Romance novels are a billion dollar industry. Millions of women read them. The plot is always the same: boy meets girl, boy and girl struggle through trials and tribulations, solve them, and live happily ever after. I’m a sucker for a happy ending and do like romance novels (they’re my guilty secret). However, I have three main gripes about them.
1. My first gripe is about the ages of the women that are depicted. In some paranormal romances, women may look like they’re in their 20s and 30s but may really be 300 years old. They’re immortal or age slowly. The men they fall in love with are either the same age or older but still look around the same age as the women.
Sometimes in these other novels that I’ve read, the heroine is mortal with some special trait but not older than 25 or 26 (they’re sometimes the ripe old age of 29). In some situations, her love interest can be hundreds of years old and in some instances a thousand years old. In contemporary romances, the age differences can be extreme. Some couples are the same age, but some are May/December couplings which can be difficult to read without feeling nauseous.
Why the age difference? Why are these women so young? It seems the authors and publishers are trying to attract a specific demographic: millennials. The romance novel demographic is usually women from their mid-20s to their mid-40s. I also think the readers fantasize about meeting the type of men in these novels (over six feet tall; six pack abs; physically well endowed in certain areas; and being the nicest guy in the universe even if they don't start out that way). What's wrong with the women being over 40 and attracting the aforementioned male body type?
And if the new 30 is 40, why aren’t there more novels about these women? There are books about middle aged women and younger men falling for each other but middle aged men and middle aged women falling in love are really rare. And sometimes, these relationships become a side plot.
2. My second gripe with romance novels is the persistent idea that a woman with long hair is sexy and beautiful. The heroine has luxuriously long wavy (or curly) hair that can be braided or put into a pony tail. It’s the kind of hair that their love interest fantasizes about (quotes like "her hair spread out on my pillow" are the norm). Amazingly, plus size women and women of color aren’t an issue since many authors write romance novels about these types of women. However, even the plus-sized women and women of color have long luxurious hair. The message I hear is that if you’re female and you have short hair, men won’t find you attractive (inside or out). Or short hair indicates that this woman may also be the villain who tries to steal the hero away from the heroine.
One of the most beautifully stunning actresses/humanitarians was Audrey Hepburn. In many of her movies(at certain times in her career) she sported a pixie cut. But it wasn’t just her hair, it was also her charisma and charm. She is an example of class, grace, and beauty even with short hair. Men found her attractive on the inside and outside.
In some ways, men who find women with long hair attractive (in my opinion) are a throwback to the times when women were considered a commodity, like oxen. A time when men controlled every aspect of a woman’s life and dictated her hairstyle and her mode of dress.
3. My third gripe with romance novels is the “damsel in distress” model. Most romance novels have moved on from this model but some are still written that way. But thank God for Xena: Warrior Princess. Xena kicked butt and had short hair. She was never a damsel in distress. Even Gabrielle, her sidekick, started out as a damsel but eventually learned to kick butt. She took on every challenge to help people even when the odds were against her. Obviously, as the main character, events would play out in her favor. But the best part of Xena? When she needed help, her friends would help her out of her difficulties.
Nowadays, these “damsels” are smart and independent with mad self-defense skills but somehow are “dumb” enough to get kidnapped by the bad guy and then get rescued by the boyfriend. It’s a shame that these women are written in this manner. The best romance novels have the heroine and hero combining their talents and defeating the bad guy with friends and family coming to their aid.
Because of these three gripes, I feel that women's accomplishments in the past 100 years are demeaned. Some of these novels seem to say that we are independent up to a point because we still need a man to rescue us. We have the right to vote. We're considered "equal" to men in every way under the law. We run countries and corporations and raise children at the same time. So why can't society get past these three gripes of mine?