Ditch the Bitch? Romance Is No Place for a Man’s Woman

Snow White and Rose Red

Question: Do romance writers have the responsibility to portray positive interactions and relationships between women in their books?

There are two reasons I’ve been thinking about this.

The first is a discussion the Goodreads Unapologetic Romance Readers have been having about the soccer romance novel, Kulti by Mariana Zapata. In the book, the female protagonist’s relationships with women seem to be superficial or openly antagonistic.

I don’t have a problem with this. I view it as in keeping with the character’s personality and history. Some of the other members disagree.

The second is the upcoming release of Dance with Me, my contemporary erotic romantic suspense (Whew! That’s a mouthful).

After I finished the first draft and, like a good little writer, let it sit for a month, I went back and reread. When I got to the end, I realized something. My protagonist, ambitious reporter Sherry Wilson-Wong, had no female friends. Not only that, but most of her interactions with other women were uncomfortable and/or hostile.

Huh, I thought. Do I need to change that?

I considered rewriting her friend and colleague, Peter, as a woman. I thought about rewriting her rival at work as a man, or changing her curmudgeonly but supportive boss to a woman. I even briefly toyed with the idea of shifting her difficult relationship with her mother onto the shoulders of her father.

In the end, I did none of these things.

Why not?

Because they didn’t feel authentic to the story or to who Sherry was as a character.

If I changed the dynamic of those relationships, I would have to change who Sherry was. And if I changed the personality of my heroine, I would have to change the choices she made. And if I changed her choices, well, I would have a completely different book.

When I write, my characters come to me fully formed, with insecurities and complicated histories intact. Do I, as their creator, have the ability to change them? Of course. But that is not the question I’m interested in. What I want to know is, should I?

As a writer and a feminist, is it my job to be pushing that feminist agenda when I create my characters?

Should I be writing about women who have healthy friendships with other women, who mentor and support, who don’t slut-shame or compete, who aren’t jealous and don’t sleep with other women’s husbands?

Or should I write about the characters who spring from my subconscious mind, flawed and conflicted and maybe just a little bit like someone you know?

What do you think?

Just Because I Write about Sex, it Doesn’t Mean I Want to Have it with You

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Dear Bill (not your real name),

I have to give you credit for coming to our writer’s meet-up. You must have felt a bit out of place, a lone seventy-something man in a gaggle of young to youngish women. And it did take balls to share your ad copy with a group of serious fiction writers and listen, semi-patiently, as they ripped it apart.

It’s those balls, though, that are the problem. Not that you have them, but that you let them and their over-eager appendage buddy dictate your behavior.

Hey, it’s okay that you felt a little something in those balls when I read my chapter aloud. A little tingling or stirring or whatever. That means I was doing my job. When I craft a sexy scene between my leading man and leading lady, I sure hope the reader will get an erotic charge out of it. That’s what erotic romance is all about – the deepening of intimacy between a couple as they get to know each other’s minds, hearts, and yes, bodies.

It’s not okay, however, to leer. To look at me like I just flashed you my ass and invited you to spank it. To make suggestive comments to that effect.

I wonder. Would you have had the same reaction if an overweight octogenarian in a tracksuit had read those lines? Nothing against overweight octogenarian erotic romance writers. I fully intend to be one someday. I just wonder if my (relative) youth and (relative) attractiveness played into it at all? Made you think it was okay to look and talk to me that way. That by being a nubile female writing about sex, I was somehow asking for it?

Let me clarify: I wasn’t.

See, Bill, I didn’t write that scene for you.

I wrote it for women like me. Women who may be happily married (or not), who lead full and busy lives but who want to lose themselves in a sexy love story every now and then.

I didn’t read it aloud to titillate you, either.

I read it to get feedback on what was working and what wasn’t, so I could craft a story those women might want to read.

So, if you want to come to another meet-up, don’t let me stop you. If you want to share constructive feedback and help other writers strengthen their craft and their stories, feel free.

But please, check your balls at the door.

(Photo credit: Volkan Olmez)