Romantic Rivalry? Or Slut-Shaming?

Romantic Rivalry? Or Slut-Shaming?

The romance genre is for women, about women, by women. I know when I open the first page that I can leave the troubles of gender inequality behind and settle in for an uplifting story full of positive lady affirmations. Girl power and healthy body images. Strong heroines. Men who sweep women off their feet, treat them like queens and fantasize about all-night cunnilingus. Chicken Soup For the Vagina.

No?

Okay, I guess I can’t count on any of that. I don’t think it’s possible to take gender dynamics out of the equation when you’re writing about men and women. Many romance readers enjoy a dominating hero who takes control of everything. That’s fine with me. Get it, girl. I don’t like reading about heroes who cross the line into abuse, and I also find it troubling when women treat each other badly.

I’d rather not open up a romance novel and encounter hatred towards women. I want to avoid internalized misogyny, which is sort of a regurgitated sexism. It takes the form of slut shaming and victim blaming. It says that bad girls get what they deserve, and good girls with quiet dignity reap the rewards.

We see this dichotomy far too often in romance. Women are set up as rivals, rather than friends. The Other Woman is portrayed as morally inferior. She’s the gold digger who cheated on the hero and aborted his baby. If she ever deigned to give birth, she’s a selfish mother who abandoned her children. She’s fake, shallow, aggressive and disloyal.

I recently read a contemporary romance with a nice Southern-girl heroine. She’s not a virgin or a prude, but she refuses to have anal sex. Fair enough. Her coworker—who loves anal sex—propositions the hero within moments of meeting him. I think she propositions him with anal sex, actually. The story had a humorous tone, so maybe it was supposed to be funny, but this detail really hit the wrong spot for me. It was an exaggerated, unrealistic portrayal of a female rival. She wasn’t just a slut. She was an anal slut. That’s like, twice as slutty.

I don’t think it’s necessary to put the heroine on a pedestal above other women. I don’t need her to be a perfect ideal, superior to the rest of us cheap hookers. Cheap hookers need love, too. If every man in the story falls for the heroine and every woman is a jealous man-stealer…that’s just depressing. Are good women such a rare commodity? Are good men?

I have to admit that I’m guilty of dropping the ball as far as female friendships. I’ve written some negative stereotypes. I don’t know which of my books pass the Bechdel test, and I don’t care. What I care about, moving forward, is treating other women with respect.

Kindness towards other women, even in fiction, is a form of kindness to ourselves. We can’t all be gorgeous twenty-two-year- old virgins. Are the rest of us chopped liver? Used chewing gum? The way the hero treats other women is important to me, too. If he thinks his ex is a raging bitch, red flag. You know that’s true, ladies.

With my June release, Backwoods, I tried to create a sympathetic ex-wife character. She cheated on the hero with the heroine’s plastic surgeon ex-husband, so she’s got a few strikes against her. But she’s not Evil. She wasn’t a bad wife and she’s not a bad mother. The heroine is the one with breast implants. backwoods

There are plenty of romance authors out there writing female-friendly stories. Victoria Dahl’s Jackson Hole series is excellent in this respect. I love the camaraderie between women and Rayleen, the matriarch of the community. Tessa Dare is another name that comes to mind. I’ve only read a few of the books in her Spindle Cove series, but my impression is of a strong sisterhood between women. Nora Roberts writes capable heroines and female relationships like nobody’s business.

I want to see more solidarity in romance, more friendships and sex-positive attitudes. Instead of throwing other women under the bus, let’s lift each other up. Happy vaginas for all.

Can you recommend some female-friendly romance? I’m always on the lookout for good f/f (female/female) romance also.

About the author
Jill Sorenson writes sexy action/adventure romance for HQN. Her latest release, Aftershock, was given a starred review by Publishers Weekly. Jill lives in the San Diego area with her husband and two daughters. She draws inspiration from the diverse neighborhoods and spectacular scenery of Southern California. You can find her on Twitter much too often. Her other hobbies include reading, hiking, and going to the beach.
Island Peril (After Shock #3) by Jill Sorenson publishes May 1 by Harlequin HQN
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