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Glistening abs with a feminist twist: Introducing feminist romance novels

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Romance novels, with their glistening muscles and southern belles, usually feature a dominating male and a submissive female.

"The prototypical romance novel is the bodice ripper," says writer Jackie C. Horne, who writes the blog Romance Novels for Feminists. "The ones with the covers with Fabio hair and damsels being held by muscle bound men. In the popular imagination they've come to be seen as about women wanting men to rescue them and save them."

Jackie says the feminist romance novel genre is becoming more and more popular.

"Many writers have been interested in romance, but not the fantasy of being saved through romance. Or being saved by a strong, dominant man."

Of course, there are still women who like the fantasy of a helpless woman being saved by a man. But many modern writers just aren't familiar with that sort of power struggle.

"Women who are writing now, younger women who are coming into the field, many of them have just grown up with the advantages that feminists in the 60's and the 70's didn't have, that they laid the ground work for. So many laws that are different, so many social expectations that are different now about what women can do and can be."

With the Steubenville rape case fresh in the news, talk of rape and feminism have been in the media a lot lately. Video games, rap music and films are criticized for their potentially influential violence and sometimes disrespectful portrayal of women, but what about romance novels?

"I think that it can be worrying. People get confused about what's fantasy and what's reality. If someone likes to read a book where there's a dominant man, does that mean she wants that in her real life too? If men think, 'Yes,' and she thinks, 'No, not really.' That could lead to a lot of confusion, right?"

These feminist romance novels aren't necessarily set in modern times. There are still stories from Victorian times, the old west and dragon-slaying tales. They just happen to include gender equality and strong female characters. I wondered if they might also be void of the cheesy, flowery language that romance novels are known for.

"Some writers are really fabulous prose stylists and some are not. So you can definitely find the sweaty body parts and the flowery language but you can find prose that you can take real pleasure in too. The field is so broad right now that it's hard to say romance is one thing."

You can find a detailed list of feminist romance titles on Jackie's blog.

Rachel Belle, Ron and Don Show Reporter
Rachel Belle is a feature contributor and personality on The Ron & Don Show on KIRO Radio (weekdays 3-7pm), and host of Ring My Belle Weekends (Saturdays at 5pm and Sundays at 3pm).
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