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