“Disability” can mean a whole lot of things: blindness, paralysis, amputated limbs, deafness, a chronic illness, brain damage. When I first started writing this blog, I thought it was a rare occurrence in romance novels. However, when I asked the staff here at AAR to brainstorm, we came up with a much longer list than I had anticipated.
In Virna DePaul’s upcoming book Shades of Desire, the heroine is coping with her recent loss of vision. Lily in Tessa Dare’s Three Nights With a Scoundrel is deaf, as are the heroines in Suzanne Brockman’s Into the Fire and Erin McCarthy’s Mouth To Mouth. The heroine in Jill Barnett’s Sentimental Journey is blind. When it comes to debilitating disabilities, Catherine Anderson deserves some serious praise for taking risks and writing about it: in Blue Skies, the heroine is formerly blind, and at risk for becoming blind again; in Phantom Waltz, the heroine is paralyzed; and perhaps the most challenging, My Sunshine, in which the heroine has brain damage, and Annie’s Song, in which the heroine is thought to be mentally handicapped but is in fact deaf.
Do you notice a theme? There aren’t too many men who are disabled in these romance novels. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part when a hero is disabled, it is limited to something relatively minor, in terms of affecting his ability to live independently. Some scarring, or a limp, perhaps, but nothing he can’t handle alone. Piers, in Eloisa James’ When Beauty Tamed the Beast, would be an example of this. When disabilities do show up, it’s the women who cannot be totally independent, who is wheelchair bound or blind or deaf.
Is this because we don’t want a hero who is physically imperfect? After all, the rate of stunningly attractive men with six-packs is much higher in Romancelandia than in real life. Is it that we doubt a real HEA when we know that the stress of having a disability, or caring for someone who does, can often strain relationships? Or does it stem from more deeply ingrained gender roles? Men are traditionally the breadwinners, the protectors, and to have a woman in that role still doesn’t feel quite right to some. Even now, are there are people who still think that a man incapable of providing for his partner in all ways is not truly a Man?
I don’t have an answer to that question, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
– Jane Granville