Friday, October 25, 2013

Feminist Romance Novels

Aloha, feminist romance novels.  I am looking for you.  I am certain somewhere in the endless google search results for 'feminist' and 'romance novels' there is something, anything positive.  Not every feminist in the world hates romance novels, right?  Not all the love has to be ironic, every moment of amusement or pleasure guarded behind a wall of snark and a jauntily raised eyebrow... Right?

There are a lot of clever romance reviewers who are probably icons of feminist sensibility that don't call themselves feminists at all; it seems, according to google, that women don't casually embrace the title.  And women who unironically, unabashedly love romance do not tend to embrace the word at all.

I can see it.  A lot of romance--even mine, although I try to span the spectrum a bit--is focused on the traditional dynamic of an unattainable male hero who is usually variable grades of Ass, and a heroine who is variable grades of just about anything.  In romance, women get to be the toss-up.  They can be Mary Sues that drive you out of your mind, or bossy, demanding nobility, or ordinary women caught in the typical crossfire of small town drama.  Whatever.  Any-kine.  The heroes in romance novels often upset me a lot more than the worst Mary Sue in the world, but I am not only a feminist, I'm kinda sexist.  I try not to be, but I am.  Dudes... What can I say.  I'm working on it.  Back on task.

But my books are not perfect, and I am not a perfect feminist.  When I was twenty, I was thrust into the kind of social consciousness that typically eludes people from working class backgrounds (these days).  It was a happy accident, and I've never looked back.  But the background that I come from--messy, a weird blend of pink and blue collar that eventually corroded to solid, deep navy, coupled with antiquated Irish Catholicism and lots of booze and mental illness--wasn't going to disappear.  Women in my family are like women in every family.  They work hard, and they play hard.  But they weren't reading Camille Paglia or debating which-wave-feminism or demonstrating anywhere.  Feminism was a word I heard on the television.

My mother's story is very interesting, and not so easily simplified--like everyones'.  But its not mine to tell, and the remnants that are relevant to why I ended up working a fifty hour work week, addicted to cocaine and gin, and then getting swooped up by a couple of hippies who introduced me to the terms 'permaculture' and 'social justice' (and, not coincidentally, 'unitarian universalism') the summer I was twenty are listed above.  Everybody's life is complicated and weird.

I didn't read a romance novel until I was thirty or so.  I'd been calling myself a feminist (mostly--like most sex workers, that can be a struggle for reasons that better left for another time) for a decade.  It didn't seem like it fit, to be reading about these butch assholes and swooning ladies and just barf.  But there were some good, interesting reads out there, and some subversive undertones here and there, too.  Things that cannot happen anywhere else, because women rule the world of romance.  This is changing now, too, and in interesting ways, but still: romance publishing is dominated by women.  Top to bottom--the writers, the editors, even the major publishing houses are all largely gendered female.

So why the wall of snark?  Why the hard divide between feminists and women who love romance novels?  Are my search terms shitty?  Or is it really that hard to find someone who is comfortable dancing on both sides of the line?

Like I said, my books are not all of one thing or all of the other.  They're naive, they're crappy sometimes, and then they have their shining moments.  I am not a perfect romance writer, or a perfect feminist, or a perfect anything.  But if I can blend the two... That would be kind of perfect.  Even if the product itself was a bit... Off.  Like me.

Worth trying for.