Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

There’s a moment in the original Jurassic Park film when Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, says emphatically, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Yeah, he’s talking about cloning dinosaurs, but this is a statement that has always stuck with me.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Just because you CAN tell a story about a Jewish woman falling in love with a Nazi commander, doesn’t mean you should.

Just because you CAN tell a story about an African American slave falling in love with a slave owner, doesn’t mean you should.

And yes, both those stories exist. The first was a Romance Writers of America RITA award finalist this summer. The second is a free story recently published by the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads.

Both stories feature protagonists from oppressed groups falling in love with a person who is their oppressor.

“But!” a thousand voices shout. “Not every person in that privileged group was an oppressor!”

No. Stop. This is where you need to reflect back on what I said earlier.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

When the discussion about the Nazi “romance” occurred this summer, some people brought up the fact that there were recorded instances of Jewish women falling in love with Nazis. I’m sure there are recorded instances of this happening between slaves and slave owners, as well.

But that’s irrelevant. Completely and utterly irrelevant.

Because as soon as you put that romanticized notion in a book—that not all Nazis were bad, or not all slave owners were bad—you erase the pain and horror these Jewish people or black people experienced.

You erase the fact that these marginalized groups STILL experience oppression every single day.

You ignore the fact that these groups are SCREAMING for people to stop and think. Rethink. Understand what privilege is. Acknowledge that it exists.

You are saying:

No, my desire to tell a love story trumps the depravity your ancestors experienced. Oh, and it’s more important than pain you still experience today.

At its core, romance is a fantasy. It doesn’t matter what kind of romance novel you write—you are presenting an ideal situation that probably doesn’t exist in the real world. We read romance to escape. We read romance to experience the high and low emotions of falling in love, knowing all the while that we’re safe and we won’t be left adrift. We know that the characters we come to love over the course of the story will have their happily ever after and we can rejoice in that.

But we need to be aware that some historical events should never be romanticized.

We need to, as a community, consider consent and what it means in the romance genre.

We need to listen to marginalized groups when they say, “No. Stop. This hurts me and this is why.” We need to not dismiss those comments, but actively consider them and work to understand their point of view.

We need to think critically about what we’re reading. And what we’re writing. We need to look beyond the “feels” and understand that no, some stories should never be told, because they are so damaging, so untrue, and present a rose-coloured view of history that hurts everyone—but especially those who are shouting for us to listen.

2 thoughts on “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

  1. thanks for this. you’ve really put the situation into the right words and in the right order, whereas I am too livid to find any words beyond what can be deployed in bitterly unhappy tweets.

    1. I’m glad I struck the right note here, julio. I read your review and the subsequent comments for the book in question on Goodreads, and all I could think was that the romance community needs to start thinking a bit more critically about what we write and read.

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