Confession: I’m not perfect.
Well, duh, you say. No one is. But judging by some of the romances I read, I’d never know that women lead imperfect lives.
I’m not talking about historicals, which are a little different. Considering I already have to put myself – a second-generation academic Chinese immigrant – into the place of a marriage-ready Caucasian ten years my junior, anything else is not a stretch. So I can imagine that a lifetime of eating meat and taking country walks will keep me thin, and that I’ll marry a duke even though I’m just the bailiff’s daughter. A perfect historical heroine? No big deal.
But contemporaries are different. This is my world, maybe my life, that the author is describing, and I have a crucial interest in being able to relate to the heroine. I know it’s not easy for authors – readers are damn particular, and if the heroine’s too flawed then we hate her. But that’s our problem. The issue arises when the heroine represents some mystical ideal of successful contemporary womanhood that frankly scares the heck out of me. How can you possibly relate to someone who has everything she needs and most things she wants?
I mean, look at me. I’m neither at the zenith nor the nadir of my professional career. I am of very average attractiveness. I have equal moments of sociability, snobbery and shyness. I consider myself well-adjusted and happy, but I also have insecurities. I am normal; I am not perfect. So when I read about heroines who are gifted with professional success, emotional strength, financial security, material comfort, physical beauty, aerobic fitness, a healthy sex drive, and a man at the end – well, can you understand why I’ve got my bitch on?
Obviously not all heroines are like that. But a lot of heroines have most of these qualities, and too much of the conflict arises from events or people perpetrated on them rather than as a result of the heroine’s faults. And how realistic is that? To be able to sail through life with few missteps and still live happily-ever-after? Please.
I suppose it comes down to two separate issues: Characterization and execution. I can’t fault authors for creating heroines who begin or end the book in unusually blessed circumstances – this is, after all, fiction, and some authors do it successfully. But I can and bloody well will fault authors who don’t make these heroines human. They’re given tiny quirks that shout “See? We’re normal!” Well, they’re not.
Right now you could be thinking, “What’s her problem? It’s a story, for crying out loud!” My perspective is that if romance is supposedly written by women, for women, then I’m not always reading that. A book is not geared for me if it’s not written about a woman like me. Plain and simple.
Do you get hit by too much heroine perfection in romance novels? How do you define a perfect heroine?
– Jean AAR