My Issue with some Romance Novels

I’m not too sure I can clarify this because it’s steeped in emotional response and growling noises. And maybe some duct tape because I overdid it with the knife.
Just kidding.

Why am I not big on novels that are mainly romance novels?
In a short, one sentence answer: Due to the way women are treated by men.
It makes me want to stab things. Preferably male things.

 

I'm female, I'm an idiot!

I’m female, I’m an idiot!

In much longer than one sentence, this is why I do not like most romance novels (keep in mind that there are romance novels I like. I think):

I don’t find a man bullying his way into a woman’s life because he decides she needs his help as “romantic”.
And then they magically fall in love even though he’s treating her like a uselss child that can’t fight, defend, or think for itself. And I say ‘it’ because apparently she’s not a human being with human rights, thoughts or justifiable emotional responses.
But hey, he is so hot that her knees buckle, she melts, she gets instantly turned on to the extreme level of all levels – every single time that she sees/glances at/think about him, so that’s really all that matters. Clear indicator that they’re meant for one another. That and the fact that she can’t think straight when she’s in his presence.

Such a healthy relationship, totally based on mutual respect. Because real love equals submissive woman being bullied by a caveman with good looks, who knows how to handle every situation, takes command of everything and never had an emotional crack or vulnerability in his life. And if he does now, it’s all her fault and it’s definitely a bad thing.

 

stockvault-coffee-heart-art143868

Emotions = bad, weak.
Women = too emotional. 
Everything they say can be written down to stupid female hormones. She doesn’t actually mean it. And if she does, she doesn’t know any better because she’s a silly emotional female.

 

And do you notice that most novels where the female main character is both strong and feminine – not losing the fact that she is a woman while still being intelligent and/or sturdy – are written by men? Women: what’s up with you? Why are you keeping this unrealistic and abusive crap up in your novels? Even the title reflects the woman as the object and the man the main character of the relationship.

Women are paraded out as strong and tough yet on the inside they are frightened and weak. And the man is strong, commanding, and an emotional bulldozer who never falters. So he discovers her vulnerability and has to protect her. Because she’s incapable of doing so herself on any level.

Man – uber strong, knows what’s going on, level headed, judgment not clouded by emotions, makes all decisions because he is wise and knows everything. Including what her decisions should be.

Woman – an idiot. Can’t make decisions. Needs to stay out of the bad guy situations because she doesn’t have male anatomy. Clearly this means she’s incapable of taking care of herself in any way.

 

heart box

And I can’t stand how the man makes a big deal in some explosive scene, going on about how the woman is helpless and an idiot who can’t make decisions for herself. And even though it makes her angry – they never talk about this. And the chick subtly ignores and then becomes okay with this. WHAT?! Three pages ago she was fuming and rightly so, thinking straight and seeing it for the misogynistic crap it is. Next she’s all gooey and he’s saving her and she loves him. 
Or – and this one really doesn’t make sense – after the explosive caveman scene of her helpless, him protector/taking all your rights as a human being away, she saves the day and they still go along with the ideal that he’s the strong one. And she is not.
*stabbity stab stab stab*

This is all I see when I read a romance novel. I don’t want to only see this. I really would like to find romance novels that don’t spread this bad relationship brainwashing. I go into it thinking it sounds good and I might like this one. But nope. Still the same thing. 
And just so you know, I only pick up romances when they include a plot other than the romance. You know, like some mysterious illness making resident were-creatures freak out and kill random people and the main peeps must find out what’s wrong and fix it. So I am not setting myself up for failure by reading a straight romance. But still – I end up grrrrr!

I think the only romance I read that didn’t have this misogynistic undertone (or explosive in your face misogyny) was a young adult novel by Melissa Marr that I read like seven years ago. Major props to this chick.

And to prove that I’m not only seeing what I want to see – I did read a paranormal romance recently that I liked. The female was weak and helpless. The male was strong and in the know on almost every subject. The few pages of the whole “male, lots of sex = awesome / female, sex at all, =whore she better not have” issue showed up because the novel was set in the past but I ignored it. Because it was the time period and they didn’t bring it up more than once. I liked the book, I still have it. And it was very romancey.

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I find that most people don’t agree with my assessment of romance novels. Most chicks I ask love them.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s the whole “ignore the small issues even though they are subtly brainwashing everyone into thinking it is right and should not be protested” thing. Because I’m just over reacting. The men should always protect women by taking away their choices and deciding for them that they are weak and need protecting. A.k.a. bullying.
Hand me that knife please.

As a side note, I am not against romance. At all. Or love or being vulnerable, sweet, mushy or emotional. I’m just against it being treated as if its weakness or inferior.

But that’s the beauty of stories – they’re extremely subjective. What I cannot stand, someone else may love. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s why they make vanilla and chocolate ice cream. It takes all kinds to make the world go round.
But you were asking, so there’s my reason. 😉

*stabity stab*

Do you like romance novels? Does this issue bother you or is it pretty shrug worthy to you? Is there something else that bothers you or that you particularly love about romance novels?
Any book recommendations where women aren’t treated this way?

Don’t believe I’m being fair toward male/female roles and the way society treats it? Read this.

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16 Comments

Filed under The Odd Bit

16 responses to “My Issue with some Romance Novels

  1. I applaud you for your courage to even broach this subject! It’s hard to talk about this, because then you have romance authors creeping out of the woodwork (like me) to comment on your words, possibly with knives (NOT me, I swear!), but at the very least, with strong reactions.

    I both agree and disagree with your assessment. I have read “a fair amount” of romance novels. Not nearly enough to cast a generalization throughout all the Lands of Romance, but enough to say that at least in *my* experience, I have never once read a romance novel that has anything to do with what you mention above.

    HOWEVER — I am extremely sensitive to said misogyny in romance, because of how pervasive the mere stereotype was. Even though I had never read the classic, horrific example of misogyny in romance, I knew they existed. And for a very long time, I held this stereotype of romance novels *against myself* as a reason that writing romance was not a valid creative option. “Because all the people think they’re one way, so they must be.”

    They’re not. And I’m sure you know this. I, for one, am very selective about what romances I let into my life. That doesn’t mean I haven’t ever had laughably bad ones enter, or romances that embody other unsavory stereotypes of the genre, but as far as misogyny? I feel like it’s pretty easy these days to sniff those out and avoid them.

    My own romances feature women so independent and headstrong that they usually *almost* succeed to talking themselves out of falling in love with the hero because they’re so resistant to any perceived sign of weakness (i.e. being head over heels for someone). I think there are tons of authors that do the same or something similar.

    Unfortunately, there are still a lot of women who like that gender role to be fulfilled — big strong man, taking charge of our lives, directing the show, etc. I think that will change as the societal tides change as well, which they definitely are.

    Which is why you see so many more romances these days featuring really headstrong, independent women who know their shit and engage in mutually respectful relationships. It’s really inspiring! And, as far as my experience goes, the norm.

    Thanks for writing about this — I didn’t intend to write a mini-thesis on your article, but here we are! Excellent topic to delve into!

    • Aw, thank you. Yeah I was actually worried about that. I understand that it takes a lot of gumption and work to write a novel and I don’t want to put anyone’s efforts down.

      And yes, I have found romance novels that don’t follow along the lines of my complaint. Thank heaven! If not, I wouldn’t keep giving them a try. 😉

      And don’t worry about it. Big comments don’t scare me in the least. 😉 I’ve been known to leave a few of my own.

  2. Kessie

    Ugh, yes, this bugs me, too. I’m so tired of alpha males. What is it about arrogant jerks that women find so attractive? The danger?

    You’re right about men writing balanced female characters. I just read the Dresden books, and his women are, like, people. They have jobs and hobbies and if they have to work with Harry, they’re going to give him hell, as well as slay monsters. And they don’t necessarily jump into bed (but then he’s not writing straight romance).

    I’m writing an urban fantasy YA series, and I’m experimenting with romantic subplots. They’re great for character motivations! And I’m so sick of love triangles, I’m staying away from them. A werewolf guy and girl with gravity powers have enough trouble all on their own.

  3. As a general rule I do not read novels where romance is the main genre, but even as a sub-genre I have some conditions for it. I refuse to read anything that features a love triangle, and I can’t tolerate simpering females. Unfortunately, this has become the norm for most YA novels. 😦

  4. Hmm, I’m not that fond of romance novels because I find them too predictable, but now that you mention it, they do too often perpetuate the old he should take charge/she should let him role models. And yeah, that sometimes leaves me with that stabity stab urge too!

    • Oh, yes, that’s another thing. Romance novels are extremely predictable. 😉

      • The predictability is absolutely why I stopped reading romances. We have an author at misterio press who sometimes writes romance. But she calls them love stories, because she doesn’t have the heroine swooning over the hero and she doesn’t always have the traditional HEA (happy ever after) ending.

        I have two books in my mystery series that would qualify as romantic suspense. One has a “we’ll wait and see” ending; the other has a “happy for now, until the next installment” ending. Life does not have HEA endings, folks! Get a grip!

      • Sometimes I mess with my mom, who will be telling me about the book she’s reading and wondering if the two main characters will get together… I’ll look at her and go, ‘it’s a romance. of COURSE they’re going to get together.’

        Exactly – That’s just the thing! We don’t go through issues and then BOOM, everything is perfect. Even couples who do stay together still have issues they have to work through.

        And I love to hear about all the novels people are writing now without the typical roles and endings. 😉

      • I think these are all very good points. However, as far as the predictability goes, this is kind of a loaded gun. Maybe the romances will end up HEA or HFN but it’s part of what makes the genre the genre. Are we disappointed when crime thrillers involve a murder, a chase, and then a resolution? It’s genre fiction.

        As for the ill will toward HEA in general, I don’t think the presence of HEA in novels has anything to do with people being out of touch with reality. Sure, HEA isn’t necessarily commonplace in real life. But either are vampires or shape shifters. Should we tell those readers to get a grip as well?

        I understand not everyone will prefer romance when faced with the interminable selection of books available. But let’s be more respectful of those who choose to read it. Escapism or not, love in general is just as worthy a topic as any other.

      • Ember ~

        Oh, I DEFINITELY don’t have anything against HEA endings.

        And I agree, that HEA is part of the requirement of the genre, I simply meant that I don’t like how they take such a classic way of getting toward it most of the time. And how sometimes they put people together who realistically would not end up together. Like, the guy bullying aka “wooing” the woman. Not every woman is going to be okay with you literally taking over her life, telling her how to live it and then fall in love with you.

        Other than that I don’t have a problem with HEA endings. As long as its realistic, I’m glad.

        I think what Kassandra means (and if I’m way off base here Kass, let me know) is that when you do read a mystery or something, you know they’re going to figure it out but you have no idea WHAT it is they’ll figure out or HOW or what it will cause on the way. When you pick up a romance novel, you know the guy is going to get the girl in the end. Period. I think maybe that’s just not up her alley. She doesn’t want solid predictability. And most times I don’t either.
        I like romance when its a subplot and it keeps me wondering if these people are possibly going to be together or not. Personally, I find a lot of straight romances misogynistic. But that’s MY opinion and I would never tell a writer that they shouldn’t be writing or that their work is stupid. I don’t believe that at all. In fact, its like I said, I like what I like and others like what they like. So we need all types. There are going to be TONS of writers that will be bored with my writing. And I’m okay with that. To each his own.

        So I didn’t want to disrespect anyone else or their genre but I do believe everyone has the right to express their personal opinion without degrading another. Love is always a worthy topic. But to me, romance novels and “love” are two different things. I struggle with getting past the misogynistic roles in romance novels. And that’s why I wrote this post.
        No disrespect meant. 😉

    • Daphne,

      I don’t think you’re disrespectful at all! I love commenting on your blog and participating in the discourse. Romance novels, for a variety of reasons, have proven to be a source of contention for a long, long time. Some of it has to do with antiquated notions, some of it has to do with poor writing, and some of it has to do with a whole batch of other stuff that is neither here nor there.

      I love that people have their types and read what they love and that, above all, we have the choices and power to do that! But I also feel a need to step up for romance once in a awhile. Not just because I write it, but because I feel like overall it is part of an undercurrent of stereotypes that needs to be dismantled or, at the very least, challenged a bit.

      Keep putting forth your thoughts and words, woman! 🙂

      • Excellent point, Ember, that we don’t require realism in other genres such as fantasy, which by definition isn’t realistic. I guess what I want is a story that COULD happen realistically. A good fantasy author builds a world and then the things that happen in his/her story could realistically happen within that world.

        And I’m not sure the HEA ending is what bothers me. I guess I’ve just read too many romances in which the things that keep the couple apart seem contrived. After half a book of misunderstandings and miscommunications, I just want to bang their heads together. And I want to yell at them, “if you all can’t communicate better than this, you’ve got no blinking chance of sustaining a long-term relationship.”

        And now I’m going to go check out your books, Ember, because if you are dismantling stereotypes, that sounds like my kind of story.

      • Kassandra,

        I think it’s a fair enough expectation that a novel might suspend disbelief 🙂 That, however, does remain in the eye of the beholder. Some people just can’t get down with certain genres, and that’s totally fine. A HEA might never sound feasible to certain readers, whereas to readers (and writers) like me, it seems natural.

        For the record — I don’t take HEA to mean “live the next 65 years together in a cozy house with pets and children”, but rather, “we’ve found love for a time and let’s see where this goes” (while HFN is more immediate and short-term).

        I felt the need to disclaim this as well, since I think there’s an aversion to HEA by some readers due to cynical undertones. Again, maybe I’m just speaking for my own books, but when I close a HEA, I’m not necessarily seeing the traditional trappings of wedding, children, Golden Anniversary’s, etc. I don’t think ending every romance with a 50+ year marriage is realistic at all. Statistically, life isn’t like that. That’s why I think HEA is not quite so traditional these days. Sure, maybe the book ends with a couple having a baby or getting married, but who’s to say these people don’t move on to change, grow, and evolve in even more ways that we don’t know about after the book ends? Love DOES happen in a huge way in the world. Traditional 50 + year marriages…not so much.

        I appreciate that you have been moved to take a chance on my romance! That means a lot to me. I think most of my dismantling comes from discussions with people about romance, because this is where the most scoffing/nay-saying/pervasive stereotypes are felt. It is a topic near and dear to my heart…and in general, I fight for giving people, books, situations, and most everything else a fair shake 🙂 I’ve really enjoyed talking about romance with you here, and I appreciate the dialogue.

        –Ember

      • You are awesome. I totally agree. HEA doesn’t have to be the stereotype. I don’t think there has to be a romantic HEA, just a happy ending where the main character is happy(or escaped alive). ;D

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