The #MeToo movement has sparked a reckoning about power, sex, and consent that has already reached deep into the entertainment industry, inspiring conversations about how to build better a popular culture. Perhaps the most frustrating attitude that this has flushed out of the underbrush is that consent can’t be sexy, or that heightened concerns about it will somehow kill flirting. I was curious to hear the perspective of a group of women who probably spend more time thinking about hot and sexy consent than almost anybody else on the planet: romance novelists.
Despite years of internal conversations about how to handle consent on the page, the perception lingers that romance novels are full of romanticized sexual violence. Discussing #MeToo with the Washington Post in November, Hillary Clinton casually tossed off the remark that, “The whole romance novel industry is about women being grabbed and thrown on a horse and ridden off into the distance,” offering it up as a reason that some men might be confused about what sorts of advances a woman would welcome. Clinton’s comment was a galling misrepresentation of the genre that many found disappointing—in a response published at the Washington Post, Lisa Kleypas drew a parallel with Clinton’s own life, arguing that, “It’s a misleading cliche about the genre—like so many misleading cliches about your fabulous trailblazing life.”