Yes, I pulled this style from GOT Confessions.
This is a post that has been a long time coming. As in, when I started blogging, I made a list of posts topics I wanted to cover sometime, and “Rakes: Why I Am Not Overly Fond of That Hero Trope” was on the original list. I believe it was in the first five, even. I haven’t gotten around to writing about it because nothing has stirred me up about it, specifically, since then.
I edited a quick review of the book pictured above from a friend before she posted it, and the way she described the book just…got my dander up about rakes, and how they are portrayed, and how difficult I find it to take them seriously or to think of them as sexy heroes.
In the first place, the grammarian in me dislikes the fact that “rake” in the romance context is almost always used to mean “has lots of sex with lots of eager women.” To me that is a reduction of a term to one part of it that ignores the less savory parts of being a rake and a libertine–namely, that there is a moral degeneracy to it. Think of Dangerous Liaisons and how John Malkovich’s character is seducing a woman to her ruin, simply to amuse himself. That is a rake, not a man who says yes to any woman who offers herself to him.
But the semantics are a minor issue. The real problem I have is how disgusting the common description of such romance hero “rakes” are. The most common is along the lines of “he never goes a week without having a different woman.” So, let’s say the hero is average for a romance novel–he’s 28, and he really only started this behavior when he got to London, so, let’s say, 2o. Do the math. I am supposed to be attracted to a man who has had roughly 400 sexual partners? I am supposed to find that believable, and appealing? No. Not just no, but HELL, NO. I find that experience level disgusting and disturbing. The only things I can think when I read that kind of description are, What is wrong with him? And how does he not have every STD under the sun?
I’m not saying I need my heroes to be virgins or to have only had sex with their first wife or something. I am not sure that’s any more realistic (for the average hero, though it can be a fun change). But what’s wrong with a more normal number for an adult male, like 10 or 20? Or even 50 if he’s been around the block a bit more–that’s an average of five new partners a year for 10 years, fine, not that creepy. But 50 a year? Yikes.
Aside from thinking it’s just…gross, I wonder how much someone like that can actually change. If all those women bored them (as is often the case), then why didn’t they just stop? I have seen friends–male and female–get to that point in the singles scene and find other things to do with their time and energy than chase sex. THAT”S WHAT NORMAL PEOPLE DO. If a man used to be like that and got bored with it and changed on his own before the heroine meets him, then I can believe in his future fidelity, unlike if he goes from 50 a year, never has the same girl twice, to…one person, over and over again. A man who has THAT MUCH sex with THAT MANY women without getting bored and backing off has something pyschologically wrong with him beyond simple ennui with life and access to that many women. And while maybe romance has “redeemed by the love of a good woman” coursing through the genre as part of its lifeblood, I just have trouble believing it in that case.
Also I find it kind of insulting as a woman that I am being asked to believe that kind of man is some prize I should aspire to have. Please. How about a man of strong mind and strong character, not some self-indulgent playboy with no willpower and the lifestyle of a 17-year-old’s wet dream? There is a middle ground between someone being too saintly to be realistic and too degenerate to take seriously.
Also I hate the propagation of the myth that the only (or best) way a man can learn how to “please” a woman is by having that many sexual partners. In fact…in general the men who tend to have only one night stands tend to be worse lovers than men who have long-term relationships, because a one-time lover doesn’t bother to correct anything. So all those rake heroes who never have the same woman twice but yet are so “skilled” in bed? Ridiculous. The contrast to them, of course, is always the men who apparently don’t know about foreplay at all and have the basic “she’s my wife, I can rape her if I want” mentality, and while I’m sure both happened I’m not sold on the scope of those behaviors that romance novels present. There is a this thing called respect for women that makes a man want to please his partner–what matters in the equation is respect, not experience.
I think that a hero with a good healthy sexual appetite is fine. I just happen to find the ones who had steady mistresses of one stripe or another to be significantly more realistic and appealing. A rake (and I mean here one who actually is a rake, not just a Poseur Libertine because he has that reputation even though he’s actually Secretly Moral and Misunderstood) has to be pretty damned special as a person to get me on board with him, and I can count the ones who have on about one hand. Most of the time I see a book description that focuses on the hero’s sexual appetites, I will put it back down. There are better heroes to read about…heroes I can actually believe in.
But maybe this is just me being contrary? Obviously well-used men are popular in romance, so perhaps someone who does find them good fantasy fodder can explain to me their appeal?