Sex, Power and Pleasure

The Women's Press
Publication year

See in particular the sub-section in Chapter 5 titled "The eroticization of domination in formula romance," though there are references to romance elsewhere in the book too.

Compulsory heterosexuality perpetuates the wage gap and job ghettoization by telling women that they are at some point going to be taken care of by men. Furthermore it reinforces social and economic inequality by eroticizing the power imbalances that exist between men and women. (84)


The first thing that strikes the reader of lesbian fiction is that a lot of it is hopelessly romantic. In an age where heterosexual women write about relationships primarily in the tragic mode, lesbians often write to celebrate perfect and enduring love. Many of the paperback novels known as "lesbian trash" follow the traditional romance formula in presenting a lonely lesbian who eventually finds self-discovery and love. (100)


If we use the distinction that I drew earlier between power and domination, we would see that it is true indeed that women's popular romances are pornographic, not because they eroticize power, but because they eroticize domination. [...] the paperback romances that so many women consume are full of depictions of domination as sexy. [...] This is not just a matter of eroticizing the traditional imbalance between the sexes; class inequality is eroticized as well. The silver-haired boss is often the prime object of the secretary's desire, and his Rolls and luxurious house are always described in loving detail and presented as constituents of the man's sexual appeal. (136)


Works in this collection