Once upon a time an established writer told me I must write stories that change people’s lives. I MUST. Bite me. I beg to differ. But the recent debates regarding ‘Feminism in Romance’ over at Australian Women’s Writers ( http://www.australianwomenwriters.com/2012/03/in-defence-of-books-written-by-women.html ) and the success of 50 Shades of Grey has got me thinking about where we’re going with all this. What is the future of Romance Writing? Should I be attempting to write the next great Women’s Movement Bible? Because I can tell you now, I don’t have it in me. I’m simply not that deep. But then nor is 50 Shades of Grey and its filling up the shelves in department stores like nobody’s business. So what are readers after?
I believe it’s a story that speaks to them, heart and soul. It’s the tale that captures their imagination and carries them far, far away. There was a poster on my classroom wall in High School that said finishing a good book is like losing a good friend. Isn’t that what a reader is searching for?
But back to the serious stuff. Is romance reflecting the times? Does it encourage unequal relationships? Does it present us with disempowered, choice-less heroines waiting to be rescued? Is it focused on sex and an emotional rush rather than more literary minded, mental pursuits? Does it matter? Well... yes. It does. But only in so much as these issues are fundamentally important. Should they dictate what we buy and read? No. Never. But the Golden Rule here: If the heroine is too stupid to live and the hero an ass in the making then it’s likely to sink in a nano-second. Go read the discussions over at AWW2012. They can express it far more eloquently than me.
Still here? Okay. Let’s start with - Is it focused on sex and an emotional rush rather than more literary minded pursuits? Answer: Who cares? Seriously? Why should feminism be boxed into being literary minded and cerebral? Men for centuries told stories about how reason was more important than fluffy emotions. They often swilled wine and wore weird hats while they did it. Usually this division was justified by associating men with reason and women with said fluff. Such stuff lingers. If we decide we want to take emotion by the horns and run with it then all power to us. Or am I missing something?
Does Romance present us with disempowered, choice-less heroines waiting to be rescued? Well, it’s a rather broad genre with many, many contributors, far and wide. For every kick-butt self-rescuing princess you’re going to get a sappy, suffering waif who probably would have been evicted long since by a hero with any sense. And the ones in-between? The closer to normal women who are trying to be strong and get along? Well, they’re like most women actually are... but with a buff, chiselled hero ready to fall at their feet given the right wind conditions. Lucky things. It wouldn’t be so useful if every romantic protagonist was Wonder Woman. It would get dull for starts. Give the guy less to do for seconds. And it wouldn’t really empower anyone, now then, would it? If everyone was fantastic all the time then what’s the fuss about? But should Ms Average represent the issues and concerns of the modern age? Authenticity wise, I’m going to lean towards the yes side of things. Does the Author owe us a lecture on safe sex however? No. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing the right thing by discussing and raising awareness of these issues through debates like the one over at AWW2012...
Does it encourage unequal relationships? Let us reflect upon Pride and Prejudice. When Darcy first proposes to Elizabeth, if she had accepted then and there it would have been an unequal relationship. He all but believes himself bewitched. He’s been smacked upside the head with lust. It isn’t real love at this stage. Not until he respects her and she respects him do we have our Happy Ever After. Is this balance of power reflected across the board in romance? We can only hope. But satisfaction will not be guaranteed if it isn’t. Let’s give the reader some credit. We know a forever after when we see one. We also know a ‘Well, she’s bound to be just his starter wife...’ when it falls across our bedside table. Or Kindle.
All of what we have discussed thus far is stuff that happens in the books. How about the process? Romance books are by and large written by women, for women, and f*ck what men think. Doesn’t this strike you as feminist? Women exploring fantasies and heady, convoluted tales of love, lust and passion, in whatever form they so please.
So, to sum up. Does romance impact negatively in any way shape or form on how women are thinking? No. Women can think for themselves. We can. So there.
DISCLAIMER: This is what happens when you drink vodka and have drunken debates with your partner the philosopher. Avoid vodka and never, ever marry a philosopher. You've been warned. And sorry about the length of the post. It won't happen again.