Ripping Off Bodices
If you’re anywhere near Culver City, California, you can check out a brand new retail establishment that bills itself as “America’s first all-romance bookstore.” The storefront is painted pink, so romance fans will recognize it as their own, and the owners are sisters who are longtime romance readers. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, they’ve filled the place with books sure to delight a romance reader. Only problem? The tragic name of this shop is “The Ripped Bodice.”
Like I’m eager to visit a store whose name reminds me of some of the worst supposed romance books ever written AND the insulting name that ignorant people who put romance down still call ALL romances: “bodice rippers.”
Bodice rippers is a term coined in the 1970s that describes historical romances in which the heroines frequently were raped––and not only by handsome hero types, either, but often by nasty, vile men with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Today, most of us would repudiate both scenarios outright. It was a confusing time in romance, when the stories being published were trying to catch up with the newly open and free sexual behavior that was happening in our society, yet people were still being mealy-mouthed about women having sex at all, let alone liking it. Hence, rape and/or forced sex (which by today’s standards is just plain rape) in historical novels. In bodice rippers, heroines endured sex––usually not by choice––but instead of dying of shame (as any self-respecting Victorian heroine would have), overcame the trauma and lived to prosper and even sometimes find true love. But that was then, and this is now. Today, violence against women is not welcome in romance. Readers don’t need the excuse that the woman did not ask to have sex, and writers are usually much more skillful in portraying relationships that are partnerships.
And yet…The Ripped Bodice.
Do these store owners have any idea of how much time and energy romance authors have spent trying to fight the ignorance and contempt that media metes out to romance? We should be done with this term, but it apparently got some attention on Kickstarter, and so the bookstore gals raised seed money to open their store. I for one would be ashamed to walk inside. I despised rape sagas back in the day and I don’t want all pink anything. Maybe the store owners are trying to take back the ownership of the term, just the way some activist women campaign to take back the insult term “b*tch”––to let women own it instead of fear it? Calling this venture The Ripped Bodice got this store national media attention, and publicity is half the battle for a new business, fifty percent of which fail in the first five years.
But I hate the name of America’s first all-romance bookstore.