Last week, I was thoroughly enjoying an upcoming historical romance when, in a fit of understandable anger, the heroine slapped the hero across the face hard enough to leave a mark. As I continued reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about how uncomfortable that made me. If he’d hit her, that would be unacceptable. Why then, in a book with a wonderfully realized strong feminist hero, did the author believe it was viable for for her heroine to be violent?
There are a host of behaviors we (now) say are unacceptable in heroes. It’s deeply uncool for romance heroes to pressure a woman to have sex, to have sex with a lover who’s drunk or drugged, to raise a hand against or to belittle a woman.
And yet we reviewers at AAR are seeing stories where women do these same things and don’t receive the sort of censure male leads do. Sometimes these behaviors are explicitly justified by smashing the patriarchy. I understand that argument–women have been at the mercy of men for millenia–and yet, I still find myself discomfitted.
What do you think? Is it reasonable to have different standards for heroes and heroines? If so, why? If not, why not?