Bully Romances – Not The Power Exchange You Think

Literary experts call romance fiction “a genre where women win” and bully romances are no different. Contrary to the negative schoolyard connotation, the sub-genre has gained increasing popularity over the last few years.

Bully is aimed at a large range of women between about 18 and 45 and is often accompanied by a trigger and 18 plus warning. The added drama creates extreme angst, tension and suspense.

Many bully books are on Kindle Unlimited and make for intriguing self-iso reads, while your social life is on the back-burner.

If you’re a stranger to this niche genre, then keep an open mind and consider the phrase in its most literal interpretation: ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’.

What the hell is bully romance?

These stories usually take place in an academic setting and have one or more antagonistic heroes.

Bully is often combined with reverse harem, a genre in which the heroine has several love interests and eventually ends up in a polyamorous relationship.

The hero generally hates everyone and everything (including the heroine at first) and is normally quite jaded.

The heroine is often a new addition to the school and is either a gutsy, defiant character with an ‘I-don’t-give-a-shit’ attitude. Or a more subdued, quiet personality who has to find the inner strength to stand up for themselves.

Delightfully, the heroine will often then pursue their revenge in a VERY satisfying way before she joins sides with her bully/bullies.

The group will usually face an outside adversary while the heroine becomes romantically involved with one or all of them.

Why on God’s green Earth would someone read that?

Well Karen, we asked some of the fans what traits suck them in to find out.

Samantha Ubaldo, 30, said she’s more character driven in stories than plot, and in bully romances there’s a lot of room for that development.

Ubaldo, a legal secretary and victim advocate, said, “You’d think I wouldn’t like to see bullying because I was always dealing with family violence, that’s why I need to see that progression to where it’s not an abusive relationship.”

Many readers mentioned the lack of ‘love at first sight’ or ‘soulmate’ tropes were a pull, and several recounted the intense emotions felt in bully.

Jennifer Allenback, 25, shared that she was bullied in high school and says reading this genre helped her be at peace with her bullies.

“A majority of the bullies in the books, the root of the cause was normally centred in home family environment, or even to fit in,” she said.

Professor Lindsay Herron, who teaches English at Gwangju National University in South Korea said the themes of bully romance revolve around strength, courage, and survival in the face of adversity.

So unsurprisingly, most fans required a strong heroine that didn’t take any bullshit.

Herron said, “We love to cheer for an underdog who overcomes the odds; such characters help us imagine we, too, can overcome whatever life throws at us.”

Power exchanges and defeating the patriarchy

According to Dr Jodi McAlister, lecturer in writing, literature and culture at Deakin University, the central pleasure in bully romance is about power, but not in the way you think.

McAlister described the sub-genre’s central idea as more the bully falling in love with the bullied character rather than the bullied one falling in love with their bully.

“[Women in romance novels] exist in a patriarchal structure where men have all the power but because these men fall in love with them, the women symbolically win the narrative,” she said.

It’s important to note that after the initial bullying there’s an integral second step to the fantasy, the power is subjugated to the one that was bullied. The bully character then has to win over the heroine, which as you could imagine can include some grovelling.

McAlister said, “I think [readers] are kind of interested in watching them squirm and seeing that power subjugated to the one that was bullied.”

She added that flipping the power dynamic in a relationship appears to be the central pleasure in the genre. This is the moment when the character with no power suddenly possesses all the power over the bully.

“There’s clearly substantial pleasures to be had in the genre otherwise there wouldn’t be a readership,” she said.

Jump down the rabbit hole of romance sub-genres

Silke Jahn, 40, founder of Romance.io, a site that allows users to filter particular tropes in romance down to the last detail explains how genres can evolve quickly.

In a typical display of supply and demand, Jahn said often if one particular trope or book is successful then more authors will write into the niche to reach a larger audience.

“If you look into the genesis of these tropes then they’re always evolving and so it’s something we have to be mindful of because meaning can slightly shift,” she said.

For example, bully romance used to fall under the dark romance umbrella, but the darker sub-genre has further evolved to encompass stories with dub-con (dubious consent) and even non-con (non-consent).

Jahn said she noticed both bully and reverse harem romances were becoming more popular.

“I do believe [the draw] is the cathartic element of the confrontation and then the hero having to do penance and having to win her back.”

Feminism and relationships with assholes

English Professor Lindsay Herron said some second-wave feminists like Janice Radway have argued that abusive heroes in romance novels encourage women to interpret abuse in their own relationships as stemming from (misguided) love.

Herron disagrees: “There’s a separation between fiction and reality, between what we enjoy experiencing vicariously, in fiction, and what we’re willing to accept in real life.”

“One can admire the heroine’s strength and force of will in the face of bullying without necessarily being willing to endure bullying or abuse in real life, just as people can play first-person shooter games and still be horrified by real-life school shootings.”

Silke Jahn, said it’s a question of how you view romance books.

“Do you view it as a: ‘they actually depict ideal relationships’ and hence you should model your own relationship after it, or do you view them as fantasies and say ‘it’s a great way to explore fantasies you might have’, and I do believe it’s the second one,” she said.

Jahn added that labelling something as a ‘high school bully romance’ makes it clear that what you’re going to read is abnormal behaviour.

It’s called out before you even open the book as something problematic, which allows the genre to deal with the problems in their fantasy relationships in a more conscious way.

“In a way, it’s less problematic than seeing normalised sexist relationships in other media such as films, where you have a million examples of really problematic behaviour but that’s just being represented as normal or standard,” Jahn said.

Have you read any bully romances lately? Take a look at the Goodreads shelf and let us know what you think in the comments.

It’s Like Christmas Just Threw Up in There

Originally published on Hatch.

Self-proclaimed head elf Leanne de Smet, 60, is working through her 40th festive season at the Bredbo Christmas Barn with husband Neville.

The pair had two permanent locations and several pop-up Christmas stores across Canberra before moving their business to Bredbo, a tiny village south of Canberra on the Monaro Highway in 2005.

Thousands step through the red and green striped walls of their ‘Christmas Barn’ each festive season and Leanne and Neville must prepare for a festive assault on the senses with thousands of different ornaments, Christmas trees in every shade and hundreds of cheery Santas.

The red ornament section at Bredbo Christmas Barn (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

Leanne, 60, says the success of the business comes from having a large range of great quality stock; a large majority that they import themselves and some she has personally designed and made, as well as their very personal service.

“I have a growing number of elves who work with us in store, assisting our customers and Neville and I are in the shop pretty much every day we are open,” she adds.

Customers browsing ornaments at Bredbo Christmas Barn (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

“We love meeting every customer, so many have become true Christmas friends over the years some dating back to when we first opened.

“We have their children and even some of their grandchildren shopping with us now.”

Leanne says return customers, new customers finding out about the barn by word of mouth, through Facebook and Instagram, or simply by driving past keep the business growing.

Unlike many retail establishments during this time Leanne says all their customers are extremely positive, the negative ones don’t come as it’s a trip to see the store wherever customers live and they travel from all over Australia.

A sign at the entrance of Bredbo Christmas Barn with details of entry. (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke).

The Bredbo Christmas Barn specialises in internal displays rather than outdoor and sells everything you could imagine for the season, stocking more than 10,000 different tree ornaments each year.

“We have all price points, but I like to carry beautiful pieces that will be passed on over the years, and become family heirlooms,” says Leanne.

A customer browsing the white ornament section. (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

The barn stocks several limited-edition collections such as Katherine’s an American designer with an exquisite attention to detail in their life-sized Santas that can retail up to $3000. This compares to some 45cm tall Santas Leanne designs herself and which sell for $49.95.

Christmas is increasingly commercialised but Leanne says she doesn’t think this has warped the meaning of the holiday at all.

“Yes, I want our customers to buy our fabulous pieces, that way I can continue to buy more every year too but I’m encouraging my customers to replicate that magical feeling in their homes, to start family traditions, and make wonderful memories for their children, their family and friends, to share and reminisce about over the years,” she adds.

A display of reindeer figures and other ornamental decorations. (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

“Christmas doesn’t have to be about the presents, although the odd sparkly bit of compressed coal, is always something nice to find at the bottom of my stocking.

“It’s about surrounding yourselves with loved ones, and if the house happens to look amazing, decorated to the 9’s and 10’s, that is a jolly good bonus.”

A blue-themed Christmas tree amongst other decorations at the barn. (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke).

Leanne says Christmas is all about celebrating family, for some that may be the Holy family and for others their own family both relatives and chosen.

The de Smets plan to spend a casual day with family, a feast of food, bubbles and good conversation while FaceTiming their daughter and two grandchildren who are holidaying in America.

Libraries of The Future Are Actually Here – Now!

Originally published on Hatch.

Boasting an ideas lab where customers can attend a variety of workshops including coding, robotics, virtual reality and school holiday maker sessions, Sydney’s latest library is a far cry from the dusty old buildings of the past.

Located across two floors of the innovative nest-like Exchange at the south end of Darling Harbour and designed by world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma, it also features a market hall, rooftop bar, restaurant and childcare centre.

The lord mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore described it as a ‘spiralling light-filled hive, wrapped in 20 kilometres of sustainably sourced timber’.

The six-storey Exchange is at the centre of the new neighbourhood of Darling Square between Haymarket and Darling Harbour.

Ground level of the Exchange (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

Despite the idea that print books are going out of style and libraries are a thing of the past Mrs Moore said: “At the city, we know how much well-designed and well thought out libraries add to our communities and how loved and appreciated they are by those communities”.

She added libraries were important community hubs that have moved on as society has moved on.

“Public libraries are now being recognised as cultural destinations along with museums and galleries and in a time of rabid population growth they provide much needed space for people to connect, to learn and to relax,” said Mrs Moore.

The Darling Square library is open seven days a week and provides access to over 30,000 items including a large Asian literature collection.

Person in a Very Hungry Caterpillar suit (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke).

The children’s area will have regular bilingual rhyme and story time sessions that cater for the diverse Sydney community.

“This is a state of the art library, it has spaces for ideas and creativity with an ideas lab which includes a multipurpose space for meetings and conferences and the dedicated maker-space,” said Mrs Moore.

She added the ideas lab will support local technology and creative start-ups by providing access to resources and a variety of specialist equipment and materials like 3D printers and laser cutters.

The maker-space at Darling Square library (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke).

“We’re going to put on a program of workshops, seminars and events for kids, teens and adults to create, to invent, to tinker and to explore, and to provide opportunities for participants to up-skill, to share knowledge and to network,” said Mrs Moore.

A Banksy Exhibition Without Banksy?

Originally published on Hatch.

A new exhibition on Banksy has come to Sydney and in true fashion is causing controversy over whether or not the secretive street artist is actually involved in it.

It’s titled The Art of Banksy An Unauthorised Exhibition but questions remain whether this is just a marketing gimmick to fit in with the artist’s anti-authority image.

The England-based artist is well known for his satirical graffiti pieces and his anonymity, and the collection is the largest of Banksy originals ever to be shown in Australia.

The value of Banksy’s work has skyrocketed after his painting Devolved Parliament, depicting British parliamentarians as chimpanzees, sold for a record breaking $18,607,506 in London earlier this month.

The exhibition features 80 pieces of Banksy’s original work and includes pop culture icons Girl with Red Balloon, Pulp Fiction and Rude Copper.

Girl with Balloon (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

Exhibition curators are adamant it really is unauthorised.

Chris Ford, co-curator, described it as more of an overview of Banksy’s artwork produced in the studio and largely donated from a series of private collectors.

“The behind the scenes process of how these artworks came to life, is often not very well publicised so it means that was a part of the story that we wanted to try and uncover a little bit more about,” Ford said.

Previously Banksy’s anonymity hadn’t allowed for this deeper exploration behind his art as he had to keep his identity secret to avoid arrest.

Ford believes this has meant people develop their own idea of who the artist is by looking at his work.

“I think it’s quite a powerful element to his pictures because it gives people the opportunity to have their own idea, to create their own sort of superhero for want of a better word,” he said.

An original Laugh Now Barcode (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

Ford says the show is put together with the greatest respect for Banksy’s work and the unauthorised nature of it hasn’t put off many fans so far.

“It’s one of those things that because he’s associated with such controversy, people are always looking for something to make a fuss out of and the unauthorised nature of it seems to be one of those pieces,” he added.

This is not the first exhibition of Banksy’s work to proceed without any contact or permissions with the artist himself.

In August last year, Banksy publicly denied any affiliation with an exhibition in Moscow announcing on Instagram via a screen grab that he would never charge people to see his art.

However, he admitted in the same screen grab that he is perhaps not the best person to complain about people putting up pictures without getting permission.

The Art of Banksy An Unauthorised Exhibition is located at The Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park, Sydney.

Currently booking tickets up to December 1. For more information CLICK HERE

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