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?