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Where have all the spankings gone? For those of us (primarily women, I would suppose,) who devoured romance novels in search of a decent paddling, a trend has become obvious in recent years: those paddlings have gone from commonplace to elusive to nonexistent. And the trend is not limited to romance. Recently, comments have been made in at least one other spanking publication regarding Sharon Green, an author of fantasy/sci-fi. Formerly the queen of spankings, Green, in her latest works, has toned it down to vague innuendo. A lot of people are wondering why.

As an author of historical romance, I have watched trends in this industry for almost twenty years. In the early days (mid to late 1970's), spankings were "de rigeur." In almost every novel, a disciplinary spanking was at least threatened; in many, it was carried out. In fact, the spanking was often a major plot point, marking a turning point in the relationship between the hero and the heroine.

However, since the early eighties, things have changed. From my own experiences with two separate publishers, I can summarize it like this: romance has gone politically correct, and spanking, unhappily, is romance at its most un-PC. S & M is chic; witness the success of Anne Rice's "Beauty" series. Her spankings, however, are never far from the erotic realm; while given as "punishment" on occasion, the overtones are completely sexual. It's always a turn-on. But a realistic disciplinary spanking given by a dominant hero to a misbehaving heroine is verboten.

Unfortunately, politically correct is not necessarily historically accurate. Historical romance, every year, has moved farther away from "historical" and more towards "romance." Up until the twentieth century, many (if not most) women lived with the knowledge that a switch, or a strap, or a hand WOULD be applied to their backsides if they pushed their men too far. That these women lived within an actual state of "submission" on a daily basis is a question that, historically, is NOT even open to debate. Thus, this sort of relationship, which is a fantasy, a "turn-on" of many women, has its basis solidly in historic reality.

This reality, that genuine physical discipline could occur, even if it rarely did, had to be a big part of the dynamics of many relationships, yet it's a dynamic that current writers are instructed to ignore completely. Our society teaches us that any man who lays a hand on a woman is "beating" her and romance editors, responding to the criticism that romance portrays women as weak victims, secretly courting abuse and/or rape, have responded by shaping the genre accordingly.

Mid-line authors, like myself, have been pressured (translate: required) to produce books that put aside historical accuracy in favor of a more politically correct "feel." Formerly the major "conflict" between the protagonists in most historical romances was an internal one: they needed to come to terms with their attraction to each other. As a sub-theme, a lot of heroines had to be taught, often explicitly, to "submit" to the more dominant hero. Spanking, then, while not the point per se, was often a manifestation of the "proper" relationship between the hero and the heroine. His "right" to spank her was implicit; that she would have to, at some point, submit to his stronger will was a fact of life. It is my opinion that the main reason historical romance exploded in popularity in the 1970's is that many women, at least on an emotional level, needed a little domination in their lives.

No more. If you're looking for a dominant, don't buy a historical romance. Romances of the basic "Can he tame this brat?" genre are disappearing because this sort of conflict forces writers to wrangle with historically-accurate gender roles that many editors don't want to touch. The primary conflict in many historicals now is exterior to the protagonists. They are generally pretty "together" folks kept apart by trauma.

The majority of heroines now must have some sort of career. More female physicians have graced the pages of romance novels in the past five years than probably actually existed in the entire Old West. We've had spies, diplomats, and a postmistress. And the heroes have been muted to basically nice guys who are struggling with problems of their own that prevent them from truly being "supportive" of the heroine. In short, accurate representations of life, attitudes, and relationships are sacrificed so twentieth-century sensibilities are not offended.

Obviously, there needs to be a balance: romance, as an escapist genre, does not need to (and should not) portray every brutal and disgusting historical fact. But more and more, every romance is becoming a "time-travel." Readers are not getting personages that have even a grounding in their time periods; they're getting twentieth-century people, dealing with twentieth century problems. In order to give it an "historical" aura, we put funny clothes on them and we don't let them drive.

So, in spite of the fact that a Colonial husband might well have viewed a switching as one of his options for dealing with a fresh-mouthed new bride (who often was at least ten years younger than he), we sure can't write about it. This "no-spanking" policy has affected some of the biggest "names" in romance. Most of Beatrice Small's early books contained disciplinary spankings, including one of the most memorable "romance" spankings of all time: Patrick Leslie's taking his riding crop to Cat Hay's bare bottom in "Love Wild Love Fair" in a punishment that left her bruised and screeching. Through the 80's we saw Ms. Small's spankings disappear, dwindling first to threats, and now even those are gone.

Ditto Jayne Krentz, who is currently producing a wildly successful series of Regencies under the name Amanda Quick. Ms. Krentz's early novels often contained spankings, including one (over jeans) in a contemporary, which was somewhat unusual. Her current series of Regencies, while having no actual spankings, have consistently had at least one threat in each book, until Deception. It was the first to come out in hardcover and was also the first to contain no reference whatsoever to the possibility of the heroine's getting a spanking. All books released in this series since have continued this policy. In one, we had an eighteen year old heroine wandering around London at night alone in defiance of direct orders of her thirty plus year old guardian. What happened when she was caught in the misbehavior? Basically, nothing.

Catherine Coulter is another example: many early books contained physical discipline, some quite harsh. One of her recent books, entitled "The Hellion Bride" contained nary a mention. No spankings for a hellion bride? Get real. Still another example: Dorothy Garlock, considered the leader in Western Romance. Almost every one of her early books contained threats; one, Dream River, contained an explicit over-the-knee paddling of a real brat. Although neither the spanker or spankee were the main characters, the hero and heroine both overhear the spanking, with the hero promising: "You disobey me again, and you'll get what Eleanor is getting." Garlock's books published since 1989 or so (by the same publisher, by the way) contain neither actual discipline or threats. Her heroes now typically are in love with the heroines from the beginning of the books and must help the heroine deal with some "problem" (like sexual abuse) for the relationship to happen. Unfortunately, her heroes now impress me as lovesick fools.

There are exceptions, but often the spankings are so unrealistic that they can almost be considered caricatures. Bare skin is out; so is pain. The heroine's feelings can be hurt, her dignity bruised, but not even a hint that the spanking might actually sting a little is permitted. The heroines typically carry on normal, if huffy, conversations with their spanker the moment they are off his knees. This is a far cry from the heroine of "The Taming" (1978) or Cat Hay, above, who both nursed bruised bottoms for days.

The only major exception to this trend, at least that I've seen, is Diana Gabaldon's Outlander published by Dell in 1991. It contains a rather explicitly described (and quite severe) strapping of the heroine by her Scottish husband for direct disobedience. The scene is a very important one, illustrating precisely what I discussed above: the reality of physical correction that most women, at least in Western Europe, have faced for centuries. How did this slip by the thought police? Was the strapping negotiated about? Dell saw the book and bid on it within days and others lined up right behind Dell ready to make their own offers. Doubtless, when Diana saw everyone ready to buy her book, she was in a position to dictate terms, and one of her terms quite probably was that she got final approval on cuts. So the strapping, if it ever was an issue, stayed.

But what about Sharon Green's sci-fi/fantasy? What's happened here? Sharon Green has been writing since the early 1980's. Her first 15 books were published by DAW, a sci-fi leader, between `82 and `89. Her most recent three books have been published by Avon. Ms. Green's early works were literally hot-beds of dom/sub themes. Besides the actual spankings, the heroines spend a lot of time contemplating the theory of relationships which involve domination and submission. The plots of the books seem to be, at times, nothing more than devices to get us from one punishment scene to the next.

Her Warrior Series involves a "civilized" woman named Terrilian with special psychic powers who is sent to serve as a sort of diplomat on a primitive planet. Of course, primitive planets being what they are, she can only do her work from under a man's protection: enter the barbarian war-leader, Tammad. On Rimilian, women are well-cared for when they behave, and spanked hard when they don't. Sounds good to me. Sounded good to Ms. Green, too, as she wrote five full-length novels about this planet.

(It is interesting, however, to note that a revolution occurred within the Warrior Series itself. In the first two books, the actual discipline scenes are quite coy. Our heroine is "bared" although we aren't told in so many words exactly what part of her is bared. She's switched "across the hips" and "below her back." (!?) And once, when she is given a hand spanking, we are told that "he brought his hand down on the area he had switched before." This reticence seems odd, when one considers the astonishingly vivid cover illustration on Book 1: a young woman, saved from complete nudity only by star-shaped patches over her nipples, kneels on the floor of a tent, while an angry-looking large man, grabbing her arm, looms over her with a switch in his other hand. The word "spank" never actually occurs in the series until Book 3. What the politics were of this within DAW, only a insider could probably relate. But by the late `80's DAW (or Sharon Green) had definitely loosened up. In Book 5 (1988), Terry is "spanked like a child" and a heroine in another series undergoes slave training procedures with explicit anal-erotic elements.)

Her latest three books, all published by Avon, have shown a complete turnaround. One could assume, I suppose, that Ms. Green suddenly has no interest in writing about the kinds of themes she once did, that she underwent some sort of PC enlightenment, but as someone who has read almost every one of her early books, you're not going to convince me of it.

Much more plausible is that Avon, who has had "no spankings" on their romance tip sheet for years, decided they had no interest in Ms. Green's dom/sub planets. Unfortunately, my guess is that she lost many readers; to me, now, her works seem curiously flat. Her forte was creating "high conflict relationships" within sci-fi settings. Because she seems incapable of creating a heroine who is not, more or less, a brat, when her heroes don't respond "appropriately" it's definitely anti-climactic.

In "Dawn Song," (1989), our hero tells the heroine that if she were a child, she'd be faced with a "good hard spanking." But since she's not, well, nothing much he can do about the problem. In her most recent book, at the very end, the hero warns the heroine, "You'll be a good girl with me and you'll behave yourself." OK, this sounds like the Sharon Green we know and love, but then, after the heroine makes a (predictably) fresh response, he responds with, "You little brat. For that you deserve to ravished..." Ravished? As we all know, good sex is for well-behaved girls; spankings are what brats get. Tammad, where are you?

At first, the frustrated reader might ask "Why?" This is, after all, fantasy. Theoretically, shouldn't an author have the prerogative to create the world he or she wants? If it's a world where women are spanked, so be it. Sounds logical, but.... BLEEP, wrong again. Think about it. If publishers are precluding authors from portraying actual historical reality out of sense of political correctness, isn't it that much more probable that our fantasy worlds will similarly have to be socially responsible?

Politically correct fantasy. Isn't that an oxymoron? Am I alone in feeling frustrated? The spanking stories found in the pages of our "scene" publications are fine, but I love finding spanking in mainstream fiction: seems more "real" somehow. This is why I love Sharon Green so much. She created the ultimate fantasy for women (and men, I guess) who are into discipline spanking: a whole world where such discipline is completely the norm, where fair-minded even-tempered men administer thorough spankings to deserving women.

Where have all the spankings gone? They're still in my head, and I bet they're still in Beatrice Small's head, and I KNOW they're still in Sharon Green's head. Maybe someday soon at least a few editors will wise up and we'll be able to get some of them back out onto the pages of our books.