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Dear Amy,

I’m doing a project on romance novels, how they portray women, their relationships with men, with themselves etc. I feel that, as with religion, various schools of feminist thought try to co-opt feminism; to own it and say 'this is how you define feminism, anything else is heresay.'

In this light, I wonder if saying that contemporary romance novels are anti-feminist is justified; or more specifically, do most mainstream feminists think this way? I have been searching desperately for links on the web that might explore this issue, but so far, have come up with nothing. Are there any links or books you can suggest I read? (Would Faludi's Backlash have anything on this, do you think?) Thanks a lot.



Dear Shruthi,

I'm not a romance novel junkie, so I'm not sure I entirely understand the formula of them. As I have interpreted them, the reason they have been described as "anti-feminist" is that they focus entirely on a woman's quest to submit herself to a man. There is nothing wrong with this--as long as the woman really wants this for herself. The problem is when it becomes prescribed behavior that the only way for a woman to succeed is to capture a man.

I don't think that Backlash will have much to help you--except a little insight into how society expects women to be the rescued and men to be the rescuers and women who ask for protection are perpetuating and anti-feminist climate that assumes we need protection.

You might some insights in Caroline Heilbrun's work--specifically Writing A Woman's Life. Also, there is a great professor at Harvard, Barbara Johnson, who talks about how many women are the exact opposite of the characters they create. Many of the characters are seeking dependence, yet the writers are seeking independence.

I hope that helps.


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