Romance Novels and Feminism
on 18 March 2013
And almost any romance author you speak to about the genre will quickly tell you that what they write is not true life but a fantasy. The critical space between what one reads and likes and what one actually does is something that critics of the genre must remember, especially because their own policing of women’s desires is the product of the patriarchal system they are trying to criticize. [Sarah] MacLean argues that “we have to give ourselves permission as women to have fantasies. We aren’t saying that men should threaten sexual dominance or harassment or abuse. But it’s okay if we, at some point, find the idea of that threat hot." In a society that often wants to boil women’s sexual experiences into the polar opposites of purity or sluttiness, romance novels, even when we may as individuals judge their plots to be problematic, are the largest cultural space available for women to read about and imagine their own sexual fantasies. Therefore, as Lynne says, the range of fantasies that will appear in the genre is going to be wide.
I’m married to Sarah and people take great pleasure in asking me if her male characters are based on me. It will be amusing to see if this quote changes the nature of that question the next time it’s posed to me.
I don’t mean to make light of her statement, though. She’s 100% correct.