Romance and Female Empowerment


by Jennifer Roland, guest blogger

It is no secret that we women–and some men–love our romances. As was discussed at great length in the news media earlier this year, the romance genre has been one of the few segments of the economy to thrive in the recession. Even when we are not doing well financially, we long for the escape that our love stories bring us, whether we prefer heroes who are not quite human, settings that are long past or barely dreamed of, or heat levels that would make our mothers blush.

But are they good for us? Do they further the cause of women, or do they hold us back, trapping us in traditional gender roles?

A few other bloggers have talked about the economic empowerment the romance genre offers to women, the inherent subversiveness of a genre written and read almost entirely by women, and the power romances give women over their sexuality. Rather than rehashing what these other ladies have said, I’d rather look at the stories. Does the romance narrative harm women?

For years, I believed it did. I saw romance novels as a tool of women’s subjugation. We read books that reinforced the roles society had laid out for us: wife, mother, caregiver. Romance novels have one ending: the woman finds her man, the man who will marry her and give her the security and the family she craves. Until she reaches that goal of finding a husband, our heroine is incomplete. I believed that I was more than my marital status, so why would I want to read about women who were made whole only through the object of their affection?

Then I actually read some romance novels, beyond the category romances I read as a young girl. I found a genre that had grown up without me realizing it. I encountered strong women who were whole and who didn’t need a man to complete them. Instead, they wanted a partner to share the burdens and the joys of life. Some of the stories ended with a marriage. Some ended with a commitment to raise a family together. Others ended with the knowledge that two people were entering into a relationship of equals, merging their individual lives to create something more together. Neither the hero nor the heroine quit being who they were; they simply chose to be those people together. In short, I found feminism.

Romance novels allow us to explore the myriad options available in our society. They cover different lifestyles, sexual acts, and time periods. They explore the different paths a woman’s life can take as she maneuvers through the worlds of career and family, whether her family is the heteronormative husband and wife, a committed same-sex relationship, or even a triad or other polyamorous grouping. But most important, they use the woman’s voice to explore the classic themes of literature that have in the past been explored only through a male lens. And they allow us to experience a situation that has a happy ending, something we don’t always get in our everyday lives.

That is why I love romance novels.

Jennifer Roland is a freelance writer and aspiring romance novelist. She fancies herself a new school feminist who adores a sexy vampire or shapeshifter tale, yes, alpha male and all. Keep up with her progress navigating the scary world of publishing on her blog, Jen’s Writing Journey.

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  1. this is such a great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Jennifer! and really so many of your points about the evolution of the genre echo my own feelings on romance novels and why i’m proud to say i love them today!

  2. I encountered strong women who were whole and who didn’t need a man to complete them. Instead, they wanted a partner to share the burdens and the joys of life.

    Times change and with it, romance. An old saying (sorta) but too true. I agree. I liked reading romances when I was a teen, but then thought “Pft why do I need to get married just to feel complete?” Now, when I read a romance, I like knowing it’s not about that anymore. It’s about living your life but with a guy who’ll appreciate you for you.

    Excellent blog, thanks for sharing!

  3. I’m glad you ladies found something you liked in my post. I like this blog a lot, so I jumped at the chance to contribute!

    I spent so many years full of disdain for romance novels. The good thing? I have a heck of a back catalog of great books to read.

  4. Thanks for the eye opener thoughts on evolution of genre and female empowerment I have become a fan of your blog.

  5. Hi There, I’m visiting from the Just Write Blog Carnival. It is great how woman have become empowered in romance novels. Now to undo the fairy tales of the knight in shining armour coming to rescue me… and live happily ever after.

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