Unless you’re a dressmaker or the author of even one romance novel you probably haven’t even heard of a bodice. Miriam Webster Dictionary meaning: Bodice—the upper part of a woman’s dress. Oh, yeah, another class of citizens knows, too, all about bodices, and they, like others of limited intelligence—specifically, certain truck drivers and too many fourteen-year-old boys—believe they were put on earth to be ripped.
Truck driver, you say? What would a truck driver know about that? Apparently a great deal. An editor who shall remain nameless, formerly with Bantam Books back in the day, explained it this way. “When truck drivers come to the warehouse to pick up a shipment of books most of the boxes have a cover pasted to the box. They typically looked for books with nursing-mother bosoms in low-cut gowns.” Why? Because they liked them. Little boys, weaned too soon, grown up to be truck drivers, actually drove the market when it became clear they were the ones choosing the books (well, the covers, because most of them could probably only read at 3rd grade level if that). Those were the books that went flying off the warehouse shelves, case after case, truckload after truckload, to the retail stores. Naturally, publishing houses’ art departments took note of what books were being shipped out most often and by golly, there went the titty-books like it was a fire-sale! “Hey!” they cried. “We’re on to a good thing! Let’s dress all the heroines in period costumes with low-cut gowns and put them on the decks of pirate ships. Doesn’t matter if there’s a pirate or a ship or the story takes place in modern-day Brooklyn or Tulalip. Historical cover with big bosoms sell. If it works, don’t fix it!”
As a former bookseller, I can attest to the phenomenon. Of course, I put what purported to be NYT Bestsellers front and center, and who stood there gawking, hoping against hope for a “costume malfunction”? Why, fourteen-year-old boys, of course, likely destined to be come truck drivers. These same little boys, in their fantasies, pictured themselves as the only half-seen hero standing near the big-boobed cover girl. They envisioned themselves as ripping that dress right down the middle so they could create in their own little minds the sensual pleasure of tearing a woman’s dress off her chest so they could get at the goodies they knew were inside.
No, these male children who dreamed these secret dreams didn’t know the term “bodice”. That it came into popularity, I confess, is entirely my fault. “Get out of my store, you little creeps. I hate it when you stand there drooling down a cover model’s bodice.” Oops! Then I had to send them to the dictionary aisle to look up “bodice.” Alas, one day, a kid a little bit smarter than the others whined, “I wasn’t drooling, lady. I just want to rip her bodice right off her so I can touch those golden globes the guy beside her is looking down at. He’s gonna get to do it, so why can’t I? Gimme a chance! Gimme cleavage! I wanna rip bodices. Lots of them. All of them. If those guys get to do it, why shouldn’t I?”
I explained that ripping bodices was definitely not permitted. It could be seen as insulting, even worse, sexual harassment—maybe even leading to charges of the r-word I dared not utter lest it put even wilder ideas and fantasies into those little, scarcely developed young minds. But, again, alas and probably alack, as time went on, the term “bodice ripper” swept the world until everyone who ever wrote a story about a man and a woman falling into…er…love or some other convenient place, was accused of writing Bodice Rippers, even if the cover of the book had a posy or a decorous little Amish woman wearing a tiny white cap, if the author was a woman, she was surely writing “Bodice Rippers” aka “Trash.”
My own romance novels fall somewhere in between a historical and a sweet romance and only a couple of times did I have a cover that could have been given that insulting moniker and in the example below, the guy has almost as much cleavage as the woman, though she is well endowed. Oh, right. You don’t think it’s insulting. I get that. You’re just having fun with me. Teasing. You know I write stories about mature relationships between a consenting adult woman and an adult man of her choice. You know my books nearly always have children in then, or pets, or both, and they involve a couple sorting through options, making considered choices that will benefit not only themselves, but may, in some way, assist other women in taking a harder look at their own lives, deciding what’s right for them. Or what’s wrong.
Of course it’s insulting for you to call all romance novels, regardless of content “Bodice Rippers”, especially if you’ve never read even one. If you had, you’d likely have learned that bodices, in most cases, are gently unwrapped to reveal what those kids so longed to see. And that the “ripper” would be firmly smacked down if he did it any other way. It would be insulting. Just as my diatribe about truck drivers and fourteen-year-old boys is. I did that purely as an object lesson. I don’t refer to male oriented “thrillers” where the hero gets it on with a couple of different women before the end, “Dick Lit.” I could, but I don’t because that would be, well, offensive. Besides, I read a lot of those books and I’d be insulting my own intelligence if I were to label them with a “cutsie” little one-name-fits all, to make it easier for those who’ve never read them to simply brush them off as trash not worth their time.
Give it up, guys, love and romance are here to stay. Just like dicks.