SERIESous Discussions: Every once and awhile I will post my random ramblings about a bookish or blogging topic. Feel free to join in by making a comment below or linking back!
Do you read Office Romances differently in the post-#metoo Movement?
I’ve raised this question to myself a few times in the last few years but I really only felt compelled to write a post about it after I finished reading Bossy Brit.
Now, there is nothing even remotely related to sexually abuse/harassment in that book at all. I want to make that very clear. It’s more about its premise that the assistant and boss start up a romance and the dynamic their working relationship has on that romance.
Now obviously, in this book, the attraction and desire to be romantically involved goes both ways. And in most contemporary office romances that is always the case.
I’m a sucker for forbidden romances and office-romances usually always contain a policy about bosses dating the people working under them, adding to that trope and fueling the dramatic plot because “how can they be together when that’s in their way?”. It’s clearly an appeal to readers and that’s why that trope hasn’t gone away.
It’s just that now, I find that it takes me longer than before to get comfortable with a boss dating their employee.
In that particular book, the first paragraphs of our hero’s first POV chapter goes right into him talking about how attractive he finds his assistant. And to be fair, the book opens with the heroine imagining a pretty hot-n-heavy fantasy of him. Our hero also doesn’t make any untoward advances to her or anything either. But it still took me a minute to get comfortable with the whole idea because he does have authority over her and it feels like she would risk more (ie her job) starting a relationship with him. Of course, this aspect evolves as the story and their relationship does but I felt very hesitant about it at the start of the book.
I’ve always been aware of power imbalances between women and men. As a women, you can’t not notice it. I also work in a field where 70-80% of the work force is female, yet the management teams are nearly entirely male. So it’s something I see everyday and its at the forefront of my mind.
But since the #metoo movement has become so powerful, I’ve noticed that I’ve started applying it to worlds of fiction–whether it be movies or TV or books–because doesn’t art often reflect reality?
Let Fiction Be Fiction
I bring this up all the time in my discussion posts–heck, I even wrote a post dedicated solely to it–but there is a point where we need to Let Fiction be Fiction. The beauty of fictional characters, plots and worlds is that we can explore different themes and generate discussions through these fictional novels. And there are some great books out there that explore abusive relationships or show characters coming to terms with those relationships afterwards. They’re compelling reads and have definitely influenced my world views and opinions by providing me new perspectives.
Just before the start of the #metoo movement, I wrote a post discussing why sexual assaults were not often reported in fictional novels. In hindsight, that post was perhaps a bit tone-deaf given when it was published (though I had scheduled it months in advance and how was I to know that the journal article would come to light). But I still feel like my point that fictional worlds can be vehicles for change and points of discussion in the real world is true.
Why do we see these things in our novels at all? Particularly, if the book is labeled as contemporary (meaning it takes place in a time similar to ours) then it is clearly a part of our societal views. I wrote a post last month asking if Contemporary Romances Needed to Be Realistic. It was partially inspired by reading another office romance where the characters struggled with the power imbalance of their relationship. And my conclusion was that it really depends on why you are reading that book, when you are reading that book and what your expectations of it are.
It’s not groundbreaking news that books become outdated.
Some books have aged terribly and that’s no secret. But often they become vessels for how we study that piece of history and the views of society at that time. And I think it will be interesting to see how romance novels in particular will evolve over the next 20 years as our societal norms change. Heck, I’m sure you can even see it now with novels that were written 20 years ago from today!