A few years ago, one of my Literature professors asked me, “Aren’t romance novels just about a woman finding a man to take care of her?” I had to explain to her what we all know, that modern romance novels are about partnership and mutual love and support – not finding a “protector.” It’s a misconception I often come across.
Unfortunately, there are some circumstances in which it is uncomfortably close to the truth. Romantic Suspense novels are particularly and oddly contradictory in this. So many heroines are strong women and strong characters – who then find themselves made victims by the author and put in the role of a damsel in distress.
Now, don’t get me wrong. If I were being stalked or were a target of a serial killer, and the man in my life dropped me off at home at night, gave me a kiss, and said, “All right, honey, good luck,” I’d be pretty peeved. My issue is not with how the characters behave in these novels – it is that so many of these novels exist.
The premise of many RS novels is usually pretty archetypal: woman becomes victim of crime (take your pick: assault, harassment, breaking and entering, stalking, etc.). Man tries to protect her. Something happens, and they live Happily Ever After. What I want to know is, why are the women the victims?
Bear in mind, I am in no way implying weakness or fault on the part of the victims. Many of these characters are strong women despite (and sometimes in spite) of their victimhood. But even Lt. Eve Dallas, star of J. D. Robb’s In Death series and perennial favorite “kick-ass” heroine, is shaped largely by being a victim of a horrific crime. Sure, it adds complexity and depth to her character, but can we ever have a heroine who is not a victim in some way? I cannot think of any RS heroine who is not victimized, and yet the heroes frequently escape that marker. If he does become a victim, it is usually as a result of helping a woman who has already been the victim of a crime. Is it because we don’t want to see a hero appear weak? Is it because we like women to be damsels in distress? Can it be ascribed to simple gender roles?
Personally, I’d like to see more authors challenge those gender roles. Let’s see more female cops investigating crimes against men instead of the other way around. What are your thoughts? Can you think of any good novels that challenge the norm?
– Jane Granville