Romance Novels and Feminism: Adversaries, or Allies?

The topic of my RWA chapter’s upcoming newsletter is already sparking plenty of conversation among our members: Romance and Feminism.


It’s a topic we never get tired of discussing, and whether you believe that the genre and feminism are compatible or not, there’s plenty of evidence, pro or con, to support your point of view. 


Evidence that romance and feminism are compatible– according to Romance Writers of America, it’s a $1.3 billion industry, that comprises 13% of the adult fiction market. It’s produced largely by women for the enjoyment of a female audience and presents a female-centric viewpoint. Some of the most successful and prolific female authors writing today are writing romance.


On the other hand, those who believe romance novels are inherently anti-feminist can support their argument by citing the storylines of Sweet, Savage Love, 50 Shades of Gray, or covers depicting a scantily clad woman clinging to Fabio’s leg.


One of the latest volleys in the ongoing debate was posted by our chapter president on Facebook this morning: She Swoons To Conquor: Romance Reades Enjoy Tales of Alpha Males and Forced Seduction


My reaction is that the essayist presents a narrow, though not completely inaccurate view of our genre. Dark, domineering Alpha heroes, and  boss/secretary tropes are eternally popular. Woman who enjoy those tropes shouldn’t have to apologize or feel guilty about their choices. Nor are they inherently anti-feminist. Frequently, the heroines in these seemingly imbalanced relationships are the ones who hold the true power. And if feminism gives us the freedom to be true to ourselves and our desires, then we should accept that these preferences are valid, rather than judge women for having them. 


But where I think where the essay fails is that the author ignores the numerous romances that depict a more balanced, equal relationship between the hero and heroine. Superstar authors like Nora Roberts and Kristin Higgins, as well as numerous others, show heroines who are already successful and powerful in their own right. They don’t need to swoon to conquer, and wrench power from an alpha male because they already have it.  Since they begin on equal footing with the hero, love becomes a means to fill an emotional void, or heal from a past trauma, rather than solve an external problem such as lack of status or economic security. 


The story of two people helping each other become the best they can be and moving forward into a happy future together are the stories I find most satisfying.  As a romance reader, writer and feminist, I’m happy to say, they’re a vital and thriving part of our genre. 


Your thoughts?






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