I should probably post this under “Recent Revelations” but I like this title better. Something occurred to me today but before I go into details let me say this: I love reading romance novels. I love writing them even more, but I do love reading them when I can find the time. I love to explore what love can become, the various obstacles two people can overcome to find their “forever after” and, if I’m being honest, I love the great ideas I glean for the bedroom in my own life.
But I was pondering these novels today, wondering over the emphasis placed on the male epitome of perfection typically written into romance novels and how we can use that to our benefit when it might be easy to try to adopt it as reality. A lot of people are upset because romance novels don’t often give a lot of character to the female protagonist – she is simplified so that the reader can implant themselves into her life easily and pretend as if the story is theirs.
Okay, makes sense. But I think there’s an even bigger problem – I think the female protagonists are often so simple because we basically write them to be perfect. The girl is flawless, outside of perhaps some innocence and insecurity, and the man must do all the right things to offset that in just the right way so she feels validated in her perfection. But the male is often flawed, usually overbearing or domineering, and must change in sometimes enigmatic ways to win the love of the woman. But how often do you read about a female protagonist who suddenly realized “my expectations are unrealistic – I have to alter my mindset to be worthy of his love”.
Not too often. The struggle is so often one-sided. And I don’t think we can ignore the fact that this is also partly because our society sees women as one-dimensional and men as complicated, layered creatures.
I’d like to think I’ve avoided this stereotype in my own writing, but I really only hope that because deep down I need to see myself as perfect just like my protagonists. So my goal is to approach my writing in a new way – what quirks or personality struggles might my protagonist need to overcome to earn the love of her equally imperfect love interest? We all know real love requires admissions and adjustments. What will she do? What life-long opinions or deep-seeded beliefs might she need to let go of? What work will she do to accept the imperfections in the male protagonist?
And for god’s sake, can the male protagonist have a real weakness? I mean, the age-old make over bearance and dominance as a weakness is akin to saying “I’m a perfectionist” in answer to the job interview question, “what is your greatest weakness”. It’s a supposed “weakness” that women love. So what about the real weaknesses? The ones that might make attraction wane momentarily or might make the men we love appear like the real, frail human beings they are? Maybe a male love interest isn’t perfectly ripped, or maybe he has a stutter, or maybe he gets insecure in public, or maybe he doesn’t fit our society’s definition of ‘masculinity’. Those are the real everyday challenges men deal with. Since when did a man ever get cast to the side for being powerful, overbearing, and confident??
So when it comes to these very real weaknesses, Why are we so avoidant to (a) write them in and (b) allow our female protagonist to find a way to embrace them?
What do you think?