Feminism & Romance: Readers Respond

January 1997

Karen Witkowski (YWQE15B@prodigy.com):
Very interesting interview with Kay Mussell. And I applaud her for admiting that she’s changed her mind about romance novels over the past few years!

]]> Support our sponsors I’ve always considered myself a feminist, and after reading over 600 romance novels the past few years, I actually think they are the most pro-female genre there is. For the most part, the heroines are portrayed as strong, capable women who can and do succeed on their own terms – and very often in times when it was difficult for women to have any kind of independence. When they do find their “hero,” they choose a committed relationship because it’s something that will add to all that they are, not diminish them or because they need a man to take care of them.

Since the heroines insist on only the best in their heroes – true love in a committed relationship – I think romance novels serve as a good example that women should never “settle” for less in their own lives or in a relationship, and I find this very empowering for women.

Susan Scribner (stlscrib@i1.net):
I have always considered myself a feminist and have been a rabid romance reader for 20 years.

In my mind there’s no reason why the two have to be mutually exclusive. The greatest gifts feminism gave women, IMHO, are the right to choose the role that best fits them and the right to control their destinies. That’s why I get so annoyed when I get into one of those unnecessary “women who work outside the home vs. women who stay at home” arguments.

Why does one of the alternatives have to be the right one? Why can’t we respect and celebrate each woman’s choice?

I read and cherish romances that empower women and give them control over their own fates. While most recent romances fit that bill, I did give one recent romance a lower ranking in part because the heroine was stripped of her magic powers by the hero for two-thirds of the novel. To me that was the equivalent of disempowerment. It felt as if I were reading a pre-1970 essay on “how to act helpless so your man won’t be intimidated.”

One more note – if a novel written by and purchased by a woman isn’t feminist, what is?

Thanks for bringing this issue up.

Beth Abbot (niteowl1@pipeline.com):
I consider myself a feminist (I was a charter subscriber to Ms. Magazine as a teenager) and to me feminism is about the right to choose. All options are (or should be) open, and all choices should be respected. Therefore, within the framework of choice, how can feminism be incompatible with romance? Besides, most romance heroines are strong, independent women anyway. Romance is about love, and love is universal.

Rebecca Ekmark (drekmark@www.lakenet.com):
This is a subject I relish! Feminism is indeed compatable with romance. I think that not only has romance been effected by Feminist ideals, but I would also add that modern romance has helped the Feminist movement. Women who write books are in general an intelligent bunch that think women should be respected, thus write about intelligent and respected women. There are a few who aren’t doing women any favors, such as Beatrice Small, who uses the word “bitch” as an endearment, but in general I think that readers and writers are working together to make the world better for women. What better medium than literature written pretty much exclusively by and for women?

Robin Uncapher (RNU08@aol.com):
Many, many years ago, in a place now gone by (college in the 70’s), I had a first date on the night that Billie Jean King played tennis with Bobby Riggs. For those of you too young to remember Bobby Riggs, a decidedly over the hill player challenged King saying that he could win because he was a man.

I knew the relationship was a nonstarter when my date said that he was rooting for Riggs. I was annoyed not only because King deserved to beat Riggs. She was the better player. It was because Riggs was so insulting to women in general that he made a perfect foil. Trust me, no one but no one was fantasizing about Bobby Riggs.

To me the question of whether a romance reader can be a feminist is reflected more in the heroes she admires than in the heroines, and no, I’m not talking about forceful seduction. Have you ever noticed how some of Clark Gable’s costars got into trouble with him because they let him down, not because they didn’t cling? The phrase “and you Miss are no lady” from Gone with the Wind, was not the insult that Scarlett thought it was. As we all knew, Rhett Butler was complimenting her. Scarlett O’Hara was too special to be a mere lady.

Heroes get into trouble with me sometimes when protecting heroines. Here is how. There is a difference between a hero who doesn’t think a woman is physically strong enough to defend herself and one who thinks she is not mentally strong enough. I don’t mind a guy telling me he’s going to protect me (especially when some medieval bully is coming at me with a club) but I feel pretty repelled by a man who attempts to end an argument with the phrase. “Now sweetheart, I think I know a little more about this than you do.”

The phrase “No, it’s too dangerous for a woman,” is pretty offensive, but hearing or seeing a hero defend a heroine at great risk to himself is exciting. In Carla Kelly’s Mrs. McVinnie’s London Season, the hero declares “You have only to touch her and I will call you out.” Hey, I was thrilled, so sue me. Similarly Dara Joy’s Familiars are terribly protective of their women. Rejar will barely let Lilac out of his sight, but it is love that drives him, not lack of respect for her intellect. (I had some misgivings about her intellect but that’s another story.)

The need to be physically protected is probably hardwired into many women. We should not be ashamed of this unless we think it makes us even slightly inferior. After all humans are at the top of the food chain because they have more going for them than physical strength.


Quickie with Kay Mussell: Are Feminism & Romance Novels Mutually Exclusive? SF Author Catherine Asaro on Feminism & Romance Sociology Professor Elaine Wethington: Are Academic Opinions About Romance Novels All Negative? Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board Search our reviews database by Title or Author by Titleby Author’s Last Nameby Author’s First Name Do a more in-depth review search via Power Search

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