For an earlier generation of romance writers (say, the women who contributed to Jayne Ann Krentz's 1992 essay collection Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance), relationships between men and women in romance were/are, by the very nature of the genre, adversarial. The central story of romance is the conquest of the alpha male hero by the moral, virginal, emotionally-adept heroine. In Krentz's words, "Romance novels are tales of brave women taming dangerous men" (113). Or, in Doreen Owens Malek's: "So what is the fantasy? Simply this: a strong dominant, aggressive male brought to the point of surrender by a woman" (74). Or in Daphne Clair's: "The thrill is in the contest and the chase, in the complicated advance-and-retreat by which the strong-minded heroine, while appearing to be hunted and ill-used, finally turns the tables on and lovingly entraps the hunter" (67). Even Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who asserts at the start of her essay that she is an "outspoken feminist," echoes Krentz's belief in the characteristics of the romance hero: "He is the mightiest of the mighty, the strongest of the strong. But because he has been tamed by our heroine, because she exerts such a powerful emotional stranglehold over him, his almost superhuman physical strength is now hers to command" (58). For the romance writers in Krentz's collection, men are dangerous, scary, and above all powerful; it is the romance heroine's task to use emotion (i.e., love) to "tame" that power and use it to her own ends. Female empowerment comes from subjugating the male, overcoming her own limitations because, as Phillips asserts, "his strength now belongs to her" (58).
Do women who hang out in co-ed friendship groups fantasize about this type of heroic masculinity? I'm guessing probably not, or at least not as often. My daughter doesn't value her male friends because she can tame them and thereby borrow their power; she values them because they encourage her and support her as she works to discover the ways in which she herself can exercise power in the world around her. After experiencing supportive, rather than antagonist, friend relationships with boys, would a young woman truly wish for a romantic partner who is more "dangerous beast" (in Krentz's formulation) than encouraging partner? Or to read about one in a romance novel?
Would love to hear from romance writers about if/how their friendships with boys/men when they were teens have influenced their vision of what makes for a perfect male romance hero.