As you’ve been reading this review, you’ve noticed I’ve brought up the concept of the Madonna/Whore, the stereotypical character of females, the men’s misogynistic opinions, etc. in this review, but I want to spend a bit more time really truly exploring these themes, as I think they are important to A) how readers view women and B) how society views women.
I would like to propose that most (90+%) of this book’s story is centered around the Madonna/Whore vision of women, i.e. women are either Madonnas, blameless and sexually pure, or whores, sexually promiscuous and tainted.
Some examples of this coming to light:
1. Julianne is the ultimate Madonna. She is a virgin; she doesn’t actively pursue sexual relationships; she seems to be afraid of initiating any sort of physical contact with men (though some of this is based off a bad experience with an ex-boyfriend). Gabriel dotes upon her as if she is a small child.
2. Rachel is another Madonna figure. Sure, she has a fiancé, but it is not clear if she and her boyfriend are sexually active. Furthermore, she has had the same boyfriend since high school, which makes it seem as if she has not done very much sexual experimentation. Gabriel is kind to her, letting her tell him what to do and making an effort to listen to her.
3. Grace is the last Madonna figure. She, like the Virgin Mary, is the “savior” of Gabriel, who adopts the boy when he is destitute, provides for him, and always loves him. Even though Gabriel fought with his mother (mostly with his brother and father, though), he cries at her death (Gabriel rarely, if ever, cries, as we see with all “manly men”) and is otherwise very distraught.
4. Gabriel’s biological mother is a Whore Figure. She is a drug-addict and abandoned her son. Gabriel has no kind words for her; in fact, he calls her a “whore” on one occasion.
5. Christa is a Whore Figure. She has large breasts, dresses provocatively, and has no problems flirting with Gabriel. She also is taking the Dante Studies just to become the Mrs. Emerson. Gabriel treats her poorly, humiliating her at every turn, and making her cry on more than one occasion.
6. Paulina is a Whore Figure. She is Gabriel's (fairly) long-time mistress and quite possibly a prostitute. Gabriel treats her badly and allows Julianne to do the same.
This does not include the many other, often nameless, women who appear, provocatively dressed, openly sexual, licking their lips in desire for Gabriel, only to be rudely tossed aside as if they were bad eggs. And every single time, it is not Gabriel who looks bad for being unable to treat these women as human beings; it is the women themselves who are bad because they were so sexualized.
But Gabriel isn’t the only man to be subjected to such a misogynistic turn. Paul too is misogynistic in his own way. Without consulting Julianne, he nicknames her “Rabbit”. He talks about how she would “blossom” if only the right man came along to love her and pities how “damaged” and “sensitive” she is. He desires to be the man that “sets her right”. And the entire way Paul treats Julianne is no different than Gabriel: Julianne is a little child, who needs a grown-up’s hand to hold as she walks across the streets of life.
What do these portrayals of women and the men they allow to behave this way say about the readers and the society in which these readers are a part of? Well, this is a romance novel (sorta), and, in the past, the romance genre has this stereotypical image of the big, strong male to save the virginal female. Maybe it is their fault that we keep seeing this misogynistic portrayal. But that excuse fails to ring true. A lot of romance readers are savvy and discerning. They are more aware of the tropes than I am, having read numerous books with them. Some of them are openly disgusted with the practices and voice their thoughts in places like “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books”. They didn't go to the publishers and beg them to publish Twilight fanfiction.
Perhaps it is the Twilight fans who are encouraging this. That would seem to be the case, as a lot of recent fiction in Young Adult and Urban Fantasy, which has been marketed as "The Next Twilight", has glorified the old-time feminine roles and the restraints with them. And while you are at it, you could also probably blame the fanfiction readers, who don’t know better but to love this. I mean, it's a “well-known internet fact” that fanfiction writers are just 13 year old girls who haven't ever had sex, much less known and talked to a boy. And of course, we can't forget the Fifty Shades crowd who made Twilight fanfiction profitable in the first place and publishers everywhere prowl the fanfiction websites for more fodder.
ASIDE: By the way, have you ever really met a person who openly admitted to liking Fifty Shades of Grey? The only person I met who admitted to reading and LIKING the series also admitted she didn't like to read much in the first place. A coincidence??? A trend???
Whether it was Twilight’s fault for opening the door to the medieval treatment of women orFifty Shades for popularizing misogynistic stereotypes disguised as kinky sex or publishers trying to get fat off the recent fads in the hopes of finding the next Twilight or Harry Potter, one thing is certain: our society certainly hasn't helped things. Even with all the steady steps we’ve made to make things an equitable playing field across the gender boundaries, society still glorifies the Madonna and vilifies the Whore. There is no room for the sexually experienced, brilliant, funny, attractive woman that a man wants and desires, not just for her body, but for her mind. She cannot be judged by her character or the opinions like the man she will fall in love with; instead, society, as if hundreds of years of women's rights haven't occurred, still judge her merits by whether or not she's had sex. And when society continues to promote such a view of women, that women come in two types, white and red, based on how much sex they have, how can we expect our novels and authors to write anything but that?