It is a truth universally acknowledged that an intelligent woman in possession of a feminist sensibility must not be in want of a romance novel. So says conventional wisdom, which takes it for granted that romance fiction is not just predictable, formulaic, and trivial, but also, by its very nature, oppressive to women. And so says much academic criticism, arguing that the genre’s conventions may appear to grant women power, but in truth work to limit women’s power within patriarchy, and resist any messages that might teach women how to subvert its restrictions. What feminist worth her salt wants to read about, never mind take pleasure from, female characters whose dignity and self-worth are ignominiously ripped away right along with their bodices?
Both sides in this debate undermine their arguments by focusing on the romance genre as a whole, rather than looking at individual books, or even trends or patterns over historical time in the field. Yes, a genre’s conventions may, in general, lean toward one ideological position over another. Many romance novels are as anti-feminist as critics of the genre as a whole believe.
But not all.
Because genre conventions change over time. Conventions also, in the hands of individual writers, can be played with, protested, laughed at, even subverted. Some romance novels are as freedom-espousing as Pamela Regis and other pro-romance readers and critics argue.
But again, not all.
Only when we look at historical trends, individual writers, and even individual books can we begin to see which books can truly claim the feminist label, and which unreservedly embrace anti-feminist beliefs. Or, perhaps most common of all, which books contain elements of both, simultaneously resisting and embracing conventional patriarchal wisdom, in varying degrees.
This blog, then, will attempt to strain the wheat of feminist romance novels from the chaff of more conventional romance fare. By reading and writing about feminist romance, I hope to come to a better understanding of my own views of feminism, of writing, and of love relationships as a whole. I hope to hear your thoughts about romance novels that you consider feminist, and why you do. Finally, I hope to begin a broader conversation about what a feminist romance novel might look like, because I firmly believe that such a creature is not just a mythical possibility, but a thriving, if still far too rare, actuality.
Each week, Romance Novels for Feminists (or RNFF for short) will feature a review of one book that, in the mind of this reader, can credibly be deemed feminist. I'm an intuitive thinker, so rather than beginning with a definition of feminism and applying it to novels, I plan to write about novels that strike me as feminist, and blog about why. A second weekly posting will focus not on individual books, but on larger-scale issues related to feminism and romance writing:
• Discussing common anti-feminist romance patterns and tropes
• Examining books that might have be deemed feminist at the time when they were published, and thinking about whether said books can still be considered feminist today
• Exploring the ideas of contemporary scholars who study the intersections of feminism and romance
• Pursuing other topics related to romance fiction and feminism that this writer, and you, the readers of this blog, find relevant
I plan to post on Tuesday and Friday mornings, around 9 am East Coast United States time.
Won’t you join me in this exploration of the connections and contentions between feminism and romance fiction?
* Pamela Regis, A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2003. p. xiii.
• Handmade Corset Book by Sharmz http://sharmz.deviantart.com/art/Handmade-Corset-Book-151494467
• Corset as Book: from The Corset Book, via Versatile Corsets. http://blog.versatilecorsets.com/2011/01/14/anatomy-of-a-corset/
• Book Corset by Dicepuddin http://dicepuddin.deviantart.com/art/Book-Corset-306972227