The Katharine Papers

Cinderella Revisted (Or, Why I Teach the History of the Romance Novel to University Students)

Testimony: When I was young, I loved the Cinderella story.

What’s not to love? Poor, hardworking, warmhearted girl beaten down by life gets rich, handsome, powerful guy, and—bonus!—gets to thumb her nose at the mean girls. As sanitized by Disney, with the addition of adorable mice, it’s pure charm.

Then I went to college and became Aware.

Class. Race. Gender. I barely knew the words before I started studying history, literature, civil rights, and government at the university level. And I certainly didn’t know how I’d learned to swallow the insanity of inequality embedded in the fabric of this Great Nation—and in its every industry—without ever questioning it, especially the inequality of the sexes.

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The Importance of Word Choice

 

Penis.

(I do have a point here.)

Sometimes when I’m grading a student’s paper and I find a misused word, I circle it and write “Word Choice.”

There is, of course, a lot more to choosing the right word than dictionary definitions. Especially when it comes to sex.

I write historical romance novels that include sexually explicit love scenes. Nevertheless, the first time I said aloud to a group of people the words for male genitalia was not at a reading of one of my novels. Standing at a podium at my university, I enunciated “penis” to my students. Not a single lash in the room twitched. The topic of the course, after all, was sexuality in the Middle Ages.

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