I think that sometimes we confuse difficult and unlikable with complex and flawed. But being a Mary Sue can be tiresome, y’all! And no one knows that better than Molly O’Keefe’s heroines, who risked not being liked in favor of having fun and doing what they want (while wearing pink cowboy boots).
Sexual Double Standards in Romance Novels or She Wants It - And That's Okay by Molly O’Keefe
Bubble. Me. Happy.
But as I sat down to write this blog Serena William's comments regarding the Steubenville Rape Case managed to make their way into my bubble. And this blog isn't about rape culture but about sexually forthright heroines and Serena's ugly, awful, victimizing comment made me realize anew how incredibly complicated and varied the female relationship is with sex.
Another blow to the bubble was on Dear Author and Robin/Janet's thought-provoking post on Extreme Romance. This post brought out a lot of comments that damaged the rose-colored glasses that I was wearing regarding the generous feminism of the romance-reading community. (I understand for many that was just a conversation about taste, but to me some of it strayed too far into judgement and condemnation and even some strange "let's protect the women who can't figure out this is bad." But I live in a bubble and have a very low threshold for conflict, so this is just my opinion).
The explosion in popularity of erotica and - admittedly - my life in the bubble managed to obscure the whole complicated and messy picture; we're still deeply conflicted about the sex we have, the sex other people are having, the sex forced upon unconscious girls. The sex we choose to read about.
And, I'm a huge fan of romance novels. To me there's not much a well-written romance novel can't reveal to us about the beauty and pain of being human. And looking at how heroines have come into their own sexually in recent novels, revealed how powerfully, how bravely and importantly some romance writers have been trying to make sense of this conflict and how they are using it to fuel really exciting and challenging romance novels.
In the early days of my romance reading - there were two kinds of sexually active heroines. The kind who went into sex with their eyes wide open - wanting sex, understanding what was about to happen to them only to have karma get wind of this and unleash a thousand hells (usually in the form of multiple rapes) upon them. Poor Skye O'Malley. Poor some of those secondary characters in the Danielle Steele books. The other sexual creature - was the innocent. The deer in headlights who didn't know her body, or understand the feelings she was feeling nor did she have a clue what was about to happen to her in that ducal bed/field/private jet /pirate ship. Sometimes it was magic. Lots of time it was rape.
It seemed in so many of the books I loved that love was something that happened to the innocent and victimized. Sex and the heroines relationship to it - was her ENTIRE ARC. Innocent, to intrigued to victimized to wary to brave to orgasmic to FULLY-REALIZED WOMAN.
At the same time heroes were growing more and more sexually active and demanding. The Alpha was perfected and honed. The conflict between experience and innocence is a powerful one, the redemption innocence brings to experience - also powerful. But it seemed the more dissolute our heroes became the more pristine perfection was required from our heroines. And I read about a million of these. I would imagine we all did.
The cookie-cutter criticism was not wrongfully applied.
The Leopard Prince. The heroine, George isn't interested in marriage, she's interested in having sex with her land steward. She's not a victim, she doesn't have a terrible past, she's a woman who knows what her body wants and it wants Harry. So, she goes after him.
Sarah Mayberry and Victoria Dahl both have heroines who in different ways, have sex the way we would typically assign to heroes. Zoe in Mayberry's She's Got It Bad is a promiscuous rock star. Jane in Dahl's Lead Me On uses the hero for sex.
Anne Calhoun and Cara McKenna, have both recently written some very interesting female characters) who are asking really important questions about women and sexuality and shame and power and feminism that push the genre in new directions and create a broader spectrum and in turn a broader discussion.
But virgins are back too, so I don't know what that means.
There's always going to be romance readers who can't relate and aren't interested in the sexually forth-right heroine, but we need her. And we need the authors who write her.
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