Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Strong Heroines

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."


jean hart stewart said...

I'm surprised. Seems to me most heroines are just the opposite, kick-ass to sometimes an unrealistic point. Don't blame you for not liking the wimps. I prefer a gal that's in between the two extremes.

Tina Donahue said...

I didn't know anyone was still writing the doormat heroines any longer. I like heroines who are as strong and feisty as the heroes. Makes for a great match and a lot of fireworks in and out of bed. :)

Glad you're standing up for yourself. Good for you!! :)

Tim Smith said...

Karenna, great post and I agree - a doormat/wallflower heroine is passe. In none of my books - whether romantic thriller or straight romance - will you find these types of characters. All of my heroines are strong and independent. Check out "The Bundle" or "Memories Die Last" - they literally kick butt. I don't like writing meek "Come save me!" heroines - they're boring and predictable.

Thanks for writing about this.

Stormie Kent said...

I think heroine inner strength is subjective. I remember getting my friend to read my ebook Enslaved in Desire before submission. At one point she said while reading, "Didn't he tell her not to do that?"
I laughed because my friend is novel heroine strong and fiesty. I don't know the books you speak of but I do know strength can be subjective.

KarennaC said...

Jean, there definitely are more heroines like that now than there used to be, but I have seen and heard about some doormats.

Tina, I agree. Love the fireworks between couples!

Thanks, Tim. I try to write strong heroines as well, even those who've had problems in the past.

Stormie, that's a good point.

Fiona McGier said...

I'm with you! That's why I avoid Regency romances, since back then women were supposed to stay in their place. Husband has fond memories of John Wayne movies, but with the exception of The Quiet Man, set in Ireland, I can't think of one movie where he doesn't mistreat the female. McClintock? Where he chases her all through the town and spanks her publicly? Sheesh! I'd have set his bed on fire that night!

Some writers still write virginal virtuous heroines who are in need of a man to order them around because they are TSTL. Think of the Twilight phenomenon, which at least you can excuse because the heroine is only a teenager. But 50 Shade of Gray? She's a college student and still so naive? Bleah. Not for me.