Reading Mills & Boon

It was on a flight from Bangkok to New Delhi that I saw something that was unlike anything that I had ever seen before. A tall, plump and balding man engrossed in a paperback novel titled Bedded or Wedded; the book cover bore a picture of a scantily clad woman on a beach being ravished by a suited-booted business tycoon.

The man reading seemed to be relishing each and every page in the book (for obvious reasons, I suppose), completely oblivious to the fact that he was receiving quite a few odd stares from the other passengers in the flight. He didn’t care. Perhaps, he was aware of the hypocrisy of all the others, who secretly have read the very same novels, but publicly condemn all those who are open about it.

I personally know of a significant number of girls who spent their early teens devouring similar novels, while my other friends read them only to scoff at their foolishness. And one has to admit, the books are pretty ridiculous. Most M&B novels have a stock plot that follows the tempestuous and passionate love-hate relationship between a rich, business magnate and his simpering virgin secretary. The reciprocal hatred makes a half-hearted attempt to hide the undercurrent of mutual sexual attraction. The ‘hatred’ eventually thaws after a heated physical encounter, giving rise to a maddening, swooning, jumping on the couch, and shouting from the rooftops brand of ‘evolved’ love. The farce of the situation gets heightened by the minutely detailed, graphic (and eventually boring) buildup to the love scenes – the image of the man removing the woman’s glove gets sufficiently stretched to cover pages and pages. (‘…..the glove slid down an inch, and Douglas James Jr. III was treated to the sight of Sandra’s delicate, perfumed wrist. Another inch and he was enthralled by the beauty of her palm, the barely visible lines that would have delighted any palm reader worth his salt. Another inch down and he was bowled over by the beauty of her tapering fingers, her index finger bore the chastity ring that she would soon be compelled to remove, her middle finger was sufficiently callused, her ring finger lay bare, and Douglas vowed that he would one day force a wedding ring onto it, her little finger… …..’) And on and on, until one wants to scream; ‘Take it off already! It is just a glove!”

However, despite all prevailing common sense, these novels are wildly popular and are published and sold by the dozens. This is a fact that elucidates their popularity. They are undoubtedly enjoyed by both the sexes all over the world as a means of light hearted entertainment. These novels are written for and primarily target at women. They exploit a woman’s desire for romance and generate a whopping income for authors and publishing houses. I can imagine that they are read primarily by schoolgirls, lonely single women of the Bridget Jones variety and by disillusioned housewives. They encourage women to believe in the fact that they too (like simpering virgin secretary Sandra) can bag themselves a rich, macho, overtly tough but innately loving man. Right.

However, the most disturbing outcome of these novels are the ideas that they propagate regarding a woman’s expectations from a man and from a relationship. Since these novels are written for female consumption, they would ostensibly cater to the woman’s wants and desires. Since most M&B novels portray women to be objects and outlets for male lust, it would imply that at some level, women would want to be treated as objects. It would imply that women crave to be slung over the shoulders of a man rendered primitive by his desire, taken to a conveniently close (and strangely candlelit) cave and be thoroughly indulged (exploited). M&B novels have rather telling titles such as His Mistress, His Say, The Italian’s Captive Virgin and The Sheikhs Virgin Toy; the titles of these novels themselves suggest the subordination of the woman’s will to the man’s need. The books not only strengthen and propagate the idea of the woman’s inferiority in sexual matters, but they do it with a degree of subtlety so as to make it seem that it is a woman’s wish to be treated thus. I shudder to think what the men who read these novels would think of how women wish to be treated.

I believe that unless the portrayal of females in these novels is seriously looked into, it is unlikely that a woman would ever be able to free herself from the confines of patriarchy (sexual and otherwise). Furthermore, it is imperative that all the young women who indulge in these novels fully grasp and understand the sexually inferior position that the poor simpering virgin secretary Sandra occupies. Only when the public rejects the portrayal of females in M&Bs, will the authors and publishers endeavor to bring about a change in the standard plot format.

And perhaps, in the midst of everything else, the public could compel the author to help Douglas James Jr. III to be a bit quicker when it comes to removing simpering virgin secretary Sandra’s gloves.

Rayman Gill

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