I had to ask myself this question the other day because, while doing some interviews for my latest non-fiction project ‘The Anger Games; How Girls are Changing the World’ which is about female teen activism, I was asked ‘How can you write about romance and then about feminism? Aren’t they sort of mutually exclusive?’
Are they? At first the question sent me into paroxysms of self-doubt. Am I unwittingly perpetuating the myth of ‘needing a man’ by writing romance novels? Or reinforcing gender stereotypes by making my heroes undeniably alpha men? Well, maybe. Or maybe not. I think it largely depends on how you look at it.
Firstly, romance novels have largely changed. In ‘Passionate Plots‘ I write about how the ‘too stupid to live’ heroine is a trope that needs to go, and I’ve already made clear on this blog my feelings about such characters as Bella from Twilight and Ana from Fifty Shades. In the main though, romance readers require a spunkier heroine these days – one who is as likely to rescue the hero as he is to rescue her, and one who refuses to bow to convention. Sure, a happy ending is expected, but it is anti-feminist to portray a happy, equal relationship between a man and a woman? I would say that’s about as feminist as you can get.
In my historical romances, for example, my heroines all live in periods where women had little freedom. Yet all of them are, for whatever reason, trying to make their way independently in life against the odds. And one of the things I’ve always been very clear about is that when they hook up with Alpha Guy at the end of the story, that independence is retained – and the hero is confident and forward thinking enough in himself to respect and even encourage that. What’s not feminist about that?
There was a recent article in Jezebel (a feminist ezine) that sums up my thinking on this perfectly – romance novels are primarily written by women, for women, about women’s fantasies. That makes them about as woman-centric as you can get. They also routinely feature and celebrate the hero performing oral sex on the woman – something largely missing from mainstream, male-driven media and porn. Maybe we should encourage men to read more romance novels….
For me, feminism is about giving women choice and agency. Not telling us that doing this or that isn’t feminist, or that becomes just another form of control. A genre that is almost exclusively focused on women is to my mind decidedly feminist, and should perhaps be recognised as such.
So my answer to that question?