Feminism and Romance Novels: Link Roundup

In case you haven’t yet read enough about it…

Posts on Feminism and Romance generally:

From Maya Rodale (I love this video so much, it’s on the “about” page of this blog):

What can a feminist get from reading romance?” by Jackie Horne at Romance Novels for Feminists

Those familiar with the arguments of early feminist critics of the romance genre might be forgiven for doubting that a feminist reader could gain much of anything positive from reading a romance novel. Tania Modleski’s Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women (1982) and Janice Radway’sReading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Culture(1984) set the stage for such an assumption, arguing that in the battle between feminism and patriarchy, romance novels clearly side with the enemy.

Contemporary scholars of romance have taken issue with many of Modeleski’s and Radway’s conclusions. But conventional wisdom has yet to be persuaded; most non-romance readers still take it for granted that romance as a genre is bad for women. How, then, could I explain my reading tastes to Ken from NY, even while justifying to myself that said tastes should not automatically disqualify me from claiming an identity as a feminist?

Help! I’m a…feminist romance reader?” by Adrienne at From Austin to A&M

Romance in the 80s began to more frequently lessen gender stereotypes and weaken these rape myths. The hero moved from being amoral to “following the heroine’s moral ‘norm’.” Paranormal romance and humorous feminist romance began to emerge in large numbers during the 90s. Originally (as Sandra Booth contends) the paranormal was a regressive return to angel/monster dichotomy and humorous romance was the successful feminist and anti-patriarchal romance sub-genre.

I’m happy to say, that I think paranormal is slowly becoming a sub-genre in which some of the most exciting queer or feminist romances can currently be found. One of the reasons that paranormal is such a hopeful and interesting place for progressive work is the desire (and semi-ability) to create a social structure outside of normal (aka heteronormative patriarchal) structure. Society can have totally different rules- e.g. it can be matriarchal or androgynous.

How to Write a Feminist Romance” by J. W. Ashley at bookswithbenefits

“A Feminist Romance?” you’re asking. “Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Isn’t that a logical impossibility?” Well, yes. Sometimes a romance novel is anything but feminist. But the act of reading a novel, the act of writing one, too, is certainly feminist: a woman taking time for herself to do something for herself and only herself; a woman earning her own money, running–in a sense–her own business, these are feminist acts. The books, though, can be feminist, too.

In defence of books written by women for women” by Louise Cusack at Australian Women Writers

In what sense, if any, can it be considered “feminist”?

This question needs to be asked of romance precisely because the genre is so popular and written largely for woman and by women. It needs to be asked because the diversity of women’s writing is often elided by its detractors, with few distinctions being made among different genres such as “romance”, “chick lit” and “women’s fiction”, let alone more serious or ambitious writing by women. Writing by women is regarded (and often dismissed) as lightweight, domestic, focused on relationships, courtship, marriage and children. In addition, romance is particularly derided for supporting outdated and stereotypical gender roles. But as Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog was quick to point out in the Twitter conversation with Keziah Hill, examples can be found of romance writing which both support and subvert the hegemony [of patriarchy]. Romance now has many subgenres and reflects many different values.

Part 2 and Part 3 to go along with the post above.

Guest post by Sara Megibow: being a feminist romance reader” at Kat Latham’s site

Over the years, I’ve come up with any number of responses to people when they give me heck. By now, I’ve narrowed my response down to one sentence, “I love romance novels because as a feminist with a women’s studies degree, I find the genre to be inherently pro-woman.” Now, THAT generates a great conversation! And, it’s true. The basic tenants of the genre – happy endings, healthy relationships and great sex are all pro-woman.

Feminist Romance – Part 1 – It Can’t Be Only Me” by Kimberly Chapman

Where are all of the college-aged women with healthy libidos who wouldn’t put up with sexist crap spewed by a guy in person and are equally put off by it upon the page? Where are all the horny suburban moms who have a healthy sense of self-respect, who used to be those college women debating mainstream media and cultural stereotypes, but now want to read an escapist fantasy instead of folding laundry on the couch? Where are all the second-wave feminist grandmas who fought for equal rights, who loved and still love sex but simply demanded not to be seen as sexual objects existing for male satisfaction alone?

Not just the women, either. Where are the men who want to read about sex where their manhood isn’t questioned for not being a bad boy in the first place, where there’s mutual love and respect and all of the sweet tenderness that goes with that?

Feminist Romance – Part 2 – What Defines Feminist Romance?” goes with post above.

Romance as Feminist Literature” by Toni Blake

People often scoff when someone dares to suggest romance novels are feminist literature, but that usually means the scoffers simply haven’t read any current romance. After all, in what other genre is the book always about the woman? About what she wants, hopes, needs, and achieves? About her problems and how she solves them? In what other genre does the woman always win in the end? And not only does the romance heroine win, she makes it happen. Sometimes with her strength and fortitude, sometimes with her wicked sense of humor, sometimes with smart, savvy actions and decisions, and sometimes by simply being who she is – but she always gets the man she wants, on the terms she wants, and she usually gets much more, too.

“Feminist Romance” group on Goodreads

Posts in reaction to/in dialogue with my piece at The Atlantic:

Everything Old Is New Again” by Robin L. at Dear Author

To draw these old v. new divisions narrows and flattens a generic fluidity that makes room for so many different tropes, devices, themes, archetypes, stories, and voices. The genre’s strength lies in its hybridity, and its capacity to represent, reflect, and provoke conversation about some of the most intimate and deeply felt issues important to us as women. And, for that matter, the men who are always implicated in women’s lives, whether or not want to be part of the conversation. But it would be great if more of them wanted to be.

Surf’s Up: Links on Reading and Feminism” by Liz McCausland

The flattening problem is also evident in the framing of Luther’s article: back in the 70s, she suggests, there were those rape-tastic bodice-rippers, the “polar opposite” of the feminist movement; “As feminists were fighting patriarchy, romance novels were propping it up.” I’m not sure quite how seriously Luther means this brisk summary. But she is hardly alone in viewing the genre this way (she cites Beyond Heaving Bosoms,Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan’s smart, thoughtful, snarky and fannish tribute to the genre). But given that Luther is a historian by training, this simplistic historical take is disappointing. And it’s high time romance fans abandoned it altogether.

Some (Further) Thoughts on Feminism and Romance” by Cecilia Grant

So I’m not comfortable saying romance as a whole is feminist, but does that mean no single romance novel is?

Again, I don’t know. There are definitely romances behind which you can perceive a feminist sensibility. Courtney Milan’s books spring to mind. And as part of the interview, Jessica asked if there were romances I’d recommend to feminists who’d never read one, and I had no trouble coming up with a list. (It starts with Bettie Sharpe’s Ember, by the way.)

But “romance that might appeal to feminists” and “romance that actually isfeminist” aren’t quite the same thing.

Of Course Romance Novels are Feminist—and They’re Not Just Good for Women” by Alyssa Rosenberg at XX factor

But it’s not just the gender roles for female characters that have gotten a makeover. In Julia Quinn’s Regency romances, the rakes who a generation ago would have been plowing their way through our outraged heroines may not want to be cruel, or sexually rapacious, or careless with young women’s reputations. They care about family and wish to be present in their own children’s lives, often because their fathers were absent, abusive, or overly obsessed with class and social status. And they regularly set out to marry women who are beautiful and pliant, only to find themselves drawn to unconventional women who are themselves at odds with societal norms.

Whether this is an accurate representation of the sentiments of English nobility in the early 1800s is beside the point.


Can a Romance Novel Be Feminist?” by Dodai Stewart at Jezebel


One thought on “Feminism and Romance Novels: Link Roundup

  1. I just found this from the trackback and that’s the best use I’ve ever seen of that feature! Wow! I love these links and will have to set aside some time this week to read, link, and spread the word. Thank you for this compilation, and I’m deeply honoured to be included.

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