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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Anti-feminism in Romance? Say It Ain't So!

I don't know...maybe given the state of social politics in the US these days, I might be feeling a bit oversensitive. Be warned, this post is a bit ranty.

Lately, I've been reading a lot. A LOT. Its a way to cope with the ongoing stress of all the stuff that's been happening in my personal life. But as a writer, I believe in reading so I'm trying new-to-me authors, touching back into genres I haven't read for awhile and just expanding my horizons a bit. But lately, I've seen a trend that I find more than a little disturbing.

"I know its not cool for a modern woman, but I actually like to cook."


This came from an urban fantasy, from a top selling author. I read that line in the book and my reaction was pretty much, WTF? Since when does a modern, liberated woman not like to cook? While its not my thing (I'm an awful cook but a fantastic baker) most of my women friends are fantastic cooks...because they love it. Heck, my oldest daughter is an award-winning Chef d' Cuisine and needless to say, she's a modern woman who just happens to cook because she loves to.

And I read this definition of Women's Studies last night:

"We study the role of feminism in modern society, looking at social paradigms and how they relate to women, with a focus on how women are objectified and subjugated by men." 

What. The. Fuck?

That gem was from a paranormal printed by Harlequin Nocturne. I apologize to the author for quoting the line,but...

What the fuck? Where'd that definition come from? Rush Limbaugh?

The biggest problem in both of these examples are the heroines are in genres which generally give us "kick-ass women" but in these cases, the women are whiney, judgemental and generally too stupid to live. In the second case the heroine is particularly offensive. She's a smug bitch. She hates men and abhors sex. She disobeys the macho, too good to be true hero (who "nobly" refrains from screwing her when she's been rufied by a mega-aphrodisiac...but he does finger-fuck her dozens of times...for her own good...) and puts herself into dangerous situations. And when she spouts the above definition of "Women's Studies" the hero refrains from laughing.

This was written by a woman. 

Let's talk about Women's Studies, as the major was defined when I was in college. To be honest, I was not a Women's Studies major, I was a classical and archival history major with minors in Cultural Anthropology and Museology. I took  Women's Studies as part of my post graduate studies. It was a multi-disciplinary program looking at the role of women in history, culture, society, politics, etc, within the context of gender. 

For example, I wrote a feminist biography of a woman who was born in the US in 1910. The focus of the paper was her life given the context of the time she lived. During her life, she experienced the Dust Bowl and migrated to California. She had a mentally ill child and struggled through the health care system of the 1940s, and was assigned by the doctors the maternal burden of blame for her son's illness. She housed a brother-in-law who was brain damaged by the Spanish Flu of 1918. During WWII, her oldest son served in the army, but more importantly, she landed a job as a riveter in a factory. This woman was an avid crafter and many of her hobbies reached the scale of fine art. She made elaborate quilts, fine needlework and everyday items like knitted clothing. Some of the crafts she practiced were born of necessity but are now art forms we rarely see practiced today.

That was Women's Studies as it was presented at my university, not this stupid crap about being "objectified and subjugated by men." Yes, inequalities were examined, but always with an understanding of social and historical context.

What I'm seeing lately is feminism portrayed in a particularly negative light within the romance novel. There is nothing wrong with being a feminist. A religious woman can be a feminist. A sexual submissive can be a feminist. A man can be a feminist. Being a feminist is not being a woman who is some aggressive, butch broad who burns her bra while shouting pro-abortion chants into a megaphone. She's not some overreacted college professor who takes perverse pleasure in emasculating the everyday man. There is no stereotypical feminist.The heroines in the two books I cited as examples are not feminists, they're idiots.

I'm not sure where this twisted view of feminism is coming from, and why its showing up in romance novels...but stop it! Jeez! I'm sure there are people who can express themselves more eloquently than I can, but honestly...I'm seeing stronger, more balanced portrayals of women in the Regency romances I've read lately.And in all honesty, this trend could be examined in much greater depth than I'm giving it.

Heck, I could probably do a thesis on the subject.


Sarah Madison said...

Hah. You remind me why I stopped reading certain kinds of romance novels. And why I dream of one day writing a heroine that doesn't make me want to bitch-slap her 20 pages into the story. Because this trope you describe, the 'feisty' heroine that is TSTL, who frequently puts herself in danger (thus needing to be saved) while at the same time spouting the Misandry Motto is one I can't stand myself.

And I totally get the difference between cooking and baking. I'm a baker myself but frequently rely on the smoke detector to tell me when dinner is ready...

Belinda M. said...

LOL! My cooking is pretty hazardous!

Its so odd that I found both these examples in paranormal/UF, where we expect to find really strong female role models. Instead, the lone "feminist" is just a catastrophe.

Cynnara said...

TSTL heroines in many genres are cropping up. It's one reason I've been super picky of late. I'm striving not to name names, but people I've read for years have tipped scales and surprised me with suddenly having characters I don't like-- at all. Heroes and heroines that personally could die and I'd stand up and applaud. Bring back heroes and heroines who do the right things for the right reasons. Or the wrong things for the right reasons but not acting stupid continually!

Ugh! It's one of those points I think that got me the most-- continually doing the same damn thing wrong through FIVE books. I'm like, haven't you gotten a clue yet? I mean, really? I don't read the series and gave my books away. To me, that's just an author who took the easy way out. Sorry, but it is. Show me someone who might start out that way but progresses and grows, who changes because they learn they don't have to be that way-- things change and they can be better than that-- I'll stick around. Otherwise, not even.

I love to cook. I can sew. I wield a whip and a flogger with equal dexterity and occasionally, I've been known to bend knee. *grins* But I am feminine. I believe in the power of woman, just as there is the power of man. Different, but equal. Always.

cocochanel said...

AND THAT'S WHY... I began reading m/m romance.

Less impulses to bang my head on the desk over this matter...

Belinda M. said...

You know, Coco, I've read nearly as many TSTL heroes in m/m romance lately too. Like Cyn says, I think many authors are cheating on the character development and using cheap tropes and lowest common denominator plot devices to build conflict.

Recently I've read probably 20 historicals with amazing heroines and charming heroes. Maybe it was the authors I chose or I was in a receptive mood, but when I slipped back into UF and paranormal and read these two books, the heroines were just train wrecks...I think to make the heroes more appealing. Why sacrifice your female character to develop your hero? To me the heroine is the proxy for the reader. She's the linchpin of the story. I don't want to hate her! (or the author for doing lame-ass research!)