In those pre-Amazon days there used to be a little used bookstore in my town that specialized in harlequin romance novels. For entertainment my girlfriends and I would pop in, pull out the used paperbacks and hold them open by the covers to see where the biggest gaps were between the pages. The joke was that those were the locations of the sexy bits; anxious readers would pull the book open that much further when they got to the good stuff.
Of course, most of those novels were covered in pictures of Fabio dressed as a pirate, a cowboy, or any other profession that was a primarily shirtless endeavor. Today’s most popular dirty novels have an entirely different career man in the lead: POTUS is now the sex object du jour.
In an article titled Why sex with presidents is so hot right now, Salon‘s Amy Odell detailed a disturbing trend in these presidential-themed dirty novels. Afraid of “slut shaming” should their affairs be discovered, “these women are completely powerless to dictate the terms of their affair: If you’re sleeping with the president, you must be available on his schedule, you must not upset him or he could easily banish you from his presence, and you must not tell a soul about it.”
In other words, lest they become the next Monica Lewinsky or wind up like Weiner’s Twitter galpal, they’d better keep quiet and play along. Which, in the case of the novels’ protagonists isn’t hard to do: Forget having the President’s baby, these ladies are sleeping their way up the career ladder. That makes the potential for slut shaming totally worth it. All the ladies are saying it in the hottest reading clubs around town: “At least she’s doing it for her career and not just to be a stay at home mom.” The scoffs are palpable.
In a criticism worthy of a Lifetime Movie of the Week, Women’s Studies Professor Julie Berebitsky asserts that the novels reflect the modern woman’s “frustration that power on their own seems out of reach.” I’ll agree that harlequin readers usually reach for these books out of frustration, but I doubt it’s this particular frustration that’s motivating the decision to read what has become infamously known as suburbanite softcore porn. According to author Nicola Kraus, current President Barack “Dreamy” Obama’s tenure in the Oval Office has provided the perfect backdrop for the steamy non-political thrillers, making plausible the implausible; after all, who could imagine getting down and dirty with President Bush?
From baracksdubs to Lena Dunham, the “slobbering love affair” between Obama and the media has come full cycle as a new generation of Nina Burleighs buy into the sexual fascination of subjugation to POTUS. “…[I]t’ll certainly be interesting to see which way the pop cultural winds blow if we see former President Bill Clinton as first man,” Odell concludes. I wonder if those books will come with a free set of “presidential kneepads” so readers may practice bowing in sexual submission to their leader.
Nina Burleigh’s name wasn’t to be found in Odell’s piece, nor was Valerie Jarrett’s. After all, why would a feminist want to highlight a woman who didn’t give her body to get the President’s ear? A woman whose mind is so important to the President that she has her own Secret Service Security detail? A woman so valuable that the President is rumored to bow to her demands? The lack of this kind of character is evidence of mere intellectual submissiveness.
Where’s the fun in that?