When a woman tells the world that she is a novelist, her value immediately drops. Different than if she had chosen to write books about dragons or even about dogs, because she writes about something as “simple” and “easy” as love, she must be a lousy writer, is not it ?
Fiction writers are deprived of the respect they deserve simply for writing in a genre they enjoy. People will call them basics, misogynists, anti-feminists, and for what? Write a story about lovers? Love is an indefinite emotion by the stuffing of gender. For a woman, writing about the concept only reveals her desire to live the human experience, not an imaginary gap in her intelligence. Contrary to popular belief among men, writing romance novels is a feminist act.
Making your own choices is a feminist act
Throughout modern history, feminism can be divided into three distinct waves, each with its own specific ideas and goals. Identifying a permanent definition that could encompass the evolution of feminist theory is as impossible as it is inadvisable. At its most basic level, feminism advocates improving the female experience, but it does much more.
Feminism seeks to provide equitable opportunities for people of all genders, identities and circumstances. It does not support one sex over the other, as some “masculinists” might suggest, but rather equality between the sexes. Feminists challenge our male-centric society to recognize its flaws and reverse them, perhaps in the least expected places.
One would not assume that modern literature, where more than 75% of best-selling novelists are women, is a field devoid of feminism. But these numbers are based on numbers, not perceptions. A number cannot represent the groan at the bottom of a high school class at the inevitable unity of female writers. It cannot express the instant distrust a reader feels when opening a book cover to see a picture of a woman in the head. The judgment of male readers does not define these numbers, but it does define female authors.
John Boyne, a feminist (albeit male) author, wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian: “A man is treated as a literary writer from the start, but a woman should generally earn that accolade. Although a matter of basic respect, female novelists are treated as inferior to their male counterparts for no reason other than their gender. Yet women continue to write. They write their stories and publish their novels not because others want to read them but because they want to write them. It is a choice to write for oneself and not for others. Women who pursue their ambitions regardless of public opinion demonstrate a genuine dislike of society which is inherently feminist.
Challenging the male perspective is a feminist act
Most literature examples take a male perspective. Written by men who know only the benefits of patriarchy, the books too often stereotype women, confining them to a few elementary categories. From John Green’s maniacal pixie dream girls to Ernest Hemingway’s glorified sex workers, women are too often catalysts for male characters. There only to provoke a man’s action, women written by men must sacrifice their humanity to become plotters.
But the writers of novels do not have this patriarchal impulse.
Women indifferent to the opinion of their readers are not trapped by literary precedents. Without needing to impress a male audience, female writers can craft their stories however they choose. Inspired by feminism, novelists write the books they want to read. They prioritize their preferences, creating characters they like. Rather than waste time placating the male perspective, novelists challenge it outright.
Exploring female sexuality is a feminist act
But just because the writers of novels ignore the male perspective doesn’t mean the male perspective will ignore them. The public is quick to denigrate romance novels. They’ll call them cheap page-turners or trashy chick-lits, often without opening the book. And their most common criticism? Inclusion of sex in romance novels.
Although not every book written by a woman includes an X-rated encounter, romance novels are generally sex-positive. Portraying realistic characters in authentic relationships, they seek to normalize the presence of passion. Sex is a natural component of many fictional and real love stories, so why shouldn’t it be included in romance novels? Ignoring female sexuality proclaims its shame, a position few female writers are willing to support. But male writers seem to take a different approach.
Readers downgrade romance novels because they don’t mind physical intimacy, but that rule only applies to books written by women. Recall that in “1984”, a novel commonly taught in many high school programs, George Orwell details the physique of his female character. And if that wasn’t enough, it then validates the description with its male protagonist’s desire to, as Winston tells Julia, “rape you and then murder you afterward.” Yet the public does not diminish Orwell. It’s as if his misogyny obscures the sexual nature of his story.
When a reader insults a romance novel for its open discussion of sex, they are not criticizing the act itself but rather the power it gives to women. By embracing female sexuality, novel writers give women a voice in the conversation. The books discuss pleasure and offer models of consent to eliminate the stigma of sex, making room for female freedom. “If romance novels do nothing else,” said feminist and novelist Jenny Cruise, “they should earn the respect of feminists for the way they revisit women’s sexuality, making her a partner in its satisfaction instead of an object.”
Representing women is a feminist act
But romance novels do more than promote female sexuality. Led by strong characters confident in mind and body, the romance novels are ripe with female representation.
Most authors, regardless of genre, base some aspect of their novels on their own lives. John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace” is set in a boarding school like the one he attended as a teenager. Or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” mimics the elegant society he saw at parties on Long Island. Writers depend on real-life situations to inspire their stories, and novel writers are no different. An extension of themselves, the protagonists of the authors of novels often embody the point of view of the women who write them.
Although female authors do not publish books to meet the expectations of others, when they write for themselves they often appeal to a female and feminist audience. Unlike the caricatures so carelessly written by their male peers, the authors of novels write about real women full of thoughts and opinions. Whether in a world free of the male gaze or accurate in its portrayal, heroines can lead lives that empower female readers. From their own experiences, novel writers create authentic characters that represent the audiences they resonate with.
Writing romance novels is a feminist act
The male perspective assumes that romance novels and feminism are at opposite ends of the spectrum. He claims that the genre and the women who write it are talentless and undeserving of respect. To attack their very existence in literature, male critics cite female independence as proof of the illegitimacy of romance. But such claims are baseless.
Embracing female sexuality and challenging the male perspective demonstrates a power far beyond what many male authors could muster. As English teacher Val Derbyshire called them, romance novels are the “literature of protest”. Unafraid of backlash, women write the world as they see it, often to the detriment of the male gaze. The public degrades women writers because it fears them. And maybe they should.