There’s nothing worse than reading a romance book and coming across some idea or notion in the text that makes you roll your eyes and disassociate from a character. The nature of romance and erotica is deeply tied to projecting and emotionally relating to the characters in a book. There’s just something about that fact that can make coming across certain views or elements in a story become an instant turn off. The other night I was reading an erotic romance where the female lead is a bartender and basically every few pages near the beginning she brings up the fact that she’d never date a man who’d order a cocktail or anything except beer. Call me a whiny liberal if you want, but that snuffed my interest in her or him. I’m reading the book purely for research purposes now. It was such a good and thorough turn off to me that I never realized how much stuff like that affected me. For the author it was a simple fact of the character and supposed to make the handsome protagonist a down to Earth “man’s man”. To me it was traditional propaganda at best and a sign of utter weakness in the male main character at worst.
Well, to me a man who is comfortable in his masculinity is more attractive than anything else. We’re supposed to accept the female MC’s view and see him from that angle. His ordering a beer puts him outside the realm of other “hipster” men, and yes the author uses that description. For the author this detail was important, and important for the main character for excellent reasons. She’s a bartender. Makes sense. In this book his earthy masculinity is represented by beer. It killed my interest and my libido because while I fully admit certain feminine traits turn me off when they’re very present in men…my notion of a “real man” orders whatever the fuck he wants. Further I don’t backdoor insult men who don’t fit that notion whether they wear nail polish (which is a major personal turn off ) or work on trucks and think of appletinis as girly drinks. I physically cringed as I read because of this one thing, which came up a few times early on.
In a book designed to tease, titillate, and entertain this one element altered my ability to enjoy it. The male lead and female lead became emblematic of what I rebel against. A lot of people have told me “Oh just shut up and read and enjoy”, but why would I if there is an element and an attitude in the work that I don’t enjoy. The male protag ordering a beer is the main thing that solidifies the female protag sleeping with him. That’s the crutch, and for a woman who sees masculinity as being about comfort, and being attracted to more traditionally masculine men as in no way needing to undermine other expressions of masculin this makes a difference. This makes me say “Wow this chick seems like a douche bag and this guy isn’t as attractive as he was.” . And as, to paraphrase a quote from Downton Abbey, as my world comes closer and the notions of “real men buy beer” slip away this will be a more common reaction. Hell plenty of women prefer hipsters who do craft beer than to the corona lovers of the world. A confident man who can order a cocktail and not give a shit about what anyone thinks tops a man who thinks cocktails are girly.
It’s a silly thing to harp on, but it seriously had an affect. It pulled me away from these characters, made me like them a bit less, and most importantly turned me off. And maybe this is coming from me because my 60 something year old, ex-cop, private security, former bouncer father who carries a gun everywhere has never hesitated to order a cosmo. Maybe it is because I’m a progressive liberal who has friends across the gender expression spectrum. Ultimately it doesn’t matter because you bet your sweet hiney that I’m not a rare case. Because even those who keep reading and think it distasteful have pulled away a little. It isn’t about political correctness or forcing conformity. It’s about the fact that this writer made one of the most important choices in the mainstream straight romance genre, which is how you construct the male romantic protagonist. She not only included this, but centered these beliefs about masculinity at the core of his appeal. And while that’s her choice the fact is it didn’t work for me, and I suspect it turned off others because it wasn’t just the female protag saying “I like a traditional guy who drinks beer over cocktails”. It was holding up the romantic lead by that fact juxtaposed with the inferiority of men who have ordered her cocktails.The ever changing social norms and standards affect what people are attracted to and as writers when we put something like real men drink beer on the page we’re committing an idea and saying “We’re willing to turn off those people who disagree” and I’m certain the author didn’t even think about that. For her this made her male romantic lead strong. For me it made him week. It made the female lead pedantic and hypocritical…honestly a little sexist. And undermine the think I find most attractive in men (but can never seem to land in a partner myself, sorry, but love ya beau!)…confidence.
Her entire notion of masculinity and the romance leads romantic appeal had the exact opposite affect that she intended and as our society evolves it will be interesting to see because I’m not alone. I’m not a minority. And when an author makes choices like this they have to be aware…you might just dry a reader up like an old Virginia ham. You’re not going to forget that metaphor any time soon.