I recently read some reviews on one of the bigger review sites of a series of books in which the heroines are described by the reviewer as doormats. They allow the heroes to treat them poorly, insult them, and even physically push them around, but just smile and go back for more. And apparently none of them know anything at all about sex, despite being in their twenties.
I'm not naming the site or the series because this isn't about those books or the reviews; it's about the presentation of heroines in romance. Back in the day, it apparently wasn't uncommon to have a very naive, even childish heroine who was pushed around by the hero in the name of "true love." I don't know; I confess to not having read any romances during that era. I didn't start reading romances until I started writing them, to be honest. And most of today's romances, at least the ones I've read, don't have pushover heroines and heroes who are...well, I can't think of a way to describe them without swearing, and since this is only my third post here I'm not quite sure if swearing's okay. So let's just say heroes whose behavior goes far, far beyond jerkish.
Personally, I don't want to read about doormats, having been one most of my life. In my case, it's because I was taught that I deserved to be treated badly and that everyone else's needs and wants were more important than mine. I've spent the past several years teaching myself differently, and it just plain ticks me off (for the woman's sake) when I read about a woman who just lets a guy walk all over her. Or a guy who lets another guy walk all over him, for that matter; the doormat phenomenon is not exclusive to heterosexual romance.
But I am talking mostly about heroines here because female doormats do seem more prevalent, and I think that's a shame. While there's room for debate about the responsibility of an author in any given situation, I think that it's important for authors to depict strong characters. I have no problem with reading--or writing--about heroines who have been through abuse or other experiences that have left them unsure of themselves, but I prefer to see that heroine overcoming her past and becoming stronger in the course of the story, not reliving the same patterns over and over.
It's taken me a while to write about heroines who are nothing like me, who are already strong and confident. But I prefer writing them now that I've gotten the hang of it, and that's the type I like to read about. Heroines--and heroes--can and will have flaws, but in my opinion, accepting poor treatment and even outright abuse from someone who's supposed to love them shouldn't be one of them. Especially if that treatment is presented by the author as "romantic."