Romance novels, usually written by women and often purportedly written for women, frequently contain the sort of sexist stereotypes that, had they been written by men, feminists would be burning effigies of the author in the streets and demand his castration. I do not read a lot of romance novels, so what follows is not a comprehensive list.
- Women can be triggered to fall in love at the sight of a man, and go totally insane over someone they know nothing about.
- A highly successful woman with a rewarding career is not happy until she finds the perfect man to submit to.
- Women can fall in love with men who rape them. Men cannot resist ripping the bodice off of the women they love. And it’s romantic that they do.
- Women are the keys to opening up men emotionally, men are the keys to opening up women sexually. (He is an emotional clam without her, and she would be a lifelong prude without him.)
- When a man hurts a woman, it’s always because he is suffering from internal pain. When a woman hurts a man, it’s usually because she is a heartless scheming villain.
- A life long Lothario can be converted to a monogamist husband if he meets the right woman. (It’s not his fault that he dumped his last five flames. They were losers.)
- Men have power and women crave it. Or, men have power and women only have attitude. And their defiant attitude not backed by actual power is always appealing.
- A woman must never consider herself beautiful or even know that she is. In fact, she should carry at least a small amount of anxiety about her imperfect appearance, even if the movie will inevitably cast Scarlett Johansson in the role. A man can be attractive even if he had half his face blown off in a heroic act, walks with a limp, slouches like a gorilla, is frequently abusive, and even violent to women, as long as he is rich, powerful, tall, and carries an inner pain.
- A woman will throw away her promising career for a man, in return, a man will throw away his stubbornness.
- Women are always helpless at some point, cannot make up their minds, cannot avoid obvious danger, and are easily duped by villains.
Seriously ladies, why do you read this crap?
But more to the point, how can people who read this sort of thing, recommend it to friends, and buy more of the same, be offended by books like The Grapes of Wrath, The Call of the Wild, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and On The Road because they are misogynistic?
Of course, romance novels can provide you with life lessons sometimes such as:
- That woman he finds most sexually attractive is never the right girl.
- That man she idolizes as the most desirable is never the right man.
- When someone is shy, give them another chance.
- Good servants are worth keeping.
- Nothing is ever gained by keeping your emotions bottled up.
- Not even your ideal mate is always perfect.
- Your imperfections can be your assets.
- Admitting to your inabilities sometimes solves problems.
- Compulsive is not always wrong.
- Trusting your instincts can sometimes pay off.
(I have to ditch this habit of rounding up lists in neat groups of 10s. Real life is never so convenient.)
I want to write a reverse romance novel: A book that takes silly stereotypes and stands them on their heads and sheds brutal wisdom instead of cute anecdotes. Let’s introduce an ugly woman with half her face twisted to mush, and a man who is captivated by her inner beauty. Let’s make the female lead carry an inner pain. Let’s give the main characters reason to mistake love for sexual obsession instead of sexual obsession for love. Let’s insert a female villain who torments the romantic lead by withdrawing sex from him instead of by luring him into it. Let’s introduce a pair of supporting characters who are even less romantically successful than the main pair. (One of them can be gay and the other not.) Let’s make sure, from beginning to end, every female character knows exactly what she wants. And let’s make sure that men and women are all intelligent and have serious discussions about God, science, fate, and morality. Feminist readers will probably hate me for it and call me a misogynist. It will probably also be a hell to market. But as someone recently pointed out, I am a contrarian by nature. It is the sort of book I am meant to write.