|Heroine Natalie is "no women's libber"|
Just how deeply do these romances embrace feminism? I sometimes find myself frustrated after picking up a children's or YA book that a reviewer or expert has touted as featuring positive female role models, only to discover after reading that its feminism is no more than surface-deep, or that my definition of feminism seems quite different from that of the recommender. Often I find such books explicitly declare their alliance with feminist principles but then proceed to undermine said principles on the level of implicit, rather than explicit, ideology. I'm eager to take a look at some of the books Vivanco discusses, to see whether they are wholehearted in their embrace of feminism, or whether they present conflicting attitudes toward feminism. (I know that Laura Vivanco is a frequent reader of RNFF, and hope she will chime in here on this issue).
Until I can round up and read a few of these books, though, I thought I'd share another issue Vivanco's article raised for me: the issue of women's relationship to money. Vivanco notes that many of the heroines in the Modern line "struggle not to be seen as 'gold-diggers,'" a struggle she suggests "may be read as attempting to redefine the institution of marriage so that it is no longer a sexual/financial transaction but a relationship built around emotional trust and intimacy" (1070). This struck me as an surprising argument, as I'm guessing few unmarried young people today regard marriage as a financial transaction at all, never mind feel a need to "redefine" it as something distinct from financial matters. Why then should "emotional trust and intimacy" be placed in opposition to money?
The quotes Vivanco includes to support her argument, and the language in which she couches them, made me wonder if these books weren't just attempting to redefine marriage as no longer a financial transaction, but also, simultaneously, setting up a binary opposition between money and love. In this binary, love in placed in the superior position, money in the inferior, the opposite message most Western men are socialized to believe. Such a binary construction unconsciously suggests to women that money is not, and should not, be important, at least not to them.
"I left everything because there was nothing I needed." She met his gaze full on, the message clear in her eyes. I was never interested in your money and I can't believe you don't know that. (1070)
Vivanco later suggests that Stasia
thinks of her work as something which benefits others and gives her more than merely financial rewards: "Life isn't always about money.... There are other things that matter, like independence and self-belief. I like my work. I need to know that I'm good at something. Making a contribution that matters." (1072)
While a belief that money is the end-all and be-all of life is one most feminists would find troubling, the completely opposite view—that money is "merely" a "reward" given for acting in ways that "benefit others," rather than something women earn so they can support themselves —seems equally problematic. Life isn't always about money, but it is often about money, especially life in a marriage. As myriad studies, including this 2012 study from the American Institute of CPAs, have shown, the most common reason married or co-habitating couples fight is over finances. If romances function to persuade women that money should not be of much concern to them, then how will they be able to function as equal partners in a relationship in which many, many decisions about money occur?
I could not think of a single one. Am I just being forgetful? Or do some come to your mind?
* Vivanco, Laura. "Feminism and Early Twenty-First Century Harlequin Mills & Boon Romances." The Journal of Popular Culture 45.5 (2012): 1060-1089.
Women Minimum wage: Center for American Progress
Next time on RNFF:
BDSM & feminist romance