Women Driven Plots in Romance Novels: A Celebration of Strong Female Characters
Romance novels, often dismissed as “guilty pleasures,” have always been a space where women can explore their romantic fantasies, albeit with varying degrees of agency. However, in recent years, the genre has been subverted from within, and female authors and readers alike are creating and consuming stories where women take the lead.
The Rise of Women-Driven Plots
The 2010s saw the emergence of feminist romance, a subgenre that eschews patriarchal tropes such as the alpha male and the damsel in distress. Instead, feminist romances prioritize the emotional journey of the heroine, and often address issues such as consent, body positivity, and female empowerment.
At the forefront of this movement is the #MeToo movement, which has inspired a wave of stories where women speak out against abuse, harassment, and gender inequality. In these novels, the romance is not just a backdrop to the heroine’s activism, but a means to showcase her strength and resilience in the face of adversity.
The Heroine’s Journey
The heroine’s journey is a narrative structure that mirrors the hero’s journey, but with a female protagonist. It focuses on the internal conflict and personal growth of the heroine, rather than the external obstacles she faces. In romance novels, the heroine’s journey often involves overcoming a trauma or a limiting belief, and finding love as a result.
For example, in Jasmine Guillory’s bestselling novel The Proposal, the protagonist, Nikole, is proposed to by her boyfriend at a baseball game, and she rejects him in front of the jumbotron. This public humiliation triggers memories of Nikole’s controlling father, and she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, with the help of her friends, family, and a cute doctor named Carlos.
The romance between Nikole and Carlos is not without its challenges, but it is always secondary to Nikole’s personal growth. By the end of the novel, Nikole has learned to stand up for herself, pursue her dreams, and build a healthy relationship with a partner who respects her boundaries and supports her ambitions.
One of the ways feminist romance subverts patriarchal tropes is by turning them on their head, or by creating new tropes altogether. For example, instead of the alpha male, we have the beta hero, who is kind, attentive, and respectful.
Similarly, instead of the virgin-whore dichotomy, we have heroines who are sexually confident, without being slut-shamed or punished. In Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient, the autistic heroine, Stella, hires a male escort to learn how to have sex, and ends up falling in love with him.
Another way feminist romance subverts tropes is by diversifying the love interests. Instead of homogenous white heroes, we have heroes of color, heroes with disabilities, heroes who are bisexual or queer. This allows for more representation and intersectionality, and challenges the idea that there is only one type of romantic hero.
In conclusion, women-driven plots in romance novels are a celebration of strong female characters who defy patriarchal norms and find love on their own terms. By focusing on the heroine’s journey, subverting tropes, and diversifying the love interests, feminist romance is carving out a space for women’s voices and experiences in a genre that has traditionally catered to male fantasies. So, the next time someone dismisses romance novels as frivolous or trivial, remind them that they are actually feminist manifestos in disguise.
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