La Croix: What are the psychological reasons behind the success of dark romance?
Serge Hefez : These kinds of stories are based on unconscious fantasies in many women. They consist in wanting to be the object of the enjoyment of the other and in wanting to belong to him. But be careful, you have to be very careful with such statements.
This does not mean, far from it, that the women harboring these fantasies want them to come true. Nor does it mean that these fantasies are inherently feminine. It is the societal constructions that push the woman towards the passive field while the man is pushed towards the active field. This active-passive duality structures the architecture of unconscious psychic life.
Why do the submissive situations staged by dark romance appeal to many young female readers?
S. H. : Dark romance is a caricature of sexuality which, it seems to me, offers an outlet for its complexity. Let me explain. The child is a little terrified of sexuality. He understands the embarrassment of adults, feels that it is a particular subject. So he builds scenarios that allow him to circumvent this taboo.
Rather than appropriating sexuality as something of the order of pleasure and sharing, which he will do as an adult, he will imagine it differently. However, adolescence is precisely a moment of transition, when one tries to get out of all these infantile sexual theories. At that age, reading literature such as dark romance consists of replaying these circumvention scenarios and freeing oneself from them.
How to explain that stories based on patterns of female submission can arouse such an echo in the time of #MeToo?
S. H. : This shows how full of contradictions we are and that the evolution towards gender equality is not linear. But again, you have to be very careful. There is a fundamental difference between psychic life, with its innumerable complexities, and the reality of conscious desire.
In other words, the vast majority of female dark romance readers do not want to live the scenarios they read. Precisely, they can be all the more exalted that they occupy in their relations a place other than that of submission. One could even say that it is because they are free and emancipated that this literature takes on meaning for them. It’s like playing a game where you take risks, an exciting game that is an outlet for inner violence.
Should we not fear a trivialization of violence which, especially among the youngest readers, promotes a form of acceptance?
S. H. : Indeed, these readings can encourage some young girls to place themselves in the same situations as those of these novels. But they represent a minority. It’s like porn movies for teenage boys, since they’re mostly the ones watching them. With a few exceptions, they don’t interfere with their sexuality, as far as I can tell. However, you have to be vigilant.
How can adults support young readers of dark romance?
S. H. : In my opinion, it’s like for porn movies: the ban doesn’t work and makes it even more desirable because of the notion of transgression that it adds. Rather, we must resort to dialogue by explaining to young readers why these books attract them and to what psychic mechanisms they correspond. The more we support them, the more they will be able to make sense of things.