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Tag Archives: feminism

I’ve been thinking a lot about Gail’s post last week “About Those Dukes”, and also about this this article in the Smithsonian Magazine, “Why Can’t Romance Novels Get Any Love?”

The article talks about Germaine Greer’s “feminist call to arms”, The Female Eunuch (1970) in which:

“Greer was skewering the authors of romance novels, and the readers who made them bestsellers, suggesting they were submitting to nothing short of serfdom to their heaving, rippling fictional heroes: alpha males with giant pectorals, important lives, patriarchal views and very little interest in love…until just the right petite, witty heroine comes along.”

I love the idea that literary scholars like Sarah Frantz Lyons, who started the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, want romance to get the same attention from scholars as other popular genres such as mystery and science fiction.

“We’ve been talking about this for 30 years: since the 1980s at least, it’s been about empowerment versus oppression. Is this narrative empowering or oppressive to women?” she says. “We need new approaches to romance fiction.”

temptationIt’s the sort of thing Jennifer Crusie has been saying, probably even before this 1998 article “Defeating the Critics: What We Can Do About the Anti-Romance Bias”.

“But romance fiction insists that women be front and center, demonstrating over and over again that women can solve their own problems. Reading that kind of narrative empowers women and therefore attacks the basic assumption of patriarchy.”

I love this statement, and this is part of why I write romance. (I hope Crusie’s smart and sexy books are among those that will be studied.)

I’ve also read romance novels that tapped into fantasies that may or may not work with the idea of women solving their own problems.

I suspect part of the appeal of Duke and billionaire stories is the fantasy of never having to work a boring job or worry about money again. For personal reasons, it’s not a fantasy that appeals to me, but I can understand it. When I’ve been too busy taking care of others to care for myself, I daydream about tropical vacations where all I have to do is snorkel with pretty fish, get massages, and sip umbrella drinks. But I don’t really need a life of luxury. I need to rearrange my life so there’s more time for self-care on a regular basis. I’m working on that, but the vacation fantasies help me get through bad days. Likewise, a woman whose job is unpleasant or unrewarding, or who is struggling to make ends meet, has every right to enjoy an escapist story, even though she may also be actively trying to improve her situation.

I feel the same way about domineering, alpha heroes and “forced seduction” stories. Personally, I find some heroes cross the line from “alpha” to “abuser” and especially if I don’t see a real transformation, the story isn’t going to work for me. It is very, very important to me to see that at least by the end, the hero treats the heroine as a real person and an equal, neither domineering nor putting her on a pedestal. But each reader has the right to decide for herself which stories work for her. Perhaps some women can’t distinguish between the fantasy of being conquered and how healthy relationships work, but that’s no reason that others should not enjoy those books.

I do not care for censorship. What I do believe in is dialogue. Dialogue is good. Criticism is good. I’m thinking about all the conversation about Fifty Shades of Grey. I didn’t participate because I haven’t read it, but from the articles and blogs I skimmed, I could see there were intelligent points made. I believe we should all discuss, criticize, even argue about the books if we want, but judging people personally for their reading choices is just an exercise in ego.

Which gets me back to the academic study of the romance genre. Scholars will likely find many stories featuring strong heroines and the development of healthy relationships.

They’ll also likely read some of those old contemporaries I used to find around the house as a child, where the nurse always marries the doctor and the secretary gets the boss. (And in those old stories there were never any female doctors or bosses.)

purityspassionScholars may also include books like the one in this review on the Smart Bitches/Trashy Books site: Purity’s Passion. A quote, just to give you an idea:

We’re at the midpoint of the book, and let us tot it up: Purity has had consensual sex twice, been raped by six men (two of them multiple times), and nearly raped by a seventh.

So I don’t think a broad study of the romance will lift the genre as a whole to respectability. That’s not important to me. Although some romance novels are complex and beautifully written, not everything needs to be literary. Although I prefer to read and strive to write romances that end in what I think are healthy relationships, I do not deny others the right to read and write what speaks to them.

What I do hope is that the study results in some good discussion. Maybe some of those who haven’t yet tried a romance will do so, at least out of curiosity.

What do you think? Which romance authors or books do you think are most feminist, or most literary? Any favorite guilty pleasures you’d like to share?


In Regency times, would you have been a “bluestocking”? How many times have you read about (or written) a heroine who either considered herself one, or was warned in no uncertain terms by her mother/aunt/sponsor or best friend against becoming one?

blue_stockingNot too long ago I was invited to join a group of Regency authors calling themselves The Bluestocking League. (A lot of authors are finding it wise to band together to help promote each other’s work.) We haven’t been very active yet, but we discovered soon after naming ourselves that another group of authors had recently formed a group called the Bluestocking Belles. You see? Bluestockings are back!! So it seemed timely to take a look at what was originally an 18th century women’s society, and in the Regency became a (derisive) slang term for educated women with intellectual interests –who might, after all, threaten the social order!

The 18th century, “The Age of Enlightenment,” earned the name because ideas and intellect flourished during the period. While women had few rights, two things they –could- do (and were expected to do) were socialize and engage in the arts. Salons were popular, and hostesses angled to have the most illustrious leaders of culture and literature as guests. The London salons hosted by the well-to-do and well-educated friends

Elizabeth Montagu

Elizabeth Montagu

Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800), Elizabeth Vesey (c.1715-91) and Frances Boscawen (1719-1805) attracted some of the greatest intellectual minds of the times, such as the writer Samuel Johnson, and artists Francis Reynolds and her brother Sir Joshua Reynolds. By mid-century these get-togethers evolved into a loosely organized network, kind of a “women’s club” that offered more than intimate gatherings for conversation, supplying mutual support, friendship and patronage for a growing pool of writers, artists, and intellectuals. Writers Hannah More and Fanny Burney, poet Anna Seward, and artist Angelica Kaufmann were regulars among many others in later years. The women, and their male guests, also advocated for education and explored options for civic and social improvements.

Most of the women portrayed as young Greek Muses in this group portrait by Richard Samuel were Bluestockings. Singer Elizabeth Ann Sheridan is in the centre. Artist Angelica Kauffman sits at the easel with writer/poet Elizabeth Carter and poet Anna Letitia Barbauld behind her. The five at right are (L-R) historian Catharine Macaulay, hostess & literary critic Elizabeth Montagu, and writer Elizabeth Griffith (all seated), and standing behind them, writers Hannah More and Charlotte Lennox. Some were much older than shown by the time the picture was exhibited in 1779. (Montagu was 61.)

Most of the women portrayed as young Greek Muses in this group portrait by Richard Samuel were Bluestockings. Singer Elizabeth Ann Sheridan is in the centre. Artist Angelica Kauffman sits at the easel with writer/poet Elizabeth Carter and poet Anna Letitia Barbauld behind her. The five at right are (L-R) historian Catharine Macaulay, hostess & literary critic Elizabeth Montagu, and writer Elizabeth Griffith (all seated), and standing behind them, writers Hannah More and Charlotte Lennox. Some were much older than shown by the time the picture was exhibited in 1779. (Montagu was 61.)

The story of exactly how the network acquired the affectionately applied name of the Bluestocking Society, or the Bluestocking Circle, is debated. Blue wool stockings were commonly worn for informal or daytime dress then, with white or black silk reserved for evening or more formal occasions. The informal style (and the cross-class nature) of the salon gatherings was unprecedented and set a new style for socializing. One version of the story holds that Mrs Vesey (or Mrs Montagu), inviting the botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet to attend a salon, assured the man who had given up polite society that he was welcome to come “in his blue stockings.” Another version says Stillingfleet simply showed up wearing them. OTOH, the French version of the term (bas bleu) had actually already been in use since the 1500s. At any rate, the group adopted the name with pride. The network expanded well beyond London, and probably peaked during the 1780-90’s, when Elizabeth Montagu opened her new Portman Square home for meetings, and was hailed by Johnson as “the Queen of the Blues”. Hannah More’s poem “Bas Bleu, or the Conversation” was published in 1789.

Typically, though, as the term “bluestocking” became widely accepted as a tag for an intellectual woman, it also began to be perverted into derisive slang, belittling the very values it once stood for. The original Bluestockings were dying off at the start of the Regency, and their supportive network had suffered setbacks such as the loss of friendship between Montagu and Johnson, a scandal over patronage and money involving Montagu, More, and the poet Anna Yearsley, and later, scandalous lifestyle choices made by members like Macaulay. Ridicule replaced admiration in the eyes of society –Byron scorned them and Rowlandson did a cartoon, “The Breaking Up of the Bluestocking Club” published in 1815. In the Regency, to be a bluestocking was considered tantamount to declaring spinsterhood and rejecting society. rowlandson-bluestockings

The original Bluestockings were the feminists of their day, ahead of their time in many of their ideas, but especially in valuing the female mind. Their moniker shows up these days in all sorts of ways, from the name of bookstores and a play, to a week-long celebration of women in education at UQ in Australia. I’m happy to be among women ready to reclaim the term and put it back into its original perspective and meaning. So, are you a bluestocking, too?

If you want to read more, there’s a great article connected to an exhibit at London’s National Portrait Gallery:, and another with great detail at

Also, there’s a book: Biographical Sketches of Principal Bluestocking Women, by Anna Miegon. I want to read it now! There’s also a collection of essays: Reconsidering the Bluestockings, by Nicole Pohl & Betty A. Schellenberg, and much more, of course. I think the original Bluestockings would be pleased to see how far we women have come, don’t you? Although perhaps dismayed that it took as long as it has, and that we still have more to achieve. What do you think? Please comment!

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