I am a feminist at heart. In my soul, I believe the female form is sacred and is therefore equal to the male. Therefore, I have struggled with my love of the romance genre.
As an English teacher, I studied many, many classics and works of “literature” – no commercial fiction, and certainly not works that followed a “formula”. During that time, I learned so much about writing and the beautiful ways in which words strung together illuminate the soul.
How then, could I reconcile loving a genre that was supposed to be formulaic, that put men and women in rigid roles and the core of which was something as mundane as romance and love?
Because romance written by women, for women, is sacred. The stories of women learning who they are so they expect to be loved on their terms is exactly what we need.
Romance was tarnished for me by the typical fairy tales of my childhood where the damsel was saved by the dashing prince. As an adult woman, I didn’t wish to be saved. But, I believe we have all collectively felt the change of direction in modern day fairy tales for little girls which show empowered young women taking ownership of who they are in order to achieve the life they want. Which is great for the generation of girls who will be growing up with different stories as their foundation and mothers who give them the foundation to truly be themselves.
But, what about us? The women who were fed the bogus stories as little girls and now yearn for stories of women being themselves and knowing in their core they deserve a life that honours every one of their desires?
Enter Romance being told by these very women, for every woman.
Modern storytellers provide us with rich characters who know what they want (and, if they don’t, they discover it), and refuse to compromise on their worth and how they deserve to be loved. They provide us with characters who access both their divine masculine and their divine feminine. Strength and softness – physical and emotional.
I’ve read that the reason Romance was not given its due is precisely because it was for women, and therefore the holders of the keys to literary greatness (white men) scoffed and belittled it, thereby relegating it as a lesser genre of writing – as a fantasy of how men and women can never be.
Romance inspires more than feelings of lusty, love (although, those are fun too) – it really showcases how deep emotional intelligence can significantly improve the lives of individual people. The characters in romance novels experience loss, grief, fear and shame…and they overcome these through relationships. Through communication that is open and honest, they thrive and rise and are willing to be open to love. These characters are willing to face their fears and be vulnerable. They believe in the power of love so fully, they fearlessly jump in and feel all of its glories.
Historical Romance then becomes tricky because there are so many entrenched gender rules that characters must abide by in order to be historically accurate. However, any kind of knowledge about women in history shows that women in every time period struggled with and against the norms set out for them by society.
I love historical romance because even though the characters know the rules they must follow, their human spirit – the need for connection and vulnerability and love – is so strong, that most times the rules need to be broken in order to achieve that. Therein lies the fun of historical romance. Modern women can read about women in a different time period whom were not free to be themselves, and yet find a way to do so and be loved on their terms.
We seem to be very accepting of the tales and love stories of witches, wizards, shapeshifters, vampires, soul-finders, etc. each time we read a work of fantasy or dystopian literature. So, why is it so difficult to accept that true love, vulnerability and an elevated unbreakable connection can exist between two human characters?
What has your experience of reading romance been like?
2 thoughts on “Historical Romance and Women”
I also love romance novels of most sub-genres, and some of them can be annoyingly clichéd regarding those gender roles you note. But I’ve found that many do have an independent, courageous heroine who doesn’t “fit the mold,” which is what attracts the hero to her. She’ll run off from the arranged marriage, forex. Or she’ll speak up when she encounters injustice. Or she’ll start a secret business. Etc. But I do like the comfort of knowing that whatever happens, a happy ending is waiting for them (unlike so much of real life).
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Yes, the comfort of an HEA does help in a world where they are harder to come by!
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