Don’t MEWL On Me!

On the Threshold, Edmund Leighton

Lately I’ve indulged in escape reading, primarily Regency romance. In the past, I’ve read a few of this subgenre but in the last couple of months, it’s been a book a day. This is me refueling for my next phase of writing.

But what I wanted to say is, please, STOP using pat words/phrases like ‘come apart’ and ‘carnal’ and especially ‘mewl.’

Oh my god. Mewl. Do writers using this word not understand that the first definition of ‘mewl’ is that it’s the sound of a baby? As in, “cry feebly or querulously; whimper.” Or of a cat or bird?

From Merriam-Webster: Mewl: to utter feeble plaintive cries. Eg, The tiny kitten mewled for its mother.

Synonyms of mewl: bleat, pule, whimper

Words Related to mewl: fuss, sniffle, snivel, snuffle, whine, peep, squeak, mumble, murmur, mutter, groan, moan, sigh, aaaand you get the idea.

Granted, when writing about sex and the sounds, smells, and other details involved, it’s difficult to make it ‘new,’ especially in a subgenre like Regency where women are supposed to be virgins taken utterly by surprise at the sensation of sexual activity. One could argue that mewling like a baby or kitten is exactly the best way to describe her reaction when big strong hero man sticks his tongue in her mouth. Or elsewhere.

It’s just that after x-number of books with ‘mewl’ in key passages, one can hardly suppress the urge to vomit.

As for ‘carnal,’ well, yes, it’s a useful word in portraying the mindset of women of those times. The meaning of it sums up the idea a woman might possess about something she’s been taught to fear and repress. It neatly describes sexual needs and activities. But hey, how about giving readers a break? Here are some useful synonyms: sexual, sensual, erotic, lustful, lascivious, libidinous, lecherous, licentious, physical, bodily, corporeal, and fleshly.

I admit that the first four in that list, at least, would hardly occur to a sexual novice during a time when one must not use the word ‘leg’ or ‘breast’ in referring even to a roasted chicken, but rather must use the more delicate term ‘limb’ or ‘white meat.’

Then there’s the phrase ‘claim her mouth.’ Maybe the first few times I read this, I’m thinking Sylvia Day before she priced herself out of my range, the phrase held power to excite. After all, in claiming her mouth, the hero stakes out his territory and the reader knows seduction is underway. But time after time as it’s been overused, any power that this phrase might have had has long since been lost. How about seize, demand, require, win, or take? Or something else entirely.

  • But he didn’t move lower in his kisses, instead coming back up to thoroughly claim her mouth.
  • It was only a matter of inches before he could bend his head and claim her mouthwith his.
  • Eyes intense, he leaned in to claim her mouth, one hand at her nape, the other supporting her shoulder as he eased onto the bed to stretch his length, their bodies touching at breast and hip.
  • She shivered when he trailed kisses down the side of her neck, then back up to claim her mouth
  • She had broken out in a fine sweat; he licked it from between her breasts and her throat, working his way up to claim her mouthin a kiss as heavy and demanding as the ridge of flesh he pressed against her hip.

But I repeat myself.

As for “come apart,” I’d like to point out that this metaphorical concept of a woman totally losing it in the throes of orgasm is, at first, a reasonable use of language. But after years of overuse? Shall I demonstrate?

  • That night when he’d held her and she’d come apart in his arms.
  • Need pulsed through him, sending blood screaming to his groin, but he held back, wanting to feel her come apart in his arms, to watch as she gave herself over to his complete control.
  • Nothing was more important at that moment than seeing her come apart in his arms.
  • She wanted to come apart in his arms, and let him be the one who put all the shattered pieces together again.
  • Unable to look away, she pictured him in the McDaniel’s stables, touching her, making her come apart in his arms.
  • And as he took her like a man possessed, and she started to come apart in his arms, his name a keening cry on her lips, his only thought was that he had finally come home.

And so forth.

While I’m on this rant, let me also say I’m just as guilty as the next writer in using worn-out phrases and words. In the heat of writing the scene, it’s a real challenge to think beyond what happens next. It’s later, under the cold eye of our internal editor, that we must cross out the tired stuff and think of something new. That’s as much a part of our job as thinking up the story in the first place. Otherwise, we’re boring our readers. Or making them nauseous.

At best, writers reliant on these and many more familiar phrases routinely used in sex scenes hope the reader is so caught up in the story, in these characters finally – despite all odds – able to satisfy the desire that has been hovering over them since the opening pages of the novel, that mere word choice hardly registers. For many readers, this surely must be true. Yet how many readers come to ‘mewl’ and can’t stop themselves from throwing the book across the room?

For now, I’ll try really hard to refrain from remarking on his ‘cut muscle’ or ‘sculpted muscle’ or her inevitable ‘swoon.’ We already know these men have scent of leather and, variously, pine, soap, shaving soap about their person, or taste of salt. That his shoulders barely clear the door frame. That he towers over her and her hands twist in her lap.

I’m not the first or the last who will comment on the unique language of romance novels. Well, hardly unique in reality, but perhaps unique in the broader world of literature. There are books, I tell you, entire books on this subject. An internet search also turns up useful word-usage blog posts.

From a blog post in 2015, “The Most Ridiculous Sexual Phrases from Romance Novels” written of course by a guy. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/16/romance-novel-phrases_n_7545244.html

A great way to expand your sexy vocabulary is presented by blogger Sharla Rae in her Sensual Word Menu: https://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/sensual-word-menu-2/ What a fabulous resource! Thank you Sharla!

So go out there, make your characters suffer and whine, but PLEASE don’t make them mewl.

And–before I forget–READ OTHER GENRES.  There are entire libraries full of other books, all of them making fabulous use of all 26 letters.

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Grabbing Pussy

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Much of what romance authors write, of what is a primary theme in all romance fiction, centers on the chemistry of attraction and the dominance of the alpha male. He’s all powerful. The woman swoons in his arms.

So why is there this chasm between the fantasy and the reality where a male’s touch is deemed an assault?

It’s not difficult to see why men are confused. Poor things. They have such a hard time knowing how to behave with women. The Donald Trumps of the world just grab a pussy when they feel like it. (You’re supposed to swoon, remember?)

The compliment in such male behavior is that in his eyes, the woman measures up. If she’s beautiful and she’s looking to advance herself in the world, she’s worth grabbing. In being grabbed, she gains the grand title of ‘beautiful and worthy.’ She’s a success! She gains a step up because the grabber is a man of power. He can do things for her.

The price is allowing herself to be grabbed.

Nothing new in this. No matter how far back you go in history—a year, a hundred, ten thousand—women have allowed themselves to be grabbed by powerful men in order to (a) survive, (b) advance, and/or (c) gain favor/money/security. A woman who expects such benefits but who rejects being grabbed is considered a tease or a bitch and quickly finds herself on the outside looking in.

Or dead. The rejected lover could kill her. Or he could refuse to protect her against the raiding bands of thugs who rape then kill her.

With a deeper view into the genetic past of women, a person could argue that women are biologically predisposed to having her pussy grabbed whether by confident men with real desire or by a wannabe cocksman like Trump. (I’m guessing he suffers from a pathetic wiener. Men with nice wood don’t have to grab.)

As the larger of the two sexes, men enjoy a gender inequality inherited from our ancestors the apes. As such, they have controlled human culture through physical violence. Men’s rule has only begun to diminish in the last century as women gained legal protection from male violence as well as voting rights, property ownership, and most importantly, birth control.

Women’s historical power comes in their ability to attract men and produce his heirs. Thus we have ancient evidence of cosmetics, alluring garments, and sideways glances. If a woman’s value rests entirely in her ability to attract male attention, why wouldn’t she be flattered with a pussy grab? I mean, how affirming can you get?

Well, news flash–women have value besides her sexual role. Many women evidently haven’t figured that out yet, but historically, some women have broken the rules. Mostly, they died. Joan of Arc, for example, saved France and then was burned at the stake because we all know that a woman has no business acting like a man, wearing armor and running around with a sword.

Joan is not the only woman to die for breaking those gender rules. Uppity women are biologically less likely to survive. Thus we end up with women who vote for Trump.

But even among those of us uppity women who would never vote for Donald Trump, there remains a strong majority who do enjoy romantic stories about alpha men. What is this about?

First, I’d suggest that it has everything to do with biology and very little to do with rational processes. Remember, evolution has preordained that favorable attention from men serves women well. Secondly, we’re talking about Fiction. We can fantasize about a perfect man in a perfect circumstance where we abandon caution and allow ourselves to be swept into perfect love.

There’s a particular behavior set that identifies the fictional man we’d let grab our pussies. He possesses the traditional characteristics of an alpha male—physical fitness, rugged good looks, a twinkle in his eye that says he sees your bet and raises, and a genuine acknowledgement of your boundaries that he will respect even if he’s tormented by his restraint.

Meaning, he won’t grab your pussy until you give the signal.

Thus hinges the difference between reality and romantic fantasy. He’s got to insist. The chemistry has to be right. He must demonstrate that he finds you irresistible. He’s got to have something to offer—mastodon meat or mega billions, whatever.

Women who have experienced molestation or sexual assault appreciate trigger warnings in erotic romance because they’ve learned from painful experience that forceful men taking what they want without permission is anything but romantic. It’s disgusting. It’s painful. It’s a nightmare that never goes away.

This is the part that men don’t understand. That’s why, in all the uproar following the release of the video where Trump talked about grabbing women by the pussy, there were so many male apologists claiming that because of the success of Fifty Shades of Gray, outraged women were lying hypocrites. One way or the other, they said. Either like being dominated. Period. Or don’t adore romance novels that feature domination.

Completely missing from their grasp is the basic fact that in Fifty Shades, The Woman Gave Permission.  They had a relationship. She wanted him. Also missing in Trump’s assault was the key point about romance: it’s fiction.

Also confusing for men is that women go to great lengths to ornament themselves in order to be sexually attractive. Hair styles that impair vision plus shoes and skirts that limit movement signal a woman’s vulnerability. Add cosmetics and a talent for seduction and a woman has maximized her sexual wealth in order to maximize her value in a culture that still, fundamentally, presents women as sex objects for men to choose among.

You can see how men would get mixed signals. Does she want me to grab her pussy? Yes? No?

Even older women in powerful positions—think Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, for example—dress in colorful clothing, adopt fashionable hairstyles, and wear cosmetics. Men may update a hairstyle on occasion, but they wear the same dark suits decade after decade. Cosmetics for men? Get real.

These traditions of female glam simply won’t go away quietly. But what does it mean? It means women’s appearance is more about social expectations and how she sees herself than an invitation to be molested. A lot of men never got that memo.

No woman wants a strange man to walk up to her, land a sloppy kiss and/or grab between her legs. It’s disgusting on the face of it. Disgusting that he sees her as a mere object available for his amusement. Disgusting that he thinks he’s such hot shit that he commits sexual assault without any fear of repercussion. Disgusting that even today with space travel, worldwide social media, and incredibly advanced technology, a man like Trump exists at all.

We’ve come a long way, baby. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Meanwhile, read more romance!