Tell me, exactly, how one ‘rips’ a bodice?
Any Renaissance Faire junkie or historical writer who’s worth her knickers knows bodice parts contain some sort of kryptonite where ripping is concerned. And isn’t that a contradiction of terms if all of our Heroes are Supermen?
Let’s deconstruct reality for a moment, shall we?
Yeah, whale bone. We’re talking Moby Dick, Pinocchio, Jonah, you get the idea. Stuffed down a woman’s corset to constrict her breathing, shove her boobs up to Barbie proportions, and squinch her waist down to a pinpoint.
That sounds really uncomfortable, doesn’t it? No wonder our Heroines swoon into the arms of the nearest Popeye forearmed lookin’ fella capable of ripping the darn things off. I’d give up my virginity to breathe again, wouldn’t you?
Imagine the scenario.
“Aha, my lusty vixen! You’ll nay-say me no more!” Lord Forearms bursts open the leather hinges of his dwelling and totes his unwilling bride inside.
“Nay! Nay!” She beats her paltry fists against his sinewy and sun-kissed chest.
He tosses her onto a heap of furs. “Aye! Sanctioned by the King himself, and a fleet of friars, to boot. Yer mine, now, wench!” Despite her flailing, he claws full-bore into the arduous task of ripping her bodice free.
“Nay, you loveless brute! You may plunder my body, but you’ll never claim my heart!”
“Unngh!” Grunts our Hero, his might testing the unyielding bars of whalebone.
“Ooo!” Squeals the Heroine.
“Od’s toes, but your seamstress is an ironsmith!” His efforts bulwarked, he repositions and wipes his beaded brow to try again and again. The skirts are shred, the chemise in ribbons, even the chastity belt lay in metallic shards among the rushes.
But the citadel of whalebone and brocade remains intact.
Quick, flash forward to our Heroine’s contemporary counterpart.
Covered in Lycra workout togs and power suits supported by an underwired Wonder-Bra, she presents a whole new Millennium of dilemma to our overdeveloped forearm Hero.
Instead of trying to penetrate the caged fortress surrounding an Elizabethan Heroine’s breasts, he’s trying to decipher a Victoria’s secret buttress of padding and steel to… hey, wait just a second.
Could that be the relentless staying power behind the denigrating moniker that plagues romance writers into a recoil and snarl knee-jerk reaction when uttered? Oh no! However shall we shed this hateful stereotype? Should we launch a sixties revival and have all our Heroines burn their bras? Shoot the cover artists? Ban the 19th century all together?
Of course not.
Instead, I choose to think the prisons that our Heroines encapsulate their breasts in represent more than a Rubik’s Cube challenge for our Heroes to get to second base. Granted, he’s hoping for a Grand Slam and then some, but not until he’s won the pennant. Sound backward? It’s not.
(Stay with me. I swear I’m going to make a point.)
It’s easy to take offense to snide comments, given the sidecar insult ‘Bodice Ripper’ implies. Back in the seventies, the revolution of clinch covers and love scenes dragged puritans and radicals alike into a commonly accepted definition of the term.
It meant sex. Rough sex. Taboo sex. Premarital sex. Rape!
But does that mean we have to drag that stereotype kicking and screaming into contemporary definitions, like our Lord Forearms up there?
Let the dilettantes and poo-pooers of romance sneer and trot out all their best lines and credentials as to why they’d never read such shallow and pornographic tripe. Listen patiently to their diatribe over Captain Ahab’s relentless pursuit of the great white whale and its good vs. evil connotations, and isn’t their brow so high? What literary worth is romance?
Then calmly and politely mess with their bravado.
Tell them, “Why yes. I do write ‘Bodice Rippers.’ Because I know my Hero is up to the challenge of shredding through all the layers and grommets and boning and lining to get to the prize that really counts.”
During the dramatic pause, smile patronizingly at the snickering about getting to the Heroine’s breasts before revealing the real prize.
Unveil the ‘hidden symbolism’ of the bodice, and how it represents the emotional conflict the Hero must overcome to win the Heroine’s love and then ask why, in all their well-read wisdom, they’d never figured that out before.
Instead of defending and denying ‘Bodice Rippers,’ for what they ‘truly are’ in the eyes of the uninitiated—we must redefine the term. In our writing, and in our attitude. Be proud of the magic we create and the Love Conquers All creed inherent in all great romances.
Let Lord Forearms rip away. My virgin heart awaits. Does yours?