In which I wonder whether romantic fiction can be feminist

The same question has come up recently in three different conversations – is romantic fiction feminist?

So I’ve been thinking about just that, and I’ve concluded Yes. At least it definitely can be.

So that was good. All cleared up. Unfortunately clearing up tricky questions speedily does not make for good blogging, so I shall muse a bit on the topic anyway.

I think the idea that romantic fiction is somehow anti-feminist comes from the idea that romance is about a woman being rescued by a man, or a woman needing a man and a relationship to, in some way, complete her and make her a proper member of society. Now, neither of those things are in any way necessary or desirable features of romantic fiction. You can just as easily write ‘Man who feels incomplete without woman’ (although that would probably be merely different rather than actually better). I try to write ‘man and woman who deal with their own issues and then decide to be together’, although I try to do that with jokes and ideally at least one comedy sword fight.

I actually have a heroine in one of my books who ends up deciding that maybe the available man isn’t going to be the right ending for her (and I’m not telling you which book – if you don’t know you’ll just have to read them all to find out).

Of course, that’s just the content of the books, and fiction is much more than that. Fiction is a whole industry, and actually, ‘is the romantic fiction industry feminist?’ is a more difficult question. In some ways very obviously yes – it’s massively dominated by female authors and editors. I’m proud to be part of the Romantic Novelists’ Association which is a UK professional association for writers of romantic fiction. It’s predominantly female and you’d have to go a long way to meet a more forthright, intelligent, capable group of women.

But.

We do still work in an industry where ‘women’s fiction’ is a thing, distinct from proper mainstream fiction, and where female authors write ‘chick lit’ and male authors just write comedy. We also have a publishing industry where certain sorts of women are far more likely to feature in the stories we see published – young(ish), white, straight women. There would certainly seem to be room on bookshelves for a bit more diversity.

And in terms of content of books, can erotic romances centring around domination of a female partner be seen as feminist? Projecting the idea that physical or psychological domination of women is normal, or even an ideal, seems really worrying, but if you’re writing for predominantly female readers who enjoy reading a fantasy of giving up control, then surely those women have the right to their fantasy, and telling them that they’re not fantasising right is also worrying territory.

So, can romantic fiction be feminist? Yes. Definitely.

Is romantic fiction feminist? Well, yes, sometimes. It’s complicated.

I’m genuinely just thinking aloud (or at least on screen) now. Would be fascinated to hear more thoughts in the comments…

In which I consider what’s in a (genre) name

‘So what do you write?’

‘Books.’

‘But what sort of books?’

‘Er… well…. erm…’

That’s a conversation I have at least a couple of times most weeks. I usually end up saying I write ‘Romantic Comedy,’ but usually follow the claim with a rambling disclaimer about the consistency of the funny and the frequent absence of hearts and flowers, and because of those disclaimers it’s not a terribly satisfactory description. So what might  be my better options?

 

Chick Lit?

Wikipedia describes chick lit as ‘genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly.’ That’s probably as good a description of what I write as any, although I’m quite interested in issue of modern manhood (oo-er missus) as well, so why aren’t I 100% comfortable with the term?

I think it is simply the mental association that I have between between the term chick lit and ideas of pink, glittery covers with pictures of shoes on them. And having just typed that sentence I now feel an overwhelming need to add a disclaimer making clear that there’s nothing wrong with a pink sparkly cover – but somehow they don’t quite float my boat anymore. Perhaps it’s time to revisit that assumption though. It does seem clear that pink, sparkly, shoe covers are somewhat out of vogue. I quick skim of the chick lit bestsellers list on Amazon shoes that there’s still a fair amount of pink, but substantially less sparkle and hardly any pictures of shoes, so maybe I need to update my assumptions, woman-up and come out as a proud Chick Lit Author.

Or I could tell people that I write…

Women’s Fiction?

Women’s Fiction or Commercial Women’s Fiction (for those writers who want to make clear that they’d like to get paid at some point) are popular terms in the publishing industry, and encompass rather broad church of stories and authors. They’re terms to which I have only one objection. It’s the word ‘Women’s’. And actually it’s two objections. That is to say that my objections to that one word are twofold. Firstly, why on earth are books about love and family and emotion only for women? Men deal with all those things and it seems plausible that quite a few of them might be interested in reading about that stuff too. Why on earth would we want to create a banner across the top of our books that says ‘Men not allowed’? And secondly, I get the sense of an sneaky little implication that this isn’t quite Proper Fiction. It’s just for women, bless their sparkly pink stilettos. It saves their fluffy little brains from the effort of trying to read the Real Books. It irritates me in the same way that the Women’s section in Sunday newspapers irritate me. I feel like I’m being shepherded away from the real news to look at some nice soothing pictures of dresses. Again, that might say more about my tendency to make assumptions that anything else.

 

So Chick Lit/Romantic Comedy/Women’s Fiction writers of the interweb help me out! What sort of books do you write?

 

And if you fancy finding out what I actually do write, you can buy ebooks and actual paper short stories here.